July 15, 2008

Culture and Matriarchy

In his last post, John reminds us of the serious problems with the notion that we might rescue the American family through welfare measures: 

In a West that is doggedly secular, the public sector will infallibly stumble toward value-neutral policies based either on individual rights or tribal groupthink (depending on which party and which race holds the whip). What it won?t do, what even the likes of Douthat can?t pretend it will even attempt, is to undertake a policy of serious, Christian paternalism. Such a spirit used to make the welfare state less toxic, as Allan Carlson documents in his brilliant book The American Way. But in its pages I detected a whiff of nostalgia, a sense that Carlson hoped we could someday bring back those case officers who?d deliver a welfare check in person?and rifle through the recipient?s cabinets in search of whiskey bottles. I doubt most church agencies would have the stones to try such a thing nowadays.

Douthat and Salam don?t include footnotes or a bibliography in Grand New Party, but one author they do cite is Alan Carlson (as opposed to some rather prominent ones whose work goes unacknowledged).

Carlson seems to be the source of the Douthat and Salam?s formulation of ?The Conservative New Deal.? For the authors, FDR?s socialism was right-wing?or ?maternalist??because when Eleanor or Jane Adams of Hull House spoke of a ?living wage? or any new state agency, they basically assumed that it would help support a male breadwinner and female homemaker. 

Putting aside the empirical issues of whether welfare is any good for a family not matter what the intentions, while reading GNP, I was struck by the startling degree to which Douthat and Salam had lost sight of all historical context.

Eleanor and Adams certainly did assume traditional gender roles?but then so did everyone. Only an occasional anarchist or two thought about actively deconstructing the family.

Thus in comparison with a contemporary theorist of transgendered feminism, Eleanor Roosevelt might seem like Pat Buchanan, but then to call her ?conservative? is perverse. Lenin, no doubt, had a greater sense of family values than Carrie Bradshaw.

Douthat and Salam don?t exactly want to reinstitute New Deal ?maternalism??mainly because they don?t want to completely dump feminism?but they do want to try to recapture some of that ?save the family through the state? spirit of social crusading.

I?m not positive there?s a direct line of causality stretching from the ?social-insurance,? corporatist state of the New Deal to the social-engineering of the Great Society to the ?neo-socialist? management of tolerance and diversity of our day. But sequentially, this is how it played out.

From Roosevelt to Moynihan to the Bushian compassionists, state administrators have sought to ?save the family? while presiding over its breakdown. When Moynihan wrote ?The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,? he was concerned about a 25% illegitimacy rate in the black ghettos; it?s now around 70%. Today, white Americans are achieving the out-of-wedlock birthrate once found only in the riot-scared inner cities. 

We are about as likely to ?save the family? by reforming our bureaucracies, as we are to achieve national security by establishing a parliament in Baghdad. 


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