Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marrying the state

It seems that we'll soon have a paid maternity leave scheme in Australia. It's no accident that the political class is calling for such a scheme. It follows a certain logic in the politics of modernist liberals:

a) First, liberals adopt the belief that autonomy is what defines our humanity and that therefore it is the overriding good around which society should be organised.

b) Next they claim that the traditional male role is more autonomous than the female role, as it allows for a choice of different pathways rather than a single "biological destiny" (i.e. motherhood).

c) It is then assumed that the traditional male career role, being more autonomous, is the superior "human" role which women should participate in to the same degree as men.

d) The next logical step is for liberals to prefer women to be supported financially in raising children through their participation in the workforce rather than privately through a family. Hence, the support for paid maternity leave.

There are a few things to be noted. First, a paid maternity scheme is founded on an ideology which is strikingly anti-maternal. Motherhood is thought of as an inferior role, to be attached in a subsidiary way to a career.

Following on from this first point, motherhood is thought to be so negative to the human status of women, that it has to be shared equally with men if human equality is to be achieved. That's why in Scandinavia the introduction of a paid maternity scheme has been followed by a campaign to force men to take half of the leave.

A paid maternity scheme also undermines the traditional provider role of men. Instead of a husband providing for his wife while she raises her young children, it is now the state which takes on this role. This can only damage the motivation of men to work; the sense of responsibility of men for their families; and the value placed by mothers on the contribution of their husbands to the family. It becomes easier for both the husband and the wife to walk away from a marriage in the belief that the husband's role isn't so necessary for the family's prosperity.

The ideology behind paid maternity schemes is damaging to the family in another way. If autonomy is held to be the primary good, then it becomes difficult to uphold a stable culture of family life. If we really wish to be autonomous, then we're likely to string out the single life for as long as we can; we're less likely to commit formally to marriage; we're more likely to insist on an easier exit from marriage vows; and we're more likely to resent the lifestyle restrictions place on us by children.

One final point. It's interesting that the chief advocate of paid maternity leave in Australia is a Liberal Party MP, Pru Goward. She may not know it, but she is following in the footsteps of much more radical predecessors. In 1918, the Bolshevik spokeswoman on family matters, Alexandra Kollontai, told a congress of women in Moscow that,

the woman in the communist city no longer depends on her husband but on her work.

Well, the communist city may be defunct, but the modernism which inspired the Bolsheviks is still shaping the liberal West today. Pru Goward, a Liberal MP, is now pushing the ideas once championed by the revolutionary communist Alexandra Kollontai.


  1. I've only supported the principle of maternity leave on the basis of choice, rather than autonomy. It certainly doesn't prevent mothers from staying at home permanently if they so choose.

    The other thing you have to bear in mind is that paid maternity leave encourages mothers to stay at home for longer with their children before they return to work, which I think is a good thing.

  2. Leon. What about the mothers who want to stay at home fulltime? Or stay-at-home mothers having their second child? The government gives them nothing, but is willing to pay for the childcare and leave of mothers who go off to work.

    How is that fair? Why are we making it harder for women to look after their families fulltime?