Why the change? Up to now, I've focused my answer on liberal autonomy theory. This theory holds that autonomy is the overriding good, that paid work is the key to autonomy and that women should therefore gain maternity leave through their labour force participation.
Does this really explain why we are shifting to a system of centralised, bureaucratic maternity leave? The strength of this analysis is that it is how maternity leave is argued for in the documents. If you read the reports on maternity leave, it is usually argued for on the grounds of female autonomy and labour force participation.
However, there's probably more to it. There was an article in the Melbourne Herald Sun yesterday which reported that certain mothers' groups want all women, including those at home, to be paid maternity leave by the Government:
MOTHERS' groups and women's organisations have called for paid maternity leave for all women, even those not in paid employment at the time of pregnancy.
The Women's Action Alliance, speaking yesterday at the Productivity Commission's inquiry into paid maternity and parental leave, said maternity leave should be inclusive and funded by government.
Lisa Brick, national secretary of the WAA, said current maternity leave schemes excluded many women, including mothers at home, casual and contracted workers, unemployed and recently employed women, and those who were self-employed.
She said some models for maternity leave were too tied to the workplace and meant women often felt compelled to return before they were ready.
"We often wonder why there is this focus on getting mothers back to work when the youth employment rate is still around 15 per cent," Ms Brick said ...
The WAA said maternity leave could be initially funded by combining the baby bonus and Family Tax Benefit B, which spread over the course of a year would work out to around $318 per fortnight.
Ms Brick said an early return to work hampered women's ability to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months -- a view backed by the Australian Breastfeeding Association, who spoke at the inquiry later in the day.
ABA president Margaret Grove said government-funded maternity leave for all women, not just those in paid work, would help the duration of breastfeeding.
"We would like six months' paid maternity leave, government-paid, for all women. It would be for everybody, as the baby bonus is currently for everybody," she said.
So even those organisations which don't tie motherhood to the workplace immediately assume that mothers should be provided for through a centralised, bureaucratic scheme run by the state. Even more noteworthy is the fact that the traditional means of supporting mothers, the one that has been around for millennia, is not even argued against - it simply doesn't seem to register as an option in people's minds. During the entire maternity leave debate in this country I'm not aware of a single public figure who has suggested that husbands might work to support their wives.
What might explain this? The American traditionalist Jim Kalb recently published an interesting document in which he explains the origins of a modern technological mindset. Kalb argues that the view of reason adopted by the West is too limited:
The modern understanding of reason is radically defective, because it takes a fragment of reason, scientific reason, and treats it as the whole.
The Western view of reason, scientism, is based on a sceptical view of what can be known, with the purpose of knowledge being limited to what in practice gives power to achieve an end:
On the scientistic view, we can know only the things that modern natural science knows: things that can be observed and measured by any trained observer who follows the appropriate procedures, and things that are connected to observations by a theory that makes predictions and so can be tested, and is as simple, mathematical, and consistent with other accepted theories as possible. Since those are the only things we know, those are the only things we can treat as real.
Anything beyond that is not knowledge at all. It’s opinion or feeling or taste or prejudice. It doesn’t relate to anything real. Knowledge of the good and beautiful is not knowledge. Contemplation is not knowledge. Knowledge is experimental and oriented toward control ...
The result of this scientistic view of reason is a technologically-ordered world, in which the methods of the modern natural sciences are applied to political, social and moral affairs. The aim is to supply the satisfaction of wants according to a clear, efficient, universal system administered by experts.
You can see how the traditional, family-based method of providing for a mother fails to fit into such an outlook. It is not an application of science or technology to a social question to generate an identifiable and testable "policy", but a decentralised, non-expert method of provision based on qualities difficult to measure, standardise or control, such as instincts and emotions.
The strength of Kalb's analysis is that explains why the traditional practice, as significant as it is, fails to register in terms of public debate. People don't feel comfortable defending it in policy terms because even the pro-family people think something else is expected when discussing social issues.
It's another case of conservatives being too compliant with the settings of a liberal society. If we agree to those settings we will always lose. The terms of policy debate might be rendered technocratic by the modern Western understanding of reason, but that doesn't mean that conservatives should fall in line and limit debate to what appears acceptably technocratic.
We distinguish ourselves best when we state: the family is not a technology. It is an intensely human institution, in its nature not reducible to technocratic control. We should allow the natural, interconnected forms of family relationships to flourish, and be willing to defend them even in the setting of a technologically-ordered world.