Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The revolutionary family heads West?

Here is someone else who thought of the family in technological terms. In 1932 Leon Trotsky defended the changes to family life made in revolutionary Russia:

The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called “family hearth” - that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution in which the woman of the toiling classes performs galley labor from childhood to death. The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organizations, moving-picture theaters, etc. The complete absorption of the housekeeping functions of the family by institutions of the socialist society, uniting all generations in solidarity and mutual aid, was to bring to woman, and thereby to the loving couple, a real liberation from the thousand-year-old fetters.

There is a familiar reference to autonomy theory at the end of this passage. If you believe that autonomy is the key good, then politics will be aimed at "liberating" (or freeing or emancipating) the individual from the "fetters" (impediments, prisons, restrictions) of unchosen, external commitments.

More striking, though, is Trotsky's technological vision of an alternative family. He speaks of the traditional family as a "shut-in petty enterprise" to be replaced "according to the plans" by a "finished system of social care".

What might appear to someone else as an attractively private and intimate realm of human life, becomes to the technological mind a "shut-in petty enterprise" to be prised open, made subject to technocratic planning and enlarged through socialisation.

It's no use casually dismissing Trotsky's views. His revolution has become our revolution. The measures advocated by Trotsky for the family have been increasingly implemented in the Western democracies.

So has Trotsky been vindicated? Perhaps not. Trotsky wanted two things. First, he wanted to maximise individual autonomy, which meant "liberating" individuals from parental authority and from moral codes and making divorce easy. Second, he wanted to subject relationships instead to a kind of scientistic reason in which relationships could only be ordered by "naturalistic" concerns such as physical and psychological health.

What Trotsky expected was that when relationships were subject only to naturalistic concerns that society would move closer to the ideal of life-long monogamous relationships:

A long and permanent marriage, based on mutual love and cooperation — that is the ideal standard. To this the influences of the school, of literature, and of public opinion in the Soviets tend. Freed from the chains of police and clergy, later also from those of economic necessity, the tie between man and woman will find its own way, determined by physiology, psychology, and care for the welfare of the race.

Well, the tie between man and woman hasn't found its own way toward "a long and permanent marriage, based on mutual love and cooperation". Instead, the closer that the West has moved toward a Trotsky type family, the greater has been the disruption to family life: delayed family formation, lower fertility rates, increased levels of divorce and so on. The scientistic appeal to "physiology, psychology, and the care for the welfare of the race" hasn't proved to be strong enough to defend the family.

One final point. There is a tension between Trotsky's two aims of autonomy and scientism. Autonomy is meant to bring individuals a greater level of freedom and independence. However, subjecting people to a "finished system" which is "planned" by state bureaucrats doesn't have the ring of personal freedom to it - particularly not when compared to the traditional family, which, for all its faults, was independent of centralised control and more deeply and immediately expressive of the social and emotional natures of men and women.

Hat tip: the Trotsky quote was supplied by Mild Colonial Boy.

Australian readers: Have you considered joining the Australian Traditionalist Conservative Network? It's a good time to consider adding your name to the network; we're having a particularly good year so far. More details here.

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