Cory Bernardi is still being attacked in the Australian media.
Bernardi, if you remember, is a conservative-leaning Liberal Party senator. He wrote a book in which he called the traditional family the gold standard and pointed out that there are higher rates of incarceration for boys from single parent families.
It provoked a furious reaction from the political class here. Bernardi has been ridiculed and mocked for his comments. I thought it might be interesting to look at the way the political class has gone about its work.
Quite a few anti-Bernardi articles focused on the "I am offended" angle. For instance, Nicole Ferrie wrote that it was "drivel" and "rubbish" for Bernardi to claim that the gold standard for children's development was to be raised by their biological parents. According to Ferrie, Bernardi is guilty of "condemning" and "judging" people for their choices which makes his views "ignorant" and "offensive" and discriminatory.
There are two things to be said about Ferrie's response to Bernardi. First, it is a pretty orthodox statement of liberal morality. Liberal morality goes something like this:
i) what matters is that our autonomy in choosing what to do or be remains unimpeded
ii) for this to work at a larger level we must not interfere with what others choose to do or to be
iii) therefore the key moral virtues are those of non-interference or non-infringement such as respect, openness, tolerance, non-judgementalism, non-discrimination, acceptance of diversity, etc.
You can see how Bernardi has violated a liberal morality. He has "judged" people for their "choices" which then means that he is guilty of "discrimination." He is therefore considered to be wrong not just politically but morally - hence, he is being treated like a moral outcast.
It doesn't matter in this view if what Bernardi says about the benefits of traditional families is true or not. That's not what is of interest to Ferrie. She just assumes, in line with a liberal morality, that an attitude of respect and a universal, fit everything love, will carry things along - what other attitude could a liberal take?
It will be very difficult to persuade the likes of Ferrie with facts and figures. What we need to do is to wean our intellectual class away from the underlying assumptions of a liberal morality. Our intellectual class needs to be persuaded that it is possible to have some knowledge of an objective good and that there are positive virtues that go beyond "non-infringement".
Which brings me to the second point to be made about Ferrie's response to Bernardi. She believes that it is "offensive" to say that not all family forms are equal; it is supposed to be an insult to single mothers or to children raised in non-traditional families.
Now, I don't think politics should be a game of who shouts loudest about feeling offended. But it does occur to me that Ferrie herself is being offensive in claiming that all family types are equal.
Think about what she is really saying. She is arguing that if you have two families, one being a single mother raising children, the other being a father and mother raising children, that there is no reason to prefer one family type over the other.
What this means is that the father in the traditional family may as well not be there. He is not value adding to any significant degree, neither in his support of his wife, nor in his influence on his children, nor in his contribution of father love. All of his efforts are in vain, as all that is needed in a family is abstract love and respect and this occurs to an equal degree in fatherless families.
Furthermore, if a single mother family is equal to a traditional one, then a particular kind of love, namely marital love is also of little worth. It cannot have much significance in the lives of women, as a family with this kind of love is not to be preferred over one without it.
Is this not just a bit offensive to fathers? In fact, isn't it a lot more offensive to fathers than anything that Cory Bernardi might have implied about single mothers? You can take Cory Bernardi's position and still think that what mothers do is vitally important. But if you take Ferrie's view you are committed to the idea that what men do in the family is not that significant - neither as husbands nor as fathers.
Here we get back to the problem that liberal intellectuals aren't willing to recognise objective goods or virtues that go beyond non-interference. Ferrie, for instance, does not recognise as a significant good marital love or father love. If she did, then she would more likely view the traditional family as an ideal to aim at.
There are some other interesting things to reflect on in the liberal criticisms of Cory Bernardi, but I'll resume the discussion in a future post.