Sometimes you hear people say that we live in a post-industrial society. I'm not so sure. It seems to me that we are pushing toward a deeper - a more raw - stage of industrial society.
There was, of course, an intense stage of industrialisation in the 1800s. But at the same time there were efforts to at least contain its impact on society.
For instance, men were subject to the demands of industry during working hours. But often their wives and children were not. The family home was supposed to be a haven from the demands and values of the industrial world.
There was a deliberate effort, also, to establish garden suburbs. And, over time, working hours for men were reduced. As early as 1856, workers in Melbourne began to enjoy an eight hour working day.
There was a time too when "slow leisure pursuits" were popular. People read poetry, spent time in the garden, went on picnics, spent a day at the cricket or fishing at the river.
So, although industrialisation had a major effect on culture and society, there were still spaces in which the logic of industrial organisation didn't penetrate.
Great Britain became a world superpower, in part, because it was the first to industrialise. It's noteworthy that other self-disciplined and ambitious nations, such as Germany and Japan, recognised the need to modernise their economies along similar lines.
When you look at Japan, you see a somewhat different path. The Japanese did not mitigate industrialisation the same way the the British did, with garden suburbs or with leisure time. Their industrial cities were concrete jungles and their men were expected to be work warriors.
They did, however, for a period of time attempt to fuse certain more traditional values with industrialisation. It was thought masculine to be a successful work warrior and to support a family with long hours of work. It was also thought to be patriotic to contribute to building up the Japanese economy.
It's possible that this intense industrialisation explains some of Japan's social ills. Japan may not have committed to liberalism as deeply as the Anglosphere countries, but they did commit in a raw way to the industrial organisation of society. Does this help to explain some of the decline in the Japanese family even in the absence of a strong feminist movement? The failure of some young men to commit to society?
Here in Australia we seem to be following down the Japanese path in the sense that there is no longer the same effort to offset the effects of industrial organisation. Some observations:
1. The family is not as much a haven from work as it once was. The advice to women in the 1950s and 60s to prepare a comfortable and relaxing home for their husbands to return to work from is now mocked. With women increasingly at work themselves, men are now expected to keep working when at home. With a high rate of divorce, family is no longer the centre of stable values as a counterpoint to the world of work.
2. On a related note, now that many women are at work, it is harder for men to conceive their work role in terms of family or masculinity. For instance, a man who worked in an office could have once thought to himself that his efforts at work were not dedicated to "the office" but to his role as a husband and father supporting a family and creating a protected space for a culture of family life to flourish. Now, though, he is more likely to be drawn into a corporate culture, in which his efforts at work are connected directly to his corporate role and identity, rather than to something beyond them.
3. There is a trend for the more ambitious kind of young woman to give up on motherhood. Such women are already living a pressured lifestyle at work and find it difficult to imagine taking on the extra duties and responsibilities of raising children. And, more than this, the lifestyle associated with modern, urban, industrial society is one of long hours at work, followed by and justified by, certain trappings of the "good life" such as dining out, travel, designer clothes, shopping and so on - a lifestyle that would be cramped by motherhood. The dramatic drop in the birthrate seen in the "raw" industrial societies of Japan and Germany is likely to happen here as well, especially among middle-class women.
4. There is the beginning of a trend for workplaces to act as de facto families. When I worked in Japan it was common for the entire staff to holiday together - that was how strong the work relationships were supposed to be. I haven't heard of this happening in Australia, but, with the decline of family, work is starting to be the main source of personal relationships for some people, and some businesses are beginning to take on a paternal role in staff well-being. A friend of mine has been applying for work recently and he told me how he was put off some workplaces because they struck him as being cult-like - as requiring a commitment that went beyond the professional and into the personal.
5. We are also following the Japanese path in building more congested urban spaces. The Japanese have a sense of themselves as lovers of nature, but modern life seems to have largely cancelled this out, and the same appears to be happening to Anglo culture.
6. The increase in leisure hours stalled in the 1970s. The picture here is not clear-cut, as work stress will depend on the circumstance of each family. In a family where both husband and wife are working-full time, as well as raising children, time pressure will be relatively high; on the other hand, there has been a rise in part-time work during this period. What seems generally true, though, is that people are less committed to leisure pursuits that bring them back to a more traditional pace of life that connects them to nature or to the arts (and, perhaps, to religion). Anglo society has moved closer to that fast paced, mass, urban culture that, unsurprisingly, was thought characteristic of life in Berlin during its period of industrial modernisation, and that was certainly part of Japanese culture when I lived there in the 1990s.
The larger point I am making in all this is that it may not be enough to challenge the liberal ideology that dominates the Western political classes. Even if this ideology was overthrown, traditional values would still be compromised within a society organised wholly along industrial lines.
If the individual is to be fitted to the most productive purposes within an industrial system, without limit, then not much will remain of a traditional culture. We do need to think through how best to respond to this problem.
Personally, I don't favour the nineteenth century approach of shielding women and children in the home, whilst subjecting men to industrialisation. Even if successful (i.e. in preserving family values as a counterpoint to an industrial culture), this only preserves the domestic aspect of life, at the expense of the larger civilisational commitments that men should ordinarily have.
I don't know if it's economically feasible, but I would prefer a dual system for men - to spend part of the week in an industrial role and another part in a "community" one set apart from both family and bread-winning responsibilities.
Another option would be to try to limit some of the unnecessary financial burdens in modern life (the high cost of housing, education and taxation) and to encourage men to achieve financial independence, allowing them a greater freedom to order their lives according to non-industrial criteria.
These are only musings at this stage, the important point being that you cannot curtail men's lives to the effort to survive within an industrial workplace and then expect the resulting culture to be imbued with traditionalist values relating to the distinct role of a father within a family, or to a man's role in leading his community or in contributing to his larger tradition.