Monday, May 31, 2004

Should women fight?

It's not only men who dislike the idea of female combat troops. Here's an article on the issue by an American writer, Kathleen Parker.

Her argument against female soldiers is that men and women aren't equal in all things, with men having greater physical strength and endurance than women. This is a good argument, but too limited. A liberal could reply that women could serve as soldiers in areas where technology has done away with the need for physical strength.

What Kathleen Parker needed to do was to go on to talk in greater depth about the differences between men and women. That, for instance, most societies value women for upholding gentler feminine qualities of love, kindness, forgiveness, empathy, charity and physical grace and charm. And that men who see the goodness in these qualities respond protectively, so that societies value qualities in men appropriate to the protector role, such as courage, strength, perserverance, honour, loyalty and so on.

We instinctively feel it to be wrong when women are trained for combat, firstly because we feel that it's central to masculine life to want to protect women from harm on the battelfield, and secondly because we don't want the gentler and finer qualities of women to be brutalised by battlefield conditions.

It is a kind of outrage to our self-identity as men and women to deliberately send women to either kill or be killed in warfare.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Are female bosses better?

Every now and then you get a story in the media about how men are going to become redundant in the workplace. One of the common themes is that there is a superior female style of management based on consensus and not hierarchy which is more suited to modern business.

Tell this to the staff who work for Donna Hay! Donna Hay is a successful publisher of culinary books and magazines (a bit like an Australian version of Martha Stewart). She is not, though, the kind of boss you'd like to work for.

According to an article in yesterday's Age newspaper, Donna Hay is "said to be better at pastry-making than people management". Last year half a dozen staff quit her publishing business, some talking about their workplace as being "a place of frayed nerves and flaring tempers", others claiming "it was an absolute nightmare ... Tears every day".

Hay herself admits that when thing went wrong she "used to cry and have - not tantrums, but I would be really, really, really angry and upset."

Nor is Donna Hay implementing the famous female family-friendly workplace. One employee says of her all-consuming working day that "You go in there when it's dark in the morning and you come out when it's dark at night. There's no time to meet your friends for lunch. There's no time for chats on the phone. You are immersed in Donna Hayness for about 12 hours."

Which just goes to show that femaleness and people management skills don't always go together. There might just be a continuing role for male managers after all.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Women in combat (II)

Neill Mitchell is a radio chat show host on Melbourne's 3AW. Both he and the station are regarded as being a bit right-wing and closer to the Liberal than the Labor Party.

Last month Neill Mitchell outlined his attitude to women in combat in an article for the Herald Sun ("Give the lady a gun" 9/4/03). It's worth quoting the concluding passages in full:

The reality now is that if a woman is suited to combat, she can go into combat. Technology has created many new ways of fighting and killing and many have nothing to do with brute strength.

The price of this equality may well be horrible but there is no logical reason to protect a woman from that.

Indeed used properly, many in the military believe she may be a better, more effective human weapon.

We cannot overcome generations of conditioning overnight and some men will continue to be protective towards women.

The attitude expressed here shows that Neill Mitchell is right wing in the sense of being a right liberal, rather than a conservative.

Liberals want us to be self-defining individuals. They don't like the idea that being born male or female imposes certain obligations or ideals of behaviour.

This is why Mitchell dismisses the idea of male protectiveness toward women as negative social conditioning. Note too how important liberal first principles are to Mitchell: he is willing to follow them through even though "the price of this equality may well be horrible." (This theme is also covered in my earlier article "Liberalism as a secular religion".)

It's interesting to compare Mitchell's views with that of Christine Odone, a woman writing in the generally left-wing British newspaper The Guardian.

In her article, titled "I won't die for equality" (9/2/2003), she explains that she's not exactly "gasping for the chance to be blasted to smithereens by a cluster bomb" and that only "rabid equalisers" want to deliver women into military combat.

So does this make the left-wing Christine Odine more of a conservative than the right-wing Neill Mitchell? Not really. Christine Odine is applying what is sometimes called an unprincipled exception. This means that she approves of the underlying liberal principle, but finds it hard to live with some of its consequences. So she makes a particular exception, by claiming that things are being taken "too far".

This is why she generally praises the fact of women entering traditionally male fields as "progress" but notes that "To some of us [women], being made target practice for the Republican Guard is hardly the kind of equal opportunity we've been looking for" and that "a woman does not need to be in the firing line to feel as good as a man. That is an equality too far."

The problem for Christine Odine is that there will always be those, like Neill Mitchell, who seek to apply liberal first principles to their logical full extent. So, unless we challenge the first principles, it is likely that women will be increasingly drawn into combat roles and perhaps one day will even be conscripted in time of war.

What we need to do is to discard the liberal idea that we are self-defining individuals subject only to our own will and reason. Doing so would allow us to accept in a positive way that there are naturally occurring differences between men and women. Equality would no longer mean trying to transgress the idea of sex roles, it would mean attempting to fulfil our higher nature as men and women.

Were women really born to kill on the battlefield? Is this really part of a higher feminine virtue? The answer to this doesn't depend on modern technology or even on the capabilities of individual women. The answer is a timeless no.

(First published at Conservative Central 07/06/2003)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A liberal view from the right

Here's a little example of the difference between right liberalism and traditionalist conservatism.

There's an Australian blog called The View from the Right (not to be confused with Lawrence Auster's excellent American site, View from the Right).

A recent post on the Australian site was an attempt to justify our Prime Minister's crackdown on illegal immigration. The argument given was that by cracking down on illegals, Mr Howard had pacified the public, allowing a large increase in legal migration.

Now, this is "right wing" only in the sense that it is right wing liberalism. The author of the post clearly supports the deconstruction of traditional Australia by large scale foreign immigration. He believes that by controlling illegal immigration, the process can be done in a more orderly and socially acceptable way.

This is not genuine conservatism. Genuine conservatives don't see ethnicity as an impediment to individual will and reason to be overthrown. Instead they see it as an important part of human connectedness and self-identity to be valued and conserved.

A genuine conservative will therefore argue not only to maintain border control as a normal exercise of national sovereignty, but will also want immigration to be small-scale and compatible with existing ethnic traditions.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Disturbing picture

In the Herald Sun yesterday was another of those photos from the Abu Graib prison in Iraq. I found this photo the most disturbing so far, because it shows a picture of Sabrina Harman, a quite pretty and feminine looking young woman, smiling and giving a thumbs up over the corpse of an Iraqi prisoner.

My immediate reaction was that the two features of the photo simply don't belong together. Young, beautiful womanhood doesn't go together with such a callous insensitivity.

Is it worse that it's a woman rather than a man behaving this way? I think it is. A woman in normal circumstances will generally be more emotionally sensitive or responsive than a man. It's more likely that she will feel emotional hurt, both for herself and others. So to see an attractive young woman behave with a brutal disregard for human life is particularly disturbing.

It only confirms for me my general opposition to women serving in war zones. (I have previously written the following two articles on why liberals are so keen for women to serve in the military.)

Liberalism as a secular religion

Women in combat

The sex blind tragedy

In 1486 Pico della Mirandola declared "We can become what we will."

This idea, that we can create ourselves in any direction by our own will and reason, has come to be enormously influential in Western societies.

Today the principle is even being applied to our sexual self-identity. It would seem obvious to most people that there are limits to "becoming what we will": one example being the fact that we are born either male or female and have no choice in the matter.

However, two recent news items from America show that for some people even the very fact of our own sex is to be included within the "sphere of will".

One news item concerns Wesleyan University, which previously had separate dormitories for men and women. According to the dean of student services, a third transgender dormitory is now to be established for students "who don't identify with their physical sex."

The second news item concerns "boy poseurs." According to an article in the Melbourne Age (22/05/03) it's now fashionable among New York lesbians to reject a female identity by, amongst other things, binding their breasts and referring to each other as "he".

What does the reporter think of the confused sexual identity of these women? She thinks it a positive thing - as something that furthers the idea that "we can become what we will".

For instance, she asks "Why should it be possible to buy at least six different kinds of bagel in New York city and yet be limited to a mere two choices of gender?" And she quotes approvingly a Vassar College academic, Jami Weinstein, who talks about women "performing" their gender differently, so that "You can see that 'woman' is a pretty arbitrary category." The article itself ends with the line that "The idea of identity flux, of being able to be whoever you want, is an essential part of the times we live in."

What do conservatives think of all this? Conservatives don't share Pico's belief that what is important in life is to be self-created. Therefore, conservatives don't mind the fact that "woman" is a fixed, rather than an arbitrary category, and that much of our self-identity is not in flux, but is constant. Nor would conservatives lament that there are only "a mere two choices of gender"; instead, conservatives are comfortable with the idea that, as individuals, we have no choice of gender at all.

The aim for a conservative is for our sexual identification to be strong and positive, so that a man is strongly connected to his higher masculine nature and a woman to her higher feminine nature. A culture should encourage this positive identification rather than celebrate its failure.

It is a personal strength, and a path to self-fulfilment, to have a straightforward identification with your own sex. Modern day liberals have a hard time accepting this basic truth as they are caught by first principles that were as wrong in Pico's time as they are today.

(First published at Conservative Central 25/04/03)

Beaut blokes

Last year a Beaut Blokes weekend was held in the Victorian country town of Harrow. The idea was to introduce city women to country men. The weekend seems to have been a success, with the first engagement having just been announced.

The lucky farmer explained the engagement as follows,

Mr Featherstone said Ms Marsden gave him the brush off on their first encounter, telling him not to call unless he had a problem. Days later when he had mustered enough courage to call, she wanted to know why he took so long. Wasn't he concerned about whether she had got home all right? That's when Mr Featherstone says he knew that she was "the one".

So, the man is asked not to call. He does so anyway and is asked by the woman why he didn't call sooner. Instead of feeling agrieved by the contradictory demands, he realises that "she's the one". Why? The answer, I think, is that the women has, in her own way, sought his masculine protection (why didn't you check to see if I was safe?), and he has instinctively responded.

At any rate, this is yet another example of how men and women interact differently in relationships. It would be hard to make much sense of the above behaviour if you held to the liberal view that men and women are the same.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Natural differences

Here's a well written column by Michael Gurian on accepting natural differences between men and women.

Liberals have spent a lot of time arguing that differences between men and women are created by socialisation alone: by upbringing, education, media influence and so on. They have preferred to believe this because they don't want an unchosen quality like our manhood or womanhood to significantly influence who we are. This is because it's a liberal first principle that we should be self-created by our own individual will and reason - that this, in fact, is what defines us as human.

Hence the liberal attempt to overthrow the influence of inherited sex roles, which is still going on today.

Modern science, though, is undermining the liberal position, as the Gurian piece makes clear. The conservative attitude, that there are natural differences between men and women which will be reflected in the nature of social life, and particularly family life, is being increasingly vindicated.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Who attacks Australian men?

The social engineers are at it again.

Here in Victoria, under the Bracks Labor Government, there is a campaign to recruit more women into the police force. The Police Chief Commissioner, Christine Nixon, wants equal opportunity laws set aside so that women can be recruited instead of more qualified men.

Nationally, under the Howard Liberal Government, $2.5 million has been allocated to recruit women into traditionally male dominated university courses such as engineering.

So both the left and right wing of politics agree that the number of men in professional jobs should be decreased in favour of less qualified or less motivated women. Why?

It's not because of public pressure. In fact, a Herald Sun voteline showed 93% of the public against the new police recruitment scheme.

Nor can it be an issue of fairness. Many letter writers to the papers have pointed out that there are no similar schemes to promote men into professions dominated by women. (Women hold 57% of jobs in the Victorian Public Service, 73% of teaching jobs in Australia, 75% of counselling jobs at the Family Court, 80% of jobs at the Bank of Melbourne, 95% of preschool teaching jobs in Qld, and 100% of midwifery jobs at the Mercy Hospital).

Similarly there are no schemes to promote men into university courses dominated by women (77% of health students are female, as are 73% of education students. Overall, 55% of first year students are female.)

So if there is no public demand for change, and no issue of fairness, why do both the left and right wing parties want to make changes to traditionally male dominated professions?

The answer is that the Labor and Liberal parties are both essentially liberal in their basic philosophy. They believe that there should be no impediments to our individual will. Therefore, they view the influence of sex roles on individuals as being an oppressive limitation.

For liberals, the existence of a male dominated profession will be seen as one such "oppressive limitation" on women.

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that we are born with a particular nature, and that we fulfil ourselves by working within the best of that nature. Therefore, it would seem only natural to conservatives that more men would choose to join the police force, whilst more women would prefer to work with young children as preschool teachers. A conservative would not see this as oppressive or discriminatory, but as a simple reflection of differences in the nature of men and women.

The liberal view is likely to lead to great distortions as the percentage of men undertaking higher education, and joining the professions, falls further and further behind women. No doubt, we will be told that the problem is that men are becoming redundant in the modern world, or that men have to change their masculine ways. Remember, though, that behind these changes are deliberate government policies which will continue to operate until the conservative view takes a greater role in Australian society.

(First published at Conservative Central 20/05/2002)

Monday, May 17, 2004

Why was Hinch a grinch?

On the weekend Australia's Mary Donaldson married Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. The wedding was a great success in Australia with more than a million tuning in to watch the late night live broadcast.

There was one voice of protest though. Derryn Hinch, a broadcaster on the "right wing" 3AW station, began his show with a criticism of the events. Why was he so disapproving?

Hinch disliked the fact that so much attention should be paid to Crown Prince Frederik, who, in Hinch's view, is "a man lauded purely because of circumstances of birth" and whose "only claim to fame was being to the manor born" and whose position has "nothing to do with talent".

Hinch here is simply being true to his liberal philosophy. Liberals believe that we should be self-created by our own will and reason. This means that things that we inherit or are born to shouldn't influence the role we play in life. Yet, Crown Prince Frederik does occupy a particular role because of an "accident of birth".

Hinch, therefore, is only applying liberal philosophy logically and consistently. His attitude, in other words, has little to do with any unbiased, personal response to watching the wedding. He is simply following through with an intellectual principle which became the orthodoxy many generations ago.

So Hinch was made a grinch by his stubborn attachment to liberalism. Many of his listeners, though, took a less ideological view of the wedding, and responded very positively to Mary Donaldson's grace and elegance, to the happiness of the public celebrations, and to the displays of both Danish and Australian national feeling.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

A Marxist laments

Kenneth Mostern was employed as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee for six years. He recently resigned and has written a lengthy article explaining his surprising decision.

He puts the issue this way: "Academics have, compared to most workers, a substantial amount of freedom to make their own schedules and a significant amount of time off. Academics are mostly doing what they want to be doing ... Thus the question: why are academics so miserable? Why has my resignation produced the most profound joy?"

To understand his answer you need to know some background to the situation. Kenneth Mostern is a white Jewish male Marxist who chose to work in the field of African American Studies. He is, in other words, a radical left liberal: he wants to be a creation of his own will and reason, and so has rebelled against any inborn or inherited forms of self-definition (such as being white, or Jewish, or male). He himself admits that:

I am also a symbol of what for some, however unconsciously, African American Studies is imagined to be a revolt against: a white, Jewish, male marxist.

It was the very dominance of radical liberalism within his English department, though, which created problems for Mr Mostern.

In part, this was because the logic of liberalism leads on to a denial of the existence of any objective forms of truth. If the assertion of individual reason is the highest good, then it will be thought offensive to assert an objective truth which transcends (and places limits on) individual reason.

If, however, there is not permitted to be any measure of objective truth, then what grounds are there to discuss or evaluate academic work? And, if there are no such grounds, then on what principles do academic departments operate?

According to Mr Mostern one answer to these questions is that "Because no one is talking about substance, only alliances, and because alienation is general, a vacuum exists at the center of institutional power which is not filled by talent or argument, but by those who feel most comfortable or justified taking advantage of it."

Mr Mostern, most surprisingly for a Marxist, found himself yearning for "a conservative program with a coherent sense of its intellectual mission in relation to the national community" as this might have turned the department into "a place of vigorous engagement." Instead, the department continued to be "the independent source of my most extreme alienation."

Mr Mostern's response was to reject the notion of "ambivalence" about truth, and instead assert the idea of "commitment". In effect, Mr Mostern shifted to some degree from the liberal ideal of the free-floating, self-creating autonomous individual, in order to accept certain forms of conservative connectedness.

He himself lists three such forms of connectedness in response to his original question of why his resignation produced such profound joy.

The first is marital love. His marriage had previously been under intense strain because both he and his wife had put their careers ahead of their relationship (they lived in different cities). He now feels confident to assert the value of marriage as being something that is "nonarbitrary", in other words, that has a real objective value.

He declares that "Commitment is the choice to act in practical terms on the premise that you want to be with someone, that you believe in something as true. As an academic I was ambivalent, not committed, and nearly lost my marriage. This did not make me happy. And it is not idiosyncratic."

The second form of connectedness is to local community and the particular tradition it embodies. He asks the reasonable question of how in a place where he had no "community of familiarity" he could know "what one's work is, let alone accomplish it."

And finally, he asserts the value of what he chooses to call "congregation." He admits that having rejected his Jewish faith, he hoped that the department would become a kind of substitute secular congregation. It didn't fulfill this role, though, as academics were people who could not even "address each other as seekers, without fear."

Mr Mostern, it must be said, has not broken very thoroughly from his Marxism. His article is interesting, though, as an example of the stresses created when people try to follow liberalism consistently, and how even a minimal form of conservatism can serve as a liberating alternative.

(First published at Conservative Central 17/05/03)

Friday, May 14, 2004

A Conservative Survivor?

A saving grace of reality TV is that it can't always follow a politically correct script. Take the case of the Survivor finale. The two finalists, Rob and Amber, fell in love and got engaged. When Rob was asked what attracted him to Amber he replied that he found her sweet and beautiful. Amber said that she liked the way that Rob made her feel safe.

This is a long way from politically correct feminism. Feminists apply liberal principles to women: they believe that women should be independent, autonomous, self-defining individuals. Most female characters on TV follow this principle by being tough, feisty independent career girls.

In a reality show, though, a woman like Amber can be pronounced attractive for her sweetness and beauty, and she herself can express a preference for a man who is protectively masculine.

Of course, there is also a lot of cultural trash in reality shows. But at least there is some room for non-ideological qualities of men and women to appear.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Tax cuts for the ....?

The Australian budget has just been announced. It contained some modest tax cuts for the highest income earners. I was stunned, to say the least, when reading the Treasurer's defence of these cuts. According to a report in The Australian,

An unapologetic Treasurer insisted it was necessary to lift productivity and improve Australia's chances of attracting high-skilled workers from overseas.

Isn't this amazing! Mr Costello, who is supposed to represent us, the people of Australia, is changing tax policy so that the best professional jobs can be taken by foreign immigrants with no connection to Australia. Incredible!

Surely this makes it crystal clear that the Australian Liberal Party is not a conservative party. It is a right liberal party which is most interested in pursuing free market objectives, such as removing any impediments, such as high taxes, to the flow of labour.

This isn't to say the tax cuts themselves are wrong. But any normal, self-respecting conservative would want his fellow countrymen to have first go at decent jobs. It's been a very long time, I suspect, since Mr Costello experienced such conservative instincts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Misnaming conservatives

From Lawrence Auster (of View from the Right):

One of the great confusions today is that anyone who is anti-left is called a conservative. It would be as though, during the Cold War, anyone who was anti-Communist was called a conservative ... The misnaming we have today not only creates intellectual confusion but is substantially harmful to conservatism, in that (1) it makes real conservatism impossible by defining conservatism as liberalism, and (2) another way of saying the same thing, it defines conservatism as opposition to the hard left, rather than as opposition to liberalism."

This is well put. If we allow right wing liberalism to be defined as conservatism, then what is there to pose any challenge to liberalism? Politics just becomes a contest between the left wing and right wing forms of liberalism. Typically, real conservatives then identify with the right liberal party and their politics become a confused and ineffectual hybrid between the right wing liberalism of the parties they support and their own conservative instincts. In the past, this has always allowed liberals to carry the day.

So, the first step for the conservative movement to progress is for conservatives to more clearly distinguish themselves from right wing liberalism.

Germaine Greer: A Political Portrait

Over the years there has been a shift in the politics of the famous Australian feminist Germaine Greer. Early on she was every inch a liberal individualist; later, though, her politics became more mixed, even including some traces of conservatism.

One example of this change is in her attitude to the family. In her influential book The Female Eunuch, published in 1971, Greer argued for a type of family arrangement which would still allow her to have complete individual autonomy.

Her idea was that children should grow up on communal farms, which the parents would visit when "circumstances permitted." Some parents might even "live there for quite long periods, as long as we wanted to." For Greer, it wasn't even necessary that her child should "know that I was his womb-mother."

In later years Greer changed her attitude. For instance, in 1991 she wrote that "Most societies have arranged matters so that a family surrounds and protects mother and child," and complained of "our families having withered away" with relationships becoming "less durable every year."

There is an obvious shift here from a radical individualism, based around complete individual autonomy, to a more conservative recognition that the social framework, the "fabric of society", is important for the well-being of the individual.

Greer's views on sex also underwent a dramatic conversion. Early on, Greer took an "anything goes" attitude to sex, even declaring at one stage that group sex was "the highest ritual expression of our faith."

Her promiscuity, though, seems to have soured her attitude to sex, because she eventually turned to the opposite extreme of denouncing sex altogether. For instance, she claimed that sexual love was "riddled with hostility and insecurity," and that she was beginning to think that "sex was really disgusting and that we shouldn't have anything to do with it".

Neither of these opposing attitudes to sex is very helpful, and Greer has done little to explain the transformation in her outlook. Perhaps this is because of her stated belief that "human beings have an inalienable right to re-invent themselves". Greer believes, in other words, in the liberal idea that individuals are blank slates who can endlessly form and re-form themselves in whatever direction they choose.

In reality, though, we cannot simply invent who we are, since what we become is influenced by our own inborn nature, by necessary social roles, by the larger consequences of our actions and so on. For instance, Greer's early desire to be a kind of absentee mother was never going to work, because the bond between mother and child is, by nature, too strong to be kept casual and anonymous, and because, as Greer later admitted, it is better for mother and child to be supported within a stable social framework.

For all this, conservatives are likely to find Greer an interesting variety of liberal, with her outpourings being an unpredictable mixture of gloom and grumpiness, personal invective, wayward liberalism and, struggling through it all, fragments of conservatism.

(First published in University Review 1998)

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Maternal attachment

Dr Penelope Leach is a leading child psychologist. She is quoted in today's Herald Sun as follows:

The security of an infant's attachment to mother and the sensitivity of her care go together. Stress, including stresses that lead to insecure attachment, damages an infant's capacity to learn.

That is to say, if a baby lacks a sensitive response from Mum it becomes stressed and it's mental development is slower. The baby, in this view, needs to feel securely attached to its mother.

I've highlighted this quote because it is so out of step with modern day liberalism. Liberals like the idea that gender is something to be overcome, and so they tend to see men and women as being interchangeable within the family.

But in Penelope Leach's view, babies have a particular need for their mothers. It is a secure attachment between mother and child which is important. Mothers, therefore, can't easily be displaced by either fathers or professional child care workers in the lives of their infant children.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Pity Norway

Norway has a new "conservative" leader, a woman by the name of Erna Solberg. What great plans does she have for her country? To erase it, by leading it into the European Union.

Obviously, Erna Solberg is not a conservative. She is probably a right liberal, who believes first and foremost in the free market. I expect that she sees the European Union as breaking down impediments to free trade and the movement of labour.

It's interesting to note, by the way, that the Norwegians and the Swiss do not seem to have suffered economically by staying out of the Union.

How sad though that the Norwegians don't have a real conservative party to defend the independent existence of their own country.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

A model Mum?

The Melbourne Age newspaper decided to highlight in its Mother's Day edition a woman called Donna Muller.

Donna Muller is an officer in the Australian Navy. This year she is serving in the Solomon Islands, though she is based in Cairns. Her young daughter lives thousands of kilometres away in Canberra.

You wouldn't think this was the ideal arrangement for a mother and her young child. But Donna Muller and the Age reporter are quite upbeat about the situation. We are told that,

Commander Muller says visits to Cairns, where she is based, every few months, frequent phone calls back home and email correspondence have kept the disturbances to family life to a minimum" and that "Her maternal instincts have been put to use elsewhere, in charge of the crew aboard the HMAS Labuan" and that "Commander Muller says she is a good example to other women that it is possible to be a mother and hold a highly demanding job.

I don't buy this. For a young child to only visit her mother every few months is not a minimum disturbance to family life; running a ship is not putting maternal instincts to use at all; and Donna Muller's situation is not a good example of successfully combining motherhood and a career.

Donna Muller says her daughter is resilient, and you can only hope that this is so.

Friday, May 07, 2004

A policy pitfall

Suad Almad came to Canada from Somalia 12 years ago. She says of her experience as a Somali migrant that "We come to Canada and we become lost."

This is one of the pitfalls of liberal refugee and migration policies. Liberals believe that ethnicity shouldn't matter, as our identity should be self-created and not defined by unchosen, inherited things like ethnicity.

Therefore, for liberals discriminating on the basis of ethnicity is wrong: it offends the liberal idea that ethnicity should not define who we are or how we are related to each other.

And so, millions of non-Western migrants are brought into Western countries even though they are effectively stripped of their ethnic identity in doing so.

Liberals believe that they are being high-minded in doing this, and it is true that they are being "principled" in carrying out their own philosophy. But their philosophy is misguided and does harm. It does harm to the migrants like Suad Almad who become "lost" and it does harm to the host population whose own ethnic and cultural identity becomes harder to sustain.

And there do exist better alternatives. There is no reason, if you think things through carefully, why refugees couldn't be resettled securely in countries with similar ethnic traditions. The financial costs of doing this could be met by international aid from wealthier countries.

But again, to the liberal mind, this is "discrimination" in a negative sense, and so is forbidden as a public policy, no matter how sensible it might seem to non-liberals.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Female conscripts

Less than a year ago I predicted that women might one day face military conscription. That day might come sooner than I thought. The chief of the U.S. Selective Service System has proposed registering women for the military draft.

I guess this wasn't a difficult prediction to make. In order to justify putting women into combat, liberals have argued that there is nothing about womanhood which prevents women taking up combat roles. Logically, though, this means also that there is no reason why women shouldn't be conscripted into the army alongside men.

When I have raised this possibility with ordinary, feminine, non-feminist women I have met with either an unwillingness to even register the possibility ("I'm not even going to think about this, it could never happen to me") or else, especially from younger women, a laughing "it's a man's role to do this, not a woman's, they would never make us do that".

Tragically, I think that they might. That is unless rank and file conservative men retain enough of a protective instinct toward their wives and daughters to fight this aspect of liberalism. We'll have to see.

(Item via Jim Kalb)

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The confusion of right liberals

One of the mistakes conservatives make is to trust too much to the so-called conservative parties, such as the Liberal Party in Australia, the Conservatives in Britain and the Republicans in the US.

It would be better if we thought of these parties as being right liberal parties, as opposed to left liberal parties like the Australian Labor Party or the American Democrats.

The right liberal parties typically have three different elements to their politics. The first element is a core belief in liberal individualism. John Brogden, as NSW Liberal MP for Pittwater, identified himself with this core belief by stating that "Liberalism encourages progressive policy and creates equal opportunities for and removes barriers to individual success." Similarly Professor Peter Baume, in writing about the Australian Liberal Party, declared that:

For the philosophical liberal the individual is the focus, the individual is the basic unit and it is to effects on individual people that philosophical liberals look to see the consequences of any proposal.

If right liberals remain at this first, core level of right liberalism, they are typically called (in Australia) "small-l liberals". They are not averse to state intervention to provide the conditions for individualism to succeed. John Brogden, for instance, is happy to announce that "State government must ensure community safety, justice, health, education, economic advancement and environmental protection."

Peter Baume, in his turn, claims that "liberals welcomed measures, and continue to welcome measures, which empower people. Free education empowered young people... Anti-discrimination legislation empowered people otherwise powerless ... legislation to remove gender bias empowered women ... provision of age pensions empowered those who are elderly" and so on.

These small-l liberals are closest to the left liberals, and it isn't surprising that the Australian Democrats, a breakaway group of small-l liberals, moved gradually into the left liberal camp.

Most right liberals, though, add a layer of economic liberalism onto this core belief in individualism. They believe that individuals acting unimpeded within the free market is the best mechanism for meeting human desires and needs. Therefore, they focus heavily on the individual as an "economic unit" and tend to support economic deregulation. They are not as keen on state interference as small-l liberals.

Mark Birrell, as Liberal leader of the Victorian Legislative Council, neatly summarised the view of these economic liberals when he announced that "I enter this Chamber as a Liberal, committed to a philosophy that emphasises the freedom of the individual, acclaims the value of the free enterprise system and champions the rights of the citizen over the state." Notice that the core belief in individualism is still there, but is joined together with a belief in economic free enterprise.

Henry Bolte, the longest serving Liberal premier of Victoria (from 1955 to 1972) also fits into this "second camp" of economic liberals. He stated in 1955 that "We are going to prove to the people of Australia that fewer controls will mean greater advancement" (anti-statism); in 1959 he showed the tendency to view people as economic units by saying of his large-scale immigration policy that "We have many critics against the policy of attracting capital, in migrants and investment to Australia." As for economic deregulation, he extended bar trading hours with the claim that he was proud to be part of "the progressive Liberal Party" rather than "an old-fashioned Conservative mob."

Then there are those right liberals who add on a third dimension to their politics: an intellectual or conservative liberalism.

Sometimes this kind of "conservative" right liberalism seems to develop from the "anti-statism" belief of economic liberals. The idea is that if you want the state to be small, you have to protect the institutions of civil society and also uphold ideals of individual responsibility. Therefore, these kind of conservative right liberals might defend the idea of the independent family, or talk of civic responsibility or of ordered freedom.

It is also possible that some "conservative" right liberals are genuinely influenced by a conservative instinct or personal preference. However, this conservatism is rendered ineffectual because it coexists in a confused way with the first two layers of liberal individualism and economic liberalism.

A good example of this confusion is found in a speech given by Tessa Keswick to the British Conservative Party conference in 2000 concerning women and conservatism.

The speech begins with an enthusiastic endorsement of the development of feminism from the French Revolution to the present day. Tessa Keswick endorses this feminist progress because, like all right liberals, she believes in the ideal of liberal individualism: that what matters is that we should be autonomous and independent and able to choose for ourselves according to our own individual will and reason.

Therefore, she talks glowingly of the achievement of female economic independence; of the advent of birth control which enabled women to "make their own decisions about that central aspect of their lives" and by which women "became no longer dependent on men physically"; and of "liberated divorce laws". And she quotes approvingly the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir who proclaimed "I am interested in the fortunes of the individual as defined not in terms of happiness but in terms of liberty."

Tessa Keswick then goes on to demonstrate her economic liberalism. Her commitment to free enterprise and a small state is clear in her claims that feminism is unleashing "entrepreneurial talent" and that the Conservatives should criticise "the Labour Party's commitment to overregulation" and the "smothering, nannyish [approach] of the Blair Government, letting women make their own life decisions."

Then we get to the third layer of right liberalism. The logic of anti-statism comes out in her comments that the Conservatives have to uphold "the notion of obligations and duties" and "the Conservative sense of community based on the Burkean notion of the importance of locality and the small platoons", and must "attach more value to the family."

The terrible confusion of this kind of "conservative" right liberalism, though, is revealed in her final remarks. She is willing to confess that "central to all our fears is the very clear decline of the family."

Talking about the balance between work and family she goes on to note that:

"The horrible irony is that, in many ways, the female quest for independence has made it more difficult for some women to find that balance. In certain sections of society we are not finding a mature and sustained sharing of the burdens of parenthood by men and women, but, remarkably, an impulse to go it alone. Some are rejecting, it seems, the stable structures which would have made much easier an attempt to have elements of both worlds in our lives. The altogether admirable determination of women to stand on their own two feet too often seems to leave them reluctant to use marriage or even partnership as a platform for a life balanced between family and work."

What did she expect? If the aim is individual autonomy, then why would women forsake their independence by marrying? If young women are taught that history has been a march of progress of women toward independence, then why wouldn't they cling to that independence for as long as they could?

You can start to glean here why right wing parties like the British Conservatives, or the Australian Liberals, or the American Republicans have been so ineffective in opposing the progress of liberalism: whatever element of conservatism does exist in these parties is hopelessly compromised by a core commitment to liberal individualism and economic liberalism.

If conservatism is to be more successfully applied it needs to be carefully distinguished from right liberalism, and rank and file conservatives need to trust less naively in the right wing political parties.

(First published at Conservative Central, 12/05/03)

Is communism liberal?

A reader of Conservative Central has raised the interesting question of whether communism can really be a form of liberalism.

In his letter the reader claims that communism can't be a form of liberalism as communists believe that people are social by nature, whereas real liberalism is based on individualism.

But is communism really based on the view that people are social by nature? Or does it set out to create, just like other forms of liberalism, a society based on individual autonomy?

If you read through the communist literature, you find that most of the ways that people express their social nature are to be outlawed under communist rule. For instance, there are to be no countries, nor are there to be any families. There are to be no churches, no group identities based on gender, nor are there to be distinct social classes. All that is allowed to remain is the individual and the state (with the state "withering away" at some unidentified point in the future).

It might be true that communists talk at times about people helping each other. But so do mainstream liberals. There is nothing within liberal philosophy to prevent expressions of altruism. The key thing is that liberals don't recognise aspects of human nature which give us a necessary and particular connection to other people.

For instance, communists don't believe that we might be obliged by our moral conscience to help others, since morality is viewed simply as a creation of class interests. Nor do they believe that a man's masculine nature obliges him to fulfil his responsibilities as a husband or father, since sex roles within the family are viewed by communists as an oppressive social construct.

Communists are ultimately individualistic, just like other liberals, because they start out with the view that the individual comes into the world as a blank slate, with no inborn qualities to limit or give a particular direction to an individual's behaviour.

This doesn't mean that there aren't significant differences between communists and more mainstream forms of liberalism. Communism is a kind of left liberalism rather than right liberalism: it is openly statist and doesn't aim at preserving individual economic enterprise. More strikingly communism is a radical rather than a gradualist form of liberalism: it aims to achieve all its aims immediately through a revolutionary programme, rather than working gradually through existing institutions.

Communism, in other words, is at one extreme end of the liberal spectrum: it is a radical form of left liberalism.

(First published Conservative Central 12/05/03)

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Women aren't men (II)

Ever wondered why women don't earn as much as men? Feminists would like you to believe that it's because of a glass ceiling, or male domination or sexist discrimination. But part of the reason for a difference in earnings is that many women enjoy motherhood and choose to scale down their commitment to paid work when they have young children.

Mary Costello is one such woman. She relates, in the current issue of Melbourne's Child, that

Expectations of women have never been higher ... But women are wising up. The cost of doing it all is ultimately the woman's quality of life. I for one couldn't hack it. When I found myself hanging out of the 7.20 a.m. city train every morning, crying and waving goodbye to my howling baby, I realised I couldn't 'have it all'. By that stage, I no longer even wanted it all. I wanted to be with my child ... So I gave up the best job I ever had and stayed at home for ten years. They were the best and shortest years of my life - interesting and satisfying in a way that handling a boardroom of middle-aged men never was. (Melbourne's Child, May 2004)

And if this means that Mary Costello wasn't earning as much as her husband, so what? It's not as if her husband was out earning money as a plot against women - his earnings were for the benefit of his family, male and female.

In short, it would be a strange thing if we ever really reached the point where women earned as much as men. It would mean either that women were no longer taking time out of the paid workforce to raise their children, or that men were no longer striving to provide for their families.

The goal of "equal earnings" is not a worthy one to aim for.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Revealing stats

I can remember in the mid 90s a major campaign by feminists on the issue of domestic violence. The feminists claimed that 1 in 3 women would be victims of domestic violence and that it was just as likely to happen to women in well-off homes.

At the time I found this hard to believe. Growing up in the comfortable south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne I wasn't aware of a single case of wife beating amongst family or friends. In fact, it seemed to be a culturally unacceptable thing.

On Angry Harry's site yesterday I saw a graph which strongly suggests that the feminists of the time were wrong. The graph shows the incidence of domestic violence in Britain in 1995.

Revealingly, among the wealthiest 50% of Britons the risk of domestic assault for women was 3%. The incidence of domestic assault against men among this group was actually higher than against women, being 4.2%

It's only among the poorest quarter of the population that the rate of domestic violence against women rises to 10%, as opposed to 4.4% for men.

Conclusions? Firstly, the feminists were wrong to claim a 33% rate of domestic violence against women. For most women the risk in the 90s was a little over 3%.

Secondly, the feminists were wrong to claim that women in middle class homes were just as susceptible as the poorest of women. Poorer women, on the British figures, faced three times the risk of domestic violence.

Thirdly, the feminists were wrong to see domestic violence as something in which men are always the oppressors and women the victims. For most of the population, the risk of domestic violence was rougly similar for men and women.

The feminist campaign of the 90s did some damage - it contributed to the unnecessarily fractured relations between young men and women. And it was based on hopelessly false and exaggerated claims about violence in relationships.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

False alarm

We are sometimes told that high rates of immigration are necessary because we aren't having enough children and won't be able to support the elderly.

A University of Melbourne economist, Professor Ian McDonald, doesn't believe this is true. According to his research, living standards in Australia are likely to double over the next 50 years, even when the costs of supporting an ageing population are factored in.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the low birth rate is OK: it's a sign of a breakdown of family life in the West. But there's no reason to believe that we need large scale immigraton to support the elderly in years ahead. Economic growth will allow us to do this, and still enjoy higher rates of (material) living standards.

Women aren't men

Angela Pulvirenti has this to say in today's Herald Sun:

I will be the first to admit that whenever I see the television advertisement in which a mother cries in joy as her perfect, smiling baby strokes her face with his tiny finger, my biological clock not only ticks - it positively erupts. Then I spend a full day with a friend who has a real baby.

I expect that at most a young man would respond to the ad by thinking "that's nice". It would never enter a young man's mind to rush off to a friend's place to spend a day with a real baby.

Just one more small example of how different men and women are, especially in our instincts toward motherhood and fatherhood.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Not so independent schools

In today's Herald Sun the following news:

Private and public schools would be forced to take students who cannot afford to pay fees under radical changes being floated by the State Government.

If such a policy goes ahead it will violate the independence of private schools. Such schools should be able to select students according to their own standards and values.

As it is, most private schools do offer scholarships to academically gifted students who can't afford to pay full fees. They do this, though, on selection criteria they think best, and not under government directions.


Orania was in the news yesterday because of the launch of its own currency. Orania is something unique in the West, a town of 600 Afrikaners trying to preserve their own culture within their own small community.

They have a website with a photo page (you have to click "Fotoalbum" on the left). According to the site, three aims they have set themselves are the building of community; economic independence; and ecological sustainability.

Even if it is on a small scale, at least the Oranians are connecting their life work to something important, namely the furtherance of their own traditional culture.