Monday, January 29, 2007

In defence of what matters

There is a logic within liberalism by which what really matters must be made not to matter.

The reason for this runs as follows. Liberal modernity has been formed from a number of factors; one of them is the idea that our distinction as humans is that we are "self-authored".

To achieve a fully human status, therefore, we must create who we are from our own individual reason and will. There are impediments, though, to our achieving this aim.

If we are defined or guided by tradition or by biology, for instance, we are being influenced in an important way by what we inherit, rather than what we create for ourselves. Therefore, a strict liberalism will logically reject such influences.

The problem is that it's unlikely that aspects of the self would have been hardwired into us as part of our given nature if they weren't important. Similarly, it's unlikely that at least some aspects of culture, belief and identity would have survived in the long term as a tradition if they weren't important.

Liberalism, therefore, faces the task of making certain aspects of reality which matter most not matter.

Liberalism, for instance, must make our sex, our being a man or woman, not matter. It must make our membership of an ethny not matter. It must make uncontracted forms of authority, such as the authority of fathers, not matter. It must make external, objective or traditional moral codes not matter. It must make a singular, traditional form of the family not matter.

How does liberalism attempt to do this? One drastic method liberals use is to frame political debate in terms of an asocial, blank slate individual. This individual is "abstracted" to the point that the things which matter don't even have to be acknowledged within political discussion.

Liberals might also cast the things which matter as being oppressive restrictions on the self, from which individuals must be liberated. Negative labels might be applied; for instance, a belief that our sex matters might be harshly labeled "sexist" and a belief that our ethny matters might be condemned as "racist".

Liberalism also makes inroads by limiting political contest to second tier disputes within liberalism itself. If you have a liberal view of society as being made up of millions of competing, atomised wills, each seeking to enact their own will, you then have to explain how such a society might hold together.

Over the years, liberals have proposed a number of solutions. Some have put their faith in the idea that humans are naturally good and are only corrupted by faults within their living conditions which might be remedied. Some, in contrast, have looked to a state imposed rule of law to uphold social order.

There have been those who have hoped that an enlightened elite might act to manage such a society. However, there are two other suggestions for regulating competing wills which have dominated politics for the past century.

The first is the "right liberal" (or classical liberal) idea that individuals can behave selfishly for their own profit, but that the hidden hand of the free market will regulate such activity so that society as a whole will progress.

The second is the "left liberal" (or social democratic) idea that society can be regulated by the state via neutral expertise.

When we think of the political contest between left and right it's really about this "second tier" liberal issue of how to regulate competing wills. Right liberals will talk about preserving individual liberty through the free market and a small state; left liberals will put things in terms of liberation movements and social welfare and reform.

If the political contest is kept at this second tier level then it becomes easier to exclude a consideration of the things that matter.

So what do we do? It would take too long to attempt a complete answer. So I'll focus on one thing: conservatives need to disentangle themselves from a right-liberal politics.

This means being careful not to reduce a conservative politics to a belief in the free market. If our focus is just on the free market, then we are allowing political debate to remain at the second tier level I described above, so that it's difficult to raise the more significant first tier debate we need to have.

There's another problem with focusing our politics on the free market. A conservative might well make the case for a free market on a pragmatic basis of what works best for society. Right-liberals, though, are attached to the free market for reasons of political principle. For them, it's the big solution to a much larger issue of making a liberal society function.

This leads to free market politics being more absolute and ideological than it ought to be. For instance, as right-liberals see our economic activity within a market as serving much larger ends, they tend to focus excessively on "economic man". Also, an ideological commitment to the free market can lead right-liberals to support the free movement of labour, as a principle, overriding more practical concerns about the real-life consequences of open borders.

The effort to disentangle conservatism from right-liberalism also means exercising care when adopting "individual liberty" as a slogan.

Liberalism has been dominant for some time now, so when liberty is spoken of it is commonly understood in terms of liberal politics. This can mean that liberty is thought of, in right-liberal terms, as the freedom of an abstracted individual against the state or against any kind of collective. It can mean too that "liberty" is understood in more general liberal terms as a freedom from what matters: as a "liberation" from significant aspects of our own selves which aren't self-authored.

A conservative politics can't be based on liberty understood in these terms. If we are to be free, it must be as complete, non-abstracted men living as social beings within given communities.

But even if liberty were better defined, it still wouldn't be for conservatives a sole, overriding, organising principle of society. It would be seen as one important good to be defended amongst other important goods.

Our ancestors, for instance, would have considered other qualities to also be significant, such as honour, honesty, loyalty, integrity, piety, courage and nobility.

One important step, therefore, in defending what matters is for conservatives to reach beyond a right-liberal politics. The politics of the free market and individual liberty, as defined within right-liberalism, isn't adequate for our purposes.

We need to stake out a politics of our own and not attempt to conduct business within a theoretical framework established by liberalism.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Moodie the man of myth

In the lead up to White Ribbon Day last year the chief of VicHealth, Rob Moodie, was reported in the papers as making the following claims about domestic violence:

VicHealth chief Rob Moodie said although attitudes had improved in the past decade, and almost all surveyed viewed domestic violence and forced sex as a crime, damaging opinions remained.

"The vast majority don't condone violence against women but there is still a distressingly high number who excuse it and believe some of the myths around it," Dr Moodie said.

Men and those born overseas were more likely to blame victims and trivialise, deny or justify violence, he said, but culture could not be used to excuse such behaviour.

The Two steps forward, one step back report, to be released today, found:

ALMOST half thought women made up violence claims to gain an upper hand in custody disputes.

ALMOST one in four felt that women falsified rape claims.

ALMOST one in six believed women often say no to sex when they mean yes.

ONE in five thought men and women were equally guilty of domestic violence, despite the overwhelming number of victims being women.

ALMOST one in three dismissed denying a partner money as a form of abuse.

ALMOST one in four did not believe yelling abuse at a partner was serious.

So here we have six supposed "myths" about domestic violence, which Rob Moodie believes constitute "damaging opinions".

Personally, I think most of the so-called myths are at least arguably true. Some of them are obviously true.

I'm astonished, for instance, that only 25% of people think that women might make up false rape claims. Do 75% of people really think that women are incapable of deceit? That's an absurd reading of human nature. As it is the mainstream media periodically carries stories about women who have confessed to making up false rape claims. Why would an intelligent, well-educated person doubt that false rape claims exist?

There have even been false rape claims caught on video. If you click on this link to a You Tube video, you'll find an American news report about two separate incidents in which police officers were accused of sexually assaulting women. In both cases the officers were cleared after video showed that the claims were fabricated.

In the first incident, a woman was pulled over and issued with a ticket. She never got out of the car before driving off. Later, she is shown solemnly swearing to tell the truth before accusing the officer of a serious sexual assault.

When told that the entire incident had been filmed she sticks to her story at first before confessing that she had lied. When asked, "Why would you do something like this to somebody who didn't do anything to you except write you a ticket?" she answers, "I'll explain why. If I would have been driving a Jaguar, if I had been driving a Mercedes, or anything along those lines, I would have never been stopped. And I personally think he had a personal attack on me because of my character."

Such is the reality of human nature. Yet Rob Moodie wants us to believe that reality is a myth and that the hardy 25% sticking with reality are holding dangerous views.

Huxley's utopian family

In 1962 the writer Aldous Huxley published his last book, Island. In this work Huxley describes his vision of a utopian society, one which he hoped would be taken seriously by readers.

I recently read a brief excerpt from Island, in which we are told about family life in Huxley's utopia. A visitor to the island of Pala asks "How many homes does a Palanese child have?" and the surprising answer runs as follows:

"About twenty on the average."
"Twenty? My God!"
"We all belong," Susila explained, "to a MAC - a Mutual Adoption Club. Every MAC consists of anything from fifteen to twenty-five assorted couples."

What does such a family system have to offer? According to our utopian guide Susila it produces in comparison to the "bottled up" nuclear family:

"An entirely different kind of family. Not exclusive, like your families, and not predestined, not compulsory. An inclusive, unpredestined and voluntary family. Twenty pairs of fathers and mothers, eight or nine ex-fathers and ex-mothers, and forty or fifty assorted children of all ages."

This is a strikingly liberal justification for Huxley's utopian family. We are supposed to be impressed by the Palanese family being inclusive, unpredestined and voluntary. This makes sense only in terms of an underlying liberal politics.

According to a liberal politics we are made human when we are self-determining: when we can choose at any time and in any direction the nature of our being.

This requires liberals to assert (usually to assume) that we begin as blank slates, without a significant given nature.

It also means that social institutions must be made radically open so that they don't impede our self-determining will. If, for instance, I define the family as consisting only of my own close blood relations, then I make it exclusive and deny the possibility of membership to another human will. I close off the sphere of what another individual will can possibly determine for itself. To a strict liberal this will seem politically illegitimate.

Similarly, if the family is defined as consisting of a married couple and their offspring, then the form or shape of the family will remain stable over time and appear "predestined", as it will exist in a single, inherited form rather than in multiple, uniquely gathered forms.

Nor is it difficult to see why a strict liberal would object to the traditional family as being "involuntary". If couples, having once married, are expected to remain together faithfully and if children remain within the family home by virtue of birth/biology rather than choice, then membership of the family unit is not wholly "voluntary".

Huxley, therefore, was not being merely eccentric in dreaming up his "adoption club" system of family life. To someone who doesn't accept liberal politics, the idea of having a child raised by twenty different households of various types will seem unnatural and unappealing.

If, though, the aim is to make the family as open as possible to least impede a self-determining individual will, then Huxley's system becomes intelligible.

That's why other radicals have proposed similar reforms to family life. Germaine Greer, for instance, suggested in 1971 in The Female Eunuch that children should be raised in a "rambling" family structure on communal farms, which the parents would visit "when circumstances permitted". Some parents might "live there for quite long periods, as long as we wanted to". Greer didn't think it necessary that her child should "know that I was his womb-mother".

Alexandra Kollontai, as a spokeswoman on family issues in Lenin's communist government in 1918 went even further in attempting to break down the "exclusive" nature of the traditional family. She wrote:

a woman should know that in the new state there will be no more room for such petty divisions as were formerly understood: "These are my own children, to them I owe all my maternal solicitude, all my affection; those are your children ... Henceforth the worker-mother ... will rise to a point where she no longer differentiates between yours and mine ... The narrow and exclusive affection of the mother for her own children must expand until it embraces all the children of the great proletarian family.

Mainstream society hasn't adopted such modernist utopian visions. There has, though, been a considerable effort to modify the family along liberal lines. The attempt to make the family less exclusive, predestined and involuntary can be seen in the advent of easy, no-fault divorce, in the enthusiasm for role reversal within marriage and in the insistence that there are many, equally legitimate forms of family life and that "family" can't really be defined and is whatever you make it.

Further reading: Whatever that may be

Monday, January 22, 2007

Does feminism fail women?

This month's Marie Claire features the heartfelt life story of Danielle. She knew as a girl that she always wanted marriage and children:

The eldest of five, I'd loved kids from an early age and knew, with an unwavering certainty that I would have at least two. I would live with my children and their father ...

It was not, however, until age 35 that she met Rob, a man she wanted to start a family with. Conception proved more difficult than expected and she subjected herself to four years of IVF.

Finally, she fell pregnant but the child had Down syndrome and she decided to undergo an abortion. Eight months later she was pregnant again, but this baby died in the womb.

She was shocked by this turn of events, being unaware of the difficulties of childbirth in later life. She tells us:

Although I'd just turned 40 I'd never even considered this risk. After all, my mother had given birth to my little brother at 44. I assumed - naively - that, having finally managed to conceive, I'd go on to have a normal healthy baby, just like she did. But it wasn't to be.

Her partner Rob was now in his 50s and was understandably reluctant to keep pursuing fertility treatment. She now had to choose between him and further attempts at IVF. She thought at first she might be strong enough to leave him but then decided not to:

How could I give up the love of my life to become a single mother in her 40s? How could I put that pressure on a child?

But things didn't go well for her:

Life became hellish. Grief was transforming me into a woman I didn't know. I had such a loving, caring, supportive partner and yet I wouldn't allow him to touch me. He had fallen in love with a happy, slim, successful, creative woman and now found himself relegated to the role of carer to a weeping, empty vessel, who had ballooned from a size 12 to a size 20 through lack of self-care ...

Although Rob's behaviour was never anything other than selfless and loyal, I felt that I had 'denatured' our relationship.

The relationship ended soon after, leaving Danielle feeling that she would "die with the pain". She moved in with her sister and her children.

Her lost dream of motherhood is still with her:

These days, I indulge myself occasionally in the fantasy of who my lost daughters would have become ... I imagine that I'm getting ready to drive to the school gates to pick them up. I don't want to lose touch with these phantom children growing up inside me. I feel like a better human being for loving them.

My lost motherhood will always be with me. It's like a dull ache that every so often, at unexpected moments, sharpens into jolting pain - like when I see the ecstatic face of a new mother as she looks at her baby.

So what went wrong? Why did Danielle end up in such unhappy circumstances? The men of my generation won't be surprised by her answer:

The trouble was, throughout my 20s and early 30s, my relationships with men were short-lived and problematic. I was always attracted to exciting, but emotionally unavailable men, who were anything but suitable husband - let alone father - material.

So Danielle, along with so many other young women, encouraged and rewarded the wrong sort of men. The family type man was bypassed.

What conclusion does Danielle draw from this mistake? She writes:

I still bitterly regret not having had children much sooner. I wasted precious time in my 20s and 30s waiting for the love of my life, when I should have just got on with it - whether or not the right man was by my side. He could have come later.

So she still doesn't get it. Even with the benefit of hindsight, when things are already too late, she isn't aware of the possibility of a culture in which men and women prepare themselves for marriage and parenthood at a reasonable age.

Her "solution", if generally adopted, would only drive the wedge between men and women more deeply, making things even more difficult for future generations.

What this illustrates is that individuals won't always figure out for themselves what to do, even in securing the most important things in their life. It helps if individuals are guided by a supportive culture or tradition.

But what is there to help modern women? You would think that modern women have all the support they need, as a whole feminist infrastructure has been set up for them.

But feminism has proven itself to be an inadequate support for women. It doesn't matter how many "women's officers" there are in government, academia and business, if all that feminism aims at is autonomy and careers.

Feminists have never seriously interested themselves in questions of how women might successfully marry and become mothers (only with how motherhood might be made less of an impediment to careers).

When my generation of women were delaying marriage and motherhood to some vague point of time in their late 30s, where were the feminists warning against such an obviously unwise move? Where were the feminists who were concerned about the unhappiness that such a life course would inevitably bring to many thousands of women?

As I recall it was a couple of male obstetricians who first sounded the alarm bells. And when an Australian journalist, Virginia Haussegger, found herself amongst the ranks of reluctantly childless women, and criticised feminism for focusing only on careers and not relationships, she was met with a harshly unsympathetic response from feminists and labeled an ingrate.

Unfortunately it seems likely that women will continue to suffer for as long as feminism remains their official support. What is needed is for more women to conclude, as Virginia Haussegger did, that feminism is "an inadequate structure from which to build a life".

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A better system for all?

Dandenong is a multiethnic working-class suburb in Melbourne's far south. A councillor and former mayor of Dandenong, Peter Brown, made the news last week when he queried the wisdom of bringing African refugees to Australia.

Following reports of a brawl involving 700 Sudanese youths in an area of Greater Dandenong, Peter Brown wrote a letter to The Age, in which he pointed out that:

If the Australian Government chooses to ease the ethnic problems of Black Africa by transporting their citizenry to Australia by the jumbo jetload, then the only achievement will be to remove the problems from one continent beset by them to another continent, Australia.

He made a similar comment to an Age journalist a few days later:

Africa is a basket case ... We're not going to sort out their problems by bringing out people here. Australia is not here to solve the problems of the world.

These are significant criticisms of the current refugee programme, but I'd like to add to them what I think is an even more fundamental objection.

Word is that the next wave of refugees will be Tamils from Sri Lanka. This strikes me as odd. It's true that there has been a conflict between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, so it's certainly possible that there are Tamil political refugees.

But why send these refugees to Australia? The Tamils originally came from the Indian mainland, only 30km away from Sri Lanka. After WWII a number of Tamils (those brought to Sri Lanka in the nineteenth century) were repatriated to India.

The Indian state closest to Sri Lanka is called Tamil Nadu and is a kind of ethnic homeland for Tamils. So doesn't it make sense for Tamil refugees to be sent there, rather than to an entirely foreign country like Australia?

It's not as if India is the worst destination in the world to send refugees to. In fact, there are Indian migrants to Britain who are now returning to India because of the lifestyle attractions. This is how Amrit Dhillon describes her decision to return to India in a recent Age article:

British Government statistics show that thousands of Indians who settled in the UK - mainly professionals - are returning to India in a reverse "brain gain" because India's booming economy offers great opportunities and a quality of life that is no longer irredeemably inferior to what the west offers ...

Indian cities now offer the amenities of the west but with some great extras. The most important of these is the new zeitgeist. India is on the move. It is vibrant, optimistic, confident.

And yet the society is still relatively gentle with relatively low levels of crime. Children can play in the neighbourhood parks and streets.

If you don't find this evidence persuasive, then consider the findings of a recent international wellbeing survey:

The MTVNI study tells a tale of two worlds; a developed world where young people who are materially wealthy but pessimistic about their futures, and a developing world where young people are optimistic and hopeful despite facing greater challenges.

And according to MTVNI's own Wellbeing Index, Indian young people have the greatest perceived sense of Wellbeing out of the countries surveyed.

According to the survey 91% of Indian 16-34 year olds were proud of their country, compared to only 33% of Germans and 35% of Japanese young people.

So the children of Tamil refugees are very likely to grow up happily in India. But what about in Australia?

They are likely to be caught between cultures and identities in Australia. Consider the case of Kabita Dhara, who is of Indian ancestry but grew up in Britain, Singapore and Australia.

She describes in another recent Age article how for 27 years she suffered an "anxiety ... growing up and straddling my Western reality and Indian identity".

She believes that she was only finally able to recognise how her "Indianness fitted into my Australianness" when she married an Australian man according to both Indian and Australian customs.

But why force a young person to go through such difficulties. Wouldn't it be better to have a system which places refugees in countries most ethnically similar to their own?

Such a system would have several advantages. First, it would discourage "economic refugees" from clogging up the system, as resettlement would tend to be in countries with a similar standard of living to the source country.

Second, it would allow the refugees themselves to assimilate most easily into the mainstream culture of their new host country. They wouldn't face the same loss of culture and identity as they would in an entirely foreign Western country.

Third, it would also better respect the ethnic rights of the existing Western populations.

Is it impossible to imagine the UN adopting such a policy? Let me just point out that the UN has already followed such a policy when it comes to orphaned children. When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, there were calls for the children orphaned by the disaster to be brought here en masse.

Carolyn Hardy, the Chief Executive of UNICEF Australia, politely declined these calls for exactly the reasons I am pointing to; as The Age report put it:

Ms Hardy said that UNICEF was trying to help children stay in their own community by finding extended family members to care for them.

While Australians wanting to adopt were acting with generosity, Ms Hardy said removing a child from their culture, language, customs and communities would add to their loss.

So it's not impossible to imagine the UN adopting a similar policy for refugees if Western politicians were to support such reforms.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Why did the leftist line on sex fail?

Jill Sparrow is a radical Australian leftist from way back. In a recent article she recalls how the far left once stridently opposed pornography and the sex industry:

positions were clear - pornography was generally frowned upon, left men were instructed to eschew strip clubs and especially prostitutes. The ISO (International Socialists) when I first joined were known to walk out of restaurants if there was a belly dancer and some members argued strongly that even drag queens were sexist and should be shunned. Sexist advertising was regularly attacked with graffiti.

But Jill Sparrow has observed a change. The leftists she knows have now embraced the very things they once opposed so fiercely. She quotes the American feminist, Ariel Levy, who has noticed the same thing happening in her social set in the US:

Some odd things were happening in my social life too. People I knew (female people) liked going to strip clubs (female strippers). It was sexy and fun, they explained; it was liberating and rebellious. My best friend from college, who used to go to Take Back the Night marches on campus, had become captivated by porn stars.

Jill Sparrow herself is not sure how to respond to this shift in values on the left. She writes:

what's interested me is the way in which activities that I would have once uncompromisingly condemned as sexist now seem to be increasingly difficult to categorise. I honestly couldn't work out whether there was something wrong in going to a strip club these days when so many women and men I know do so.

Someone recently told me about a workshop he attended on family violence, where participants were asked to say whether they agreed on or disagreed that it was wrong to use pornography and whether it was wrong to visit a prostitute - and I found when raising these issues with others that the Left no longer seems to have a framework to even attempt to answer such questions.

So the radical left failed to hold the line on sex. The leftist version of a sexual ethics wasn't adequate in the real world; it collapsed into its opposite, leaving behind no clear way to understand how such issues ought to be addressed.

Why? One reason is that the left is generally part of the liberal orthodoxy, and a key principle of this orthodoxy is that we become human when we are self-determining.

This means that the underlying aim of a liberal politics will be to "liberate" the individual from anything "external" which impedes what he can do or be.

Therefore, there is a bias in a liberal society, in which breaking down moral taboos is assumed to be progressive and emancipated, rather than transgressive and destructive.

So it was always going to be difficult for the left to maintain its own moral taboos on sex; notice that Ariel Levy's friends justified going to strip clubs on the basis that it was "liberating and rebellious" - this is simply the underlying ethos of liberalism reasserting itself within a left-wing milieu.

Then there is the issue of choice. Liberalism claims that the key thing is to be self-determining; therefore, liberals often take as their guiding moral principle the idea that individuals should choose to do whatever they wish as long as it doesn't directly harm others.

So individual choice is what matters: if an action is something that I choose to do as an individual, then it is morally legitimate.

This approach to morality, though, is once again fatal to the efforts by leftists to maintain their own taboos on sex. After all, a prostitute might argue that she is freely choosing to engage in sex work; a woman might argue that it is her choice to visit strip clubs.

If women are choosing such things, and individual choice is what matters morally, then how can a moral taboo be defended? At best you might argue that a particular choice is inauthentic, that it is not what the person really wants but is a product of some kind of manipulation. This argument, though, can't survive the simple comeback, of someone reasserting that their choice really is authentically their own.

Finally, there is the distinctively left-wing twist to the basic ideas of liberalism. Leftists, more than other liberals, emphasise the idea of relationships of power within a society.

If what matters is that I self-determine, then it's important that I have the power to do so. Yet, there appears to be an inequality between differing classes of society in the wielding of power. This, conclude the leftists, must be due to one class of society deliberately taking power away from another oppressed class.

The dominant, privileged class is believed to maintain an inequality of power by a systematic discrimination, which shapes the way a society works. For feminists, the basic dynamic is between men as a dominant class who maintain power over women through a sexist discrimination.

Therefore, when left-wing feminists reject pornography or prostitution, they tend to do so by claiming that such things represent a sexist discrimination, which reflects male power over women.

There are problems, though, with using this framework to hold together a sexual ethics.

First, women who choose to engage in the sex industry can claim that they are being "empowered" by doing so: that they are doing it in terms of their own self-assertion and self-actualisation, rather than in terms of what men want of them.

Second, if women increasingly run the industry, it becomes more difficult to sell the idea that it exists in order to maintain a male power over women.

Third, if there are female strip shows and porn and the like for men, but also male strips shows and porn and the like for women, it's difficult to oppose such things as "discriminatory" - particularly if women make up an increasing section of the market.

So the cry of "sexism" hasn't been adequate in practice to uphold the earlier left-wing objections to pornography and prostitution.

What then might have held the line? What kind of framework do conservatives look to in considering these matters?

This, I think, requires a serious discussion of its own, so I'll tackle this question in the next post.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fatherhood, lineage, identity

Katrina Clark's mother was a feminist who, at age 32, wasn't sure she would ever marry and have children. So she had herself artificially inseminated instead.

The feminist mother was considered "a pioneer, a trailblazer for a new offshoot of the women's movement" for making this decision. Her act of deliberately creating a fatherless family, though, had serious repercussions.

First, it left the daughter with a "lonely, tired mother" who struggled to make ends meet living on food stamps.

Worse, it left the daughter confused and angry. The problems weren't so great when Katrina was small, though sometimes she would:

daydream about a tall, lean man picking me up and swinging me around in the front yard, a manly man melting at the touch from his little girl. I wouldn't have minded if he weren't around all the time, as long as I could have the sweet moments of reuniting with his strong arms and hearty laugh. My daydreams always ended abruptly; I knew I would never have a dad.

Note just how gendered her daughterly instinct is. She didn't just long for a parent who happened to be male, but for a manly father who would respond emotionally to her as a girl.

This girlhood dream could not be fulfilled by a female parent; it required not only a man to fill the role, but a strongly natured man who, for his part, felt a reciprocal fatherly instinct to be charmed by his daughter.

Things got worse for Katrina. Her mother moved into a kind of group household, made up of a number of unrelated adults and their children. This didn't give Katrina a sense of living in a complete family:

I would stay in my room, listening to Avril Lavigne and to Eminem's lyrics of broken homes and broken people. I felt broken too.

There was also the problem which arose when Katrina reached the natural stage of developing her sense of identity. Having no father, and no knowledge of a father, she was left with "the puzzle of who I am".

She writes of her need to know where she came from and what her history was, and of the confusion of not knowing her biological roots.

She wanted "a sense of roots" so badly that she decided to track down her biological father, even if this required 10 years of intensive work. As it happens, she succeeded in her search after just weeks.

Having finally established a relationship with her biological father she felt at last a "relief about my own situation". She writes of him that,

I'm certain he has no idea how big a role he has played in my life despite his absence -- or because of his absence ... I feel more whole now than I ever have.

We live in times when fathers are seen to be optional within a family. Children, it is claimed, only need a loving home, which might be just as easily provided by women alone.

Katrina's story, though, suggests that this view is false. Katrina is telling us that fathers are missed within families: that they are missed by lonely mothers who struggle financially; that they are missed by children who long for a paternal and not just a parental relationship; and that they are missed by children who don't have knowledge of a paternal lineage, and whose identity is therefore left confused and incomplete.

So men are never truly going to be made redundant by new reproductive technologies. The social ideal ought to remain, as per tradition, to maximise the number of children who grow up with the benefit of living with a father.

Our attention ought to be directed more to encouraging a good practice of fatherhood within Western culture, rather than denying men a necessary place within the family.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What happened to nationalism?

One of the first questions a conservative needs to ask is why the Western elites refuse to uphold traditional nationalism.

The answer, I believe, is that the Western political and intellectual classes adopted liberalism as their orthodox belief some hundreds of years ago.

Liberalism is the idea that we are human because we can use our own individual reason and will to shape who we are. The idea, in other words, is that to be fully human we must be free to define ourselves according to our own will and reason.

Liberals have therefore sought to increase individual "freedom" by removing any impediments to the self-defining individual. And, unfortunately, traditional nationalism is one of these impediments.

Why? Because traditional nationalism is based on ethnicity. What binds a people together as a nation, in the traditional understanding, is some kind of common heritage, whether it be a shared ancestry, culture, language, religion or history.

Belonging to such a national tradition is an important part of our self-identity: of our sense of who we are. But it's something that is inherited, and not chosen. So it offends the first principle of liberalism: that we must be self-created by our own reason and will.

Michael Ignatieff

For people who are not liberal intellectuals, this might all sound a little unfamiliar. But listen to intellectuals themselves, and you quickly discover the importance of such concepts.

For instance, one of the most influential intellectuals on the issue of nationalism is Michael Ignatieff. He is a Canadian born writer and a Harvard professor, who made a BBC TV series and wrote a book on nationalism in the 1990s.

You can see the influence of liberal theory even in the way Michael Ignatieff chooses to define nationalism. He distinguishes between a "good" nationalism, which he calls civic nationalism, and a "bad" nationalism, which he calls ethnic nationalism (which is effectively traditional nationalism).

In defining the "bad" form of nationalism, Professor Ignatieff writes that "Ethnic nationalism claims ... that an individual's deepest attachments are inherited, not chosen. It is the national community that defines the individual, not the individuals who define the national community."

Why define ethnic nationalism in this way? Because it highlights what is wrong with ethnic nationalism, when liberal first principles are considered.

That's why ethnic nationalism is here defined negatively as something "inherited, not chosen" and as something which "defines the individual" rather than being defined by the individual. These features of ethnic nationalism are unacceptable to the liberal ideal of the self-defining individual, and so are emphasised in Professor Ignatieff's definition.

It's much the same when Professor Ignatieff defines the "good" form of nationalism, namely civic nationalism. He writes that,

According to the civic nationalist creed, what holds a society together is not common roots but law. By subscribing to a set of democratic procedures and values, individuals can reconcile their right to shape their own lives with their need to belong to a community.

In this quote, civic nationalism is defined positively, in terms of liberal first principles. Civic nationalism is good, by definition, because individuals aren't connected by (unchosen) "common roots", but merely by an agreement to live within a democratic system. So, rather than being shaped by something inherited, they are free to "shape their own lives".


Michael Ignatieff is therefore acting consistently with liberal first principles when he rejects traditional ethnic nationalism in favour of civic nationalism.

And what can we say about civic nationalism? Can a common commitment to democratic politics give people an adequate sense of national community?

Most conservatives would probably find such a form of connection to be superficial compared to traditional ethnic nationalism. And, in fact, Michael Ignatieff concedes this. He admits that traditional nationalism's "psychology of belonging" has "greater depth than civic nationalism's".

This is not such a problem for Professor Ignatieff, as he is not interested in national belonging anyway. He confesses that he is not really a nationalist of any kind but a cosmopolitan, and that the point of civic nationalism is merely to help maintain social order.

He describes his overall outlook as follows:

It is only too apparent that cosmopolitanism is the privilege of those who can take a secure nation-state for granted ... The cosmopolitanism of the great cities - London, Los Angeles, New York, London - depends critically on the rule-enforcing capacities of the nation state ...

In this sense, therefore, cosmopolitans like myself are not beyond the nation; and a cosmopolitan, post-nationalist spirit will always depend, in the end, on the capacity of nation-states to provide security and civility for their citizens.

I am a civic nationalist, someone who believes in the necessity of nations and in the duty of citizens to defend the capacity of nations to provide the security and rights we all need in order to live cosmopolitan lives.

This could hardly be more clear. Civic nationalism is not supposed to provide a form of national belonging. It's real purpose is to uphold the nation state, so that we have the order and security "to live cosmopolitan lives".

Provincial confines

So the logic of the situation goes something like this. Conservatives like traditional ethnic nationalism because it's an important part of our self-identity and helps us to feel rooted within a particular tradition.

Liberals, though, are ultimately led to reject such nationalism, because they want to be self-defined through their own reason and will, rather than through an unchosen form of nationalism.

That's why liberals talk about traditional nationalism negatively as something limiting to the individual, as when Michael Ignatieff reminisces of the 1980s that,

With blithe lightness of mind, we assumed that the world was moving irrevocably beyond nationalism, beyond tribalism, beyond the provincial confines of the identities inscribed in our passports, towards a global culture that was to be our new home.

It is no accident, that Professor Ignatieff dismisses traditional nationalism here because it "confines" our identity to something "provincial". Anything which impedes our own self-creation will be regarded as something small or limiting or constraining by a liberal.

So what is the task for conservatives? Obviously, it's not enough to complain to liberals that they are creating individual rootlessness. For liberals, this is not necessarily a bad thing - Michael Ignatieff, for instance, is happy to defend the existence of what he unselfconsciously calls "rootless cosmopolitans".

The Canadian columnist Mark Steyn made a similar point recently when he observed that,

As an idea, the multicultural welfare state is too weak to have any purchase on us; that, indeed, is its principal virtue in the eyes of its few fanatical zealots ... politically speaking, it's an allegiance for those who disdain allegiance.

It is, to put it the Steyn way, no use complaining about weak forms of national allegiance to people who view national allegiance negatively as a constraint.

What we have to do is challenge the philosophy which leads people to think of nationalism as something limiting to the individual, rather than as a fulfulling part of our self-identity.

And this means challenging liberalism as an orthodox belief among Western intellectuals.

(First published at Conservative Central, 15/04/2004)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Is Sheik al-Hilaly claiming Australia for Islam?

Sheik al-Hilaly, the Mufti of Australia, is in the news again. In an interview aired on Eyptian television he said:

The Western people are the biggest liars and oppressors and especially the English race. The Anglo-Saxons who arrived in Australia arrived in shackles. We paid for passports from our own pockets. We have a right in Australia more than they have.

So according to Australia's leading Muslim cleric, we Anglo-Australians are the "biggest liars and oppressors" with less right to a country founded and pioneered by our ancestors than recently arrived Islamic immigrants.

There are two points to be made about this. The first is to note how difficult multiculturalism makes things for a majority population. It leads us to be identified as the "oppressor" class for all those who want to press claims on behalf of their own communities.

It's not a great role to occupy, to be "named" only in a negative context, when you are being accused of something, or held to be discriminatory or unjust.

In the case of the sheik, the process has reached absurd lengths. In his recent interview, he includes as evidence of Anglo-Australian discrimination and injustice the treatment of the Lebanese rapists in Sydney.

These rapists, fourteen Muslim Lebanese men, targeted and gang raped seven Australian girls (one as young as fourteen), calling them names such as "Aussie pig" during their ordeal.

Most people would see this is a case in which it was the Anglo-Australians who were the victims, but not so the sheik. He manages to turn even this into a claim that the Muslim men were treated unjustly and are the victims of Australian discrimination.

However, there's an even more important aspect of the sheik's interview, one which has mostly been ignored.

When the sheik says "We have a right in Australia more than they have," he is making a serious claim.

In 2004, the Mufti gave an earlier series of interviews in the Middle East. In these interviews, he suggested that Australia was originally a Muslim country and that Aborigines followed Islamic customs:

the Mufti ... claims Alice Springs bears a resemblance to the holy Muslim city Mecca and was called that by early Afghan settlers. "The Europeans issued a false birth certificate for [Australia] when British seafarer Captain James Cook reached it. Australia already had the most ancient race of men on the face of the earth - the Aborigine people."

The Mufti said many Aboriginal customs resembled Islamic practices - including circumcision, marriage ceremonies, respect for tribal elders and burial of the dead. All customs that show they were connected to ancient Islamic culture before the Europeans set foot in Australia.

..the Mufti said Muslim call to prayer was heard in Australia before a church bell. "The best evidence of this is the hundreds of mosques in the centre of Australia built by the Afghans. Some of them were destroyed, others were turned into Australian archeological museums and still others remained unharmed and they bear a history that proves that Islam has roots and ancient connections to Autralia ...

The Mufti said he had found a map of Alice Springs under the name Mecca. (The Daily Telegraph 19/02/04)

Why would the Mufti make such extraordinary claims? Perhaps because it is held within Islam that a country which has once been part of the Islamic world must remain forever within it. Therefore, if Australia has a Muslim history, predating Christian settlement, the Mufti can regard it as being rightfully Islamic.

I wonder if the engineers of multiculturalism are up to speed on this: that the leading representative of Islam is not interested in Islam being just one religion amongst many in Australia, but is effectively making claims of right over Australia - and that he is bold enough to do this already when Muslims are as yet only a small percentage of the population.

You have to wonder how all this will play out in the future.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Taking apart a degendered Jensen

These are the thoughts of Robert Jensen, an American professor of journalism, on masculinity:

Masculinity is a bad idea, for everyone, and it's time to get rid of it. Not reform it, but eliminate it ... so long as there is masculinity, we're in trouble.

I attempted in yesterday's post to explain the ideology behind such views. Today I'd like to do something different; I'd like to look at the reply to Jensen by Cinnamon Stillwell, a columnist for the San Fransisco Chronicle.

Cinnamon Stillwell was a liberal for most of her life, but after the shock of 9/11 she started to identify as a conservative. I think she does a fine job in presenting the conservative view of things in her response to Jensen.

She begins her column by noting that gender differences arise naturally. She observes that even the youngest of children show distinctly gendered patterns of play and behaviour; that we recognise important gender differences when in relationships with the opposite sex; and that science has confirmed that there is a biological, and not just a cultural, basis for differences in the behaviour of men and women.

So masculinity is not just a "construct" which we can choose to eliminate; it is something natural to men.

As I pointed out yesterday, Robert Jensen believes that femininity too must be abolished, so that there is only a single, non-gendered human identity remaining.

Cinammon Stillwell responds, first, by criticising the feminist movement for having "all too often confused gender equality with gender sameness".

She then takes aim at some of the degendered portrayals of men and women in the entertainment industry. She shares my own dislike of the prevalence of kick-boxing women in movies and on TV. In her own words:

It has now become far more commonplace to see mere mortal female characters punching people in the face on a moment's notice, beating up or overpowering men and taking the romantic or sexual lead. Far from empowering women in reality, these fantasy scenarios put forward unrealistic expectations and a false sense of security ...

... the leading lady has become the leading man, and a not terribly charming one at that.

Nor do the non-masculine men portrayed in popular culture appeal to her:

TV shows are populated with male characters ... who stand meekly by as their much more confident and assured female counterparts ... lead them by the hand ... When male characters do exhibit masculine traits on TV, they are often made to look like fools in the process ...

Metrosexuality leaves her cold:

While gay men are welcome to be as in touch with their feminine side as they like, straight men would do well to ignore it. For what woman would want a man who cannot go a week without buying beauty products, let alone guard hearth and home? Those who acknowledge gender differences know this instinctively, while those who pretend they are meaningless are affronted when one dares speak the truth.

But most women, on a biological and often conscious level, are looking for a provider and protector in a man, among other things. Yet the metrosexual revolution would have us believe that women are yearning for nothing more in a man than another girlfriend.

In effect, Cinnamon Stillwell is arguing here that those who wish to abolish gender differences are running against normal heterosexual impulses. She no more wishes for men to become effeminate, than the average man wants women to become mannish.

The healthier heterosexual instinct, the one Cinnamon Stillwell ends her article with, is the cry of "Vive la difference!".

Last but not least, Cinnamon Stillwell also directly defends the qualities of masculinity itself. She has little time for the Jensen view of manhood:

Jensen's column provoked an avalanche of laughter and scorn on talk radio and the blogosphere. Not only did Jensen come across as, well, a wimp, but his demonizing of manhood missed the mark.

In equating masculinity with all things violent, Jensen underestimates his own sex. For masculinity is not only about being a warrior. The manly virtues include character, confidence, honor, inner strength, pride, responsibility, loyalty, generosity, industry and dignity.

It's refreshing to read such comments; it's rare for the finer qualities of masculinity to be recognised so openly in modern Western cultures.

Let's hope that the political shifts now underway keep developing and that we have more women like Cinnamon Stillwell speak up for a conservative view of gender.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Robert Jensen's faulty template

Here's a story with a happy ending. Back in October a professor of journalism by the name of Robert Jensen wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle attacking masculinity:

We need to get rid of the whole idea of masculinity. It's time to abandon the claim that there are certain psychological or social traits that inherently come with being biologically male. If we can get past that, we have a chance to create a better world for men and women ...

Of course, if we are going to jettison masculinity, we have to scrap femininity along with it. We have to stop trying to define what men and women are going to be in the world based on extrapolations from physical sex differences.

Why would Robert Jensen take such an attitude? Jensen claims that in his twenties he was an apolitical journalist:

Then I went to graduate school and studied, among other things, feminism. And feminism politicized me ...

Why would a feminist oppose masculinity and femininity? One reason is that feminism follows some of the assumptions of liberalism. One of these assumptions is that our humanity is contingent: that we only become human when we create who we are from our own reasoned choices.

Since women's lives were traditionally defined more by a biological role (motherhood) and by the emotions (love and marriage) rather than by a sphere of rational choice (careers and formal study) this seemed, under the terms of liberalism, to make their role inferior to that of men.

So from quite early on there were thinkers who were keen to "defend" women by asserting that women were "equal" to men; to do this they had to deny that existing sex roles were natural, so they claimed that such roles were the product of a social custom designed to artificifically perpetuate a male dominance.

So there are some basic liberal assumptions which lead on to the negative view of masculinity and femininity as oppressive social constructs.

Is the way that this issue is framed by liberalism helpful? I think the answer is clearly no. The liberal framework distorts the discussion of gender in several ways.

First, it forces us to define equality as sameness. Equality can't be defined as men and women being valued equally in their distinct roles. Instead, there is only one "human" role (the male one) which men and women must occupy to the same degree in order to be considered equal.

Second, it means that motherhood and marriage, which were once considered core human activities, are relegated to the non-human realm - to the animal realm of biology and the emotions.

Thus we find feminist Betty Friedan telling us that the traditional female role is to be rejected because:

Women are human beings, not stuffed dolls, not animals. Down through the ages man has known that he was set apart from other animals by his mind's power to have an idea, a vision, and shape the future to it ... when he discovers and creates and shapes a future different from the past, he is a man, a human being.

A woman giving birth to a new life is no longer regarded with awe by Friedan, as this is not our intellect acting on the world to shape things according to our individual reason and will.

Third, the idea that masculinity and femininity aren't natural defies both everyday experience and modern science. Anyone who has been in a serious relationship knows that there are important, deeply grounded sex differences. Modern science has confirmed that sex differences are caused, at least in part, by hard-wired, biological factors.

Fourth, even though the masculine role is assumed to be the human one, it has its legitimacy undermined by the idea that it's upheld artificially as an act of domination over women.

For liberals, what matters is our will to act in any direction. So the power to enact our individual will becomes critical. If one group in society appears to have more power (more political power, money or status), liberals readily interpret this as an illegitimate power grab at the expense of an oppressed group.

At this point, we can return to Robert Jensen, as he very clearly thinks along these lines. Jensen speaks of masculinity as a "project of dominance" in which men,

seek to control 'their' women and define their own pleasure in that control, which leads to epidemic levels of rape and battery.

(It's no surprise that Jensen is also a "whiteness theorist". He observes that American whites live in a majority white culture and concludes that this makes them privileged - which, by his logic, makes their position illegitimate.)

Fifth, the liberal view that sex differences are artificial and unnatural runs directly against heterosexuality. In practice we don't want our future spouse to be androgynous; we're attracted by the more appealing qualities of the opposite sex.

In short, Robert Jensen is following a faulty political template when he attacks masculinity. This template generates a whole series of negative consequences, each of which invites serious criticism.

Which brings me to the happy ending. Robert Jensen's attack on masculinity didn't go unanswered. A female columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle has penned an excellent reply, drawing on several of the points I've outlined above.

I'd like to give her comments some space, so I'll leave her reply to Robert Jensen till tomorrow.

Why artists should be conservative

Since the end of WWII artists have been overwhelmingly liberal modernists. Where has this got them?

They have become irrelevant. As a reward for their role in transgressing the traditional order, artists have been given a few state grants and then ignored.

A liberal modernist society doesn't need artists. It's run by a managerial class on a technocratic basis. There simply isn't an important social function in such a system for art.

Serious artists, therefore, have been shunted out of the public square. How many people today know or care about an important contemporary poet or painter or playwright or composer?

It wasn't always so. Traditional societies ultimately found a basis for order on the transcendent (on the recognition of a "good" existing beyond our own immediate individual preferences or desires). It wasn't functionaries who were best able to express and communicate the transcendent to the public. This was a role for high art, a role which gave artists an important place within society and culture.

Consider the case of poetry. Wordsworth had a tremendous influence in the early 1800s. If you read his most famous poems, they express the transcendent in Wordsworth's response to nature. By the 1920s and 30s, you get poets like E.E. Cummings, who is a modernist in some regards, but who still expresses the transcendent in his love poetry.

And today? In Australia the only really well-known poet (known to the general public) is Les Murray, and it's probably no coincidence that he is unusually anti-modernist in his world view.

People once cared about art because they cared about the "transcendent moment" that artists might communicate in their work. They also cared about art because art had a role in sustaining a civilisation: in giving finer expression to what was both good and necessary to the existence of a people and culture.

Artists might, for instance, represent to the public a higher ideal of fatherhood, or of national feeling, or of the masculine virtues, or of romantic love.

What is there for artists to do in alliance with liberal modernism? For a while, they could assist modernists in trashing the remnants of a traditional culture. There was a moment, too, when they tried to align art with the goals of technocratic efficiency (think of the principle of the architect Le Corbusier that a house is a "machine for living in").

But none of this has a future. Eventually there is no more tradition to set yourself against, and there is no reason for an art based on efficient, abstract function to resonate with the public (most people do their best to ignore it).

It's difficult to see how the situation for artists can improve; the further we descend into liberal modernism the more irrelevant that artists become to the processes of society.

So let me repeat: it makes sense for artists to decouple themselves from the forces of liberal modernism, as it is through these very forces that they are being relegated to insignificance. The hope for artists is that liberal modernity will falter and that this will allow a reassertion of the traditional within Western culture.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Does diversity allow for local attachments?

In yesterday's Herald Sun came news of a horror car crash in Footscray, a western suburb of Melbourne.

An African migrant, panicking when her car mounted the kerb, hit the accelerator instead of the brake. The car ploughed into an outdoor dining area, killing a man, himself a migrant from Korea.

A Herald Sun journalist at the scene reported as follows:

A big crowd had gathered behind the blue and white police tapes. There were tall men in colourful patterned shirts and tall women in vivid turbans and long dresses.

It could have been in downtown Mogadishu or Addis Ababa. There wasn't a word of English being spoken in the hubbub.

But this was Footscray, not Somalia or Ethiopa ...

Once this street was almost entirely a Vietnamese strip.

Now it's in transition again, and yesterday, in the wake of the tragic accident outside Cafe D'Afrique, racial tensions ran high.

So Footscray is changing yet again. It was once an Anglo working class suburb, then a mixed European one, then Vietnamese and now increasingly African. All in the space of about 35 years.

Which raises the issue of local attachments.

The attachments people have radiate outward. First, you might identify with your local town or suburb, then perhaps your city or region, then your state, then your nation.

But to invest yourself emotionally in a place requires some degree of confidence in its continuity. If we think that we will all too easily lose something we love and identify with, then we tend to withdraw emotionally from it.

So how is anyone supposed to form that key, original, local attachment to Footscray? If you held a reasonable belief that the cultural character of Footscray would change dramatically many times over within just a few decades, then how could you lay down roots there in the sense of identifying with its character and culture?

And if we can't develop a deeper attachment to the place we live in, then won't this also disrupt our larger attachments, such as to our nation?

Yet Footscray is our future unless the current policy of diversity and mass immigration is reconsidered.

Whilst on this theme it was interesting to read the comments of Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki in yesterday's Age. The professor was one of the architects of multicultural policy in Australia. He now admits that his immigration policy is necessarily a very expensive one.

He said of black African migrants to rural Australia that:

You cannot dump people in a rural community unless you make a special provision for resettlement services on the widest possible scale.

Immigration includes, very prominently, the lengthy process of resettlement - an always expensive process.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The most bitter fruit of feminism?

Sometimes the most significant news is barely acknowledged. Here is the shortest of items from the Melbourne Herald Sun:

Women who go to university are nearly twice as likely to end up childless as those who don't, a survey has found.

Nearly half of Britain's graduates had no children by middle age but only a quarter of those without degrees were childless, the Friends Reunited website found. (Herald Sun 28/12/06)

This is an extraordinary development. In the 1950s only about 10% of women remained childless. Now we are told that 50% of university graduates haven't reproduced.

It's possible of course that the statistic is wrong. I tried to track down some other information on the internet. One article stated that 41% of Scottish graduate women aged 45 to 49 were childless compared to 30% of English graduates.

The only Australian statistic I could find was that 34% of postgraduate women have remained childless compared to 11% of those without a degree.

So although there's some discrepancy in the figures it does seem that very large numbers of graduate women are missing out on motherhood.

Why? According to the Prime Minister, the careerism expected of women by feminists is partly to blame for lower fertility rates. He said recently:

We've seen a tiny improvement in the fertility rate ... Fortunately, I think today's younger women are more in the post-feminist period, where they don't measure their independence and freedom by the number of years they remain full-time in the workforce without having children. They've moved on.

I think they have moved on from that sort of demonstration phase, in the sense of "I'll be letting the sisterhood down if I don't stay in the workforce until I'm a certain age."

I think what I would claim is that we support choice and we don't measure women's achievements and women's rights by the number of full-time female participants in the workforce. The truth of the matter is that when most Australian families have children, they really want a situation where, in the very early years, in the very early stages, somebody - usually the mother - is at home caring for the child full-time...

Some feminists have tried to distance themselves from the idea that feminism has ever discouraged women from having children. For instance, at the left-wing LP site there was the following sarcastic response to the PM's comments:

Unfortunately this will be my last post here. Feminism is over, and I have nothing else to write about. I had mistakenly thought that feminism was about autonomy, choice and equality in all areas of life, but now I know that it was only about having a career to keep the hivemind sisterhood happy.

Now I have permission to quit my job and have babies before it’s too late.

I think, though, that John Howard is closer to the truth than the LP sisterhood. Feminists have strongly emphasised careerism as an indicator of the progress of women. Last year, for instance, deputy opposition leader Julia Gillard completely ruled out the idea that a woman might choose to be a full-time mother:

If one suggested to a girl in school today that her future life would consist of marriage, raising children and tending the family home, she would no doubt look at you as if you had just arrived from Mars ...

Why would Julia Gillard exclude traditional motherhood as an option for women? The reasons have to do with the logic of feminism itself.

Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. Therefore, feminism follows liberalism in making individual autonomy (in the sense of being unimpeded to do what you want or be what you want) the overriding goal.

The problem is that we don't marry and have children to increase our autonomy. If anything, we agree to sacrifice a measure of autonomy when we marry in order to fulfil other needs and drives.

So feminists were unlikely to promote marriage and the family as doing so would conflict with the principles on which feminism is based. It's no surprise, therefore, that the feminist culture of the 1980s and 90s was based on the ideal of the independent career girl, who was expected to focus on activities like work, shopping and travel which were thought to make women independent. Marriage and family were matters to be postponed until some vague, unspecified time in a woman's thirties.

There's a second reason why feminists have promoted female careerism. For liberals what matters, what makes us human, is our power to enact our own will. Therefore, liberals tend to understand social relationships in terms of power, dominance and oppression. If men have more economic or political power, it is assumed to be an illegitimate attempt to assert control over oppressed women.

Imagine you're a feminist woman who understands things this way. It will then be natural to view men as an oppressor group and you will naturally wish to overcome your oppression by competing with men in careers to secure economic and political power.

And this is where much of the problem lies. If graduate women have failed to have children it's due to a large degree to a failure to partner.

And isn't it less likely that graduate women will partner successfully if they've been brought up on feminist ideas? If you think autonomy is the most important thing in your life, so much so that you spend your entire 20s as an independent career girl, then the chances of partnering well are greatly reduced.

Similarly, if you think that men are an oppositional group you are duty bound to compete against for power in society, then there is not much room for romantic love to flourish.

And what about the impact of such ideas on men? Will men be romantically inspired by women who treat them as a hostile force? Will men be encouraged to work hard to establish careers if this is assumed to be an act of power over women, rather than a means to support a family?

Feminism hasn't been neutral when it comes to relationships between men and women. It has had the effect of disrupting family formation to the point where large numbers of graduate women have missed the opportunity to marry and have children.

What we must do now is to learn the lesson and understand why feminism, in its most basic assumptions, has led us to such a destructive outcome. Otherwise, a future generation of women will be left to the same fate.