Sunday, July 31, 2011

Charles Darwin in Australia

Charles Darwin visited Australia as a young man in 1836. After his first day in Sydney he wrote:

In the evening I walked through the town & returned full of admiration at the whole scene. It is a most magnificent testimony of the power of the British nation. Here, in a less promising country, scores of years have done many times more than an equal number of centuries have effected in South America. My first feeling was to congratulate myself that I was born an Englishman.

I'm so unused to such a positive sense of identity from educated Anglos that this passage jumped out at me. Darwin observed that his own countrymen had in a few decades created a beautiful, well-ordered city in a difficult terrain - and he recognised the accomplishment.

Darwin also recorded his thoughts regarding the Aborigines. He was impressed with their hunting skills:

In their own arts they are admirable; a cap being fixed at 30 yards distance, they transfixed it with the spear ... In tracking animals & men they show a most wonderful sagacity.

However, he also observed that the Aborigines would not make use of opportunities to farm or to live a more settled life:

They will not however cultivate the ground, or even take the trouble of keeping flocks of sheep which have been offered them; or build houses & remain stationary

Nor did they give up their tribal warfare:

I should have mentioned that in addition to their state of independence of the Whites, the different tribes go to war. In an engagement which took place lately, the parties, very singularly, chose the centre of the village of Bathurst as the place of engagement; the conquered party took refuge in the Barracks

Darwin thought the numbers of Aborigines were declining:

The decrease in numbers must be owing to the drinking of Spirits, the European diseases, even the milder ones of which such as the Measles are very destructive, & the gradual extinction of the wild animals.

There's an interesting passage in the book in which Darwin expresses sympathy for families having to employ convict servants. He writes about the male convicts and then notes "The female servants are of course much worse". So perhaps the men of Darwin's generation did not thoughtlessly "white knight" all women as is sometimes claimed.

Although Darwin was unimpressed with certain aspects of the convict system, he nonetheless thought there was a positive larger outcome:

But as a means of making men outwardly honest - of converting vagabonds most useless in one hemisphere into active citizens of another, and thus giving birth to a new and splendid country - a grand centre of civilization - it has succeeded to a degree perhaps unparalleled in history.

DNA tests not so futile

How's this for a misleading start to a newspaper article:

MEN who owe their former lovers child support are taking DNA tests - financed by taxpayers - in a futile bid to avoid paying for their own children's upbringing.

Each year, dozens of Victorian dads demand DNA tests courtesy of Legal Aid, expecting to prove they owe their ex-spouses nothing - only to find they do.

Victorian parents are owed $4 million in maintenance by their former partners, according to the federal Child Support Agency.

That makes it sound as if the men seeking DNA tests are just trying to get out of supporting their own children. But later in the article the truth is revealed:

Figures supplied to the Herald Sun show that last year, 51 men asked for Victoria Legal Aid to conduct DNA tests after they were told to pay up.

A majority, 32, were proved to be dads and therefore financially liable.

So 37% of the men were shown not to be the father of the child that the woman was seeking 20 years of payment for. I would have thought the statistic fully justifies men who are uncertain of the parentage of a child getting it checked out. I think too we need to be harder on women seeking to deceive men in this way - it is a very low act.

Here's something else of concern. In Victoria men currently only get 28 days to to seek a test:

Melbourne lawyer Simon Bacon, partner with Manby & Scott Lawyers, said most men who challenged paternity with a DNA test were found to be correct, and more would do so if the law gave them more than a month to initiate proceedings after receiving child support orders.

"I would like to see the 28-day period expunged because it's an extraordinarily short period of time in the context of matrimonial breakdown," Mr Bacon said.

"The man is very much on the back foot if he wants to convince the court to issue proceedings out of time."

Why does there have to be such a short period of time? A deception at 28 days is still a deception later on.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wanted elsewhere

The country of Georgia, situated between Russia and Turkey, is recruiting South African farmers to restore its agricultural sector. And some South African farmers are willing to migrate there to escape the crime directed against them in their native land:

A long way from his South African birthplace, amid the sweeping wheat fields of eastern Georgia, farmer Piet Kemp says that he has found a new home in this former Soviet republic.

And if the government gets its wish, hundreds more like Kemp will follow to help revive Georgia's ailing agricultural sector, bringing in both cash and expertise.

Shaken by violent attacks and reforms to transfer land to blacks in South Africa, many white farmers have been emigrating, and 10 have already relocated to Georgia to set up businesses under a programme launched by the government.

Kemp was the first of them to make the move, lured by local business opportunities -- and the promise of security.

"I do not want to live in constant fear," the 67-year-old said emotionally as he recalled the widespread killings of other white farmers in South Africa.

...Amid the violence, Kemp said that he felt he had no choice but to leave.

"In Georgia there is no violence, the crime rate is extremely low. So I will never go back," Kemp declared, comparing the situation here to the high violent crime rates back home, which include some 46 murders a day.

The Georgian Government values these farmers:

Earlier this year, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called for large-scale modernisation to turn the country's "mediaeval agriculture sector into the agriculture of the 21st century" and make it a major source of income.

The plan to attract Boer farmers to relocate to this distant ex-Soviet state is part of Saakashvili's vision, but although their numbers may turn out to be small, they could make a difference, expert Shervashidze suggested.

"They are the world's best farmers. They bring in cash, create new jobs and set up efficient businesses," he said.

But it's hardly an ideal situation. Piet Kemp is being asked to give up his identity as a Boer in order to find security. Modern society has reduced him to a wandering economic asset.

Greensboro flash mobs

Interesting how things come together sometimes. I was looking up the website of a local church and mistakenly found myself linked to a church with a very similar name in far away Greensboro, North Carolina.

The homepage of this Catholic church features a mission statement, one which is desperately committed to diversity:

We, the parishioners of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, are uniquely diverse, both ethnically and culturally, with varied economic, social and spiritual experiences. This uniqueness of diversity strengthens our unified bond

They're not just diverse, they're "uniquely diverse". Odd how liberals in so many places like to claim the same thing, that diversity somehow marks them out and makes them special, even though it's something that exists in many places in the Western world.

Anyway, it turns out that the town of Greensboro is connected in a number of ways to the history of race relations in the US, so maybe that helps to explain the particular slant of the parish mission statement.

As for the claim that diversity creates a "unified bond", that doesn't seem true of Greensboro as a town. By coincidence I came across a news report about "flash mobs" operating there. These are groups of young black Americans who use social media to suddenly gather together and cause mayhem, for instance by raiding a shop or beating up pedestrians:

Greensboro police say mobs of violent teens are meeting up on the weekends and wreaking havoc downtown. Police say it's getting worse each weekend.

This past weekend, a former mayor had his business vandalized and another community leader got beat up in Center City Park.

"One of the teenagers came up from behind and just punched me in the back and kicked me and knocked me to the floor. Then, he just continued to kick me, punch me, step on me. People were screaming," Mitchel Sommers, executive director of the Community Theatre of Greensboro said.

The swarm came from nowhere and the beating lasted seconds.

"Within a minute, I'd say, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds...I'm not being dramatic...hundreds of young people...just came descending upon this area," he said. "There were so many young people. I would say all the way from across Elm Street all the way to the park. You couldn't even get out of the swarm of young people."

...While Mitchel's story sounds unusual. It isn't.

Every weekend in July, Greensboro police have battled large, flash-mob beatings and vandalism

Lt. Cranford says police know these gatherings are a problem. "It's a significant issue for us because more often than not, we're vastly outnumbered by the kinds of crowds we're trying to deal with," he said.

Downtown leaders say they don't want to discourage people from visiting downtown, but they want everyone to be careful.

Pity because Greensboro seems to have some attractive features. The picture on the right, for instance, shows one of the buildings of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A terrible idea from the Greens

The Gillard Labor Government now relies on support from the Australian Greens to hold power. That's a concern given some of the policy ideas being floated by Greens leader Bob Brown. It has been reported, for instance, that he proposed at the National Press Club the formation of "a global people's assembly based on one person, one vote, one value... a global Parliament."

It's difficult to think of any idea that would be more at odds with the interests of ordinary Australians. Australia would have 0.3% of the delegates at Bob Brown's global Parliament. We would be at the mercy of the peoples of other nations.

Breivik's odd political combination

One of my readers made this comment about the Norwegian gunman Breivik:

I think it's a bit far-fetched to to do any analysis whatsoever of his political views, he's just a nutjob.

Having read more of his manifesto I'm increasingly inclined to agree. It's not that his writing is deranged like that of Jared Loughner. But there is still something mentally "not quite right" about it. For instance, when discussing which platform he should choose Breivik rejects "hateful" ideologies and "controversial views" because these do not have "mass appeal". He then admits that he himself is part of a "relatively cynical/cruel/goal oriented armed resistance group" but believes nonetheless that this group is supported by 50-60% of Europeans "due to the fact that we oppose ALL hate ideologies and we consider it illogical to fight hate with hate." But he then immediately adds that "this does not mean that we will use less brutal methods in our operations."

He seems to think something along the lines of "we will win support by having nice beliefs whilst carrying out cynical/cruel acts of violence".

Here is how he explains why he did not join a national or ethnocentric group:

I understand that many nationalists only care for their own nation and culture. However, all Western Europeans are in the same situation ... Pooling resources and especially knowledge is essential. Obviously, this cannot be achieved if you require that your potential members follow un-appealing principles and codes such as that of the national anarchists (at least many of them). A hateful ideology (white supremacist), death metal, Odinism, conspiracy theories does NOT have mass appeal. Some of the local nationalist factions have very controversial views and lifestyles that do not appeal to a broad specter of people. called national anarchists will never be potent enough unless they pool their knowledge base with pan-European organisations. Mass appeal should be the most essential factor in this strategy. Obviously, the PCCTS, Knights Templar does not have mass appeal as we are a relatively cynical/cruel/goal oriented armed resistance group. However, our primary foundational principles (a majority of them) still have mass appeal and are supported by as many as 50-60% of all Europeans. The reason for this is due to the fact that we oppose ALL hate ideologies and we consider it illogical to fight hate with hate. Of course, this does not mean that we will use less brutal methods in our operations.

He also explains in this part of the manifesto why he chose to go with Christianity. It was for pragmatic political reasons rather than from any theological commitment. He thought that the Odinism (paganism) of some Norwegian rightists would alienate central and southern Europeans:

Q: Why did you choose an allegiance to a group with Christian values and pan-European goals instead of a purely national/regional group?

A: Many have asked this question. My choice has nothing to do with the fact that I am not proud of my own traditions and heritage. My choice was based purely pragmatism. All Europeans are in this boat together so we must choose a more moderate platform that can appeal to a great number of Europeans – preferably up to 50% (realistically up to 35%). Choosing a local/national group would be counterproductive as all the groups I am familiar with are Odinist orientated and not Christian identity groups. It is essential that we choose a banner that has the potential to appeal towards central and southern Europeans as well.

It's odd that he should answer "Many have asked this question." Who could possibly have asked him this given he kept his project a secret fromt he world? But note again that he chose Christianity, on pragmatic grounds, as a "banner" rather than as a religion.

A few other observations. According to his manifesto Breivik rejected ordinary political work for change as early as the year 2000 when he was about 21 and that he met up with the "justiciar knights" group when he was 23. If true, that means that his political course was set many years before he could have come into contact with writers like Fjordman.

He also claims that this "justiciar" group was aiming to achieve its goals in the year 2083. That's odd too. If it's such a long term, multi-generational strategy, then why not take the time instead to build up a political movement? Why go off on a sudden rampage?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More news on Breivik

I've now had a chance to skim through Breivik's manifesto. It's long and detailed and mentions many people on the right, even Cardinal Pell and Keith Windschuttle. Some important points:

1. Breivik states re religion: "I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie."

2. Breivik was a user of anabolic steroids and ephedrine. He used them for weight loss/muscle gain/mental alertness/mood elevation reasons. Some users of these drugs do experience side effects:

A 2005 review in CNS Drugs determined that "significant psychiatric symptoms including aggression and violence, mania, and less frequently psychosis and suicide have been associated with steroid abuse."

A 2006 study of two pairs of identical twins, in which one twin used anabolic steroids and the other did not, found that in both cases the steroid-using twin exhibited high levels of aggressiveness, hostility, anxiety and paranoid ideation not found in the "control" twin

Possible Side Effects of Ephedra: nausea, headache; anxiety; psychosis

3. Breivik writes in extraordinary detail about the technical aspects of committing murder. For instance, he had a great interest in biological weaponry, and he notes for his readers the pros and cons of adding different toxins to his bullets, such as the venom of the Australian taipan snake. Again, there is something not quite right mentally about spending pages of a manifesto on such matters.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A terrible day

The grim news from Norway is that 91 people have been murdered by Anders Behring Breivik. A person has committed an act of evil, of such a nature and scale, that it seems as if society has been dragged down to another low point.

We don't know much yet about Breivik or his motivations. However, he does appear to have been part of the political right. It is already the case that some on the left regard white males as the "cosmic enemy" - as the group responsible for creating privilege and hate and holding back progress toward equality and justice. Breivik's crime is going to encourage this negative way of identifying white males.

I don't know what will come out about Breivik over the next few days. However, there are a few things to be said about the information to hand.

First, the information so far does not point to Breivik being a fundamentalist Christian, as a few newspapers are reporting. It's true that he was baptised into a Protestant church and that he wanted the church to go back to basics. However, there is a picture of him in masonic uniform and he listed masonry as an interest on his Facebook page. He wrote too that he wanted to defend the "cultural aspects of Christianity" rather than Christianity itself. Finally, he listed his favourite books on his Facebook page and these are nearly all key works of non-Christian (or non-orthodox Christian) liberal philosophers such as Hobbes, Mill, Kant and Adam Smith.

The first two books he mentions are by William James and Richard Rorty. Both of these men deny the idea that there is an objective good that we should seek to live by. According to James, a belief was true if it had good consequences for the believer:

A belief was not a mental entity which somehow mysteriously corresponded to an external reality if the belief were true. Beliefs were ways of acting with reference to a precarious environment, and to say they were true was to say they guided us satisfactorily in this environment. In this sense the pragmatic theory of truth applied Darwinian ideas in philosophy; it made survival the test of intellectual as well as biological fitness.
Richard Rorty was a self-described "bourgeois liberal" who denied that there was an intrinsic structure to reality. Instead, what was "objective" was what a group of people decided amongst themselves to be true:

Maybe someday the idea of human beings answering to an independent authority called How Things Are in Themselves will be obsolete. In a thoroughly de-Platonized, fully Protagorean culture the only answerability humans would recognise would be to one another. It would never occur to them that “the objective” could mean more than “the agreed-upon upshot of argument.” In such a culture we would have as little use for the idea of the intrinsic structure of reality as for that of the will of God. We would view both as unfortunate and obsolete social constructions.

These ideas are a long way from orthodox Christianity (Rorty even describes the will of God as an "unfortunate and obsolete social construction"). They are not what you would expect a fundamentalist Christian to approve of or to recommend.

As for his politics, Breivik seems to be a radicalised right-liberal. What I mean by this is that he identified with classical liberal thinkers like John Stuart Mill (whom he quoted in his one twitter message), but he also saw the growth of Islam in Europe as a threat to such values. So he was against open borders and multiculturalism. He blamed the Frankfurt School and cultural Marxism for what had gone wrong in Europe.

But there has to be something else. None of this really explains why Breivik would commit such an act. Even if I'm correct and Breivik was a "cultural Christian" rather than a more orthodox one and a "cultural conservative" (i.e. a right-liberal who wants to defend a Western liberal culture from Islam), that still doesn't supply the motivation to commit such an atrocity.

You would have to think that certain traits of character or personality will emerge over the next few days that might help to fill in the gaps.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Educated Gen X women in no man's land

Buried amongst the stories in the Daily Mail is a very significant report on the fate of university educated Generation X women. These women were born between 1965 and 1978, so they are between 33 and 46 years old.

The report begins by noting that few of these women have succeeded in making it into the boardroom. The reason commonly given for this is that women opt out to have children and so lose motivation.

But it turns out that this is not entirely true. An incredible 43% of these women are childless. That's a depressing statistic. Given that the youngest of these women is 33, it means that the most educated of English women are failing miserably when it comes to reproducing and bringing a new generation of children into the world.

So if these 43% are not taking a detour to have children, why haven't they risen through the corporate ranks? According to the newspaper article, many of them eventually grow tired of the long hours and work pressures of the corporate world and so leave for more flexible positions, such as working as consultants:

'Anecdotally we’re seeing them moving into more flexible roles,’ says Dr Angela Carter, a research fellow at the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield. ‘They’re setting out on their own or moving into consultancy roles.

‘There has been a popular conception that flexible working appeals to women because they want children, but that’s not the whole story. Generation X women have been brought up with the expectation of “having it all” — and when they’ve found the corporate world is, in fact, often very restrictive and won’t allow this, they’ve gone looking for that freedom elsewhere.'

That ought to be kept in mind when complaints are made that women only make up 15% of company boards. If far fewer women are willing to make the sacrifices, then surely we should expect a preponderance of men on company boards.

Anyway, here is the Helen McNallen story:

Helen McNallen
Helen McNallen, 44, was formerly a high-powered trader for Goldman Sachs until her mid-30s...

‘When I left university it was the tail end of the “yuppie era”, with City traders swilling champagne and frequenting nightclubs,’ she says. ‘I was thrilled to be accepted into this testosterone-fuelled world. At the time, I became the only female trader in my department and felt that I had to work and play like one of the boys.

‘We worked crazy hours and then be out partying with colleagues or clients well into the early hours.

‘I was on a six-figure salary and had a house in the City and a renovated barn in Hampshire. But I was so exhausted I spent nearly all of the weekend in bed. I felt tremendously pressurised, and couldn’t think about having children.’

By her mid-30s, Helen was suffering from severe stress, which she refused to deal with properly for a long time on the grounds that it might make her appear weak.

‘I eventually realised I couldn’t cope any longer,’ she says. ‘The pressure of being a woman in a man’s world was just too much.’

She says she feels cheated by being sold the myth of the female businesswoman who can work like a man. And she adds: ‘I am both too old and too set in my ways to start a family, even if it was physically possible.'

I feel cheated too. Was this really the best use society had for Helen McNallen? She worked so hard that family was impossible, for a lifestyle she was too tired to enjoy and then she quit it all anyway just at the point that her childbearing years were ending. It just doesn't seem to be a rational life course for society to pitch to women. There is loss all round.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Radical quotas

How's this for an affirmative action proposal. Tanja Bergqvist at her Swedish site has linked to a newspaper story from 2007 in which Zoran Alagic and Kurdo Baksi put forward a radical new "equality" proposal.

Who are these two men? I don't know much about Baksi except that he has been involved in a Swedish multicultural magazine called Black-White. But Alagic is well and truly a member of the political class in Sweden. He was a member of the Swedish PM's press staff and then became the press officer for the Swedish Teachers' Association.

These two men made this proposal:

We need to bring about a change in economic structures of power and break the male monopoly. A quota may be the solution. It is possibly not enough of a law on quotas by gender - we should also see action to really broaden recruitment to the business community on a broad front. We therefore propose a moratorium in Swedish industry:

The next five years, all white, tall, heterosexual, blond and blue-eyed men between 40 and 50 years be set at the bottom of the employment hierarchy, in the university corridors, the newspaper editors and the Boards of Directors.

The rest - women, homosexuals, disabled, immigrants, and 55 or older - a priority for at least five years.

So they not only want gender quotas, they also want a quota based on race, height, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour and age.

It seems that "equality" knows no limits.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Good speech for Reims anniversary

Reims Cathedral in France, where the Kings of France were crowned, is celebrating its 800th anniversary. As Tiberge reports at Gallia Watch, Prince Louis de Bourbon made a speech to mark the occasion. His speech is, in part, a defence of the role of royalty, which readers may or may not agree with, but cast in very positive traditionalist language that is rare to hear today at an official event.

I like to report good news stories when I can and this is so for two reasons: first, there is the great achievement of Reims Cathedral to celebrate and second we have an example of a prominent man who is able to speak eloquently in traditionalist terms.

I won't reproduce the speech here as it is available, with the latest news from France, at Gallia Watch.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Roman virtues: dignitas

Ominously for me, dignitas has been described as "a unique, intangible and culturally subjective social concept in the ancient Roman mindset" - which isn't going to make it easy for me, as a novice in this field, to describe.

However, from what I've read, the basic meaning seems to be "one's standing in the community". If my dignatis were great, then more weight would be put on my opinion - I would gain greater clout in society.

If this were all that dignitas consisted of, it wouldn't be that impressive a virtue. But the important issue here is how dignitas was gained. It could be gained by achievement (e.g. military victory), but also by the way a person embodied a range of virtues in the service of the state:

Dignitas and auctoritas were the end result of displaying the values of the ideal Roman and the service of the state in the forms of priesthoods, military positions, and magistracies. Dignitas was reputation for worth, honor and esteem. Thus, a Roman who displayed their gravitas, constantia [perseverence], fides [trustworthiness], pietas and other values becoming a Roman would possess dignitas among their peers. Similarly, through this path, a Roman could earn auctoritas (“prestige and respect”).

So your dignitas was not only a product of holding high office, but was also an estimation of your character as a Roman in successfully discharging your public duties.

Noble Romans did not want to suffer a blow or loss to their dignitas. That seems to have represented something like the loss of one's good name, or the loss of face, or the loss of honour. In that sense, self-worth was tied closely to dignitas.

So how then are we to assess the Roman virtue of dignitas? Seen from the world of today it has one great advantage. In today's world people try to make themselves superior in their social standing by adopting politically correct beliefs. Intellectuals are often the worst offenders here: they tend to believe that by following a liberal political orthodoxy that they stand above the crowd in their moral and social status.

But that is not only a cheap and easy way to chase distinction, it also tends to corrode society over time - it is an anti-public service (a public disservice).

In Roman times, there was at least some connection between social distinction and the cultivation of character - and that is the aspect of dignitas that we need most to restore.

Tommy Hafey turns 80

Boy, has Tommy Hafey set a high standard for us men. He's just turned 80 but he's fitter than nearly all of us. Every morning he gets up before dawn, goes for a 5km run, does 200 push ups and finishes with a swim in the bay.

Hafey is well-known as a former Australian Rules footballer here in Melbourne. I've got to give him credit for retaining his masculine drive to such an age.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ch.4 The family

Liberals believe that the individual should be self-determining. The traditional family, however, has a set character that individuals can't determine for themselves. Therefore, it inevitably comes under attack in a liberal society.

In what specific ways does the traditional family limit individual autonomy? First, the traditional family is "gendered." There are distinct roles for men and women as husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers. We don't get to choose which sex we are born as, so we don't get to determine for ourselves which family role we will occupy.

These family roles are also interdependent or complementary. Men and women contribute something distinct to the family and rely on each other to keep things afloat. That means that the individual is not independent, a key aim for those who seek autonomy. In particular, it is thought problematic that women in the traditional family are not financially independent.

A further issue is that the traditional family is based (ideally) on stable commitments. Individuals pledge a lifetime of exclusive commitment to each other. But that means that we can no longer self-determine at any time who we will live with or have intimate relationships with. Family commitments are too fixed in the traditional family to fit in well with the goal of autonomy.

Then there is the matter of authority. If the aim is to self-determine, then you will want to have the choice of who is put in a position of authority. But ultimate authority within a family is often wielded by a father, whose position is neither elected nor something we agree to by contract. It is also an authority which has a deep impact on us, as it confronts us as children or young adults in our daily lives and is intermixed with the personal, emotional relationship we have with our father.

Paternal authority is unchosen; we find ourselves subject to it by an accident of birth rather than through an act of self-determining will. It therefore contravenes the liberal aim of autonomy.

Finally, if we want to self-determine our living arrangements there needs to be a range of family types to choose from. If the traditional family dominates, then there is only one, uniform family type. For this reason, too, the traditional family will be condemned by liberals as an impediment to individual autonomy.

The liberal response

So the traditional family impedes autonomy in a number of ways. How do liberals respond to this?

There are liberals who think of the traditional family negatively as a restriction on the individual and who therefore describe it with limiting words like “fetter” or “prison”.

There are liberals too who give the traditional family the “social construct” treatment. They deny that the family has a basis in nature, or even much of a basis in history. Instead, it is explained as a recent invention (of the 1950s, or the early 1900s, or the late 1700s – the time frame varies) designed to serve some limited economic or class interest.

But if the family is an oppressive social construct, what should be done with it? There are radical liberals who want to abolish the family altogether. But it’s much more common for liberals to want to reconstruct the family to make it fit in better with the aim of individual autonomy.

How do liberals attempt to achieve this? Some pursue a strategy of redefining the family. They insist on an open definition of family, one in which family can be anything that we ourselves make it to be. Instead of there being a singular family type that we can’t self-determine, family is reimagined to be so fluid, multiple and diverse that we can self-author our own version of it.

Another way to liberalise the family is to loosen the commitments we make to it. Some liberals believe that family commitments ought to be constantly renegotiated. Others look on divorce as a flexible or creative recasting of family life, rather than as a form of family breakdown.

For liberals, the benefit of these looser family commitments is that the individual continues to self-determine at any time who he will carry on a relationship with.

There is another way for liberals to avoid stable family commitments. They can support the drift in society toward ever later marriage. The intention here is not so much to reject family commitments altogether, but to string out a singles lifestyle for as long as possible so that family commitments are deferred until late in life.

Liberals also seek to reconstruct the family by replacing “gendered” parental roles (father and mother) with a single unisex one. They want men and women to be equally committed to, and to spend the same time performing, the traditional motherhood role.

This has the advantage for liberals not only of making our unchosen sex not matter in the family (as parenting has become unisex), but also of removing a distinct paternal role – which overcomes the problem of an unchosen paternal authority.

Liberals do still use the term “father,” but the good father is thought of as the one most committed to a traditional motherhood role. Men in a liberal society are held to be either absent fathers or engaged maternal ones – the possibility of a distinct paternal role is no longer widely recognised.

This doesn’t mean that the maternal role is championed. In fact, it is usually looked down on as depriving women of autonomy as it does not confer financial independence or power in society. In the liberal family, the one remaining parental role is held to be a source of oppression and disadvantage.

It’s not surprising, then, to find liberals who not only want to reconstruct the family, but who also see the family as a lesser life activity. The family in a liberal society is not only subject to radical reform, but also loses part of its status.

The undefined family

We should look now at some specific examples of liberals arguing for such positions. A good place to begin is with attempts to create a more open definition of family.

Liberals think of the set character of the traditional family as limiting and so argue for a more diverse and undefined form of family life.

Susan Barclay, for example, once criticised former Prime Minister John Howard for promoting as an ideal:

the stable, quietly hard-working family, raising two or three quiet, well-behaved children.

Most people would think of this as a positive ideal. But for Susan Barclay a single, stable model of family life does not allow her to define for herself what family might be and therefore limits the very thing she believes defines her humanity, namely her autonomy:

I do not want to be ... squashed into a box defined by someone else. We have the right to choose what, and how, to be. That is the nature of being human.

Newspaper columnist Andrea Burns also had some advice for John Howard. She told him that the traditional family was unacceptable because it was not sufficiently diverse:

the days of the white bread, nuclear family are over. There are many ways to commune, love and create a home ... It’s inconsequential who makes up that circle of love...

But if the form of the family is inconsequential then it becomes difficult to define the term family – to agree on what it really is. It becomes indefinable and therefore loses meaning.

And liberals do like to keep definitions of the family as vague as possible. There’s this, for instance, from Sam Page, an executive director of Family Relationship Services Australia

The definition I like now is whoever you share your toothpaste with, that’s your family.

Even vaguer is this liberal woman’s attitude to defining motherhood:

I refuse to define my Feminist Motherhood ... I want my daughter to have a happy and successful life as an adult, which she will define individually. I will not confine my Feminist Motherhood by defining it.

But if motherhood is such an open entity that it can’t be defined, why should we respect it as something distinct and meaningful? We have no idea what it is that we are supposed to respect or admire.

This refusal to define motherhood has even crept into the corporate world. For instance, many Australians will remember the advertising slogan of Tip Top Bread: “Good on you Mum, Tip Top’s the one”. The bread company felt obliged to issue the following statement regarding this slogan:

These days, of course, the carer identified as ‘Mum’ can be any member of the family, a partner or even a flatmate …The advertising campaign uses the emotional power of ‘Good on You Mum®’ to set the scene for the new family, whatever that may be...

So mum can be anyone, male or female. And the new family is so diverse it is indefinable and unknown (“whatever that may be”). The category of family is being broadened here at the cost of its real, identifiable character.

It was exactly this problem which created a headache for a group of large American companies, including General Motors, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. These companies set out to create some family friendly television programmes to suit their advertising needs. The project almost failed at the outset:

The first meeting was almost the last. "It broke down because we couldn't define family," Wehling says.

It was agreed to leave the term family as an unknown, so that,

From that meeting emerged the group of advertisers called the Family Friendly Programming Forum, whose improvement plan for television included a script development fund for "family" shows - without defining what "family" was.

It’s an unusual situation: companies wanting family friendly programming but not being able to actually define what a family is.

The unfixed family

The more stable family relationships are, the more fixed they will seem – which is a problem for liberals who want the flexibility of choosing who they will live with at any given time.

It is to be expected, therefore, that some liberals will welcome the transition to less stable family relationships.

Take the philosopher A.C. Grayling. He is a liberal autonomist:

The most congenial moment in the moral progress of humanity for Grayling seems to be the Enlightenment. This is the age whose best minds affirm the fundamental good of personal and political autonomy.

Grayling has described the mainstreaming of divorce in positive terms as,

Liberating people to more generous possibilities for living flourishing lives.

The Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff has described a father walking out on his sons as an “act of the liberal imagination” because it upholds an individual’s needs against “the devouring claims of family life”.

Professor Ellen Lewin, an American academic, claims that women experience divorce as a “step up” and that at the core of divorce stories “is the theme of increasing autonomy and competence”.

An Australian writer, Jane Caro, has also put a positive spin on unstable family relationships. She watched the 7UP documentary series which tracked the lives of a group of English children. None of the three working-class girls in the documentary ended up married with children. For Jane Caro, this means that women’s life outcomes have diversified, and can finally be self-determined:

For the first time in recorded history, women began to have choices about the kind of life they would live. Indeed, Apted’s four girls, particularly those from working class backgrounds have demonstrated precisely that. One has had a high-powered career and in the last film had chosen to become a single mother; another is a single parent due to divorce and the third, who runs a mobile community library for children, has not had children at all.

Without doubt, the increase in the choices women have about the shape their lives will take has been exhilarating, exciting and not before time.

Jane Caro looks on divorce and single-motherhood as exhilarating and exciting social trends because they allow for more choice and so permit a more self-defined life.

For some liberals, divorce is a creative rearrangement of family life, one that proves that family can be anything we want it to be:

A family law specialist, Caroline Counsel, agrees that “separation does not destroy family, it just means that parents are geographically located in different areas” ... Counsel specialises in collaborative practice, where couples are encouraged to agree on how the post-marriage family should operate. These agreements are often broader and more creative than ones that go through the courts...

“The courts haven’t led on this, they have been followers but there is scope for them to become leaders because it’s evident that families can be anything they choose to be.

How else might liberals aim to create “unfixed” family commitments? Some liberals want our relationships to be continuously renegotiated, as this means, in theory, that they are always being self-determined.

Germaine Greer, for instance, supports the trend away from marriage and toward cohabitation on these grounds:

One way of interpreting this trend is to see it as keeping the relationship in a state of constant negotiation, in which nothing can be taken for granted...

Pamela Kinnear, an Australian social commentator, agrees. Writing as a “social progressive” she disputes the idea that there is such a thing as family breakdown. She believes that what we are witnessing is a “transition to a new diversity of family forms”:

social progressives reject the notion of family breakdown and argue that we must accept the transition to a new diversity of family forms. They regard the idea of family as an evolving social construct.

According to Pamela Kinnear, individuals are no longer living their lives in terms of social categories like gender, but are starting to create new ways of life that they invent for themselves:

The social categories of the past (gender, class, race and so on) no longer serve as the framework for individual behaviour or cultural beliefs...

In the age of individualisation, previous modes of behaviour and expectations have been disembedded from society, and we are now in the process of re-embedding new ways of life in which individuals must invent and live according to their own biographies...

Her idea is that the liberal revolution is only half finished. Predetermined categories like gender have been made not to matter, but individuals are still learning to live autonomous, self-determining lives. They are only now beginning to “invent and live according to their own biographies”.

What does that mean for the family? Pamela Kinnear admits that the emerging “pure” liberal relationships will not be stable ones:

In this transition, relationships, including marriage, must be reinvented too. The downside of the 'pure relationship', freed from convention, is some instability as partners continuously re-evaluate their relationship. They ask whether it fits with their own life project to realise self-identity.

The pure marriage, for Kinnear, is one in which each spouse “continuously re-evaulates” the relationship. If the marriage no longer fits the life project of either spouse, i.e. if either spouse feels it isn’t contributing to their mission to self-create an identity, then it is over.

Pamela Kinnear has reimagined marriage and family in a way that prioritises individual autonomy but at the cost of greater instability.

Leaving it to later

There is something else you can do if you feel that stable family commitments will cramp your autonomy.

Rather than rejecting these commitments, you can defer them to some much later time in life, whilst continuing to live an independent, single person lifestyle based on career, casual relationships, travel and study.

The deferral strategy applies to both sexes, but it was particularly common amongst middle-class women in the 1980s and 90s. The American writer Kate Bolick was one of these women. In her late 20s she ended a promising relationship:

when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends...were bewildered.

Why did she do it? She tells us that:

In the months leading to my breakup with Allan, my problem, as I saw it, lay in wanting two incompatible states of being—autonomy and intimacy...

She had been brought up to believe that autonomy should be prized more highly than a committed relationship:

...the elevation of independence over coupling is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother...

I was her first and only recruit, marching off to third grade in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: A Woman Without a Man Is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle, or: A Woman’s Place Is in the House—and the Senate, and bellowing along to Gloria Steinem & Co.’s feminist-minded children’s album, Free to Be...You and Me.... future was to be one of limitless possibilities...This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place...We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.

It was the independent, single girl lifestyle that she associated positively with "limitless possibilities" and an "unfettered future". Little wonder then that marriage and family fell in priority; she didn't reject them entirely, but she took for granted that they could be safely deferred to some later time in life.

But marriage and family never came:

Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck.

She's not alone in finding herself in this position. Eleanor Mills writes that:

One in five females of my generation will never have children; and the Office for National Statistics reports that the more successful you are professionally, the less likely you are to breed. When I look at the women I know who at 40 are single and childless and don’t want to be, my heart aches for them. It is never the ones you’d expect. Many of my singleton friends are at the particularly attractive end of the spectrum; if you’d met them at 20, at university, and been told that at 40 they’d be — unwillingly — alone, you never would have believed it.

She explains the situation this way:

I don’t think my single friends are on their own because they are too picky. I think it is because as a generation we were bred not to prioritise finding a husband and having a family...

No one, not my family or my teachers, ever said, “Oh yes, and by the way you might want to be a wife and mother too.” They were so determined we would follow a new, egalitarian, modern path that the historic ambitions of generations of women — to get married and raise a family — were intentionally airbrushed from their vision of our future.

...If you want a family, that has to be a priority. My friends and I just assumed the right man would appear at some point.

There was a generation of middle-class young women who were raised to prioritise an independent, single-girl lifestyle. Marriage and family weren't entirely dismissed, but were taken for granted and deferred till later in life. The result was a disruption in family formation in which some of these women, to their regret, were never able to marry and have children.


In the traditional family our sex does matter: there are distinct and complementary roles for men and women as husbands and wives and fathers and mothers.

It is a form of family life that liberals cannot easily tolerate. Liberals think of individual self-determination as the highest good, but our sex is not something we can choose for ourselves. This leads to the idea that our sex should be made not to matter in family life.

Liberal societies therefore have shifted toward an ideal of a single, unisex parental role, based on the traditional motherhood role.

This is one of the ways that liberalism is anti-paternal. The convergence into a single, unisex role is achieved at the expense of fatherhood.

Sara Ruddick expressed this idea clearly in her book Rethinking the family. She declared that she looked forward,

to the day when men are willing and able to share equally and actively in transformed maternal practices ... On that day there will be no more 'fathers,' no more people of either sex who have power over their children's lives and moral authority in their children's world ... There will [instead] be mothers of both sexes.

Note that Sara Ruddick not only wants there to be “mothers of both sexes” rather than fathers and mothers, but that she associates fatherhood negatively with “moral authority”. That is because paternal authority is unchosen and therefore violates the liberal ideal of autonomy - a second way in which liberalism is anti-paternal.

She’s not alone in pushing men to adopt a more maternal parenting style. James Garbarino, the president of an institute for the study of child development, has expressed the view that,

To develop a new kind of father, we must encourage a new kind of man...we need to ask, "Why can't a man be more like a woman?"

Similarly, Diane Ehrensaft in Parenting Together has endorsed the idea of men and women "mothering" their children together and Andrew M. Greeley would like society to administer a "dose of androgyny" to men and "insist that men become more like women".

I’m reminded too of the Nescafe advert which ran on Australian TV and which included in its jingle the lyrics:

You can be mother when you are a man ...
Open your mind you know that you can.

What is the logical consequence of believing that there is only one unisex parental role based on motherhood tasks?

It means that the male role within a family becomes less necessary. If men have a distinct role as fathers, i.e. if they contribute something different to their wives, then they aren’t easily displaced.

But if the male role is no different to the female one, then their role might be helpful but it isn’t necessary. This is a third way in which liberalism is anti-paternal.

Englishwoman Laurie Penny has seized upon the decline of a distinct male provider role to inform men of exactly this point:

...since feminist liberation, we have been enabled to provide for ourselves and our children on a more basic level. If that alienates men from their traditional roles of breadwinner and head of the table then too bad...

So, precisely in what way do children ‘need’ fathers?...The plain fact is that now that women are allowed to financially provide for themselves, we no longer need husbands to raise children...

What women could do with, fundamentally, are wives – other people, male or female, to share the load of domestic work and money-earning in a spirit of genuine support and partnership. When more men can stomach seeing themselves in the role of 'wife and father', then we’ll have a basis for negotiation...If you’re truly man enough to be a wife and father, bring that to the table and we'll talk.

She is saying that children no longer need fathers – and if liberalism is correct about a unisex role then she is right. If men and women are no different, and have no different role to play, then why logically would children need a father in the house?

Penny Laurie is telling men that as their role as a father is no longer necessary they should aim to be one of the wives of either sex in the home. In doing so she is being consistent in applying liberal ideas about unisex parenting.

Another liberal who is radically consistent in applying the theory is Professor P.Z. Myers. He very much supports the idea that the male and female role within the family should be a unisex, interchangeable one.

He was therefore critical of Archbishop Nienstedt who asked,

What will happen to children growing up in a world where the law teaches them that moms and dads are interchangeable and therefore unnecessary?

Professor Myers’ ominous reply was this:

I think a world where moms and dads are interchangeable in their roles and responsibilities in child-raising would be a fine place to live. Aside from nursing (and again, biologists will fix that someday, too)...

He so much wants parenting roles to be interchangeable that he hopes that men can be genetically re-engineered to be able to breastfeed children.

That is the logical extreme to which a visionary scientist like Professor Myers is willing to take the idea of a unisex parental role.


One critic of the liberal view of the family is the American writer David Blankenhorn. In his book Fatherless America he argues that men should not abandon a distinctly paternal role.

How does Blankenhorn explain the push toward a new fatherless family?

He explains it, as I do, in terms of autonomy. He believes that there are people who see socially defined roles, such as those of father and mother, as restrictive. These people believe that they are freeing individuals by replacing such socially defined roles with self-determined ones.

Blankenhorn quotes as an example of this the views of the very liberal Mark Gerzon. Gerzon celebrates the new family on the grounds that:

Couples may write their own scripts, construct their own plots, with unprecedented freedom...a man and a woman are free to find the fullest range of possibilities. Neither needs to act in certain ways because of preordained cross-sexual codes of conduct.

“Writing your own script” is liberal-speak for rejecting what is predetermined (or, as Gerzon puts it, “preordained”) in favour of what can be self-determined. Gerzon considers this to be an “unprecedented freedom”.

Blankenhorn recognises that this vision of freedom is part of a reigning orthodoxy:

In many ways, it is a bracing, exhilarating vision, bravely contemptuous of boundaries and inherited limitations, distinctly American in its radical insistence on self-created identity...It is the reigning ethos of much of contemporary American culture.

But it is not a vision that Blankenhorn can accept:

I dispute it because it denies the necessity, and even repudiates the existence, of fathers' work: irreplaceable work in behalf of family that is essentially and primarily the work of fathers.

I dispute it because it tells an untrue story of what a good marriage is. In addition, I dispute it because it rests upon a narcissistic and ultimately self-defeating conception of male happiness and human completion.

...androgyny and gender role convergence reflect the ultimate triumph of radical is the belief, quite simply, that human completion is a solo act. It is the insistence that the pathway to human happiness lies in transcending the old polarities of sexual embodiment in order for each individual man and woman to embrace and express all of human potentiality within his or her self...Now each man, within the cell of himself, can be complete...

This idea, so deeply a part of our culture, is fool's gold. It is a denial of sexual complementarity and ultimately a denial of generativity...Especially for men, this particular promise of happiness is a cruel hoax. Like all forms of narcissism, its final product is not fulfilment but emptiness.


What liberalism asks men to accept is that they are to be liberated from being fathers – at least fathers with a distinctly paternal role.

This explains the attitude of Sara Maitland who associates fatherhood negatively with authority. She has confessed her desire to,

...cast out the Father in my head who rules and controls me ...This frightens me; I want to protect my father and my love for him. I do not want to kill him, to see him dead. I want to set the man free from having to be a father.

That is an anti-paternal understanding of what freedom means. It is freedom from fatherhood, rather than freedom to be a father.

You might think that motherhood would fare better. After all, the new unisex parental role is drawn from the traditional motherhood role.

But unfortunately there is a logic to liberalism by which motherhood is also reduced in status.

In part this is simply because the maternal role, just like the paternal one, is based on something predetermined rather than self-determined, namely our sex. Therefore, there are liberals like Alison Croggon who view the maternal role negatively as a restriction on the individual:

the role - rather than the task - of motherhood is an iron cage

There are liberals too who dislike the connection between motherhood and a woman’s biology. After all, the liberal theory is that we become human through self-defining or self-determining acts. But motherhood is something common to all females, human and non-human, as a matter of inherited biology. So it is dismissed harshly by many liberals as a mere “biological destiny”.

Motherhood also offends some liberals because it leaves women relatively dependent on others for support; thereby contravening the goal of autonomy.

Here is Kate Millett putting the full-blown liberal view:

In terms of activity, sex role assigns domestic service and attendance upon infants to the female, the rest of human achievement, interest, and ambition to the male. The limited role allotted the female tends to arrest her at the level of biological experience. Therefore, nearly all that can be described as distinctly human rather than animal activity (in their own way animals also give birth and care for their young) is largely reserved for the male.

If you really believed the theory, you would not want as a woman to prioritise motherhood. It loses its place at the centre of life and becomes instead a limiting and non-human activity.

What are women expected to prioritise instead? There is a simple answer: careers. Careers fit in better with autonomy theory because they can be individually chosen (i.e. they can be thought of as a uniquely chosen life path in contrast to the predetermined role of motherhood) and because they are thought to leave women less financially dependent on men.

Fiona Stewart gave voice to such liberal attitudes in 2004 when a baby bonus was introduced in Australia. She was concerned that some young women might not prioritise education and careers over motherhood:

Everyone in the youth sector was - and still is - committed to encouraging girls to see motherhood as one of many choices. To move away from the historical model of "the baby maketh the woman"...This strategy of encouraging choice over biological destiny was aimed particularly at girls from non-English-speaking backgrounds... If we have to pay women to have should be done in a way that ensures that education and career still come first.

And there’s this from American professor Laura Kipnis:

For the first time in history, women are relatively free from traditional fetters. No longer is womanhood synonymous with motherhood...

...with more control over maternity, record numbers of women are now participating in the workforce, meaning that womanhood is no longer synonymous with dependency. In fact, women can now be entirely free from men should they so choose.

The language used here is typical of liberalism: motherhood is thought of as closing off choice and therefore as being a “fetter.” And it is associated negatively with dependency. What is thought to matter to women is not the freedom to marry well and have children but the freedom to live apart from men.

Australian newspaper columnist Alan Howe is another liberal who belittles motherhood as being a preordained role:

It used to be that your early 20s were an ideal time to have children. Newly married and generally expected to do little more than care for little nappy-clad economic stimulation packages, women's lives were often predetermined events.

But as educated, ambitious waves of women entered the workforce...things changed

Mothers “do little more” than care for babies complains Alan Howe. He does not, as a liberal, accord motherhood a high status.

Kasey Edwards is a Melbourne woman who was brought up to be career ambitious. She rose high in the corporate world but at age 30 ditched her career because she felt the corporate drudgery to be unfulfilling. What was she to do instead? She felt the urge to have children but resisted it on these grounds:

I'm prepared to accept that having kids could be one answer to being thirty-something and over it, but I don't want to accept that it is the answer. It seems so stiflingly predetermined to think that it doesn't matter who we are or what we have done with our lives up until now, we all have to breed in the end.

Motherhood has lost prestige in her eyes because it is not a uniquely self-created life path.

Here is a more radical interpretation of autonomy theory by an American feminist blogger:

Women, however, particularly women with children, don’t have access to the full menu of choices. In our culture “motherhood” is a kind of prison...

As for freedom from biology... there can be little argument against the notion that females bear a disproportionate burden, biology-wise...That women have to do the pregnancy is not a “cultural construct.” What Firestone and others have postulated is that until women are liberated from this burden, their personal autonomy will always be the actual physiological process of hosting a parasite for nine months.

If the point of life really is to maximise autonomy then it makes sense to treat motherhood negatively as a limitation (a “prison” is the term used above) and pregnancy as a biological burden from which women are to be liberated.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clarke, took this negative view of motherhood. She once justified her childlessness on the grounds that,

You’ve got better things to do with your time, unimpeded.

The seeds of this anti-maternal attitude were sown early. In 1892 Elizabeth Cady Stanton made a speech to a U.S. senate committee. She told the committee that the aim of life was the “self-dependence of every soul” and that women had a “birthright to self-sovereignty.” Woman, she declared, “as an individual...must rely on herself.”

This female autonomy was to be achieved through education and careers. And, predictably, family relationships were radically reduced in status. Elizabeth Cady Stanton described them as “incidental” to life: is only the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter, which may involve some special duties...

In the introduction to a book Elizabeth Cady Stanton edited in 1881 there is a longer treatment of the same theme. She wrote of her own sex that:

Womanhood is the great fact in her life; wifehood and motherhood are but incidental relations...Custom and philosophy, in regard to woman's happiness, are alike based on the idea that her strongest social sentiment is love of children...But the love of offspring, common to all orders of women and all forms of animal life...calls out only the negative virtues that belong to apathetic classes, such as patience, endurance, self-sacrifice...

Maternal love isn’t seen as meaningful when you believe that independence and self-assertion are what really matter in life.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was very radically individualistic. She thought that society should be structured around “the isolation of every human soul”.

But most of us don’t share that view. Most of us do want a degree of independence, but we also want to be fulfilled in our relationships with others and we don’t care if those relationships are preordained – they still matter.

Take Lori Gottlieb. She and a friend decided “in a fit of self-empowerment” to have their children as single mothers. In doing so she went further than most women in the pursuit of a life independent of men.

But even in her case “self-empowerment” was not what she most valued. She has described a moment when she and her friend were having a picnic in a park and watching their children play:

“Ah, this is the dream,” I said, and we nodded in silence for a minute, then burst out laughing. In some ways, I meant it: we’d both dreamed of motherhood, and here we were, picnicking in the park with our children. But it was also decidedly not the dream. The dream, like that of our mothers and their mothers from time immemorial, was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist — vehemently, even — that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family.

For Lori Gottlieb, being a wife and mother are not “incidental” relationships. They were once part of her dreams and longings. And yet they don’t fit in well with the ruling ideology of our society. It’s not easy for liberal intellectuals to view motherhood as promoting female autonomy and so the maternal role, just like the paternal one, has lost status in the modern West.

The utopian family

Various thinkers over the years have attempted to envisage a utopian family life. Their aim has been to imagine an ideal family system, one that recasts family relationships to best reflect the principle of individual autonomy.

Aldous Huxley was an interesting intellectual figure of the twentieth century who drew on a range of philosophies in his works. He created a fictional utopian society, that of the Palanese, in his novel Island, published in 1962. The Palanese family system is clearly based on the principle of autonomy. The Palanese do not raise their children in a nuclear family but through Mutual Adoption Clubs (MACs). These clubs are made up of twenty couples who together look after 50 or more children. The children do not stay with any particular couple but move about.

According to the guide to the island, the new family system is superior to the traditional “bottled up” nuclear family because it produces,

An entirely different kind of family. Not exclusive, like your families, and not predestined, not compulsory. An inclusive, unpredestined and voluntary family.

In this utopian family the ties of kinship have been broken. Children are no longer raised by their biological parents. That makes sense under the terms of autonomy theory as it means that the family unit is no longer biologically predetermined (“compulsory”), but is self-determined (“voluntary”).

This “liberation” from ties of kinship was also a feature of the utopian new family imagined by Germaine Greer in her influential work The Female Eunuch. Greer suggested 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".

The relationship between parent and child was once again to be a voluntary, flexible, open, non-biological one.

In the 1890s, a Chinese intellectual by the name of Kang Youwei set out to modernise China along Western lines. He wanted to introduce not only Western science but also a philosophy of individual autonomy:

...he proclaimed the equality of humanity as well as a notion of individual autonomy.
His vision of family life has been described as follows:

He was perhaps the most influential politico-philosophical writer of the 1890s in China ... Although Kang had not yet formulated the principles of his utopian vision by the 1880s, many of his radical notions were already developed.

Marriages should be freely contracted and subject to change; children should be raised in public nurseries with no filial obligations (nor would parents have obligations toward their children)...

So family relationships were to be flexible (subject to change); children were to be raised outside of the family; and parents were to have no obligations toward their children (or vice versa).

In the 1840s, John Humphrey Noyes established his utopian Oneida Community of several hundred people in the United States.

Noyes saw himself as an enlightened, progressive thinker, committed to freedom, equality and feminism (he mixed together science and the Bible as sources of authority for his theories).

Once again, ties of kinship weren’t allowed at Oneida. Children were allowed to remain with their biological mothers for 15 months for the purposes of breastfeeding. After that they were to be raised by experts and rotated at night between different members of the community according to a principle of non-attachment.

And that is the trade-off. If you want inclusive, open, flexible and self-determined relationships – relationships that can easily be changed or substituted – then you won’t want deep attachments to form, not even the natural attachment between mother and child.

But the question has to be asked whether it is really non-attachment that we want when it comes to our closest relationships.

The Oneida experiment ended when a generation of children was born and the parents lobbied to be allowed to marry and form stable family units. The parents ultimately chose attachment over radical autonomy.

Next chapter: Ch.5 Nation & ethny

Monday, July 11, 2011

John Anderson & the Sydney Push

John Anderson
When you look at the intellectual movements of the twentieth century you lose any sense of surprise that the West has entered a period of decline. The marvel is that the West hasn't sunk more quickly.

Let me give just one example. Back in 1927 the powers that be made the decision to appoint John Anderson as the professor of philosophy at Sydney University.

Anderson began as a fellow traveller of the Communist Party, but when he realised the nature of the regime in Russia he became a Trotskyist. But during the 1930s he moved away from Marxism altogether in favour of a left-libertarianism (i.e. he combined anti-statism with anti-capitalism).

Anderson's was a pessimistic form of leftism:

In one talk he canvassed the 'fallacy of optimism' and criticised notions of 'good' and 'progress'. Optimistic theories are based on the view that the ultimate nature of reality is good, he argued, or that good is more real than evil: 'But reality as such can be neither good nor bad.' (Christine Wallace, Greer: Untamed Shrew, p. 74)

In Anderson's universe there were no transcendent values and therefore nothing that was in itself either good or bad:

As a committed empiricist, Anderson argued that there is only one realm of "being" and it can be best understood through science and naturalistic philosophy. He asserted that there is no supernatural god and that there are no non-natural realms along the lines of Platonic ideals. He rejected all notions that knowledge could be obtained by means other than descriptions of facts and any belief that revelation or mysticism could be sources for obtaining truth. He was arguing that traditional Christian concepts of good and evil were only meant for slaves and that, in actuality, the idea of morality was empty.

So if morality is empty and a restriction on our freedom, then what is the non-servile intellectual to do? This is the "solution" Anderson arrived at:

For Anderson, the term "good" was valid when applied objectively to human activities which were free, critical and creative but the more common subjective applications were to be avoided or exposed as deceptive. Not surprisingly, Anderson's influence was both extensive and controversial as he constantly examined and fearlessly criticized hallowed beliefs and institutions.

This is a typical modernism. Anderson has rejected the idea of an inherent good and replaced it with a good that we make for ourselves through an assertion of our "free, critical and creative" self. This requires the individual to reject forms of authority external to itself:

With Anderson, every icon was to be smashed - God, immortality, free will, moralism, the common good of society, the lot ...

For Anderson, there was no point in trying to create an alternative icon - instead, the ideal was to be in permanent opposition, as it was through struggle that the non-servile self was expressed:

Andersonians argued that there was no such thing as a general 'good', that the state was always a malign force and that reform was, in any case, always doomed to fail.

In his 1943 journal article 'The Servile State', Anderson laid down his core views on reform and the state. Meliorism ignores the permanence of struggle, he wrote: 'The scientific student of society, then, will not be concerned with reform. What he will be concerned with is opposition - what he will be above all concerned to reject is "social unity". " (Wallace, p.78).

Finally, Anderson viewed sexual morality in particular as a form of repressive authority:

In a journal article in 1941, Anderson argued that sexual repression had a central place in any repressive system, and that 'freedom in love is the condition of other freedoms, that while in itself it does not constitute culture, there can be no culture without it.'

In short, Anderson believed that culture was dependent on promiscuity.

These journal articles were being published in Australia in the early 1940s - one of the key periods of intellectual and political decline in our country.

Why bother with Anderson? It so happens that he was one of the more influential of Australian academics:

He is, arguably, the most important philosopher who has worked in Australia. Certainly he was the most important in both the breadth and depth of influence.

Anderson was the leading figure in the Freethought Society at Sydney University and out of this group came the Libertarian Society. It was this libertarian group that gave rise to the Sydney Push - a group of intellectuals in the 1950s and 60s who were determined to live a libertarian/anarchist, Andersonian lifestyle:

the libertarians at the Push's heart had their own special put-downs, 'authoritarian', 'neurotic' and 'illogical' being the worst insults. Positions or behaviour which did not meet expectations were condemned for 'inconsistency' - at least as loaded an epithet as 'servility'.

In terms of relationships, the Push followed the ideas of both Anderson and Wilhelm Reich. Reich was a psychiatrist who believed that sexual repression was responsible for neuroticism and political authoritarianism. Therefore, the Push believed that sexual "freedom" (i.e. being uninhibited) was the primary freedom on which other freedoms turned. What mattered then was proving that you could engage in sexual relations without any associated moral feelings.

This was the life outlook that Germaine Greer walked into as a young woman. She fell in love with a leader of the Push called Roelof Smilde, but it didn't work out in the end because Push culture didn't exactly encourage emotional connection:

Emotional denial was a key element of Push culture ... The explicit repression of jealousy, though imperfectly achieved, was essential to Push promiscuity. No emotion was allowed, no sign of shock, disappointment or distress permitted when one's lover sallied forth with another.

You have to wonder what might have happened if Germaine Greer had been in a milieu in which she had been better able to find love with a man.

The Push helped to bring about the 1960s counterculture. Members of the Push such as Greer and Richard Neville shifted to England and became leading figures in the political scene there.

So, if you want to know the origins of the 60s counterculture you have to go back to the libertarians of the Push in the 1950s, which itself had its origins in the philosophy of David Anderson as fully developed by the early 1940s, which itself developed from a rejection of his earlier Marxism held in the 1930s.

How is a society or a tradition supposed to survive such an intellectual climate? Should we really be surprised if things didn't ultimately hold together so well?

It matters what the political class of a society believes. Western society has not been served well by its intellectual classes. It's something that we have to try to turn around and get right.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Feeling connected to your suburb is now a sin?

Rush at the station
Camberwell is one of the nicer historic garden suburbs of Melbourne. It is also also the boyhood suburb of comic Barry Humphries and the home of actor Geoffrey Rush. Both Rush and Humphries have taken part in movements to protect the heritage of the suburb from overdevelopment, including proposals to build a nine storey car park and office block over the historic railway station (they lost).

Their efforts to protect the heritage of Camberwell have drawn fire from a leading architect, Professor Kim Dovey. According to Dovey, people who resist modernity are ... well, racists and whatnot:

Melbourne University academic Kim Dovey has also accused some residents of trying to defend their patch from ethnic and class differences.

"There's an element of 'well, we're not racist, we welcome different kinds of people as long as they behave exactly the same as we always have," Prof Dovey said yesterday...

Prof Dovey said Rush had dramatised the issue by making people feel if they accepted change "they would be giving up something of themselves".

So bad luck if you feel attached to your lovely, green, historic suburb. According to Professor Dovey you're not allowed to try to conserve it for yourself or your children. If you do try, you're just resisting modernisation/globalisation and must be a racist. And Professor Dovey gets even more Orwellian. You're not even allowed to think, as your suburb gets transformed, that you're giving up something of yourself - that too is a forbidden thought.

Sex disparity OK only when men are disadvantaged?

How do you like this? In the UK, there are now a quarter of primary schools without a male teacher. In some regions of England the percentage without a male teacher is as high as 57%. But the Department for Education is not going to try to recruit more men into the field; they are going to operate on the principle of "best person for the job":

A DfE spokesman said: ‘Quality of teaching in our schools is what we should all be looking at, regardless of gender.

‘Our job is to recruit the best men and women into the profession and give them outstanding training.'

OK, that principle would be defensible if it were applied consistently. But, as we know, when it's a case of men dominating a field then no such principle is invoked. Instead, we hear arguments that "a cross section of the population must be represented" or "we must aim for 50% representation of women".

A recent example from here in Melbourne concerns train drivers. Our train operator has won exemption from anti-discrimination laws to run ads appealing to women to become train drivers:

Metro told VCAT that women made up only 16 per cent of its 4000 strong workforce, but wanted to increase that to 50%.

So it's considered important in modern society that 50% of train drivers are female, but when it comes to teaching then it's a case of whoever is best for the job.

Obviously, the logic of this is that women will become increasingly advantaged in the workforce over time. Women will have relatively easy access to fields that are traditionally male dominated, whilst men will continue to have to compete to get into fields that are female dominated.

Another Nigerian scam?

It's clear that at least some asylum seekers are motivated by money. Take the following story from the Daily Mail. A Nigerian woman travelled to England, had quintuplets in an English hospital at a cost of £200,000 and is now arguing for the right to stay in England because she claims she would be homeless if she returns to Nigeria.

However, it turns out that her Nigerian husband is a wealthy businessman:

University-educated Ohi Nasir Ilavbare is chief executive of his own logistics company whose clients include British American Tobacco and DHL.

He also owns and runs an upmarket hotel and business centre in an exclusive suburb of Lagos, where his company, Spry Logistics, is based.

Suites at the facility in a gated complex cost £100 a night. The average annual wage in Nigeria is around £300.

A neighbouring trader described Mr Ilavbare as ‘very rich’, while an employee confirmed ‘he is the managing director here, he owns this place’. Repeated attempts to contact him via his office have proved unsuccessful.

He and his wife seem to have remained in close touch while she has been in England. Until recently the profile picture on his Facebook page was of five babies lying on a bedspread.

It must be the case, then, that people overseas are aware of the benefits to be had from applying to stay in the UK - even to the point that wealthier people in Nigeria are willing to try their hand at benefiting from the UK system of asylum.

It reinforces for me that the system of international asylum needs to be overhauled. All first world countries should pay into a fund to finance the resettlemenf of asylum seekers. However, asylum should only be offered in countries with a similar standard of living and similar cultural/ethnic traditions. That would ensure that legitimate asylum seekers could find refuge; that there would be the least problem with assimilation; and that there would be little incentive for the system to be rorted for financial advantage.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Separate dorms illegal?

The Catholic University of America (CUA) has a new president, John Garvey. He has decided that housing students in coed dorms invites a hook up culture that is "destructive of love and marriage". So he has announced that the university will return to separate dorms for young men and women.

Is that really such an unreasonable decision? It's supposed to be a Catholic University. Why would an institution based on Christian morality throw young men and women together in mixed dorms? Anyone who has ever been eighteen would have some idea of the likely consequences.

But Mr Garvey's reform has hit a problem. A law professor from George Washington University, John Banzhaf, is suing the Catholic University on the basis that separate dorms would violate the sex discrimination provisions of the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act. According to Professor Banzhaf:

The statute does not require that a certain population be disadvantaged for an action to be illegal; the simple act of segregating the genders is enough, Banzhaf said.

Here again we have "anti-discrimination" laws being used intrusively in an attempt to prevent an institution from fulfilling its proper purpose.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Is feminism killing the left?

Bob Ellis was one of the kings of Australian leftism back in the 1980s. He's in the news again, having claimed that "wowser" (i.e. puritanical) feminists are bringing down left-wing men:

Is there a pattern here? Is sexual complaint being used to bring down left-leaning and Liberal-reformist artists and politicians?

Looks like it. For the tactic works very well ... It is all very unjust; and a question arises from it: Is feminism killing the Left, and why does it seem so keen to do so?

...The Strauss-Kahn Moment has arrived, and the question must be asked: has wowser-feminism gone too far?

He's got a point. The feminism that left-wing men supported to a man back in the 1980s is now being directed at leading figures of the left such as Julian Assange and Strauss-Kahn.

Here's another example of feminism at work. A conference of lefty type atheists in Dublin has led to online bickering after one of the female speakers was politely asked by a man if she'd like to return to his room for a coffee. Admittedly he did ask her in a lift at 4am, which understandably made her feel uncomfortable. But some of the feminist supporters are treating it as if it were a rape scenario which damns all of male-kind, whilst others think that it's a case of feminist overreaction.

The speaker was a woman called Rebecca Watson, who was asked by the unidentified man, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you really interesting and I'd like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?" She declined and he took it no further. But Watson complained that she had been "sexualised" and the lefty atheist leader PZ Myers then used the incident for a spot of male bashing:

There is an odd attitude in our culture that it's acceptable for men to proposition women in curious ways — Rebecca Watson recently experienced this in an elevator in Dublin, and I think this encounter Ophelia Benson had reflects the same attitude: women are lower status persons, and we men, as superior beings, get to ask things of them. Also as liberal, enlightened people, of course, we will graciously accede to their desires, and if they ask us to stop hassling them, we will back off, politely. Isn't that nice of us?

It's not enough. Maybe we should also recognize that applying unwanted pressure, no matter how politely phrased, is inappropriate behavior. Maybe we should recognize that when we interact with equals there are different, expected patterns of behavior that many men casually disregard when meeting with women, and it is those subtle signs that let them know what you think of them that really righteously pisses feminist women off.

Richards Dawkins, another leading figure in this group, then took the opposite view, that being politely asked for a coffee wasn't a serious form of oppression compared to what some women go through overseas. And from there the fight was on.

I've noticed for some time now that left-wing men are starting to turn against feminism. You can see it even in the men's rights movement, where left-wing men continue to support all the old causes but draw the line at feminism which they treat with unyielding hostility.

And I do understand why. After all, why be a left-wing man in the first place? You get treated as being part of an oppressor class and therefore as lacking moral status. The only reason to put up with this is that left-wing politics was supposed to a) free you of traditional responsibilities whilst b) creating a sexual utopia of casual sex.

In the 1960s the Australian left was sexually libertarian. At the time, the theories of the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich were very influential. Reich believed that problems in society were a consequence of the neuroses brought about by sexual repression. Therefore, it was a politically progressive act to cast off "bourgeois" morality. The generation that included Germaine Greer made a serious attempt to practise unrestrained sexuality as a means of changing the world (Greer later admitted it was a failure).

So for a time left-wing men did inhabit a world in which their female counterparts were readily accessible. That's what Bob Ellis is looking back to. But then along came feminism with it's theory of patriarchy in which men supposedly use rape and domestic violence to uphold an unearned privilege. Suddenly casual sex was no longer a way to create a brand new world, but was instead an instrument of control by which men oppressed women. Feminists began to focus on ways in which men might potentially commit acts of date rape. Interacting with such women became a minefield for men.

In such a culture what really is the point of being a left-wing man? You lose moral status for being a white, heterosexual oppressor. And the women you consort with are not only at war with their own femininity, and not only convinced that they are oppressed by men, but they might also unpredictably throw out an accusation that you have assaulted or raped or otherwise oppressed them.

So I understand why left-wing men are starting to abandon their support for feminism. What these men need to consider, though, is whether they are being realistic. They seem to want a society in which they have no binding duties, in which they have easy access to casual sex and which continues to be prosperous and secure. I don't think that's ever going to happen - even if feminism were to be discredited.

A society doesn't prosper by accident and it certainly won't prosper if the average man retreats to a position of no responsibility. That's why left-wing men ought not to have accepted the idea of white men, as a class, being oppressors with no moral standing. That amounts to an abandonment of society, whilst still expecting all the good things of society to continue along as before.