Yes, yes, there I go again, making up words – we pretentious types call them neologisms -- so I can decorate one of my relentlessly boring, hyperintellectual screeds with stuff that will, as Gerard Van Der Leun puts it, “go Boing! in the brain.” Well, Gentle Reader, if you’re a regular, you’re already aware of that little proclivity of mine and have resolved to endure it for the sake of an off-chance at some low-grade humor. If you’re new here...are you sure you’re feeling quite all right? What on Earth brought you here, anyway?
Anyway, a nice fluffy neologism now and them will sometimes allow me to avert a fit of screaming, mug-crushing, soul-curdling rage, such as the one that began to creep over me when I encountered this article:
So many disputes in our liberal democratic society hinge on the tension between inequality and fairness: between groups, between sexes, between individuals, and increasingly between families.
There are your first warning signs: “inequality” and “fairness.” If you weren’t yet aware that you’re about to read a Leftist tract, you’re surely on notice of it by now.
The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment.
Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.
‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.
‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’
So far, not too ominous, though we should remember that when a “philosopher” takes interest in a natural institution – i.e., one that arose before the State and needs nothing from the State to sustain itself – he’s highly unlikely to approach it from a non-interventionist point of view. But we haven’t gotten to the good part yet:
According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.
‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’
There’s that “social justice” chimera again! It appears in many places these days, but it’s indispensable in a tirade about “inequality.” (I did warn you.) But wait: there’s more!
It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality. For this, Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don't.
‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.
The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.
For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.
‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’
And these...persons are not finished with the family. Everything that occurs within the family is to be evaluated and potentially banned or restricted:
‘The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,’ he says.... ‘You have to allow parents to engage in bedtime stories activities, in fact we encourage them because those are the kinds of interactions between parents and children that do indeed foster and produce these [desired] familial relationship goods....We could prevent elite private schooling without any real hit to healthy family relationships, whereas if we say that you can’t read bedtime stories to your kids because it’s not fair that some kids get them and others don’t, then that would be too big a hit at the core of family life....We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families—and that our theory defends—will confer unfair advantage,’ he says.
I added the italics in the above.
Take a moment to shudder while I fetch more coffee...no, I think I’ll make it decaf this time.
In Screwtape Proposes A Toast, the incomparable C. S. Lewis mentions an aspect of tyranny that has a long and venerable lineage:
What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence — moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.
(Remember that one of the other traits of the Greek Tyrants was their penchant for enlisting philosophers as advisors. Concerning notable philosophers of that period, Plato believed that infants should be taken from their parents shortly after birth to be reared and educated exclusively by the State. Aristotle was of the opinion that the great majority of men are unfit for freedom – that they are natural slaves.)
The insertion of the State into the family unit to prevent the emergence of “inequality” is a central feature of Marxism. Here’s the brilliant Dystopic on the subject:
Some time ago, I suggested that Socialism’s greatest flaw is in its inability to scale. Two people who get married share resources, money, and expertise. This operates along principles not terribly different from Socialism. Extend this further. Many families are composes of several generations, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, etc… and there is a degree of sharing among them. There was a time where one’s retirement plan was the family.
Indeed, my wife’s grandparents moved in with her parents. They watched the children during the day, contributing what they could (and saving child care costs), in exchange for room and board. But since this was a family unit, it wasn’t accounted like that. It was expected that each contributed what they were able, and took what they needed. Anyone who contributed less than their ability, or took more than their share, would face the wrath of the rest of the family. No matter how Marxist this sounds in theory, it worked well, because the scale was small. Everyone knew everyone else. If someone was slacking or becoming a glutton, it was obvious to all.
Now, the reason I point this is out is not to sing the praises of Marxism, but rather to point out something many on the Right fail to understand: Marxism regards the Family unit as competition. Indeed, Marxists are jealous of the family, because it operates more efficiently and less tyrannically than Socialism does. Good families stick together and support one another in ways Socialist Revolutionaries could only dream about. We might call families Communal instead of Socialist, because families actually have some chance of working in the long term.
Families, by and large, function well – not because political Marxism is actually a practicable, scaled-up version of family life, but because the bonds of affection, interdependence, and mutual responsibility that join family members are clear, strong, and well internalized. But Marxists will hear no such objection to their schemes. Instead, they jump directly to their endgame: Man must be remade. The New Man will be a natural socialist, incapable of prioritizing his own needs and desires, or those of a loved one, above those of a faceless stranger...or those of the State. If the family stands in the way, then so much for the family! It must go...for the greater good, of course. A commenter to Sara Noble’s Independent Sentinel notes the following:
And this comes at the same time that some Statist flunkies in Buffalo, NY are advocating for public boarding schools. It’s not a conspiracy theory if they really are out to take your children.
What’s that? You’re shuddering again? Well, I do need more decaf.
I wrote some time ago:
What's that you say? You want very intelligent people in government? You, sir, are a hazard to the body politic. What on Earth are you doing at Eternity Road? Don't you know what sort of mischief smart people get up to when entrusted with power? Didn't we get enough of a demonstration from the Clintons? Do you really want a reprise of that disaster?
No. No smart people in office. Please! Smart people are too good at reinterpreting their marching orders and rationalizing their way around moral or Constitutional constraints on their authority. If any of the Founding Fathers was a genius, Thomas Jefferson was -- yet he, most libertarian of them all, violated the Constitution's constraints on federal power several times in his first term of office. He rationalized his transgressions as "necessary" and "practical." So highly did Congress, and the people generally, think of him that he always carried the day.
High intelligence is almost always accompanied by a high opinion of oneself. He who thinks that well of himself is all too easily led to see himself as above the rules that bind others. If you were looking for a capsule summary of Eliot Spitzer's downfall, you have it now.
What Americans should seek in their public officials is men who can understand the duties and limitations of their offices, and will cleave to them unswervingly. This demands a routinier, an "organization man," a dullard. It's not the right billet for a genius. Very bright people chafe at taking orders, even from brighter, more knowledgeable people; they're always looking for an angle, a way to finesse their way out of doing what they've been told.
The duties of an elected official are spelled out in either the Constitution of the United States, or some similar charter subordinate to it. The powers that attach to whatever government his office pertains to are spelled out in a similar fashion, albeit not always with the degree of specificity a libertarian-conservative would like. If those rules and constraints are seriously meant, then we don't want our officeholders looking for ways to chisel around the edges. We want good, solid dullards, schooled from the Bible and the handle of a broom, who'll do as they're told, without the slightest trace of creativity.
We don't often get such men, these days.
Men who style themselves “philosophers” are the most arrogant of all pseudointellectuals. Plato – he who proposed that form precedes substance, that “horseness” is prior and superior to the horse! – is their standard-bearer. But worse by far than their arrogance about their intellects is their lust for power – their ardor for the wherewithal to impose their dictates upon others willy-nilly. The advocates of freedom – the Socrateses, Ciceros, and Ayn Rands among them – are rare and precious.
Of course, no self-nominated “philosopher” would take more than sneering notice of my contempt. He’d meet it with a single, scornfully raised eyebrow and a slight curl of the lip. Never mind that I could easily demolish any of his ideas, original or derivative, that aren’t rooted in the teachings of either Socrates or Christ. He’s a “philosopher,” I’m not, and that’s what really matters.
Now about your children...hm. Those shudders have persisted quite some time, haven’t they? Perhaps you should see your doctor...or your local guns-and-ammo salesman. Present trends continuing, you’re guarantee to need one or the other soon enough.