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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

political cross dressing « Previous | |Next »
January 10, 2007

Mark Davis has an interesting paragraph in his op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald about understanding how our political parties are seen by voters. He says:

One theory, proffered by the commentator Don Arthur, is that the left-right divisions of Australian politics have been replaced. Instead, voters see Labor as the caring and nurturing party, better suited to state issues such as health and education, while the Liberals are seen as the strict father, best put in charge of the nation’s finances and defence and border protection. If such a political climate change has occurred it will tilt the odds of federal success against Labor.

The Dad and Mum thesis, whose genealogy in Australia is traced by Andrew Norton, does have plausibility at the level of political rhetoric. But it ignores both the ALP's history as an economic reform party under Hawke and Keating, and the way that the Howard Government retains the welfare state, is a friend of Medicare redistributes taxes to middle class families---what Don Arthur calls political cross-dressing.

The Dad and Mum thesis also ignores the shift in social democracy away from the statist conception as founded in a paternal welfare state to a more libertarian and less statist social democracy which involves debates about the market is to be managed. 'Managed' means the need to moderate and control market forces.

A core idea of social democracy accepts that markets should be expanded and that markets should be managed; and a debate within this liberal tradtion is about how best to balance the two political goals. The concern is to prevent society and community from being gutted by the free market. The historic 20th century answer to civilizing capitalism was welfare capitalism, and it is this model that has been under attack by classical liberals libertarians and laissez-faire economists since the 1980s.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:22 AM | | Comments (4)


I think a mummy/daddy thesis is as useful and informative as left/right. Meaning, it isn't.

well it is a starting point I guess to think about the political differently to the economic.

It is odd to think of the political in terms of 'the family' though. I much prefer a more antagonistic conception eg., Schmitt's friends/enemies distinction. The poltical cannot be reduced to ' the family ' as it operates with different values and has a different logic. It is about the state defending the way of life of a nation.

I can understand the desire to create a quick pop narrative that is easily explainable, but I don't think either of those descriptions work. About all it helps is the creation of strawmans such as 'teh left' and 'teh right' where monolithic behaviours and motivations are prescribed to a largely mythical group.

yes I agree that the old political labels of left and right need to be reworked---that is the argument of the advocates of the Third Way --is it not? There is too much diversity within left and right to think in terms of monolithic blocs; a diversity within that has differences and antagonisms often greater than what lies between Left and Right.

However the conservative as Nation-as-Family is a metaphor in which the nation is seen as a family, the government as a parent and the citizens as children. As George Lakoff in this text argues:

This metaphor turns family-based morality into political morality, providing the link between conservative family values and conservative political policies. The Strict Father model, which brings together the conservative metaphors for morality, is what unites the various conservative political positions into a coherent whole when it is imposed on political life by the Nation-as-Family metaphor.

He says that the Strict Father (patriarchal) model of the family, the metaphors that are induced by it, and the Nation-as-Family metaphor jointly provide an explanation for why conservatives have the collection of political positions that they have. It explains why opposition to environmental protection goes with support for military protection, why the right-to-life goes with the right to own machine guns, why patriotism goes with hatred of government.

I would argue that this helps us to make sense of the mental frameworks that lie behind contemporary American conservatism.