Family values: a code for anti-welfare rhetoric?

datePosted on 20:15, February 23rd, 2009 by Anita

I have recently been reading about the rhetoric of family values, starting with the assumption that it is simply a dogwhistle for conservative Christians. Yet the more I read about the origin of the phrase in US politics the more I saw analysis saying it was initially a neo-liberal anti-welfare construction. It’s original intent was to aid the transfer of responsibility for poverty from the state to the the poor (Dana Cloud’s article is quite a good read, but there are lots of others out there).

Marion Maddox’ analysis of John Howard’s Australia is very similar; family values provided both a call to arms for the Christian right, and a rhetorical device to soften the fear-inspiring free market:

[The Market God] has proved too dynamic and unsettling. It sabotages family and community life and tears away safety nets. It has had to make Olympian room for another deity, one would brings “Us” a renewed sense of the security the Market God took away. They repressive God of racism, authoritarian “family values” and  exclusion tries to make “Us” feel secure by turning our anxieties upon “Them”, corralling Australian tolerance and generosity behind an unbreachable white picket fence.

So, what’s the story in New Zealand, is it also the bridging point of the neo-liberalism and conservative Christianity? The original users of “family values” in recent NZ politics were United Future which was formed from the neoliberal refugees of the fourth Labour government and quickly joined by the evangelical and conservative Christian right.

Nowadays “family values” is most often heard from Family First, an organisation which uses classic anti-welfare rhetoric like:

  • welfare should not reward dysfunction or be a motivation for dysfunctional behaviour
  • long-term welfare dependency can be demoralising and is linked with poverty. Work can bring dignity and a level of independence

The Sensible Sentencing Trust, another “family values” organisation holds welfare provision like the DPB responsible for having

destroyed the tried-and-proven values of accountability, responsibility, respect and discipline from young peoples lives; the result a catastrophic disastrous escalation in violent crime and prison population

So it appears that family values, like private schooling, is a carefully crafted concept providing a common cause for both the neoliberal economic right, and the morally conservative Christian Right.

23 Responses to “Family values: a code for anti-welfare rhetoric?”

  1. reid on February 23rd, 2009 at 21:39

    So it appears that family values, like private schooling, is a carefully crafted concept providing a common cause for both the neoliberal economic right, and the morally conservative Christian Right.

    Or alternatively it could be just a label signifying something that people want because they see such vapid superficial values surfacing in people today.

    Unfortunately it’s a fact that in days gone by people had a strength of character borne through self-discipline and self-sacrifice. In many but not all, those values have been replaced today by selfishness, avarice and pursuit of pleasure.

    How many people walk right on by street people? How many would keep a wallet found on the street that had in it something tempting, say, $10,000? How many would rather party the night away than study and better themselves?

    Rich or poor, these vices infest our society today more than ever before.

    IMO, this is not progress, at least not the way I measure it.

    Please don’t think that means I think we should return to all of the values of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We are not them and we know more now scientifically, ethically and through advances like the internet than they ever did. However we, the world, at some point, forsook the abovementioned values of self-discipline and self-sacrifice and have replaced them with a selfish enervating pursuit of pleasure at all costs.

    Many of us alive today were bought up by the most selfish generation ever: the baby-boomers. Many of us are products of their lust, gluttony, pride, envy, avarice, wrath and their self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure a.k.a. sloth.

    It’s really no wonder some people are looking to resurrect some of the values in that forgotten and by-passed age. Personally, I call such people spiritually advanced, provided of course they aren’t doing it out of some perverse authoritarian streak and while no doubt some of the “family-values” people are indeed doing it for that reason, not all of them are and of course, I don’t support such people.

    However sadly, I don’t think their efforts will have any significant effect. The tidal wave of consumerism has succeeded in alienating too many people from the wisdom of the ages. This is a fallen world. Thank goodness that no matter what happens materially to any of us, the wisdom of the ages and the answer to success in life lies in a place no person can ever take from any of us: in our hearts, and in our minds.

  2. MacDoctor on February 24th, 2009 at 01:11

    Nice straw man, Anita. You have carefully selected a few quotes about welfare whilst ignoring the main discussion of exactly what “family values” means. While the phrase can be used to illustrate some of the damage caused by long-term welfarism, it is talking about the glue that holds families together, such as love, loyalty, obedience, respect, accountability and responsibility. If these are bad things, then I’ll take them any day over whatever it is you are calling “good” (you have not defined an alternative phrase).

    I am charitably assuming that it is not your purpose to destroy any meaningful conversation about the traditional family by consigning the phrase “family values” to mere rhetoric. Perhaps you would like to define some other meaning to the phrase that is more acceptable to you?

  3. Phil Sage (sagenz) on February 24th, 2009 at 02:12

    Family values is shorthand for fighting against state cash substituting for any sense of personal responsibility. The young male is excluded as a higher status breadwinner by a state that will pay the mother more to deny the father his role and take a home and income from the state. The low status father is excluded from responsibility and the ensuing status to commit crime in rage against society.

    It is a genetic thing. Fathers have been genetically programmed to provide for their families. Mothers have been genetically programmed to nurture. Communists realised that the only way to ensure the primacy of the state was for it to replace alternative sources of support.

    If you dont believe the role of evolution in causes of crime and exclusion among low status young males and the more destructive aspects of welfarism you effectively place yourself further away from science and in favour of dogma than the pope. He has at least accepted the theory of evolution.

  4. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 09:52

    reid writes,

    Or alternatively it could be just a label signifying something that people want because they see such vapid superficial values surfacing in people today.

    It wouldn’t work if it didn’t signify something people wanted. Tapping into an underlying anxiety or need does not, however, mean it is not a carefully crafted political strategy.

  5. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 10:01

    Phil Sage (sagenz) writes,

    If you dont believe the role of evolution in causes of crime and exclusion among low status young males and the more destructive aspects of welfarism you effectively place yourself further away from science and in favour of dogma than the pope. He has at least accepted the theory of evolution.

    I think I need you to join some dots for me: how does evolution lead to the destructive aspects of welfarism?

  6. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 10:09

    MacDoctor writes,

    Nice straw man, Anita.

    Which bit do you think is a straw man?

    My argument is that in New Zealand, like the US and Australia, “family values” is used a nexus for the morally conservative Christian Right and the neoliberal economics of the economic rights.

    You have carefully selected a few quotes about welfare whilst ignoring the main discussion of exactly what “family values” means. While the phrase can be used to illustrate some of the damage caused by long-term welfarism, it is talking about the glue that holds families together, such as love, loyalty, obedience, respect, accountability and responsibility. If these are bad things, then I’ll take them any day over whatever it is you are calling “good” (you have not defined an alternative phrase).

    I’m not suggesting “family values” are bad, or that they need a new phrase. I didn’t bother defining them because I think the concept is well enough known in NZ that our understanding of it is probably similar enough for the purposes of this argument.

    I may well write a separate post about the facets of meaning of “family values” because some of the nuance is fascinating. For example I’ve skimmed an interesting book about the family values campaign at the UN which argues that some of the definition of family values by US based organisations working at UN level is quite different from the definition used within the United States.

  7. MacDoctor on February 24th, 2009 at 10:21

    Anita:

    You have defined (or at least illustrated) the term “family values” by a series of quotes designed to prove your point. These quotes are, of course highly selective and only related to “family values” in passing.

    My point is you have set up the phrase without any reference to it’s actual meaning, only it’s use in the context of welfarism. This may not be quite a straw man argument, but it is certainly akin to Don Quixote’s attitude to windmills…

  8. Lew on February 24th, 2009 at 10:33

    `Family values’ is the sort of term which can signify whatever its users want it to signify (and whatever its audience needs it to mean). This occurs on two levels – the denotative, what the term actually means in context; and the connotative, what it implies. The first level of meaning is relatively fixed – most people understand it intuitively and will know what you mean when you use it, but the connotations which can be borne by the term are much more broad, and much less conscious, and therefore much harder to nail down. The key to using a term like this as a propaganda term is to have an audience accept your denotative meaning, and then leap from that to assuming they accept your connotative meaning.

    In the case of `family values’ the denotative meaning might be something like `values held by families which are harmonious, caring, and produce good people’, whereas the connotative meaning often represents something more like `values held by white anglo-saxon protestant middle-class heterosexual patriarchal capitalist families’.

    This is quite ably demonstrated by Phil, reid and Macdoctor above, who use the same two words to talk about three separate (but similar) sets of things as if the term is obvious and beyond definition.

    This is what Anita is arguing: that power elites in NZ and Australia use the term to mean something uncontroversial, and then assume acceptance of a whole raft of morally and socially conservative and economically neoliberal arguments which supposedly follow, with the implication that to reject the latter they must necessarily reject the former, which makes it easy to brand them as degenerates, or perverts, or communists, or whatever. It’s bait-and-switch.

    L

  9. BLiP on February 24th, 2009 at 11:02

    “Family values” is a mantra for those mired in the pre-Christian Old Testament patriarchal model of family where women are property and children are born evil. The expression is a call for a return to the control of women and children by men unable to evolve new ways of being.

    They ignore the fact that their model of family (i.e., mum, dad and three kids) has only been in existence for the last 100 years. The “ills of society” they cite have actually improved since their way was extinguished. No longer do children starve on the streets, no longer do women raped by their priest have to seek abortions from the back streets, education is more open to more people than it has ever been, and so too is access to justice, accommodation, income and participation in society. And all this has been cemented in place and largely made possible since the welfare state came into being.

    The danger, however, is that the neo-liberal market forces will use the “family values” dinosaurs to mask the privatisation of the provision of the social services.

  10. MacDoctor on February 24th, 2009 at 11:21

    This is quite ably demonstrated by Phil, reid and Macdoctor above, who use the same two words to talk about three separate (but similar) sets of things as if the term is obvious and beyond definition.

    Quite the contrary, Lew. I would like us to define what it is we are talking about, otherwise we can’t discuss it.

    Anita is saying (if I understand her correctly) that she views the phrase “Family values” as a kind of smokescreen to bolster some sort of Neocon argument. I am arguing that the term has validity in itself; that there is, indeed, a value system attached to a properly functioning family.

    It is inevitable that you are not going to agree with me on all aspects of what constitutes family values. This is a function of our differing belief systems, rather than some bizarre neoliberal plot.

    What I find really interesting is that Anita’s last quote from SST actually defines some of those values “accountability, responsibility, respect and discipline”, but both you and Anita brush them off as “carefully crafted concept”. Do you not think these things are important foundational values for a family?

    destroyed the tried-and-proven values of accountability, responsibility, respect and discipline from young peoples lives; the result a catastrophic disastrous escalation in violent crime and prison population

  11. MacDoctor on February 24th, 2009 at 11:32

    BLiP: You have a very strange view of the world. And I should point out that the nuclear family is not a Christian invention at all, but a consequence of existentialist philosophy and baby boomer nihilism.

    And all of those lovely benefits of society that you cite, have nothing to do with welfare and everything to do with compassion – one of those family values you so despise.

  12. BLiP on February 24th, 2009 at 11:40

    MacDoc said:

    And all of those lovely benefits of society that you cite, have nothing to do with welfare and everything to do with compassion – one of those family values you so despise.

    Compassion is a human value that I treasure. The idea that it belongs solely to whatever warped idea of “family” you may have is indicative of antedeluvian thinking.

  13. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 12:40

    MacDoctor writes,

    What I find really interesting is that Anita’s last quote from SST actually defines some of those values “accountability, responsibility, respect and discipline”, but both you and Anita brush them off as “carefully crafted concept”. Do you not think these things are important foundational values for a family?

    In what sense does describing the political value of a concept brush it off? As I wrote above, “family values” would not work as a political construct if it didn’t have a resonance for real people in their real world lives.

    I could equally have written about recent attempts to develop “justice” as a bridge between the economic left, the social left and the environmenta left. It does not in any way detract from the weight or resonance of “social justice” to recognise its conscious construction as a common rhetorical device to allow shared campaigning.

  14. melvin polatnick on February 24th, 2009 at 12:43

    Racists and rapists and other violators of civil rights are mostly members of the “Moral Majority” and are in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. They are for outlawing abortion and censorship of media outlets that promote an “anti-family” agenda. Traditional family values are enforced in opposition to recognition, and acceptance of homosexual marriage. Only the Justice Department can take on the “Moral Majority” and return civil rights to minority Americans. Thousands of Helo-ports staffed by fair minded justice department employees have to be placed all over the nation. Upon notice of a civil right violation they will immediately be dispatched to the site and ass whip the violator. Major infractions of the Equal Rights Amendment will be dealt with more severely by jail time.

  15. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 13:01

    Lew writes,

    This is what Anita is arguing: that power elites in NZ and Australia use the term to mean something uncontroversial, and then assume acceptance of a whole raft of morally and socially conservative and economically neoliberal arguments which supposedly follow, with the implication that to reject the latter they must necessarily reject the former, which makes it easy to brand them as degenerates, or perverts, or communists, or whatever. It’s bait-and-switch.

    I agree, but it’s not quite my point :) You’re using an (entirely valid) political discourse lens, my interest is the use of the phrase/concept to bridge between seemingly unrelated social/political movements (so a social policy lens).

    What do neoliberal economics and conservative Christianity have in common? Not a hell of a lot. I once read an argument that the only thing they have in common is a hatred of feminism, although I’d probably extend that to a hatred of identity politics.

    Although they have so little in common we call them both “right” and expect to see them fight on the same side, and the do! I’m fascinated by the tiny areas of ideological overlap and the constructions required to develop and exploit those overlaps.

    BTW I totally agree with your point, including the cleverness of the phrasing: who really wants to argue against family values?

  16. Cecilly on February 24th, 2009 at 15:40

    What the family values people have left out.

    The rate at which men cheat on their partners is now approaching 50%. married women are also cheating more often at about 16 % but I believe many these affairs are more than likely revenge affairs on their cheating husbands.

    Should women be forced to put up with adultery. The rate of domestic abuse by partners is also high. Should women be forced to put up with physical abuse.

    Benefits are there for that reason. We live in a democracy but for the average mother of 2 who does approx 50 hours plus of house work per week with no holidays and must provide 24 hour care in law scrapping the Domestic purposes benefit would mean she just could not leave meaning she would have to endure infidelity or violence which are rampant.

    I advise the family values people to fix these problems before they moralise to women about re being bludgers etc.

    If men continue to mistreat their partners at such high rates it means they have no regard for marriage or their families i.e. “their wives”.
    Their families values seem to depend on keeping women in marriages through making it impossible for them to leave marriage. These values seem to be for the benefit of males only.

    I think they also need to look at the new 3rd parent “the media” for changes in society before they lay lay all blame at the feet of mothers. But its easier to take on defenceless women as opposed to men
    or big corporations isn’t it. You start critcising men and their might be consequences. You might not get that promotion etc etc.

    They need to look at the dreadful unreported abuses of the past.
    I once attended alcohol counselling for my partner’s problem. There was an old woman there who had taken to drink because she had been repeatedly raped by her grandfather as a child. She had never told a sole. Practically everyone in that group had suffered sexual abuse.

    Both my grandfathers were alcoholics who ruined the lives of both my Grandmothers although they never complained. They couldn’t!
    Sorry guys but the happy families were often just an illusion owing to the fact that women could not speak about the abuse in those days.

  17. Carol on February 24th, 2009 at 18:49

    David Harvey (2007) in A Brief History of Neoliberalism has an explanation for the unholy (my term) alliance between neoliberal Reublicans and the Christian right in the US.

    Goes something like this: the rise in the liberalisation of corporate finance etc from 1970s-1990s, changes in laws to allow unlimited political party donations from coporates, meant that the Republican Party represented more the dominant elite. In contrast the Democrats represented a diverse consituency of groups with limited power, but it gave the Dems a solid electoral base.

    The Republicans needed a solid electoral base,and therefore turned to the Christian right, made available through Jerry Falwell’s ‘moral majority’ political movement in 1978.

    Harvey says,

    “This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and anti-feminism.

    This comes with contradictions largely related to the meaning of “liberal”, and the fact that the Christian Right supported neoliberal economics, but not liberal culture.

  18. Lew on February 24th, 2009 at 18:51

    MD,

    Quite the contrary, Lew. I would like us to define what it is we are talking about, otherwise we can’t discuss it.

    You claim that `family values’ has only denotative meaning, but arguing that there exists no connotative meaning (that the phrase means just what it says) is itself a rhetorical position, not the absence of one.

    L

  19. BLiP on February 24th, 2009 at 21:15

    Carol said:

    This comes with contradictions largely related to the meaning of “liberal”, and the fact that the Christian Right supported neoliberal economics, but not liberal culture.

    Yes!!! And this annoys me immensely – I imagine I feel rather the same as my dear old granny did when the word “gay” was similarly kidnapped ;)

    This “unholy alliance” is responsible for, among other things, the United States’ multi million dollar programme on reducing and managing AIDS in Africa – the only thing was it could not teach the Africans about contraception.

    Such is the wisdom of government when with religion it mixes the provision of service to the people.

  20. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 21:20

    BLiP writes,

    This “unholy alliance” is responsible for, among other things, the United States’ multi million dollar programme on reducing and managing AIDS in Africa – the only thing was it could not teach the Africans about contraception.

    Where do the neoliberals fit into this? I’ve not read anything much about the Global Gag Rule so I don’t understand the politics than underpin it.

  21. Phil Sage (sagenz) on February 25th, 2009 at 03:19

    I think I need you to join some dots for me: how does evolution lead to the destructive aspects of welfarism?

    genetically males and females of all species are programmed to continue their bloodlines. A high status male has a greater chance of breeding with a better prospect to continue the bloodline. A low status male may be unlikely to be able to breed at all.

    The surest way to reduce crime is to raise the social status of young males. By providing social & financial incentives for pregnant young females to marry (or at least cohabit) with young males rather than the disincentive the DPB forms now would be one example. Most crime is explained in evolutionary terms by young males seeking to raise their status so that genetically they have a better chance of mating and prolonging their bloodline.

    In libertarian terms I can justify some taxation expenditure on the basis of improving my own security.

    Why we are, as we are
    Dec 18th 2008
    From The Economist print edition

    A few highlights
    It is the Darwinian failure of being at the bottom of the heap that is truly stressful and bad for the health. That, writ large, probably explains the mortality patterns of entire countries.
    In this case, therefore, the Darwinian conclusion is that there is no right answer—or at least no Utopian one. Of course, it does not take a Darwinist to work out that any competition has losers. The illuminating point is that losing has a real cost, not just the absence of gain. With the stakes this high—early death for the failures and genetic continuity for the successes—it is hardly surprising that those at the bottom of the heap sometimes seek status, or at least “respect”, in other ways. This is a point that should be taken seriously by policymakers. For those “other ways” are also explicable by Darwinism.

    That crime is selfish is hardly news. But the idea that criminal behaviour is an evolved response to circumstances sounds shocking. It calls into question the moral explanation that crime is done by “bad people”. Yet that explanation is itself susceptible to Darwinian analysis: evolution probably explains why certain behaviours are deemed worthy of punishment.

    An evolutionary analysis explains many things about crime (and not just murder)—particularly why most criminals are males of low status. A woman will rarely have difficulty finding a mate, even if he does not measure up to all her lofty ideals. In the world of Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, however, a low-status man may be cast on the reproductive scrap heap because there are no women available to him at all. Though the world in which humanity evolved was nowhere near as polygamous as Moulay Ismail’s, neither did it resemble the modern one of monogamous marriage, which distributes women widely. In those circumstances, if the alternative was reproductive failure, risking the consequences of violence may have been are worth the gamble—and instincts will have evolved accordingly.

    Sexual success, by contrast, tends to dampen criminal behaviour down. Getting married and having children—in other words, achieving at least part of his Darwinian ambition—often terminates a criminal’s career. Again, that is a commonplace observation. However, it tends to be explained as “the calming influence of marriage”, which is not really an explanation at all. “Ambition fulfilled” is a better one.

  22. Phil Sage (sagenz) on February 25th, 2009 at 03:39

    everything below the first italics quote is quoted. you will have to google the link and have a subscription or i can email the article

  23. melvin polatnick on February 25th, 2009 at 10:09

    If anybody complains that family values are going down hill in the U.S. they should thank God that they are not in the same country as the writer of this blog.

    “Hard times are here and it is getting worse. Donations cannot buy enough food to feed a starving family. Savages from a near by jungle village claim that the buttocks and thighs from a medium size human can provide enough food to last a month. The obese are hiding in terror because their meat is the choicest. Only people with farming experience can avoid eating their family and friends. Let us pray that good times return along with traditional food.”

    Let’s wish them luck!!

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