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” andÂ 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.