Courtesy of Rob Taylor back in Karekare, here is a linkÂ to an interesting article about the rise of a neo- or proto-fascist movement in the US. Although I have some quibbles with the structural as well as some of the political aspects of the argument (at least in comparison with the original (European) versions of fascism), the article is nevertheless worth a read. To me the trend is not just evident in the US, but in the rise of right-wing movements in Asia, Europe (and to a lesser extent Latin America) as well. For NZ readers interested in the quality of Kiwi democracy, the question is whether the trend is now evident at home, and if so, what are the means of forestalling it from developing further.
Words I never thought I’d write, but good grief, The Yes Vote has linked me to proof-positive that despite her previous crimes against logic and argumentation, not to mention evidence, Deborah Coddington can write wisdom from time to time. Her HoS column today makes a strong liberal* case against the S59 referendum by killing** the sacred cow that cries of “nanny state!” are pure and unassailable positions of principle, and arguing that when it comes to discipline there’s a gap between principle and implementation into which society must not permit children to fall.
Act’s John Boscawen has a bill to amend Section 59 – again – so it will be “no longer a crime to use reasonable force” if parents discipline a child.
Here we go, loop de loop. Boscawen says he’s sick of nine years of Labour’s nanny state telling parents what to do, but isn’t this more of the same? You can use a light smack, but not a hard smack? Why not a good, old-fashioned razor-stropping like my father used to give me, followed by Mum with the wooden spoon, and while you’re at it John, bring back six of the best in schools for bad girls like me – never did us any harm, did it?
Truth is, no matter how hard politicians try to flannel, they’re always telling us what to do. Paula Bennett said she didn’t think a smack as part of good parental correction should be a criminal offence and she didn’t want to go into homes and tell people how to parent.
Oh really? Not even when they’re disciplining with the jug cord or vacuum cleaner pipe?
But for the last sentence, this could pass for the usual sort of faux-outraged don’t-tread-on-me doggerel. But what’s remarkable about the last sentence is that it rejects the typical anti-statist line that all intrusions into private affairs are equal and equally meritless – it recognises that the state has a role to play in protecting children from the (however well-meaning) depredations of their parents and that there is a strong public good in the appropriate exercise of that role.
This is based on a deeper argument about the rights of the individual – and the assertion that children are individuals with rights of their own, not their parents’ belongings to be treated according to parents’ sovereign wishes.
It’s no wonder children are not valued as individuals in this country, but instead as some sort of chattel belonging to adults until they reach some magic age – 16 or 18 or 20. We do not own our children, a fact that has yet to be driven home to those selfish individuals who fight their way through the Family Court over who has the offspring, ensuring any remaining family happiness is destroyed forever.
Sadly, I don’t ever see a future in this country where all children are treasured, despite all the good work done by many organisations and individuals.
It’s not just about eliminating the beatings, it includes respecting young people’s presence. I hate it when parents don’t introduce their children to me, as if they don’t exist.
Because, in truth, nobody believes that parents have an unassailable right to treat their children as they please*** – it’s just that people of various political stripes like to be seen to support parental sovereignty without also being on the hook for the hard decisions such a position requires.
Policy is about value judgements, and if the AAS lobby were honest they’d be arguing the value of corporal punishment in parenting: arguing that it will strengthen families, grow good children and create a better society; and how it will do so. To an extent Larry Baldock has tried (33 minute audio), but only to an extent, because even those at the heart of the AAS lobby recognise the weakness of their position in strict analytical terms. So they fall back on symbolic arguments they don’t really believe in, but which are malleable enough to be twisted around to support their misguided cause.
People who claim pure and unassailable statements of principle in terms of policy implementation is usually selling you a bill of goods, but it’s nice for someone so strongly (shall we say) ideological to be pointing it out. More power to your typing fingers, Deborah.
* The classical kind, not the latte-sipping kind.
** Or at least beating it with a jug-cord.
*** Ok, some people seem to.
In my short time blogging I have discovered that posts which mention the Christian Right get some kind of kneejerk reaction: sometimes someone leaps to the defence of the CR despite the lack of attack in the post, sometimes people leap in to attack the lunacy of the CR despite my lack of opening for the attack.
It’s not just blogging either. When I argue for lowering the MMP threshold one of my arguments is that it will allow the CR representation in Parliament, often people’s immediate reaction is that they’re the kind of lunatics the threshold is intended to exclude. When I talk the history of the family values movement in New Zealand with conservative people (which, you’ll have to trust me, I do respectfully and with interest) someone often leaps in to defend the CR and tell me that they’ve been misrepresented and are far more moderate than they have been painted.
What is it about the Christian Right that polarises views and creates an attack-and-defence dynamic so quickly?
I know many at the socially liberal end of the spectrum will say that the CR is prejudiced and tells them what to do. But so do many other political, religious and community groups.
Many in the CR will say that they’re ridiculed for their religious and moral beliefs and they are, to at least some extent, right. Some of their knee jerk defensiveness is a response to that contempt, some is probably out of a sense of moral certainty.
What is it that makes it ok for the socially progressive to sneer at the CR? We would never allow it to be said of GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women; why do we allow it to be said about this religious minority?
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.
In the United States for a long time the Christian Right and the Economic Right existed in parallel trajectories. They campaigned for different things, they didn’t co-ordinate, and they didn’t overlap in membership. Then they started flirting, they each recognised the political power the other had. The issue that brought them together was public funding to religious schools; it was something they both wanted. For one it was direct funding, for the other it was tax payer subsidisation of the education of the rich. The Republicans, keen to draw in the conservative Christians hugely increased the state funding of private (religious) schools
In Australia as John Howard built his brand off his Methodist values, rolled back liberal measures and developed and used the conservative Christians, his government hugely increased the state funding of private (religious) schools.
In New Zealand, as the Brash and then Key led National Party fought against a liberal incumbent and developed its relationship with the conservative Christians both leaders promised church groups that they would increase funding to religious schools. Now they have been elected and are promising to nearly double the funding to private (religious) schools.
In the early 1970s a group named the Family Rights Association wrote
All families are suffering at present, infidelity and divorce are very common. Marriages are breaking down at a record rate. When love dies hatred emerges and the children are exposed to suffering and neglect. Parents often see their children’s lives being ruined by drugs, alcoholism and promiscuity, swept along by an overwhelming flood of pornography and evil. Pressure groups claim that marriage is outmoded. De facto relationships are accepted by society and are treated generously by the Government. Normal sexuality is almost submerged by demands for recognition of homosexuality and other perversions. Illegitimacy and venereal disease have reached epidemic proportions. Social anarchy threatens.
Much of that could have been written by Family First in 2009, or many other groups in the intervening 35 years.
Despite this constant thread of social conservatism and fearful reaction to social change, NZ has made enormous socially progressive change since the early 1970s. We have criminalised rape within marriage, decriminalised anal sex, provided access to abortion, passed the Human Rights Act, allowed no fault divorce, decriminalised prostitution, provided sex education in schools, enabled legal recognition of same-sex relationships, banned corporal punishment in schools, and passed domestic violence protection laws (to name just a few).
Perhaps the role of the Christian Right is a necessary one; it does not prevent change but it slows it and makes sure there’s enough discussion that the more conservative members of our society don’t get left behind and alienated from a society that moves too quickly and doesn’t take the time to persuade them and bring them along.
While I campaign for more liberal and progressive progress, I’m not sure I would be willing to pay the price of a divided antagonistic society. Perhaps I should thank the Christian Right for slowing us down enough that we can move together as a community.