25 July 2014

Conservatism and laisser-faire don’t mix, exhibit Q

So says the Guardian. Don’t take my word for it.

The institution of marriage is made less popular and less viable, it seems, by increased living expenses, increased debt and joblessness. Who would have thought that conditions which make it harder for a young adult to provide for a household might turn those same young adults off from marriage? And all of these economic conditions turn out to be the results of the European Union’s neoliberal policy-making and IMF-driven austerity measures. The capitalist incentive to drive down the cost of labour is again and again shown to be utterly at odds with the needs of an orderly and well-adjusted society, starting at that most basic building-block of society – the family.

And frighteningly, religion finds itself powerless to stem this tide through simple appeals to morality lived on an individual basis. This Guardian article makes it clear that highly religious societies, whose religion places a high emphasis on the sacrament of marriage and on a healthy family life, are not exempt from this trend away from marriage. Indeed, some of them seem to be leading that trend. Orthodox Greece and Catholic Poland are seeing some of the most dramatic leanings in this direction of cohabitation and delayed adulthood. The ‘significant shifts in social attitudes’ dovetail quite nicely, it seems, with the demands of capitalist economic organisation which wants its labour cheap and sees its labourers as totally-interchangeable, disposable individuals rather than as members of families and communities. The only exceptions to this trend against marriage, intriguingly (and counter-intuitively to many conservatives’ eyes), seem to be ‘Scandinavia, the Baltic republics and Germany’; which is to say, those countries which to varying extents still retain a strong tradition of the social safety net.

The Guardian is showing us only one example. But the punchline of such examples (and many more such examples will come) will be this – that conservatives must make a choice, and they must make it soon. No man can serve two masters. Home stability, family life, fatherhood, motherhood and education – insofar as these are the interests of labour, none of these will be valued on the multinational CEO’s quarterly balance sheet. A ‘free market’ which privileges capital over labour will always be at odds with the rightful demands of labour in the name of tradition. Recent economic history has shown and is continuing to show that the touted ‘compassionate conservatism’ of the American right is a chimaera dependent on an assumption of unlimited growth, and that ultimately, the position of upholding faith-flag-and-family on the one hand, and cheerleading the ‘free enterprise system’ as an unqualified good on the other, is intellectually and morally untenable.

On the other hand, there is a very clear opening and opportunity for pro-life and faith-flag-and-family Democrats in the United States to begin marshalling these shifts into a consistent ethic of the common good, and to critique from a genuinely populist perspective the trend in their own party toward ‘pro-choice’ ideological ossification. (After all, can’t we see from the above trends that ‘free’ the individual from any and all family obligations – as a pretext for ‘freeing’ the fruits of their labour from their wallets – is exactly what the global 1% wants?)

Those conservatives who want to continue promoting policies of privatisation, austerity and punishment of organised labour in the name of defending ‘free enterprise’ will ultimately be forced to admit by the political shifts that are occurring in America and elsewhere even as we speak, that they are not concerned first-order with the welfare of the median (that is to say, working-class) American family. And on the other hand, Christian religious leaders of the Grand Tradition, like Patriarch Kyrill, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Father Vsevolod Chaplin and, of course, Pope Francis are busily staking out grounds against individualism and materialism and in favour of the family, and building up a very strong left-wing and anti-capitalist narrative on the basis of what would ordinarily be thought of not as socialist, but as traditionalist and conservative concerns. These are the signs of the times.

And are they ever going to get interesting in the next twenty years or so!


  1. I wish the British Conservative Party would take heed to this.

  2. So do I, Matthew, so do I. Many thanks for the comment!