From Ward Cleaver to Immanuel Kant
I have a new piece up at Discourse taking on the nationalist conservatives and their prescriptions for economic policies based on a false nostalgia for the 1950s.
Among the openly Big Government “nationalist” wing of the conservative movement, the new talking point and rationalization for government intervention is that the free market is destroying the traditional family. International trade and the rat race of keeping up with the two-income family norm has made it impossible, they say, to support a family on a single income.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who can always be counted on to take the latest nationalist conservative obsession and dial it up to 11, has made this narrative the basis of two sweeping legislative proposals….
Hawley’s other big brainwave, introduced earlier this year, is “a fully refundable tax credit of $12,000 for married parents”—a “fully refundable tax credit” is the new trick for disguising a welfare check as a tax cut—but only “$6,000 for single parents.” This is the Universal Basic Income, but for housewives. Hawley promotes the bill to his supporters as a salvo in the culture wars, needed to allow mom to stay home with the kids because “the left is working to undermine the traditional family.”…
This crusade is rooted in nostalgia for an imagined ideal of the 1950s and the traditional family—the whole Ward and June Cleaver setup: a dad who works and a mom who stays home with the kids in a leafy suburban neighborhood….
Ironically, that 1950s life depicted on TV may actually be more attainable now, but it also may not be what most families actually prefer. But rather than face up to that fact, conservatives are latching onto solutions that accomplish nothing except to feed their culture war obsessions.
I got into some calculations about how little money it would take “to be the ‘Leave It to Beaver’ breadwinner if you only want the exact standard of living of, say, 1960.” But I note that peoples’ “revealed preferences,” the ones shown to us by the actual economic decisions they make, indicate “a revealed preference for more work and more income, for bigger houses and cars rather than bigger families.”
I then go on to describe the expenses that actually do loom large for the average family.
In a well-publicized graph of various household expenses relative to inflation and wage growth, three categories stand out in which prices have increased the most: health care, higher education and housing. All three, you might notice, are among the top targets of repeated government interventions aimed at making them more affordable. As a consequence, they are among the most regulated and subsidized industries.
But notice that the nationalist conservative reforms do nothing to solve these problems. Mucking up supply chains in an attempt to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US won’t keep colleges from raising their tuition rates….
As for housing, home prices have reached their most astronomical rate in cities and towns like San Francisco that have the most restrictive regulations and the fiercest NIMBYs. In some towns, if you wanted to downsize into a cozy 1950s bungalow, you wouldn’t be allowed to because it would violate zoning laws mandating minimum house sizes. Yet the nationalist conservatives tend to be fierce defenders of the kind of zoning laws that help drive up housing costs. Why? Because there weren’t any duplexes in the Beaver’s neighborhood.
The reason they choose the wrong solutions, I argue, is that they are less interested in the actual problem than in the lure of “Big Government as a weapon on their side in the culture wars.” Read the whole thing.
In working on this article, I did a little poking around on the Internet to refresh my memory on “Leave It to Beaver” and discovered that Ward Cleaver was a philosophy major in college—or so says Wikipedia. I suppose it came in handy when dispensing all of that fatherly advice to his sons.
An education in philosophy certainly does have many uses. In the Washington Post yesterday, Marc Thiessen argues that the 18th-Century philosopher Immanuel Kant is ultimately responsible for Critical Race Theory and the “woke” moral panic that goes with it.
By now, most Americans have heard of critical race theory. But many do not know just how radical or pernicious CRT is—because, as a new study from the American Enterprise Institute shows, the media does not explain its key tenets in its coverage. So I asked one of our nation’s preeminent historians, Princeton University professor Allen C. Guelzo, to explain CRT and why it is so dangerous….
Critical race theory, Guelzo says, is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. It was a response to—and rejection of—the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Kant believed that “reason was inadequate to give shape to our lives” and so he set about “developing a theory of being critical of reason,” Guelzo says.
But the critique of reason ended up justifying “ways of appealing to some very unreasonable things as explanations—things like race, nationality, class,” he says. Critical theory thus helped spawn totalitarian ideologies in the 20th century such as Marxism and Nazism, which taught that all human relationships are relationships of power between an oppressor class and an oppressed class. For the Marxists, the bourgeoisie were the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jews were the oppressors. And today, in 21st century America, critical race theory teaches that Whites are the oppressors.
This is all entirely correct, but I’ve just quoted you the best part of the article. Guelzo seems to know what he’s talking about, but Thiessen is in over his head, so he ends up quoting a lot of conclusions without giving the reasoning behind them.
I provided a rather better explanation a few years ago, when the “woke” insanity that is now everywhere was just beginning to bubble up on college campuses. Here is the central passage.
According to the ad, “Mr. Kant would have you believe that reality is purely noumenal and beyond the reach of our phenomenal consciousness, thereby being inherently unknowable.” The idea is that we can’t know things as they really are, what he calls the “noumenal” world, because all of our information about those things comes to us through our senses, our eyes and ears, and our own consciousness, which shapes and distorts that information. So all we can see is the distorted version, a realm of appearances (“phenomena”) shaped by our own nature, not by the nature of the things we are perceiving.
At the heart of Kant’s system, there is a radical skepticism: perception is inherently distorting, so there is no indisputable reality we have access to. There’s only the truth as it appears to you, filtered through your own consciousness.
You might notice that this is inherently self-refuting. Ayn Rand, who regarded Kant as the worst philosopher in history, summed up his philosophy as the argument that we are blind because we have eyes, deaf because we have ears, and deluded because we have a mind. But the idea that there is no truth, only people’s perception—well, I think you can begin to see how we get to Yale, Mizzou, and the current grievance culture.
Politics may seem like an unintellectual field, and it often is—but just as often, it gives us opportunities to talk about the deepest issues and the most sophisticated ideas.
You can bet that I’m going to make another go at this one. On Wednesday, I’ll be discussing this with Stephen Hicks for The Atlas Society, and expect in the next week to see me publish an updated piece filling in a few more details on how the issues that turned the tide in the latest election can be traced back to a philosopher who died more than two centuries ago.