For my personal critique of the article, you can click here. I reckoned that actually you guys would probably have much more interesting things to say. I've put the LJ cut on the centre of the article because I think the last few paragraphs are perhaps the best for snarking. John Milbank appears to be responding to the following article by Deborah Orr where, unlike Milbank, she actually talks a lot of sense.
For Feminism and Family
Monday 7 December 2009Today, the defence of the family is seen as a rightwing cause. Conversely, liberal feminism is seen as a leftwing cause. But these associations are questionable.
In both cases, a liberal left unconcerned with notions of intrinsic good "conservatively" sanctifies existing tendencies. Thus
Deborah Orr cites the fact that women, like men, were once made wage-slaves as if this were a good thing. She also cites the fact that today middle class women tend to have babies late as if this were a sign of the rise of freedom. Meanwhile she contends against David Cameron that "the days of the typical family are numbered".
But it is not the case that a mere fact can generate a value. While women have always worked, industrial capitalism pressured them into forms of work that interfered with their partly desired domestic roles. Campaigns for a male "living wage" were in consequence campaigns supported in the past both by the left and by women. If today the middle class have babies late, then that is more the result of competitive market pressures and the market promotion of youth culture than of any supposed liberation of "free choice". As to family decline, this occurs because an overbearing market and state deal directly with the individual, beginning at the youngest age possible. The family is being undermined for the same reason that unions, mutuals and churches have been undermined: because these are voluntary associations that combine self-help and education with a democratic sharing of resources.
The family is the one institution of primitive participatory community that still survives. It involves the equal sharing of goods. Authority within the family is not necessarily patriarchal and aims self-denyingly at reciprocity. In these ways the family offers uniquely a training in mutual nurture. Of course it is the worst source of pathologies, but only because it is the strongest source of psychic health.
Of course also, there can be "unconventional" families which should not be penalised. But all families aim for fidelity and stability, and this very aim favours a social and political bias towards marriage rather than cohabitation. For commitment in time requires more than an endless reserve as to what one may think tomorrow, which causes "partners" to face an intolerable continuously renewed judgement from each other. Marriage suspends sexual competition and distributes sexual partners equally. It still today usually protects women physically and compensates for their lesser muscular strength.
In the case of liberal feminism, the left has shied away from the fact that its success has coincided with a regressive era that has involved an increase in economic inequality and a decline of civil liberties while covertly compensating sexual liberties. The archetypal female subject today is in one way a male capitalist subject writ large, as it is seen as autonomous in relation to biological reproduction as well as economic production. At the same time it remains a traditional "female" subject defined by private concerns now become consumeristic.
The downside of this hybrid female subjectivity is the continued enslavement of women in both workplace and home and the loss of a male code of honour as to the assistance of women and children, which has had devastating consequences for the working class. All this combines with an increased state and market control of reproduction which amounts to a new general rule of men over women.
Instead of this we need a true radical feminism more focused on the question of what constitutes good relations between women and men. This needs to include mutual equity concerning procreation and above all equal rights to the combining of work and child nurture without economic loss. In cultural terms we need women to play a public role neither as subordinate, nor as men writ large.
Such a feminism would promote the family as the first school of association and of resistance to the depravations of both market and state.