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Steve davies

AS you say there's a longstanding tendency within much political thought (not just liberal) to make families and individuals the same - like you I think Carole Pateman is quite right about Locke, whose individuals are clearly conceived of as male heads of households. However not all thinkers are like that. Hobbes clearly is not - I disagree completely with her there. If you look at the intellectual history there is a minority tendency within historical liberal thought that applies consistent individualist thinking to the family and, if you will, deconstructs it. This is very prominent in late nineteenth century individualist thinking, most notably in people like the Harmans, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe who had several extensive pieces about this (as did Auberon Herbert). It's associated with classical liberal feminism and with the so-called free love movement. I think what you say is true about what you call neoliberalism (the remnant aspect of classical liberal thinking between the later 1930s and now). I think the reason has to do with personalities (the simple fact that most of the exponents were from a particular class background and despite their self-image not intellectually marginalised in the way that nineteenth and early twentieth century individualists were). The other big factor is the historically specific conjuncture of welfare reform and its politics in the United States in particular (to a lesser extent the UK) in the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. It's also worth pointing out that the radical libertarian fringe of neoliberalism took a much more consistently radical and contractualist view of the family, maybe because so many of them were gay men. Putting my historian's hat on, one way to think about this from a liberal perspective is that in the pre-modern world true individualism was almost impossible, even for the wealthy. You simply could not survive on your own for any length of time. That meant the fundamental unit of society was not the individual man or woman but the household, which was internally a domain not of choice but of authority (of course most people then thought that was true of the larger world as well). In the modern world this becomes ever less true and you get a steady move towards greater individualism. The big limitation on this is and always has been the rearing of children, which is very difficult to do on a one person basis. However that is also gradually being transformed by the effects of modernity. So from a liberal point of view this is all about the gradual unfolding of autonomy and agency in modernity. (This was Donisthorpe's view). I've argued myself that the family is the ultimate source of authority and unchosen relations.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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