Author Archive for maxine-eichner
posted by Maxine Eichner
I’ve continued to enjoy the discussion of Linda and Jim’s book, and particularly of the Constitution Day/mandatory patriotism issue. And as much as I liked the book, Jim, I’ve got to side with Kent on the pledge issue. I took it from your original set of comments that you would see schools encouraging students to say the pledge as permissible though not (to borrow Kent’s phrasing of the issue) a “Good Thing,” but you’ve now clarified that you’re pro-pledge. Although I have myself argued that a vigorous liberal democratic polity requires particular virtues in its citizens that the state should foster in public schools (and in fact argue this in chapter 5 here), I think the pledge encourages exactly the kind of uncritical allegiance that threatens a vigorous liberal democracy, and is particularly harmful here in the U.S.
We have only recently extricated ourselves from the Iraq War, a war that we entered because the country far too credulously accepted the statements of its leaders, which caused considerable loss of life, as well as an outlay of trillions of U.S. dollars even though more than one-fifth of our children are in poverty. And as we speak, legislatures in state after state, without widespread citizen outcry, are passing regulations on voting that will disenfranchise massive numbers of citizens in the guise of protecting the state from voter fraud. Given these examples and more, it seems clear to me that our problem with respect to civic virtues is not that our citizens are not patriotic enough, but rather that their patriotism is too uncritical, too accepting of what their leaders tell them, and that it causes them to support government without measuring it against important liberal democratic ideals. Encouraging the pledge, in my view, is far more likely to make this situation worse not better.
Kent will, I’m sure, point out that my disagreement with Jim highlights the fact that what I’m calling civic liberalism and he calls civic republicanism, in promoting education for civic virtue, requires some determination of what virtues citizens need, and that this is a question to which there are no definitive answers. That’s certainly true, but this isn’t an adequate reason to reject purposeful civic education. As so many liberal theorists have come to recognize in recent years, any tenable liberal democracy requires some virtues in its citizens for it to function relatively well, and these virtues don’t develop simply by chance. Liberal neutrality is therefore not only impossible (liberalism, as the later John Rawls showed, necessarily embodies a set of non-neutral commitments, albeit limited ones), but the failure to aim higher for our young citizens leaves us with a status quo that also has significant costs, and which are imposed on particular groups. At a time in which higher percentages of US citizens believe that religious leaders should assume a strong political role than in other countries, and given that a number of these leaders advocate positions based on their religious philosophy that cannot be justified on grounds shared outside their religion, this is no academic debate. And at a time in which only nine of our states permit same-sex couples the right to marry, a denial which, it’s become abundantly clear, can’t be justified as a matter of public reason, the status quo imposes huge costs, as well, on particular groups of disfavored citizens.
posted by Maxine Eichner
I, too, am delighted to be participating in the discussion of Jim and Linda’s book, Ordered Liberty. And I’ll bite with respect to Kent Greenfield’s post on their chapter on civic education, a chapter that I thought was particularly thoughtful. Kent was troubled by Jim and Linda’s support for the federal mandate that all schools receiving federal funds discuss the constitution on Constitution Day. Kent is certainly right that the Constitution Day discussion requirement was intended by its sponsors to promote patriotism in young citizens. As someone who feels mildly nauseated whenever people are prompted to recite the loyalty oath of the pledge, I heartily agree with Kent’s view that coerced patriotism is, in his words, “a Bad Thing.” It seems to me, though, that the pledge example is actually pretty different from the Constitution Day example, and the difference between them is significant for the nuanced place in which I think Jim and Linda are seeking to situate their version of civic liberalism. I don’t see their version of preferred government as being particularly favorable to encouraging blind loyalty in the country, as would a pledge requirement (I say this despite Jim saying in his responding post that he thinks a pledge requirement would at least be permissible). And I would argue that civic liberalism shouldn’t even be favorable to inducing non-blind loyalty to the country with recognition of its warts. What it should instead seek to foster in its young citizens, as Jim and Linda argue, are the political virtues necessary for collective self-government of a liberal character, premised on respect for the political liberty and equality of others. Engendering these virtues requires discussion about liberty and equality, and — to return to the Constitution-Day example — discussing the constitution doesn’t seem like a bad way to go about that. That also makes the Constitution-day requirement very different from the hypothetical that Kent raises at the end of his post regarding the government’s refusing to fund schools that taught courses on Islam; this requirement would foster non-liberal values in students—exactly the opposite of the values that Jim and Linda’s version of civic liberalism calls for encouraging.
Not to appoint myself defender of Jim and Linda’s book here, but I think their positioning on these issues – favoring inculcation of a thicker range of liberal virtues than would, for example, the early Rawls, but not nearly approaching perfectionist liberalism – answers some of the questions posed by Robert Tsai in his post in this symposium. Indeed, their version of civic liberalism doesn’t just organize the conversation, it aims for a nuanced balancing point between these ends. I think Robert is right that Jim and Linda could have fleshed out somewhat more the content of their liberal virtues, and how they would work out conflicts between liberty and civic virtues as applied to a broader realm of policy issues. On the other hand, they needed to leave themselves something to do in their next book . . .
posted by Maxine Eichner
At the beginning of the month, I posted on issues raised by Michael Sandel in his new book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, and said that I’d post a follow-up. A death in my family held that post up. Here it is now:
According to Michael Sandel, “The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.” As I said in my earlier post, the most thought-provoking parts of Sandel’s discussion come when he broaches the issue of what happens to a society as citizens increasingly come to see the world through the lens of economics. As Sandel puts it: “A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.” In it, citizens no longer see their dealings with others in terms of morality or justice, but in terms of satisfying preferences and getting the best deal they can.
In this post, I want to consider the spread of market logic when it comes to an important change in the United States that hasn’t received nearly enough attention: the massive increase during the past few decades in the number of hours that adults in families spend in paid work. It’s not that individual workers are working longer hours; rather the movement of women into the workplace since the 1970s without a corresponding reduction in men’s work hours has resulted in a large-scale transfer of hours to the paid workplace when you take families as units. The result is that the adults in American families now spend far more total hours working for pay than they used to spend.
This transfer of hours means that families have fewer hours then they used to to engage in pursuits besides paid work, like housework, caring for sick children, socializing with friends, volunteering at children’s schools, keeping their spouse company – you name it. American visitors to Europe are often struck by how, after 5 pm, workplaces clear out and bars and cafes fill up with people socializing; in the U.S., far more energy is channeled into work.
posted by Maxine Eichner
Recent claims from both the right and the left that women are surpassing men in American society have been drawing a lot of attention. (Including the upcoming symposium at Boston University Law School centered on Hannah Rosin’s book, The End of Men, described by Danielle Citron in Concurring Opinions here.) Historian Stephanie Coontz does a good job of answering these claims in her op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times. As she points out, much of what we’re seeing is the rolling back of the, as Coontz puts it, ”patriarchal dividend — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men” that had long been in place in this country. This dividend was the result of women’s exclusion from many of the most desirable jobs and other paths to societal rewards.
In Coontz’s words, “The curtailments of such male entitlements and the expansion of women’s legal and economic rights have transformed American life, but they have hardly produced a matriarchy.” Coontz then goes on to show the areas in which women have made progress, as well as the areas in which their progress has stalled during the past 15 years.
One important point about this issue that Coontz doesn’t make is that the concept of equality is by definition relative: all it does is compare two groups. As I used to tell undergraduates in my feminist political theory class, comparing the equality of women and men therefore tells us only a limited amount about the desirablility of a particular state of being: women and men could be equal because they’re all dead, a state of affairs that is hardly optimal. To get a real handle on current claims of the rise of women, we need to consider more than their relative equality: we need to consider substantive measures as well.
From this broader vantage point, claims like Rosin’s that women have pulled decisively ahead of men don’t give women much to crow about. To the extent that Rosin’s assertion of women’s rise relative to men is accurate, much of it results from men’s loss of many of the markers of stability, income, and wealth that they had possessed in previous eras, rather than women’s attaining these same markers.
posted by Maxine Eichner
I just finished Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. According to Sandel, “The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.” Throughout the book, Sandel sets out a string of discomfiting examples of things that are now available for cash that hadn’t been in the past:
• In Santa Ana, California, nonviolent offenders can pay $82 per night for quiet, clean jail cells away from cells for nonpaying prisoners.
• In Minneapolis, solo drivers can pay $8 to drive in the carpool lane.
• For $1,500 and up a year, people can sign on with a growing number of “concierge” doctors across the country, who will answer cell phone calls and take same-day appointments.
• A business called LineStanding.com, regularly used by Washington lobbyists, will, for pay, find someone to stand in line at congressional hearings open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis.
• It costs $22 to ride the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. But if you pay $45, you can now buy an Express Pass that lets you cut the line.
Sandel argues there are two reasons that the expansion of markets into these areas is problematic. The first reason, long raised by critics on the left, has to do with inequality: If everything is for sale, life will be far more difficult for those with less money, and will result in an even more unfair distribution of more goods to the rich. Before, the rich went to prison just like anybody else; now they get nicer cells. Before they had to wait in line for congressional hearings just like everyone else; now they step into place at the front of the line minutes before the hearings begin. Furthermore, inequality arguably makes the expansion of markets morally unpalatable because of its coercive effects: poverty may impel people to sell things (their organs through organ transplants; their wombs through surrogate parenting; their sexuality through prostitution) that we think shouldn’t be sold.
Postscript to the National Conventions: “You Didn’t Build That” and the History of American Capitalism
posted by Maxine Eichner
Both parties’ national conventions are over, after significant fanfare. And each sought to outdo the other on praise for capitalism. At the Republican National Convention, speakers repeatedly pushed back against Pres. Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark. (By now, everyone knows he wasn’t referring to owners building their businesses, themselves, but instead was talking about the public infrastructure that businesses rely on – right?) At both conventions, speakers time and again lauded the virtues of capitalism, and linked businesses with democracy and freedom.
I’ve been reading about the historical transition to capitalism for a project on capitalism and families. The historical record at the very least undercuts any easy association among capitalism, democracy, and freedom. It also backs Obama’s point in spades about the critical necessity of government action to support a market economy. A few choice points from historians on these issues:
• Capitalism succeeded in spite of – not because of — democracy. As historian Charles Sellers points out in his excellent Market Revolution, until the nineteenth century America was largely an agrarian society, and its path toward industrial capitalism was by no means pre-ordained. Through the first half of the nineteenth century, voters repeatedly sought to halt the progress of capitalism and preserve a subsistence economy. A market economy, they thought, would subvert a focus on the basics in favor of a focus on luxuries; cause citizens to be overly dependent on banks, who would encourage them to borrow in good times, then relentlessly demand payment in hard times; and eat up citizens’ free time by encouraging relentless accumulation. Capitalists found ways to subvert anti-capitalist electoral mandates, including by using the two-party system to focus the public’s interest on other controversies while quietly accomplishing their objectives. (Sound familiar?)
• Wage labor was seen as bondage rather than freedom. At the birth of the U.S., owning and working one’s land was equated with freedom and independence; wage work and capitalism were seen as inducing a harmful dependency on others that was considered undesirable in a free and equal country. How the meaning of wage labor became associated with freedom rather than bondage is a complex story, parts of which are laid out both in Joyce Appleby’s Capitalism and a New Social Order and Amy Dru Stanley’s illuminating From Bondage to Contract.
posted by Maxine Eichner
There has been a lot of commentary on President Obama’s speech on U.S. intervention in Libya earlier this week. Much of that commentary centered on Obama’s discussion of America’s role as a powerful moral force in the world: “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.” And again:
Let me close by addressing what this action says about the use of America’s military power, and America’s broader leadership in the world, under my presidency. . . Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security -– responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us. They’re problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.
. . . I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one’s own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.
Whether you agree or disagree with intervention in Libya, this was certainly the Obama that we saw during the election, the Obama of “Yes, we can.” And the political right, if anything, has sought to one-up this can-do attitude. William Kristol, in the Weekly Standard, although criticizing the administration for a muddled message in the lead-up to intervention in Libya, declared the mission would “probably succeed. . . ., and that [t]he United States really should have the backs of those fighting for freedom.” He also counseled that we shouldn’t “underestimate the capabilities of the American military.” He topped it off with a paean to optimism in America’s might: “The modern left expects the United States to lose its wars. Some on the left often seem to be rooting for American defeat. . . . [A]t their best, today’s conservatives—and the Republican party that is their vehicle—constitute the party of . . . victory. So Republicans should vote for victory in Congress . . . . After all, if we prevail in Libya—and in Afghanistan and Iraq—the victory will be America’s.”
Yet the “yes, we can” picture of the power and capability of the United States applies only to its ventures abroad. When it comes to describing U.S. power at home, a very different picture emerges from the political establishment. To paraphrase House Republican leader John Boehner’s denunciation of last year’s health care bill, the message being trumpeted is “Hell no, we can’t.” The contrast between the presentation of America’s vast capabilities overseas and its enfeebled condition at home is nowhere more stark than in the current discussion of the proposed budget cuts. No doubt Republicans, particularly House
posted by Maxine Eichner
It’s been a few months since the furor over Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The most interesting thing about it isn’t the book itself: It was hastily written (Chua says that she wrote most of it in eight weeks), and it shows. Chua, although occasionally a keen cultural observer, lacks the power of self-reflection (not to be confused with egocentricity) that a great – or even a good – memoir requires. She tries to fit her tale of extreme parenting into the conventional narrative arc, which requires her to receive a comeuppance. Yet this form is a difficult fit with Chua’s self-certainty and lack of introspection. As a result, even when the narrative ends with one of her daughters rebelling against her parenting style, Chua isn’t sure of the point to be drawn from the book. (In the conclusion, Chua tells us that she pondered for months after writing her tale what message to convey to readers. She finally decided that the message is that children should be reared Chinese style until age 18, and Western style after that. In response, her kids pointed out that this means Chinese parenting throughout childhood. Chua concedes this, and concludes with no explicit resolution of the message to be drawn.)
For anyone who’s been cryogenically frozen these past months, the book is a memoir by Yale law professor Chua, which contrasts her “Chinese mother” parenting style with “Western parenting.” As Chua frames it, Chinese mothers push their children to succeed. This requires endless, punishing hours of study and practice on the part of the child. To make the time, Chinese mothers don’t let their children go on sleepovers, have playdates, be in school plays, watch TV or play computer games, get any grade other than “A” (except in drama or gym), not be the top student in all academic subjects, or play any instrument other than the piano or violin. In contrast, Western parents push their children less and are more inclined to accept mediocrity. They “consider themselves strict mak[ing] their children practice their instruments thirty minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.” Chua herself didn’t grow up in China, but in Indiana and California. Accordingly, she uses the term “Chinese mother” loosely to apply to any parent who uses a tough, success-driven parenting style like her own, whether of Chinese descent or not.
More interesting than the book itself is the furor it has created. In the weeks after the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Chua received hundreds of emails about it. The excerpt reportedly generated more than 4,000 comments on the newspaper’s Web site (a record), and more than 100,000 responses on Facebook, as well as countless blog entries. Some agreed with Chua that American parents need to push their children harder. Many saw Chua’s parenting methods as self-centered, narrow, and abusive. So why did such a mediocre memoir kick off such a national furor?
One possibility is that Chua hit the nerve sensitized by the increasing economic insecurity that most American families face. During the last three decades, the gap between the
Conservatives, Government, and Families: Why Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann Should Stop Deriding Government Support for Breastfeeding (and Families Generally)
posted by Maxine Eichner
Unless you were spending too much time in the blogosphere in the last few weeks, you might have missed the brouhaha created by conservative favorites’ Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann over Michelle Obama’s remarks about breastfeeding. The First Lady’s comments came as part of her Let’s Move initiative, which seeks to reduce childhood obesity rates. Obama stated, “What we’re learning now is that early intervention is key. Kids who are breastfed longer have a lower tendency to be obese.” To increase breastfeeding, she suggested measures that included educating all women about the benefits of early food choices for children, including breast milk.
In response to the First Lady’s remarks, Sarah Palin cracked, “It’s no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you need to breastfeed your babies . . . the price of milk is so high!” This followed comments by Rep. Michele Bachmann that the First Lady’s breast feeding promotion campaign represents a “hard left” position in which “government is the answer to everything.” Bachmann called the breastfeeding campaign “social engineering” and, while she was at it, took a jab at the IRS’s recent decision that breast pumps were tax deductible: “I’ve given birth to five babies and I breastfed every single one,” Bachmann said. “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump. . . . That’s the new definition of a nanny state.” (The IRS determined that breast pumps were a deductible medical expense because of the health benefits of breastfeeding, a determination that was unrelated to the Let’s Move Initiative.) Sandy Rios, a Fox News contributor, joined in, criticizing the requirement in the newly-passed health care law that employers must give working mothers (unpaid) time and a place to nurse orpump their breast milk. (UPDATE: See the clip of Rios opposing mandates on employers here, particularly at 4 minutes 15 seconds and on. And see here, at 3:40, for an earlier clip of Palin reacting to the Let’s Move Initiative by saying that it demonstrates “government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us.” And this link, in which Palin, presenting cookies to a Pennsylvania school last month states, “Who should be deciding what I eat? Should it be government or parents. It should be parents.”)
It’s easy to dismiss this skirmish as just another kerfuffle blown out of proportion in the echo chambers of Fox News and the blogosphere. But pay attention to what these conservatives’ comments say about the state’s role, and you’ll see there’s an important issue at stake. The view that now dominates the hard right construes government support for families – even when it comes to activities like breastfeeding whose benefits are undisputed – as undermining families’ autonomy. Conservatives takes this view even when government action would actually increase families’ choices: the measure requiring employers to provide breaks for breastfeeding lets employees choose whether to breastfeed or not, without penalty of losing their jobs. And even relatively gentle
posted by Maxine Eichner
The images coming out of Pakistan three years ago that appeared on the front pages of newspapers were unforgettable (see some here): thousands of lawyers, neatly groomed and dressed in suits, demonstrating in the streets of Lahore—some engaging in violent clashes with the police who sought to quash the demonstrations, others braving vicious beatings—first to protest the dismissal of the chief justice in Pakistan, then later to oppose the suspension of Pakistan’s Constitution. As the New York Times wrote of the later protest, “At one point, lawyers and police officers clashed in a pitched battle, with lawyers standing on the roof of the High Court throwing stones at the police below, and the police hurling them back. Some of the lawyers were bleeding from the head, and some passed out in clouds of tear gas.” These lawyers saw themselves as properly on the front line when it came to defending the rule of law.
In contrast, the U.S. bar has largely been silent when it comes to the drastic cuts proposed to the budget of the Legal Services Corporation The plan of the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is to cut $75 million from Legal Services’ budget—18 percent of Legal Services’ total budget. Yet Legal Services is the only broad-based program for serving the legal needs of the poor, and 80% of those needs already go unmet under its current funding. As a routine matter, poor Americans have no access to counsel in cases dealing with important issues like child custody, housing, employment, health care, and so forth. Very often that makes a difference in whether these citizens can sue at all; even when they get into court, they generally cannot effectively exercise their rights without a lawyer. Our system stands in stark contrast to countries in the European Union, where the access to counsel in civil cases is a right. It is because of the lack of real access to justice by low-income Americans that the World Justice Project recently ranked the United States – the wealthiest nation in the world – as last of 11 wealthy countries when it comes to access to civil justice – behind not only EU countries, but even South Korea and