The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Moms, ‘Myths’ and Cultural Marxism

Posted on | May 9, 2011 | 25 Comments

“In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”
William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)

Liberals invariably use the word “myth” to describe any popular belief that they wish to discredit. Thus the liberal speaks of “the myth of the Old West” in order to attack the belief that pioneers, settlers and cowboys were admirably courageous, embodying noble and heroic traits worthy of emulation. Or a liberal may speak of “the myth of American exceptionalism,” seeking to discredit that view that our country’s phenomenal rise — from primitive colonial outpost to global superpower — signifies some unique or world-historic quality to our national character.

When liberals employ the word “myth,” then, they do so in order to undermine some fundamental belief or tradition that stands in the way of what they deem “Progress.” (Liberals arrogate to themselves the right to judge whether any specific change to the existing order is worthy of being considered Progress Expanding government control over the health care industry is definitely Progress in this sense. Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas production? That’s not Progress, and how dare you even suggest such a thing!)

Whenever we encounter a liberal using the word “myth,” therefore, our antennae ought to quiver with suspicion. What is this “myth” being attacked, and what is the liberal’s purpose in attacking it?

This was my reaction to reading the first sentence of Stephanie Coontz’s 1,300-word Mother’s Day column in the New York Times:

One of the most enduring myths about feminism is that 50 years ago women who stayed home full time with their children enjoyed higher social status and more satisfying lives than they do today.

My eyebrow arched skeptically as soon as I reached the sixth word of that sentence, knowing Coontz to be one of the great revisionist mythmakers of modern liberal academia. Her most influential work, The Way We Never Were (1992) is a book-length assault on the “myth” of American family life prior to the great Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

The problem with the “myth” that she attacks is that there are still alive today many millions of Americans who actually grew up in the kind of families that Coontz claims never existed.

If you are an American over age 50, chances are that your parents were a lot like my parents — Dad fought in World War, went to college on the G.I. Bill, met and married Mom while at school, moved to the city, got a job, built a house in the suburbs, worked two jobs to pay the bills, etc. Our parents saw to it that we attended church, got us involved in Boy Scouts, youth sports and other wholesome activities, fretted over our report cards, and generally did everything within their power to ensure that we had as much of the Good Life as they could afford to provide us.

While it may be that our lives in the small towns and suburbs of America during the 1950s and ’60s did not in every way live up to the sitcom ideal of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver, most of us over 50 look back at our childhoods and marvel at just how well our parents did their job as parents. And however much we, as parents ourselves, have striven to avoid what we see as our own parents’ mistakes, few of us can in all honest say that we have done a better job than they did.

So when I read The Way We Never Were — and the various permutations of that book’s thesis which Coontz has served up in columns and essays over the years — I see it as an attack on my parents, and a disparagement of all the work and sacrifice that my parents devoted to myself and my brothers. How else am I to interpret Coontz’s dismissal of my own childhood as a “myth”?

Why hasn’t anyone in academia ever bothered to debunk Coontz’s revisionism? The most obvious answer is that academia — and especially the humanities and social sciences — is utterly dominated by the Left. The less obvious answer is that any challenge to Coontz’s prevailing revisionism would likely come from a younger scholar, and youth are today separated from the 1950s by a vast gulf, the revolution of the 1960s marking such a complete declension that no one under 40 today could possibly imagine life prior to that revolution. And having been thoroughly indoctrinated to think of the Eisenhower era as the Dark Night of Fascism (to borrow a phrase from Ann Coulter), these young scholars would never dream of revisiting the 1950s with an idea of rehabilitating the image of that era as the American Golden Age.

As Buckley said, these young intellectuals are “altogether positive” that their beliefs are the product of “independent intellectual exertion,” and never for a moment suspect that their teachers and professors and textbook authors may have indoctrinated them.

The bumper sticker on the cars in the campus parking lot may proclaim the owner’s willingness to “Question Authority,” but the one thing they never question is the dominant liberal worldview of academia. No skepticism toward such fashionable beliefs ever crosses their minds.

When Ann Althouse linked to Coontz’s column, her summary was, “Blaming Freud, not feminism, for the denigration of motherhood.” In this, she describes how Coontz overthrows one of liberalism’s former idols in order to defend its more modern Moloch. This part of Coontz’s argument deserves more critical scrutiny than it is likely to get:

In the early 20th century, under the influence of Freudianism, Americans began to view public avowals of “Mother Love” as unmanly and redefine what used to be called “uplifting encouragement” as nagging. By the 1940s, educators, psychiatrists and popular opinion-makers were assailing the idealization of mothers; in their view, women should stop seeing themselves as guardians of societal and familial morality and content themselves with being, in the self-deprecating words of so many 1960s homemakers, “just a housewife.” . . .

Let us be clear, however, that in the mid-2oth-century Freudianism was the faith of an intellectual elite. However prevalent Freudianism was among “educators, psychiatrists and public opinion-makers,” the ordinary American always viewed skeptically the psychoanalytic dogmas of Dr. Freud. This common-sense hostility toward the fanciful theorizing of “shrinks” was, at one time, widely cited as evidence of the “anti-intellectualism” of narrow-minded Americans — then as now disdained as a bunch of backward yahoos by the sophisticated elites.

Fast-forward a few decades, of course, and Dr. Freud’s theories have been so completely demolished by scientific advances — particularly in the area of neurochemistry — that intellectuals are hard-put to explain how their predecessors ever could have believed in such Freudian nonsense as the “Oedipus complex” and “penis envy.”

Yet in the mid-20th-century, faith in Freudian theory pervaded America’s intelligentia, and was suffused through the culture by those “public opinion-makers” whom now Coontz wishes to make the scapegoats for undermining the status of mothers. One suspects Coontz of cherry-picking the evidence to support her case, but the burden of her argument is not so much to implicate Freudianism as it is to exculpate feminism. The liberals’ new unquestionable dogma is apparently so valuable to their cause that they are willing to throw poor Sigmund under the bus to save it.

Conservatives ought always to question most rigorously the dogmas that liberals defend most vehemently.

It is apparently essential to the success of liberalism that people believe what Coontz wants them to believe — that feminism has, in fact, vastly improved American life for everyone. And if any woman should be unhappy with some aspect of her life in this post-liberation paradise, it is not feminists whom she should blame, but rather the residual sexism that remains, and which requires renewed effort to extirpate.

This is why, more than four decades after the rise of the Women’s Liberation movement, feminists are angrier than ever: The logic of their movement prevents them from accepting the explanation that their unhappiness can have any cause other than patriarchal oppression. And no feminist can ever permit herself to wonder whether “liberation” itself is the cause of some problems that nowadays plague women. If equality has not solved all women’s problems, the only solution must be more equality. And if you question this logic, buddy, you’re part of the problem.

Coontz is an excellent example of why I insist — to the consternation of Little Miss Attila — that it is folly to attempt to understand feminism except as a movement of the Left. Trying to co-opt feminism, or to create for it some non-partisan, non-ideological pedigree, is to ignore the overwhelming reality of what feminism actually is. Here is Coontz from 1998, during the Lewinsky scandal:

How come the Judiciary Committee members’ invocations of the “ideals” of our forefathers does not include James Madison’s argument that a virtuous republic should strive to eradicate extremes of wealth and poverty? And why doesn’t the charge that Clinton is obsessed with polls rather than principles focus on the fact that he ignored his own bipartisan panel’s politically unpalatable conclusion that distributing needles to drug addicts would not increase drug addiction but save lives?
For that matter, how can legislators on either side of the impeachment issue congratulate themselves on “voting their conscience” when they have allowed 93 percent of all reductions in budget entitlements over the past two years to be borne by the poor? In a nation where the average CEO makes 326 times as much as the average factory worker and 728 times as much as the minimum-wage earner, why has America’s extraordinary economic expansion during the last two years not even trickled down to America’s impoverished children? And why, in one of the only six nations that do not have a national policy requiring paid maternity leave (out of 152 nations surveyed this year by the United Nations), are our leaders spending so much time on sex and semen stains?

So we see that, at a time when the Predator-in-Chief was caught perjuring himself about an exploitative affair with an emotionally unstable subordinate less than half his age, Coontz’s principle concern was that the scandal was distracting attention from the important issues that mattered to liberals. Whatever credibility Coontz as an advocate for the equality and dignity of women in the workplace, she was willing to cast it aside — ignoring Clinton’s sordidly sexist behavior — rather than to let Clinton’s conservative critics gain any advantage by the exposure of his Oval Office affair.

Such was the case with every feminist of any importance or influence. By their defense of Clinton at that critical juncture (in a way they never defended Clarence Thomas) the women’s movement displayed themselves as merely the distaff auxilliary of the Democratic Party.

Sic semper hoc.

At what point was feminism ever anything other than Leftism for Ladies? But the winners write the history books (and also write the New York Times op-ed columns), and so the history of feminism has been written to convince us that all women were equally invested in the success of the movement, so that to criticize or oppose feminism is to be anti-woman.

This is what the success of Cultural Marxism looks like — the unquestionable hegemony of the officially-approved revolutionary perspective, with any contradictory facts erased from memory like Trotsky airbrushed from old Bolshevik photos during the Stalinist era. Those who question the revolutionary triumph are accused of “false consciousness,” dismissed as ignorant believers in discredited “myths.” And so Stephanie Coontz concludes her column:

While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s. On this Mother’s Day, it’s too bad that nostalgia for a golden age of motherhood that never existed still clouds our thinking about what’s best for mothers, fathers and their children.

If you dispute Coontz’s telling of the tale, then, it is because your thinking has been clouded by nostalgia. The past as you remember it never actually existed. And the future belongs to Coontz and her colleagues, who will teach your children to hate you.


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