Even as we tremble at the edge of a fiscal cliff, the culture war insists on our attention. Abortion, contraception, gay and women’s rights, and welfare have all returned to shake up an election season that was supposed to be a simple economy slugfest. Robert O. Self’s “All in the Family” could help explain why. Mr. Self, a professor of history at Brown University, has heroically researched the history of the culture wars from the early 1960s to the present. He offers a provocative analysis that accounts for today’s alliance between small-government and social conservatives, on the one hand, and welfare-state and social liberals, on the other….
However, I was less enchanted by what followed:
Mr. Self begins his history by describing “breadwinner liberalism” as the status quo of the early and mid-1960s. The architects of the Great Society assumed the primacy of male-earner and female-homemaker families. Labor unions fought for a family wage for their predominantly male membership, the Moynihan Report (1965) raised alarms about black male unemployment, and the first efforts at affirmative action took the form of quotas in municipal contracts for male construction workers. In all these cases “women were largely an afterthought,” Mr. Self writes. Breadwinner liberalism, he argues, was based on a model of “masculine individualism”: hardworking, striving, self-reliant….
The review goes on to recount the book’s take on the Kulturkampf that has plagued our politics since the 1960s. Apparently, the author of the book thinks the changes that have come are all to the good; the reviewer demurs.
All I know is this: In 1960, I could have been comfortable as a liberal. For that matter, in 1960, I could have been comfortable as a conservative. I can see myself having voted for Ike. I think I would have been torn between Nixon and Kennedy. (At the time, I favored Nixon, but I was only 7 years old. I don’t know what I would have done as an adult.)
Whatever happened, and however you define it, I can’t be at home in either camp today. And the Kulturkampf stuff is a big part of the reason why.