We are very close to the point where most American children are born outside of wedlock. Some say that “our” approach till now has been to “lament” this. Reihan Salam isn’t so sure, and writes:
It is not clear to me that our main approach (much depends on the “our” we have in mind) has been to lament this new reality, for at least two reasons: (1) the people who tend to set the terms of the policy debate are by and large insulated from the human consequences of this new reality, and while some are inclined to lament it, many others are either unaware of the extent to which non-college-educated Americans are already living in a “post-marital” culture or (2) ideologically uncomfortable with the paternalism implicit in crafting public policies designed to discourage non-marital child-rearing.
Reihan says that the left’s responses are in tension:
What I find interesting is the emerging tension between two tendencies on the center-left: (1) the civil libertarian desire to protect the autonomy of families, particularly families rooted in minority cultural traditions, as a post-marital culture yields ever more children raised in the context highly fragile, unstable family relationships; and (2) the egalitarian imperative to do more to build the human capital of children raised in the poorest households, an effort that may well require increasingly intrusive, heavy-handed, paternalistic interventions. Some societies, like France, have embraced paternalistic strategies, in part (one might argue) because they’ve been less protective of family autonomy. My intuitive sense is that Americans, and in particular American left-liberals, might find these approach discomfiting and fraught, as well as (secondarily) expensive.
Advocates of reinstitutionalization are often characterized as moralistic scolds, but one wonders if they’re better understood as defenders of an autonomous sphere of family life.
It’s all so much easier to understand if you realize that the contemporary left (unlike the Old Left) believes that the only revolution worth fighting for is the Sexual Revolution, and that whatever it takes to preserve and expand sexual autonomy and choice is good and necessary. The thing is, the people who have voices in the media and academia to defend this point of view are middle-class and upper-middle-class people who, as Reihan says, are by and large insulated from the human reality of the world they’ve helped bring into existence, and are bringing into existence.