ABCD Politics, Episode 2: Why I Am A Conservative

A new episode of ABCD Politics is out. For those of you who can, can you please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. And give us a rating too! Surya has submitted to Stitcher and Spotify, so it will be on those platforms soon too (my experience is that Stitcher approves fast, while Spotify approves slow).

The topic of the second podcast was nominally our own political evolution. It turned out to be mostly about me, and my own “conservatism.” Though Surya has followed my work, after a fashion, for 15 years, my politics are somewhat cryptic to him, so it was a useful exercise in exposition. Surya is a center-Left Democrat and ran as one in 2010. Myself, my own views are a bit more heterodox and difficult to pin down.

A simple way one can summarize my evolution is that I have gone from being a moderate libertarian in the early 2000s to more of a populist conservative in 2020, albeit of a moderate and cosmopolitan personal bent.

But when someone on Twitter asked to summarize my politics recently in five words or less, I said “family first family last.” What did I mean by this?

The issue came up on the podcast because I expressed by “pro-nuclear family” stance as one reason I aligned with the Right and was skeptical of BLM. One of Surya’s correspondents asserted that I didn’t characterize BLM correctly. As it happens, BLM has an “official” website. It has a section on the nuclear family, which I read a while back:

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

In early September the evolutionary anthropologist Joe Henrich will come out with a book, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. I obtained a review copy, so I will probably post my thoughts closer to the publication date. But, the book outlines a simple and widely discussed thesis: that unique aspects of Western Europe’s kinship and family structure that dates to the period after the fall of the Roman Empire were amenable to the emergence of economically dynamic liberal democratic societies.

The nuclear family is key to that argument. Obviously people can be happy in joint-families, clan compounds, or as part of dense tribal networks. But the nuclear family has some social and cultural consequences which I strongly favor. In the American context, the nuclear family is associated with positive outcomes for children, and a level of material and emotional well-being that many of us aspire to.

This does not mean that those who are not in nuclear families should be ostracized or thought of as second-class citizens. Rather, the idea is that society and politics should have the dominant family structure, the nuclear family, at the heart of its understanding, and that that should shape policy (e.g., tax-credits for having children). My impression and understanding are that the modern Left does not believe this privileging should occur (explicit in the platforms of groups like BLM above). Therefore, I am against the modern Left.

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21 Replies to “ABCD Politics, Episode 2: Why I Am A Conservative”

  1. Even in prosperous Western Europe, the nuclear family has been around for only 70 years or so. Some of my older colleagues still remember sharing their homes with 7 or 8 people – extended uncles/aunts and grandparents. This amount of “existence time” isńt enough to make a call either way.

    However there are enough economic studies to show that nuclear families increase the consumption impulse in a society by doubling or tripling the capital goods needed like homes, furniture, washing machines and so on. There hasn’t been enough correlation done to link the ever-rising debt levels to see if that’s also an impact from nuclear families.

    The cultural experience is totally subjective. In India, there is a greater public recognition arising that kids in nuclear families are culturally adrift. This is down to the lack of “mentoring time”. Any free time that working parents have is crowded out by home transactions.

    I did read a great paper that hypothesised the link between a woman’s fertility and the presence of a grandmother (either) in the household. It was quite educative. I cannot find it anymore.

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    1. This canard has floated around quacking for a while. It is not so, there is a body of empirical work on family structure that shows patterns we see today have existed for a very long time. Here are some references:

      Duranton, G., Rodríguez-Pose, A., & Sandall, R . (2009). Family Types and the Persistence of Regional Disparities in Europe. Economic Geography, 85 (1), 23-47.
      http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1944-8287.2008.01002.x
      http://repository.upenn.edu/real-estate_papers/40

      “Using Emmanuel Todd’s classification of medieval European family systems, we identify potential links between family types and regional disparities in household size, educational attainment, social capital, labor participation, sectoral structure, wealth, and inequality. The results indicate that medieval family structures seem to have influenced European regional disparities in virtually every indicator that we considered. That these links remain, despite the influence of the modern state and population migration, suggests that such structures are either extremely resilient or in the past were internalized within other social and economic institutions as they developed.”

      More: The World We Have Lost” By Peter Laslett. Back in the 1950s Laslett started combing through registers maintained of births, marriages and deaths maintained in in English Church Parishes going back many centuries. He found that family structures had not much changed.
      https://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/prospective-undergrads/virtual-classroom/secondary-source-exercises/sources-people/laslett

      Home » Volume IV., No. 6. » Current » America, England, Europe – Why Do We Differ? – 28 November 2013 – James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus
      http://www.hungarianreview.com/author/james_c._bennett_and_michael_j._lotus
      America 3.0 by Michael J. Lotus James C. Bennett
      https://www.amazon.com/America-Michael-Lotus-Bennett-2013-03-08/dp/B019TLQ4GO
      Discuss family structure in the US based on the work of Emmanuel Todd mentioned above. The US has followed the English patterns brought over by the first waves of European settlers.

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    2. Buying more consumer goods can be preferable to crowding and internal family squabbles and having the freedom to shape your personal living space in the way you want it is worth the extra cost.

      The nuclear family in the UK dates back at least about 750 years. See the review by Steve Sailer of the book The Pinch by former UK cabinet minister David Willets.

      https://vdare.com/articles/david-willetts-the-pinch-u-k-cabinet-minister-s-discreet-but-devastating-dissent-on-immigration
      “Instead, think of England as being like this for at least 750 years. We live in small families. We buy and sell houses. … Our parents expect us to leave home for paid work …You try to save up some money from your wages so that you can afford to get married. … You can choose your spouse … It takes a long time to build up some savings from your work and find the right person with whom to settle down, so marriage comes quite lately, possibly in your late twenties.”

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  2. Even in prosperous Western Europe, the nuclear family has been around for only 70 years or so.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajnal_line#:~:text=The%20Hajnal%20line%20is%20a,by%20different%20levels%20of%20nuptiality.

    a lot of the trends in europe are quite old, dating to the medieval period. there are some peculiarites of the demographics of europe in the 19th to mid 20th century: remember europe underwent massive demographic expansion. in earlier periods lots of people died earlier and fertility was lower.

    I did read a great paper that hypothesised the link between a woman’s fertility and the presence of a grandmother (either) in the household. It was quite educative. I cannot find it anymore.

    most of the literature focuses on maternal grandmothers. seem virpi lumma.

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    1. Thanks, I think that was the one. The Hajnal line is new to me – only familiar with the potato/tomato and beer/wine lines.

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  3. I don’t have an especially strong opinion on the family stuff. My personal experience has certainly led me to favor the nuclear family as a strong basis to build from.

    But I think it is odd that you are taking the strong opinions of a few people (the original BLM founders) to speak for a) all of BLM (which, I guarantee that 99.99% of us have never read this manifesto or heard of it. we just want to end systemic police racist oppression/abuse and, even with that, have differing views on how it should be done) and b) all of the modern left! That’s a tough extrapolation, brother!

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  4. Dear Razib, I also think that family must be prioritized over excessive freedom and is a bedrock of any stable society. But, how can you support nuclear families but stop them from growing into larger clan based units?

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  5. Dear Razib, I also think that family must be prioritized over excessive freedom and is a bedrock of any stable society. But, how can you support nuclear families but stop them from growing into larger clan based units?
    I also think that the liberal left agenda is against any sort of family structure, not just limited to nuclear families. They basically want to monopolize the marketplace of ideas, and any family structure (with a different power authority) is a potential competitor in this market.

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    1. The US does not have an inheritance tax. It has an estate tax, but that is quite a different beast.

      The real protection is a dynamic economy.. Go back to the Forbes Magazine rich lists of 40 years ago. you will see entirely different names than you can se on the current lists. Most of the top names a self-made fortunes. or at least in the current generation like Lorraine Powell Jobs and McKenzie Bezos.

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  6. all of the modern left! That’s a tough extrapolation, brother!

    the moderates usually follow the extremists. not always (e.g., clinton era). but we live in a time of polarization. the family is generally collapsing in the bottom 50% of the population of all races. the democats aren’t focusing on that. they should.

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    1. “the family is generally collapsing in the bottom 50% of the population of all races.”

      “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” by Charles Murray
      https://www.amazon.com/Coming-Apart-State-America-1960-2010/dp/030745343X/

      “The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.

      “The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.”

      Murray is a well known conservative social scientist. Robert Putnam is a liberal Harvard Professor who reached much the same conclusion:

      “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert D. Putnam
      https://www.amazon.com/Robert-D-Putnam/dp/1476769907/

      And there is: “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J. D. Vance
      https://www.amazon.com/Hillbilly-Elegy-Memoir-Family-Culture/dp/0062300547/

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    2. “the democats aren’t focusing on that. ”

      Well, of course not. The Democrats have become the party of the winner’s circle. Of Manhattan, Cambridge, Marin, Beverly Hills, etc.

      The problems of the “bitter clingers”, the “basket of deplorables”, the 15 or 20% of people who are not good, those problems are beneath their contempt.

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  7. Why should democrats focus on that? The average person is fine with their platform because all the average person cares about is being perceived as progressive. Most people are idiots who crave social acceptance and the Democrats have a hold of them. This country is fucked.

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  8. “My impression and understanding are that the modern Left does not believe this privileging should occur”

    Razib, what do you think the Left privileges then?
    Atomic individualism, or group identity, or what?

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