Lew Daly: Capitalism vs. Family Values

I first came upon the work of Lew Daly when I stumbled upon a piece he published last year in the Boston Review entitled, “In Search of the Common Good: The Catholic Roots of American Liberalism.” (I blogged about the essay here). Now Daly is guest blogging with the gang over at the Front Porch Republic. His recent contribution, “Face Right, Move Left,” is another one of his essays that has caught my attention.

Daly begins with a discussion of Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd. According to Daly, Rudd

may be the first politician since Franklin Roosevelt to win national power for a center-left party by attacking the conservative establishment from the right, in the name of family security and family values. Uncharacteristically forthcoming about his religious convictions (uncharacteristic for Australia, that is), Rudd successfully painted the John Howard-led Liberal-National coalition government as the anti-family party, the party of commercial values and business predation against the things we hold most dear.

While I honestly do not know if this has ever been done before, Rudd’s campaign seems to take a page out of the writings of Christopher Lasch. In True and Only Heaven and Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged Lasch shows how free market forces work against the cultivation of strong families and takes some hard shots at Reaganites and Thatcherites who stump for family values but embrace free market principles that undermine any meaningful defense of family life. Sadly, I can’t imagine an American politician getting elected on Rudd’s platform. It would require the American electorate–especially those on the Right– to choose between their commitment to free market corporate capitalism and their commitment to so-called “family values.”

Daly, who I assume is a Catholic, argues, based upon the Catholic idea of subsidiarity,
for the role of government in protecting the family:

Under the principle of subsidiarity, of course, the notion of “designing” social structures can only refer to the need for certain kinds of protection and support for the prior natural order of families and communities, the formative structures of human belonging and well-being. To be a “Christian” social democrat one must embrace a structurally limited, but fiscally supportive, role for the state, providing the help families need to protect themselves and their communities from the inhuman market powers that, increasingly, control the world.

Daly praises Australia’s support of paid maternity leave for mothers and sees the recent House of Representatives more modest maternity leave bill for federal employees as a step in the right direction. With Daly, I hope that the private sector will follow suit. If the free market will not protect the family then perhaps the government might play an important role in doing so. I need to read more on this topic, but Daly is close to convincing me that limited government aid to families makes sense in the context of Catholic social teaching.

Daly concludes:

Call it welfare, an expansion of the “nanny state”–choose your Tocquevillian epithet–but in my life, certainly, and millions of others’, the lack of such support has made it harder, distressingly and sometimes tragically harder, to be the mothers and fathers, the providers and nurturers, God made us to be.