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Saturday, February 28, 2004

Weekend reading.

I read a lot of magazines — occupational hazard — and frequently come across something so good I want to blog it right away, only to discover that most magazines don't rush their best material on-line. And then, by the time an article is on-line, it has dropped out of my immediate consciousness. As a result, the articles I've been thinking about the most over the last few months aren't ones you could have found out about by reading this blog. Seems kind of silly, all that reading gone to waste — but, since it's Lent, I'm mending my ways and I'm going to tell you what I wish I had told you about weeks and (in one case) months ago.

So here are a few of the articles I've found most stimulating recently:

  • "A democratic world" by George Packer, New Yorker 2.16.04. I'm a big fan of Packer's political writing, especially on foreign policy. Once again, Packer lays out the vision that liberals ought to be embracing.

  • "How serfdom saved the women's movement: Dispatches from the nanny wars" by Caitlin Flanagan, Atlantic Monthly 3.04. Extraordinary first-person reflection on the way that professional-class women have found their own liberation through employing low-wage women as nannies and domestic help. See also the follow-up Slate discussion with Flanagan, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Sara Mosle, especially about the moral complicity of upper-middle-class husbands.

  • "Just marriage" by Mary Lyndon Shanley, Boston Review Summer 2003. (I told you I've been sitting on some of these for a while.) This essay introduces a liberal justice-based argument for marriage and criticizes the contract-theory model of marriage that many liberals have tended to embrace. In other words, it tries to map out a liberal argument for promoting marriage as a civic good that deserves government protection. Since I don't think of marriage simply as a private contract — and think that efforts to broaden marriage to same-sex couples ought to be rooted in a vision of the public good that would result from legal rights for same-sex couples as well as male-female couples — I found this article extremely illuminating.

The magazine you ought to pick up at the newsstand this month is The American Prospect (March 2004). The 19-page section "Liberals and Values" is must-read stuff. Richard Parker, who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, taught a great class when I was at the Divinity School on the history of American religion and politics — and he has contributed a fine essay on the Democrats' problems with religious voters. (Alas, not on-line; see pages 38-41.) And Niclaus Mills writes about the ways that liberals have contributed to charges that they are elitists:

On the great wedge issues of the last 40 years — Vietnam, school busing, law and order — Democratic liberals, acting on the basis of deeply held convictions, have backed policies for which the highest costs have not been born by an educated middle class living in suburbs and safe city neighborhoods but by poor and working-class families, who have had to take whatever came their way. . . .

This is not to say that Democratic liberals were wrong in opposing the war in Vietnam, working to desegregate the public schools, or, in the case of the law-and-order issue, trying to curb the excesses of police departments. But it is to say that Democratic liberals never collectively dealt with how the privileged lives they led generally immunized them from the sacrifice and disruption that followed when their political principles were put into action.

That's from "The E-Word," pages 42-44, also not on-line. But — trumpet fanfare! — Margaret Morganroth Gullette's "The New Case for Marriage" is on-line.

Okay, my conscience is clear.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 28 February 2004 at 8:26 PM

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