"Matt's argument is much more non-judgemental than the traditional social conservative line."
I hope not. My argument was for separating social conservatism's moral judgement from a particular religious code. I think this is both a politically sensible move for social conservatives and is more persuasive to me because I'm not religious. However, to separate social conservatism from moral judgement altogether would be to kill it.
Take this section from Dalrymple's The Frivolity of Evil:
"The men in these situations also know perfectly well the meaning and consequences of what they are doing. The same day that I saw the patient I have just described, a man aged 25 came into our ward, in need of an operation to remove foil-wrapped packets of cocaine that he had swallowed in order to evade being caught by the police in possession of them. (Had a packet burst, he would have died immediately.) As it happened, he had just left his latest girlfriend—one week after she had given birth to their child. They weren't getting along, he said; he needed his space. Of the child, he thought not for an instant.
I asked him whether he had any other children.
"Four," he replied.
"How many mothers?"
"Do you see any of your children?"
He shook his head. It is supposedly the duty of the doctor not to pass judgment on how his patients have elected to live, but I think I may have raised my eyebrows slightly. At any rate, the patient caught a whiff of my disapproval.
"I know," he said. "I know. Don't tell me."
These words were a complete confession of guilt. I have had hundreds of conversations with men who have abandoned their children in this fashion, and they all know perfectly well what the consequences are for the mother and, more important, for the children. They all know that they are condemning their children to lives of brutality, poverty, abuse, and hopelessness. They tell me so themselves. And yet they do it over and over again, to such an extent that I should guess that nearly a quarter of British children are now brought up this way."
If being non-judgemental is really such a virtue, as Gracchi suggests and the British left enshrines, does that extend to this man's behaviour? Is he a victim of some tragic circumstance or irresponsibly, frivolously evil?
Gracchi, with a mind trained by academia into almost fractal subtlety, is far too attracted to any doctrine which promises to be calm, understanding and non-judgemental. However, in chasing the fools gold of being 'non-judgemental' we have created a culture unwilling to condemn the barbaric.
Gracchi may respond that he is quite willing to judge someone who repeatedly abandons his children. However, I think that when he judges even a call for social conservatism like my article through the prism of how 'judgemental' it is he has become a part of the problem. A subscriber to an intellectual perspective which regards moral judgement as passé. The result is social decay as the standards which civilisation depends upon are undermined.
"Instinctively there is a lot of good in these attitudes- but there are problems too about Matt's article. He launches into what I think is an ill advised attack on Harriet Harman's recent critique of David Cameron's marriage policies in the Guardian."
Wrong Harriet Harman piece. This is what I was responding to (I'll respond to the Guardian article later as Gracchi seems to like it).
"By endeavouring to promote marriage by building up its fortifications- by say making it tax advantageous to be married or stiffening divorce law- you may make it difficult for people to escape from relationships that are harming them and harming their children (children who are brought up by parents that loathe each other are often damaged in the long term by that- their ideas of how you behave in a relationship can often be adversarial and manipulatory). Furthermore if Matt like me deems it more difficult to bring up a child on your own than with someone else- if we make it more difficult through tax breaks and like measures to do that then probably the kids who are left, through no fault of their own, with parents who may, for no fault of their own, be alone will be penalised even more than they already are."
A little perspective will make it clear that that a fiscal incentive to marriage doesn't mean trapping people in abusive relationships. You can't have it both ways and argue that "few people will marry because of an extra hundred quid of benefit" but that, for the same benefit, they will take "domestic violence of all kinds, affairs and [...] emotional abuse".
I would argue that marginal financial incentives are unlikely to either 'create' marriages or sustain them through serious abuse. It will affect those marginal cases of marriages which have gone a little stale or are going through a rocky patch. In these cases the huge social costs of divorce suggest we should want people to err on the side of staying married. At the moment, with a tax system which will often leave people better off if they divorce, we do the opposite and incentivise divorce.
Gracchi then talks about a lot of possible counselling the state could offer. I'll respond to Harman's idea for divorce support in my response to her Guardian article but all this talk of other things we could do to help marriage seems largely tangential. I'll leave it out.
"But it is upon the policies that we should judge labrador conservatism."
Actually, it isn't.
I've criticised Gracchi in another thread for treating politics as some kind of machine with policy as levers which you pull for certain effects. For neglecting the importance of the debate around values and ideals. Politics is bigger than policy and should be concerned with our collective values.
When we as a society treat criminals like victims, parents like children and moral judgement like some kind of plague the results are truly dismal. Changing the state's behaviour, new policy, matters. However, changing social attitudes is the most important function of a renewed social conservatism. Just as education board disciplinary procedures can't defend free inquiry the state can't save the family. Politics needs to embrace a broader debate over how our society should be ordered rather than treating every problem as a policy brain teaser.