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Spring 2024


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A new interview on the MIT Press website
Five Minutes with Melinda Cooper

In a two part interview with the MIT Press, Melinda Cooper discusses her new book Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism, an investigation of the roots of the alliance between free-market neoliberals and social conservatives. Click here to learn more about the book. To read part one and two of the full interview click here and here. An excerpt appears below.

Q: “Can you briefly summarize your argument on the intellectual history of neoconservatives: while thought of today mainly in terms of their foreign policy beliefs, you note they began in the 1930s concerned with social welfare issues and even Irving Kristol was in favor of universal health insurance. How did they eventually find common ground with neoliberals such as Friedman who were calling for cuts to the social wage?”

A: “The neoconservatives only really came together as a self-identified movement in the 1970s. They were New Deal leftists and former Trotskyists who were alarmed by what they saw as the explosion of anti-normative liberation movements arising out of the Great Society project. They thought the expansion of welfare was occurring without sufficient attention to the preservation of family and gender hierarchies. Yet they remained deeply attached to the New Deal idea of a family-based welfare state. At the beginning at least, they remained committed to social redistribution but only when this project was aligned with a deeply moralizing and normative vision of society.

So the neoconservatives were not at all interested in reducing welfare expenditures or shrinking the state. They were very critical of the neoliberals on this point. What outraged them was that welfare spending was subsidizing what they saw as immoral lifestyles such as single motherhood. They thought that the social and moral force of the original New Deal welfare state had been undermined by the gradual erosion of moral conditions on welfare. They are not against welfare spending on fiscal grounds at all, but want to mobilize the welfare state in the service of cultivating certain kinds of gender hierarchy and normative lifestyle. This is a very different position from the neoliberals, who in extremis would like to see all welfare needs downloaded to the private family unit. But they did find common ground in the notion that the promotion of family responsibility should be made central to welfare reform. What you get in practice is a hybrid—it is hard to argue that state and federal welfare budgets have been massively slashed, but increasingly money is being spent on enforcing legal obligations of care amongst the welfare poor and in a whole array of pedagogical and therapeutic programs designed to inculcate certain forms of family responsibility and morality among the poor.”