CARE AND EQUALITY by Mona Harrington


Inventing a New Family Politics
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A partially successful attempt to deny that “liberal family policy” is an oxymoron. Few people doubt that there is a crisis over family-related issues in contemporary American society. Harrington (Women Lawyers, Rewriting the Rules, 1994, etc.) recognizes the efforts of liberals to craft policy responses, but the traditional strength of liberalism has been emphasizing individual rights and the prerogatives of private life. From this perspective, individuals make private decisions about family life, leaving no basis for assessing whether the system is working well, even if the aggregate results of those decisions are negative. Conservatives, on the other hand, embrace their conception of the traditional family as a fixed moral standard and condemn anything that threatens it, thereby successfully painting liberal promotion of women’s rights, child care, etc., as antifamily because liberals lack an alternative conception of the family. Harrington argues that liberals must continue attacking the conservative assumption that good families require women to shoulder the caretaking burdens of society without compensation, but they also must do more: liberals must promote women’s equality without denying their caretaker role, must synthesize individual rights and caretaking into a new understanding of the family. Having established the need for a liberal alternative to the conservative version of the family, however, she avoids taking on the task of describing it by espousing a participatory politics that will presumably fill in its substance. Rather than explaining how an extra dose of democracy will overcome the ideological barriers posed by the hegemonic hold of the traditional family on American minds, she squanders much of the latter portion of the volume in an ill-chosen struggle with the Clinton legacy as nontraditional male leader and sexual libertine. After an impressive beginning, Harrington disappoints by hiding behind a “politics” of liberal family policy rather than providing what her analysis indicates is really needed: a liberal theory of the family.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40015-X
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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