Conservative Opposition To Human Happiness

Adam Serwer reports from Charles Murray’s “State of White America” address. Long story short, though, folks have gotten kind of soft:

Yesterday I went to Charles Murray’s AEI lecture on the State of White America which was actually far more interesting than I expected. I won’t say much about it here because I’m writing a piece about it for the magazine, but after Murray was finished going over some of his empirical findings he retreated into the basic platitudes of conservative moral theology.

Murray’s basic conclusion was that something went deeply wrong in the mid-1960s, an idea that caused everyone in the room to nod their heads solemnly. And the basic thing that went wrong was that President Lyndon Johnson’s extension of the American welfare state, undermined the essential virtue of the American people by making them soft, weak and lazy where once they were hard, strong and industrious. America’s decline can be traced to this moment. Liberals laugh at that old Ronald Reagan speech declaring the end of freedom with the advent of Medicare but conservatives actually think that on some level he was actually right.

This put me in mind of Monica Potts’ review of Kay Hymowitz:

“Before [today], the fact is that primarily, a 20-year-old woman would have been a wife and a mother,” author Kay Hymowitz told the crowd of about 100 at the Manhattan Institute in New York City. Men would have been mowing lawns and changing the oil in their family sedans instead of playing video games and watching television. In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment, Hymowitz says. “They didn’t live with roommates in Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Dupont Circle in D.C.”

Hymowitz’s argument, essentially, is that not only has feminism opened up new doors of opportunity to women, but it’s helped contribute to the growth of a society in which young men are less crushed down with family and household obligations and are spending more time enjoying themselves. Except she means this as a bad thing! In both cases the conservative conceit seems to be that a decline in human suffering is a bad thing because it leads to a corresponding decline in admirable anti-suffering effort. John Holbo memorably dubbed this Donner Party Conservatism.