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Against The Trad Dads

A spectre is haunting the Right: the spectre of the Trad Dad. He lurks in the pages of conservative editorial rags, constantly upbraiding his charges for not dropping everything and getting married, moving to the suburbs and spawning 2.1 children (thus ensuring an acceptable replacement rate that would aid the American welfare state in perpetuating its existence.)

If we are to take the rhetoric of the Trad Dads at face value, it would seem as though there is no problem for which bourgeois marriage and childbearing cannot offer a solution to. Low earnings? Get Married! Married people, after all, earn on average much more than their single peers. Afraid of death? Married people live, on average, much longer than those who are single! Depressed? Married people are, on average, happier than those who aren't! Anxious because you've realized your existence as a corporate wageslave is not only unfulfilling but also objectively meaningless? Never fear! For if you just get married and have 2.1 children, your existential angst will immediately disappear and be replaced by a desire to work your wageslave job with the same burning passion that possessed Da Vinci as he painted the Mona Lisa.

So say the Trad Dads, who with evangelical fervor incessantly preach their gospel of fecundity in hopes of converting wayward young men to the narrow path of suburban contentment.

While these attempts are usually well-intentioned, as the Trad Dads in question are frequently simply trying to address the obvious deficiencies and pathologies of our modern society, too often they come off as sad try hards in their sloppy attempts to do so. I may be touching a third rail here in stating this, but in my experience with evangelical trad dads (which is considerable), the person it seems they are most seeking to convince about the desirability of their lifestyle is usually themselves.

Now to be fair, I should make a major distinction at the outset here. There are generally two types of Trad Dads, the "good" ones and the "bad" ones.

The good Trad Dad is usually a humble and pious individual who works tirelessly to provide not only financially, but also spiritually for his large family. His wife is almost always a homemaker (who is usually profoundly pious herself) with the Trad Dad himself being employed in a respectable but usually not particularly lucrative field. This means many of those luxuries (two cars in the garage, a 4,000 square foot house in the exurbs, a boat, trips to Disney World, etc.) which have become trademarks of Upper Middle-Class life are usually off the table. In fact, by most standards, the good Trad Dad lives in a state of pseudo poverty. Yet, his children (which frequently number 5 or more) are remarkably literate and educated (in both the academic and moral sense of the term.) Needless to say, while usually quite personally virtuous, this "good" Trad Dad is looked upon by the larger culture as, at best, an eccentric or, at worse, as a freak or religious fanatic.

Our "bad" Trad Dad, on the other hand, is another species entirely. While ostensibly "Traditionalist" in regards to his rhetoric (which consists mostly of G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien quotes) and style (which consists mostly of bow-ties) this type is, in practice, mostly dedicated to the pursuit of social status and comfortable living (such as the performative consumption of "artisanal foods.") Hence the reason why they rarely ever have more children than their incomes allow, usually sticking to the perfunctory 2.1 in order to maintain their bourgeois standard of living (which for them, like most Americans, is everything.)

While these Trad Dads tend to be the most enthusiastic purveyors of op-ed's extolling the virtues of their (rather tedious) way of life, they are far from the only practitioners of this particular lifestyle brand. In fact, this brand of consumerist family formation, where children are simply one more accessory to be added to a stylish suburban home, and thus might as well be ordered from an Ikea catalog, is the predominant standard by which middle-class existence is measured. Hence why, upon closer inspection, the lifestyle of these Trad Dads and their Blue state counterparts in Brooklyn aren't all that meaningfully different. Hence why, once you subtract the traditionalist kitsch, it is almost impossible to distinguish between a loathsome Bobo like Rod Dreher and his "literary" peers at, say, The New Yorker.

But even if we grant this distinction (which is generous) there still remain profound problems with the logic and rhetoric of even the most well-meaning and pure intentioned of Trad Dads.

The First is, as was previously mentioned, the tendency for the advocates of fecundity for its own sake to overstate the benefits and underplay the downsides of marriage and children. While pushing back against hedonic individualism and the cult of self-actualization is both good and necessary the answer isn't a retreat back into the suburbs. This is merely exchanging one form of alienation for another. As the nuclear family of the halcyon days of the 1950's, for which many trad dads pine for with nostalgia, is just as much a product of modernity (in the worst sense of the term) as are the childless hipster neighborhoods where our SWPL's congregate.

In truth, the Post-War Suburbanization of the 50's, along with the completion of the interstate highway system, helped erode the extended family upon which all previous understandings of family formation had been predicated upon. The "nuclear families" of the American Suburbs, now isolated in their cul de sac fortresses of solitude and cut off from the sources of tradition which had given marriage and child rearing their extended symbolic meaning, became ripe targets for the disruptive forces of American popular culture and boredom. Isolated from a close network of extended kin and thus from meaningful congress with the traditions which had formed their parents, the children of the suburbs sat in front of television screens and consumed mass culture. Hence, was it really a surprise when they rebelled and became the vain and contemptible generation now known as the baby boomers?

The truth that the Trad Dads will not face, in their hurry to condemn the vanity of the SWPLs, is just how difficult and unfulfilling family life is in the early 21st century. Perhaps Houellebecq explained it best when he wrote:

"Children existed … to inherit a man’s trade, his moral code, and his property. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen, and peasants also bought into the idea, so it became the norm at every level of society. That’s all gone now: I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there’s nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him; I haven’t a clue what he might do when he’s older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will have no value – he will live in another universe. If a man accepts the fact that everything must change, then he accepts that life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience; the past and future generations mean nothing to him. That’s how we live now. For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless.”

Without first coming to grips with the fact that family life under modern conditions is inherently unfulfilling due to realities imposed by modern society, no remedies to the problem will ever be devised which aren't mere placebos.

One needn't fully embrace Houellebecq's total bleakness to heed the lesson he teaches here. But unless one addresses the issue of a social and economic system which is inherently at odds with a traditional way of life one's cause remains, at best, Sisyphean. Even if one somehow accounts for the structural factors (difficulty in finding employment without relocation, the incredible expense of raising children, the frequent need for many households to have two wage earners, etc.), the cultural problem still remains.

What I mean here by "cultural problem" is the fact that the entire cultural mind space of the modern American is controlled, almost entirely, by Neoliberal Ideologues. Part of the reason for this hegemonic control is no doubt due to the ruthlessness and single-mindedness with which the Liberals in question pursued it, but the other part of it was the general passivity and cluelessness with which the conservative Trad Dads of the world treated the issue of culture creation. Too often they have been little more than arrogant philistines, focusing their time and energy into pursuing either purely domestic or purely monetary aims. At best, the more discerning amongst them have embraced literature, but only of the type which is at least 50 or more years old (hence the popularity of books like Lord of Rings amongst Christian homeschoolers, etc.) Yet even these types give almost no serious consideration to contemporary artists (mostly because these hypothetical Right wing artists simply don't exist.)

The problem for the Trad Dad is that it is artists, of one stripe or another, who will decide the fate of many of his children, whether he likes it or not. For regardless of how well a nuclear family may raise them, the pull of compelling cultural narratives (which are formed by artists) are simply too powerful to resist, especially when one has no compelling narrative of one's own to offer as an alternative.

The Trad Dad may loathe the single, hedonist Red Guards who staff the departments of American Academia and write for Major Media outlets. Yet ultimately he must admit that it is these Red Guards, these Ideological fanatics, many of whom have given up or postponed domestic life in order to "chase their dreams" will have as much if not more influence upon their children's thinking and life outcomes as he himself will. And that, come time for their child's freshman year at college, through a confluence of peer pressure and ideological indoctrination they will easily unlearn all of the 18 years worth of homeschool derived virtue the Trad Dad vainly tried to instill in them.

Ultimately the sin of the Trad Dad is one of both idolatry and neglect. It is idolatry because he has elevated bourgeois family formation, at any cost, as a Supreme good which surpasses all others. While neglecting, or even openly deriding, the tasks of cultural creation, tasks which are the only thing that make the traditional society he claims to want possible at all.

The world needs more Houellebecqs and less Douthats, more unsettling but compelling works of art and less sanctimonious lectures on the value of bourgeois "family values." In fact, not only should these grotesque American values, values which substitute "success" for "virtue" and "career" for "religion", be downplayed, they should be actively destroyed. They are the values of a society of middle-class mediocrities, of paper pushers and used car salesmen, or as Dugin describes it:

The middle [average] person is not at all the same as the normal person. “Norm” is a synonym for “ideal”, that to which one should strive, that which one should become. The middle [average] person is a person in the least degree, the most ex-individual of individuals, the most null and barren quality. The middle [average] person isn’t a person at all; he is a parody of a person. He is deeply abnormal since for a normal person it is natural to experience horror, to think about death, to acutely experience the finitude of being, to call into question – sometimes tragically insoluble – the external world, society, and relations to another.

The middle class doesn’t think; it consumes. It doesn’t live; it seeks security and comfort. It doesn’t die, it blows out like a car tire (it emits its spirit, as Baudrillard wrote [Symbolic Exchange and Death]). The middle class is the most stupid, submissive, predictable, cowardly, and pathetic of all classes. It is equally far from the blazing elements of poverty and the perverted poison of incalculable wealth, which is even closer to hell than extreme poverty. The middle class has no ontological foundation for existing at all, and if it does, then only somewhere far below, beneath the rule of the philosopher-kings and warrior-heroes. It is the Third Estate, imagining about itself that it is the one and only. This is an unwarranted pretension.

Until those on the Right abandon their obsession with middle-class materialism and respectability which they mistakenly refer to as "family values" and the nostalgic pornography and moral kitsch they mistakenly refer to as "Traditionalism" they will continue to fail and be outpaced by an enemy which is more nimble and dedicated than they are.

Thus, if we are ever to truly advance the goal of a Post-Liberal world, we must set ourselves against the Trad Dads.

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