Rather Too Long An Argument Against Douthat, Now that I Wrote It Out

by John Holbo on January 29, 2012

Some reviewers have complained that Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind seriously overreaches when he writes stuff like this:

Conservatism is the theoretical voice of … animus against the agency of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, agency, the prerogative of the elite. (7)

He digs up fun quotes from old, odd sources.

“In order to keep the state out of the hands of the people,” wrote the French monarchist Louis de Bonald, “it is necessary to keep the family out of the hands of women and children.” (15)

At this point conservatives get ticked off: Louis de who?

Can’t pin us to some dead monarchist! Guy was French! Robin is guilty of tarring all of conservatism with the broadest, blackest brush. It’s paranoid stuff. Nasty sniffing around in the alleged id. No respect for the superego.

This sort of dispute is hard to adjudicate, because the only way to do so rigorously is with specifics – examples and counter-examples. But really Robin isn’t claiming that there are no counter-examples to his claim. He is saying his model is the paradigm. He is modeling the typical, not the invariable, conservative. The conservative response is that – today – only conservative extremists think in this bad way. It’s no accident that Robin has to run off to Old Europe for the juiciest quotes. The rest he gets from more contemporary conservatives when maybe they slipped in an interview and said something they didn’t quite mean, or they exaggerated for effect and … taken out of context …

Let’s take a crack at defending Robin, like so. Ross Douthat’s latest column in the NY Times is a good fit for Robin’s thesis. Douthat is no one’s notion of a radical conservative. He’s a squish (well, that’s what lots of conservatives think of him.) His job is to make conservatism sound reasonable to urbane liberals. None of that seamy underbelly, talk radio-style stuff.

So if even Douthat fits Robin’s model – that doesn’t prove anything. Still …

So what’s the issue? Read the op-ed. And the news article that goes with. The thesis: it’s an infringement of liberty – and fundamentally destructive to values of community – to force religious organizations to provide health insurance that covers contraception.

I’m going to trust your reading comprehension skills re: op-ed and article (although, if these skills fail you, in some demonstrable way, I reserve the right to point this out in comments.) Now: what is it that Douthat really wants?

Reading between the lines I just trusted you to read: it’s obvious to me he wants what Robin says conservatives always want. Douthat says the issue is liberty and community. But honestly: he’s a kinder, gentler, crypto- de Bonald. Much, much kinder and gentler, I’m sure. The crypto goes like so, in Robin’s formulation (following Karl Mannheim): “Because freedom is the lingua franca of modern politics … conservatives have had “a sound enough instinct not to attack” it. Instead, they have made freedom the stalking horse of inequality, and inequality the stalking horse of submission.” (102)

But reading between the lines can be tricky, admittedly. I suppose we can’t prove what’s in the man’s soul. But it is noteworthy that the structure of moral concern he’s expressing is implausible. So probably his actual concerns are somewhat different. (It is possible, I suppose, that Ross Douthat just has an implausible soul. What are the odds?)

Douthat says: Conservatives aren’t just about the rugged individualism. They are also about voluntarist communitarianism. That scene in “Witness” where they raise the barn, if you recall it. That kind of stuff.

Douthat says he is concerned about that stuff – voluntarist communitarianism – withering in the face of statism, exemplified by this forced-to-insure-contraception situation.

Here’s the problem: suppose we rewrite the “Witness” scene, like so. The good people are about to raise the barn for a lady who needs a barn but, at the last minute, they find she is on the pill. So they refuse to raise the barn.

You might say: that’s their right! You might say: jerks! You might say a third thing. But hold that thought, as we are not done yet.

A man from the government now shows up and tells the barn-raisers that, henceforth, if they are going to raise barns, they can’t refuse to raise them for women on the pill. (They don’t have to build everyone a barn, but this cannot be the exclusion condition.)

What’s the issue now? If you think it’s the nobility of voluntarist barn-raising, or lack thereof, you haven’t been keeping score. We can shift to “The Jerk” for adaptable filmic material: “He hates barns!” Or, more charitably, “He hates voluntarily raised barns!” If you think the man from the government is taking aim at the barn, you are a jerk.

No, seriously: if the barn-raisers really value voluntary barn-raising so damn much – if that is their first concern – they will build the barn, pill be damned. Likewise, if government man is mostly concerned with barn prevention, he won’t let them do it even if the woman gets off the pill. (I have intentionally made government man’s rule sort of dumb and potentially problematic to show that the legal intricacies of the situation, while no doubt very interesting, do not cut to the quick of what people are really interested in here.)

Does this point apply to Douthat’s column? Yes. Ostensibly, he is worried about “a darker American future, in which our voluntary communities wither away and government becomes the only word we have for the things we do together.” But if that were truly his concern, he would be urging the Catholic groups that say they are going to dissolve, rather than go along, to go along. Think about it. Suppose someone asked the barn-raisers: why are you troubled by the prospect of a woman taking the pill and getting her barn raised? Suppose they reply: we are worried that situations like this will undermine our willingness to raise barns, voluntarily. Could any problem be more easily solved by the barn-raisers themselves? Unless, of course, the sticking point is something else. The pill, to pick a likely suspect.

Douthat might object that it takes two to tango, not raising a barn-wise. The woman could pitch in from her side by agreeing not to take the pill, the better to stop others from not raising the barn. But the oddly negative quality of this suggestion really does indicate the problem with it. If the threat is a looming lack of voluntaristic community action, the barn-raisers should meet it head-on: stop stopping and start starting.

So Douthat will probably not focus on the woman but rather on the man from the government.

Douthat will probably say that the barn-raising metaphor is wrong, or should go more like this: the man from the government comes and says that, if you are going to raise a barn, you have to have a Planned Parenthood-raising, too, and everyone has to pitch in to whip up a batch of morning after pills. So the sticking point is this: being required positively to do something that you think is morally repugnant.

But this isn’t right. Barn-raising is volunteer charity, and it is reasonable not to expect anyone to do charity work they find directly morally repugnant. But employer-provided health insurance is a form of compensation for work, like plain old cash pay. If I disapprove of drinking, but one of my employees takes the money I pay him and spends it on beer, I have not, in any sense, been forced to buy him drinks. Obviously if I were forced to pay my employees in ‘beer dollars’, or literally in beer, the situation would be different. But medical insurance is not like paying people in ‘contraception dollars’. Being covered for getting your leg broken does not mean being obliged to break a leg, then get it treated. No one is proposing that anyone be forced to take any pill, just because they are covered for it.

Let’s make the case much weirder, but only by way of being very down-to-earth about actual motive – about what Douthat obviously actually thinks and feels. If you think it makes sense for Catholic employers to refuse to provide insurance for contraception, then you should think it makes sense for Catholic employers to refuse to allow their employees to spend their cash on contraception. And there is nothing special about Catholics. Every employer should be able to restrict pay by restricting what employees can spend it on. (If they don’t like it, they don’t have to take the job.)

Does this sound like a great idea? No. First of all, it sounds impractical. But that’s not the issue. It sounds like a bad idea. If there were some super-nosy technical means whereby employers could wield ultra micro-managemental moral authority over every aspect of their employees’ lives, by nixing any disapproved acts of consumption, on the ground that they don’t want ‘their money’ spent on that? Obviously that would just make the dystopian quality of the scenario more vivid. Exactly how bad it would get, in practice, is not clear. Most employers wouldn’t bother, and most employees would object and walk. That’s the best case. The point is this: the world would not get ‘freer’ or more ‘communitarian’, the more that employers exercised these coercive options, and the more workers found themselves unable to walk away, in practice.

But Douthat isn’t proposing anything so comprehensive. So what’s the relevance? Is this supposed to be a slippery slope? No, the point is closer to the opposite: this slope is obviously non-slippery. But it ought to be slippery, since the general principle about employer privilege really ought to apply broadly, if at all. (It really ought to take us nearly all the way to Louis de Bonald, sounds like.)

Douthat, being a much kinder, gentler De Bonald, would only apply the principle in small ways, to certain traditional sex roles and social hierarchies. He thinks a semi-subordinate status for women, where reproductive stuff is concerned, seems right. But he wouldn’t want to put it that way, because it sounds bad. There should be some way of making out how really the issue is freedom and community. That is to say, Robin is basically right about the way Douthat thinks and argues. This isn’t a big-deal false consciousness thesis or anything, be it noted. I’m just arguing that, surely, Douthat doesn’t defend what he really wants to defend here, and doesn’t really think the thing he says is the issue is the real issue. This sort of thing happens all the time. Happens to liberals. Happens to everyone. You take the low road. Robin’s thesis – namely, that modern conservatism only ever consists of this low road – is a bit more contentious.

Here’s a quote from Robin that I’ve seen mocked by some conservatives and libertarians as obviously preposterous.

“Such a view might seem miles away from the libertarian defense of the free market, with its celebration of the atomistic and autonomous individual. But it is not. When the libertarian looks out upon society, he does not see isolated individuals; he sees private, often hierarchical, groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.” (16)

This statement really does need emendation. It is obviously false that libertarianism implies that you have to ‘see’ this way, or ought to ‘see’ this way. What Robin means to say – which is, admittedly, not what he says – is that, in point of actual fact, the typical conservative espouses a fair-weather libertarianism. You are exquisitely attuned to threats to liberty, where you want to see them. You want to see them when unequal social arrangements that you are unable or unwilling to defend on the positive merits are threatened. Libertarianism then becomes a kind of standard procedural block. States rights, when you don’t want to defend Jim Crow on the merits. That sort of thing.

“The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy … Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.”

This is unconvincing. Of course, any power can be abused. But the principle that people should be treated equally – in the sense of enjoying the same basic rights and liberties – is only going to be used (as opposed to abused) against social groups or structures that don’t treat people equally, in that sense. Some such groups will turn out to deserve protection. But obviously, and rightly, there will be heightened scrutiny of groups that want to treat their members unequally. There’s no point feigning that it is their ‘voluntary’ or ‘community’ character that sets alarm bells ringing.

A couple of my fellow CT’ers have already discussed Robin’s book, and defended him ably enough against critics. You might want to read their posts, too.

For the record: I don’t know a thing about Louis de Bonald, besides that he said that one thing.

{ 88 comments }

1

NBarnes 01.29.12 at 5:25 pm

The only flaw with this post is that it’s not as good as John’s David Frum takedown at http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2003/11/dead_right.html.

2

Antonio Conselheiro 01.29.12 at 5:38 pm

Somewhat peripheral to the post, but relevant: conservatives tend to speak of voluntarist communitarianism / charity v. state aid as though they were in a kind oif polar relationship, where one increases as the other decreases. However, they’re independent. Utah is high on the communitarianism and low on the state support, whereas NY is high on the state support and relatively low on the communitarianism and high on the state support. But Minnesota and Wisconsin are relatively high on both, and Arizona and Florida are low on both. And Arizona and Florida are the libertarian utopias.

3

John Holbo 01.29.12 at 5:45 pm

I just realized that I have neglected to anticipate an obvious response from Douthat: namely, he will say that he didn’t mean to suggest that the voluntarist communitarianism concern is the main one, for him. For him, the primary argument are the Catholic ones which – he freely admits – liberals are unlikely to share. But here’s the thing – and it would have kept the post shorter, too: he doesn’t have a primary argument. Not one that he could say non-Catholics should buy. But obviously he needs one. So the secondary argument spins its wheels, not claiming to be the primary argument, but needing to be it.

4

P O'Neill 01.29.12 at 6:23 pm

Is this just another attempt to get the New York Times to refer to Crooker Timber as “big?”

5

Zamfir 01.29.12 at 6:30 pm

I thought voluntary communitarianism is explicitly that people are more willing to be generous within their community, to people who share their norms and whatever? That there are many potential barn-raisers on tap, but only if they can choose for whom to barn-raise, and under what conditions?

6

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.29.12 at 6:31 pm

Yes, Obamacare is crap. No reason for linking your medical insurance with your employment.

7

phosphorious 01.29.12 at 6:36 pm

Just started Douthat’s piece. First line: “When liberals are in a philosophical mood. . .”

Fuck you, Douthat.

8

ben in el cajon 01.29.12 at 6:44 pm

Also telling point is that conservatives prefer undemocratic communitarian or cooperative groups. They like families best, especially patriarchal ones, and they like churches very much because almost no church has a democratically influenced theology. Would that Catholic parishioners were allowed to vote on birth control or the priesthood! Corporations are also loved, usually, by conservatives, and we know how well they represent the desires of their stakeholders.

All human social groups necessarily limit the freedom of their members: conservatives cherish that feature of groups, but libertarians only complain about limits imposed by government, irrespective of that government’s representative nature.

9

phosphorious 01.29.12 at 6:48 pm

Douthat asks us to ponder the horror of a catholic hospital hanging up a “No protestants need apply” sign, hoping, I assume, that we will ignore the “No slutty women who were slutty enough to get raped” sign that is already hanging there.

He is also horrified by the idea that Obama’s policies might force catholic hospitals to turn away Muslims and atheists. . .

Does this mean the smug little prick thinks that catholic hospitals should not be allowed to turn away Muslims and atheists? If not, why the hell not (If freedom is your only value)?

In short, his argument is “Allow us to be uncharitable to a small degree, or else we will be uncharitable to a large degree.”

What a reprehensible little man.

10

Keith K. 01.29.12 at 7:17 pm

I’m more interested in pithy quotes (form dead European monarchists, if you have ‘em) explaining why every conservative argument for banning or otherwise restricting access to some good or service is framed as a defense of liberty, while at the same time painting liberals as tyrannical nannies when they want to provide easier access to certain goods and services.

Douthat’s argument re: health care coverage for contraception is a fine example of this. Somehow restricting access to the Pill is an act of liberty even for non-Catholics because, Jesus, that’s why and to do otherwise would make Tom Paine and the Pope cry.

11

Tom M 01.29.12 at 7:31 pm

The sign Douthat imagines hanging on the hospital doors, hangs on the doors the employees use, not the front door that the patients come through. He throws out the word “abortifacient” to set the argument parameter and then spreads his usual fog around: freedom, liberty, community as if they have fuck all to do with the crux of his problem.
The local bishop told him to go mount his platform and obfuscate as only Ross can. The horror of Catholic employers having to pay for insurance coverage for female servants employees who take contraceptives and, after filthy, dirty, slutty sex may decide they need to shamefacedly (well, they should be ashamed, damn them) ask for and then consume the Plan B pills.
Liberals, in a philosophic mood, may think that is fine but it is not because someday, conservatives in charge of health care insurance won’t permit abortions at all.
So there.

12

Anderson 01.29.12 at 7:31 pm

Every employer should be able to restrict pay by restricting what employees can spend it on.

Well, this at least used to happen, in practice. Female schoolteachers weren’t allowed to be seen drinking alcohol, for instance, which effectively cut them off from buying it.

Some businesses won’t hire people with (visible) tattoos or piercings, which again means that if you work for that employer, you’re restricted in what you can spend your money on.

13

David Kaib 01.29.12 at 7:33 pm

What Robin means to say – which is, admittedly, not what he says – is that, in point of actual fact, the typical conservative espouses a fair-weather libertarianism. You are exquisitely attuned to threats to liberty, where you want to see them. You want to see them when unequal social arrangements that you are unable or unwilling to defend on the positive merits are threatened. Libertarianism then becomes a kind of standard procedural block. States rights, when you don’t want to defend Jim Crow on the merits.

I don’t think this is quite right. Libertarianism is only attuned to threats to liberty that come from government, and rejects the possibility that a non-governmental actor could pose a threat to liberty (or even a non-governmental actor with the support of the government). And if you work to limit government but leave the employer, father / husband, etc, to exercise their power over others, that is not advancing liberty, it is advancing authority. This isn’t a fair weather libertarianism.

14

Anderson 01.29.12 at 7:33 pm

(Btw, I bought and read Robin’s book after those earlier CT threads on the subject, and my main takeaway is that it’s a book proposal (intro), followed by a bunch of op-ed pieces (rest of the book).

I hope Robin or someone else writes the proposed book. Sounds like it might be pretty good.

15

Russell Arben Fox 01.29.12 at 7:35 pm

John,

Something seems inconsistent here with your argument, and I can’t quite put my finger upon it:

Think about it. Suppose someone asked the barn-raisers: why are you troubled by the prospect of a woman taking the pill and getting her barn raised? Suppose they reply: we are worried that situations like this will undermine our willingness to raise barns, voluntarily. Could any problem be more easily solved by the barn-raisers themselves?….[T]he oddly negative quality of this suggestion really does indicate the problem with it. If the threat is a looming lack of voluntaristic community action, the barn-raisers should meet it head-on: stop stopping and start starting.

Somehow, this seems to me to be an echo of the old argument over Rawls and equality. Do we need to allow for certain inequalities (of income and such) in order for his difference principle to be operable? I mean, if fairness is the real point, why don’t we simply make it the primary thrust of the argument that employers be fair? But Rawlsian liberals aren’t, actually, most concerned about fairness; their foundational concern is the respect of individuals, meaning that if one secondarily prefers fairness, then there must be some way to legitimize and enlist the unequal results of that individual freedom for the sake of fairness.

So what we see amongst conservatives and communitarians of all sorts is a defense of a particular kind of social arrangement, because they hold such an arrangement to be virtuous or in line with God’s or natural law, or both. That is, obviously, their foundational concern. However, they are also cognizant of the voluntaristic and humanitarian benefits which arise from said social arrangements that bind people closely together in association with a set of motivating principles. (Always a source of argument, of course, but Putnam and Campbell’s exhaustively documented argument about how religious people just do a whole lot more volunteering and pay a whole lot more charity, period, than those outside religious communities is a pretty solid case to be struggled with.) In fact, the particulars of the social arrangement which they wish to conserve might even present such voluntaristic benefits as seamless connected to the principles of the community itself. As a result, they look upon attacks on their preferred social arrangements (which might include government requirements that charitable aid be offered according to certain non-communitarian, liberal egalitarian principles) as an attack upon the very possibility of voluntaristic work and charity being performed in the first place.

You’re surely correct to observe that the above explanation, to whatever extent it represents what’s going on inside Douthat’s head, really does involve making a secondary argument act like a primary one, and there are problems with that. (There is a problem when the Salvation Army makes like they aren’t primarily interest in saving souls for Christ, as opposed to running soup kitchens.) But to use the problematic character of the way Douthat’s argument is set up as a way to mock the point of his claim itself (“why don’t those Amish just go out and raise the barn?!?”) appears to me to partake of the same sensibility which socialists like me sometimes use to attack Rawls: “how can you possibly expect us to buy your idea of fairness when you’re actually giving a pass to income inequalities and wealthy people so long as they pay their taxes?” And, to be clear, I’m kind of okay with that, but it doesn’t sound very liberal.

16

Reinder Dijkhuis 01.29.12 at 7:35 pm

Isn’t this a lot of words to expend on a man who once seriously wondered out loud whether, in the event of Stephen Hawking’s passing, the newspaper he worked for should do an obituary on him?

17

Reinder Dijkhuis 01.29.12 at 7:38 pm

…wait a minute. Now I’m wondering if I’m confusing him with Crunchy Con. Anyway, this only strengthens my point: if Douthat isn’t the stupidest person in the world, he’s a very strong candidate for the title.

18

bay of arizona 01.29.12 at 7:48 pm

Well, this at least used to happen, in practice. Female schoolteachers weren’t allowed to be seen drinking alcohol, for instance, which effectively cut them off from buying it.
Considering in 2011, some teachers were fired for having pictures of them consuming alcohol on facebook or whatnot, this still happens in certain areas.

As to the conservatives are more charitable, it is really easy to give to your megachurch when they have day-care, bookstores, etc, all of which are tax free because they talk about Jesus. Its like a country club membership. As far as volunteering, I think its more proselytizing than do-goodering, and even then, its restricted to their own community, people like them, etc. Which is genuine charity, but makes them sound a little less altruistic than they are.

I don’t if this is all covered in Russell’s link since it doesn’t seem to work, at least for me.

19

Linkmeister 01.29.12 at 8:19 pm

Every employer should be able to restrict pay by restricting what employees can spend it on.

There are more and more cases of employers refusing to hire smokers, I keep reading. And even cases where if an employee who claims not to be a smoker for purposes of employment is fired if he’s found to be a smoker. I don’t know whether any lawsuits for wrongful termination have been filed by any of those employees.

20

bianca steele 01.29.12 at 8:24 pm

Robin is guilty of tarring all of conservatism with the broadest, blackest brush. It’s paranoid stuff. Nasty sniffing around in the alleged id. No respect for the superego.

I feel compelled to demonstrate that male posters get exactly the same treatment the women do, so: What? How could you possibly get that out of it?

Seriously, from what I’ve read so far, Corey Robin’s argument is something like: people think what Ross Douthat says is true, but it’s false. And Douthat, not surprisingly, says: no, I’m right and you’re wrong. Given the respective length of what they wrote, Robin would have to be really, really bad not to come off better. Which doesn’t mean Douthat’s piece isn’t worth reading, after all it’s one of the causes of your blog post.

21

bianca steele 01.29.12 at 9:20 pm

Well, I just read Douthat’s op-ed and read your post over again. Sorry ’bout that.

The standard neo-liberal-ish argument is, as you say, about whether or not communitarianism is good, and whether certain functions of government accepted by many liberals make communitarianism less likely. Really, though, increasingly, I think this is the wrong concern. Suppose we have a bunch of people who are perfectly willing to help out, do communitarian stuff. They have these kinds of “voluntarist” associations, but they don’t really mind that some stuff is directed from different institutions, say government institutions. Now another voluntarist group shows up and wants the same treatment—and suddenly the first group says they won’t help out and do the communitarian stuff that’s directed by the government, unless the government excludes the second voluntarist group. IOW, I think the morals of women and so forth are a red herring, an easy scapegoat. For one reason or another, they don’t want to say that one voluntarist group ought to be favored over the others, but in reality, whatever gloss they put on it, it seems they’re not willing to cooperate unless their group is favored. Though they may be fairly happy to put off debate on this question until they get everything else.

But Robin, I think, is suggesting that the morals of the woman are less of a red herring, because they stand in for the real reasons those conservatives think their group ought to be favored.

22

bianca steele 01.29.12 at 9:31 pm

Also, suppose there was a common business practice that went against a given faith, say lending at interest. Businesses would make it a point not to hire or at least not to promote people who wouldn’t do it. Would this be religious discrimination? Would it be fair in this case for a member of the religion to set up a business that did exactly the same thing, but wouldn’t hire or promote anybody who didn’t feel really bad about it (or at least figure out how to make a damn good show of doing so)? Would it be fair for them to occasionally hire such people at the entry level on the unstated condition that they submit to proselytizing?

I’ll shut up on this topic now.

But ben in el cajon @ 8, on democracy in Catholicism: There are Catholic parishes around here that have been occupying their parish churches 24/7/365 for three or four years now at least, and have succeeded in getting the sale of the church grounds delayed, and in some cases in having Mass celebrated by priests from the diocese in the “closed” churches: I don’t know of a case where they’ve been evicted, yet.

23

Theophylact 01.29.12 at 9:38 pm

“Every employer should be able to restrict pay by restricting what employees can spend it on. (If they don’t like it, they don’t have to take the job.)”

I am old enough that I can remember when an IBM employee would automatically be fired for cashing a pay check in a bar or liquor store. Good times, good times…

24

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.29.12 at 9:41 pm

Communitarianism is not about ‘helping’. It’s a way of organizing society, with a local, community level self-governance, self-management, self-determination. The central government needs to stay away from them (as indeed it does in the case the Amish), and the pill popping woman should leave and find herself a pill popping community.

25

Russell Arben Fox 01.29.12 at 10:10 pm

Bay of Arizona,

Yeah, the link doesn’t work for me either; I must have done something wrong. Here it is again; hopefully it will work this time.

As to the conservatives are more charitable, it is really easy to give to your megachurch when they have day-care, bookstores, etc, all of which are tax free because they talk about Jesus. Its like a country club membership. As far as volunteering, I think its more proselytizing than do-goodering, and even then, its restricted to their own community, people like them, etc. Which is genuine charity, but makes them sound a little less altruistic than they are.

This is a tempting way to parse the data, but the information Putnam and Campbell had access to seems to suggest it doesn’t wash–members of religious communities (which, in America today, obviously does tend to overlap strongly with self-identified “conservatives,” but P&C don’t break down the data that way in this case) are simply, hour for hour and dollar for dollar, doing more do-gooding, across the board and not simply within their own communities.

26

G. Mcthornbody 01.29.12 at 10:42 pm

Very nice. I think the OP is a good example answer to KDrum’s question “what’s the proper response to bullshit?”

27

Linkmeister 01.29.12 at 10:43 pm

In another takedown of Douthat’s column, Athenae at First Draft points out:

This is another “reasonable conservative” tic I’ve noticed from acquaintances of late: “I, personally, would give more money to charity or hire more people at my office if I paid less in taxes and various fees.” And yes, you, nice person that I know, probably would.Ross might actually give more to charity if he had that money laying around. Does that mean we should give EVERY rich person free money on the off chance one or two of them might kick in $25 to the local food pantry?

28

PaulB 01.29.12 at 10:45 pm

I think Douthat wrote that piece not as a conservative but as a religionist. I know very little about him, but his aside about the morning-after pill being a potential abortifacient is a give-away. If there are no religious considerations, the case for requiring employer-provided insurance plans to cover emergency contraception is stronger than the case for requiring them to cover routine contraception, because there is no risk-pooling involved in the latter.

“If you think it makes sense for Catholic employers to refuse to provide insurance for contraception, then you should think it makes sense for Catholic employers to refuse to allow their employees to spend their cash on contraception…”

This doesn’t follow. Providing insurance for routine contraception is equivalent to giving the contraceptives to any employee who wants them, while forbidding their resale. It’s not equivalent to providing cash that could be spent on anything.

The simple way for the government to restore the religious liberty Douthat values so much would be for it to provide contraception free-of-charge to all. What possible objection could he have to that?

29

G. Mcthornbody 01.29.12 at 10:53 pm

30

Jonathan H. Adler 01.29.12 at 11:11 pm

The critique ultimately fails because it denies the relevance of agency. To the religiously motivated employer, it may be offensive to be required to directly pay for things contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs, but not problematic at all for employees to use their wages to buy the same things. So, for instance, an Islamic employer that chooses to provide some meals to employees might well refuse to provide non-Halal foods while not objecting to its non-Islamic (or non-observant) employees spending their wages on non-Halal foods, and would object to a government requirement that it provide non-Halal foods, even if the requirement did not impose additional costs on the employer. If, to carry the analogy further, employers were required to provide meals, it would only make the requirement to provide food without regard to the employer’s religious commitments even more objectionable. Douthat’s primary concern may be Catholicism, but his objection to the government’s failure to exempt objecting religious employers from the requirement to provide contraception is perfectly reasonable. Moreover, for what it’s worth, the policy is almost certainly illegal under RFRA, which still applies to the actions of the federal government.

JHA

31

The Raven 01.29.12 at 11:16 pm

I think your argument could be strengthened by referring to some of the American defenders of slavery that Ta-Nehisi Coates has been digging up.

By the way, employer micro-control of employee spending is now completely possible. All that is holding it back is a few not that strong privacy laws. Which, by the way, Douthat and company are working to weaken.

32

bexley 01.29.12 at 11:49 pm

I think Douthat wrote that piece not as a conservative but as a religionist.

I think he wrote it as someone who fears chunky Reese Witherspoons on the pill.

33

P O'Neill 01.29.12 at 11:53 pm

One solution would be for the government to cover any birth control options to people who are in insurance plans that don’t cover them, but I suspect that’s not the kind of solution that Douthat has in mind.

34

Andrew F. 01.30.12 at 12:19 am

Well… you and Douthat each prompted me to think about the issue more than I have, but, respectfully, I can’t say I find either of you persuasive.

Douthat’s slippery slope argument is fairly awful. Are Catholic hospitals going to shut down? Of course not. Are government mandated standards encouraging all of us to bowl alone? Of course not.

But, neither is this the same as an employer forbidding its employees to spend their cash compensation on unapproved activities a, b, c…. Coverage for a particular service isn’t fungible in the same way that cash is; and that makes for a lot of difference here.

Nor is this really a matter of equal rights. At the least, there is certainly no constitutional right at stake; nothing, so far, in equal protection or due process jurisprudence requires an employer to cover contraceptive services.

This is a case where the government has determined that it is better not to allow organizations that serve the public to opt out of providing certain services to employees. Whether this is a good thing depends mostly on how much you value the ability of those organizations to serve the public while refusing to provide certain coverage to its employees.

It’s not an easy case. On the one hand, it must be agonizing for an organization so heavily committed to providing certain services it views as good to now also commit, if it wishes to continue providing good services, to providing services it views as harmful and wrong. On the other hand, contraceptive coverage is obviously of great benefit to the public and of great importance to many of the employees who will be most directly affected.

Douthat’s concern, the slippery slope argument aside, is legitimate. We are making it more difficult for a particular moral community to observe its own standards while at the same time helping the public; and this is a burden that should be weighed against the (larger, in my view) benefit of requiring all employers to provide contraceptive coverage. Is his argument motivated by his feelings regarding this particular moral community? Undoubtedly. And so he seeks a more general level of argument and principle to attempt to persuade others who don’t share his feelings about the Catholic Church. That’s not bad faith. That’s how members of a community resolve disagreements. Accusing him – however nicely – of advocating for a “semi-subordinate status” for women misses the point, imho.

35

Bave 01.30.12 at 1:03 am

Jonathan H. Adler, the federal government is not requiring that employers hand out packets of condoms and birth-control pills to their employees; it’s requiring that birth control be covered among the benefits of health insurance plans offered by these employers. Employees might decide to use their birth-control benefit if they want, or they can decide not to. The situation is a far cry from forcing Muslim employers to serve pork in their on-site cafeterias. And whether the policy violates RFRA is not a simple question.

36

hyperpolarizer 01.30.12 at 1:51 am

As noted above by Reinder Dijkhuis, if Douthat isn’t the stupidest person in world, he’s a strong candidate. He’s also an ( ) an individual who cannot perform in bed if he knows his partner to be taking contraceptives.

It is somewhat mysterious to me why this nit has unleashed such of a flood of verbiage and argumentation here, where most people are happy to have someone else read Douthat, to absolve themselves of that un-needed chore.

37

LFC 01.30.12 at 2:03 am

I got to the point in the OP where Holbo calls de Bonald an “odd” source. I hope Holbo is attempting to be cute, mordant, funny, sarcastic, is poking fun at conservatives, whatever. Because de Bonald is hardly an “odd” source. He’s often mentioned in the same breath as de Maistre. Both are pretty well-known figures in the right-wing tradition. One need not have actually read them to know this, merely have a superficial cocktail-party knowledge of the history of Western political and social thought. Which can have its uses, I guess, especially if you’re at a cocktail party or on a blog, or stuck in an elevator with a historian of political thought. I’m sorry, I haven’t read the thread. Carry on.

38

adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 01.30.12 at 2:13 am

I agree with Andrew F. on the weakness of both arguments.
For John’s argument to be convincing he would have to be able to substitute something that he considers morally despicable for “pill”. I can’t think of a good example, unfortunately. “Reparative” therapy for gays maybe?

I think the situation in the abstract poses real dilemmas. I think the specific situation does much less so because a) as noted above, most Catholics in the US are completely fine with contraception. b) let’s not overstate the degree to which this is about “charity” – the Catholic church, especially, is a large employer in many sectors that are part of large industries (education, health care), where many of its employees and customers aren’t catholics. It acts like a rather ordinary employer and business and should be treated as such.

Given how easy it is to become a religion in the US, the government needs to be able to restrict the degree to which businesses can evade regulation for religious reason. (To create a slippery slope of my own – why not found a church that doesn’t believe in treating chronically ill people, nor in hospitals and have it run, say supermarkets?)

Seen this way, the administration’s exemption for actual churches etc. makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, I don’t know how it would be defensible using John’s logic.

39

Consumatopia 01.30.12 at 2:59 am

“Reparative” therapy for gays maybe?

If the government had decided that reparative therapy was something worth guaranteeing coverage of, I would consider that the wrong decision. I wouldn’t, however, think it was any of the employer’s business. That decision should be between the employee, their doctor, and the regulatory authority. The employer shouldn’t get a seat at that table. Contracting with an insurance company that provides coverage for only particular services is not exactly the same as restricting what should be done with a paycheck, but it’s pretty close. It is not comparable to being forced to provide the pills directly. Whatever goals a moral community has, exerting this kind of power over employees is the wrong way to bring them about.

Also, Douthat’s opposition to the regulation may be in good faith, but Holbo’s point “if that were truly his concern, he would be urging the Catholic groups that say they are going to dissolve, rather than go along, to go along” still holds.

40

John Holbo 01.30.12 at 4:13 am

Good comments. Quick note. I had heard of de Bonald before but never read him and really know nothing about him. I knew he wasn’t a football player. My ‘de who?’ point could have made about de Maiistre, whose name is better known, although no one reads him either. Conservatives reject the argument that, since some dead monarchist said it , they probably think it. This is fair enough but – this is my point – Robn’s point still stands.

41

ehj2 01.30.12 at 5:02 am

For me, Douthat’s thesis is articulated in the second to last paragraph.

“The more the federal government becomes an instrument of culture war, the greater the incentive for both conservatives and liberals to expand its powers and turn them to ideological ends.”

When he writes “culture war” I hear and suspect he means, “class war,” the actual confrontation in which we’re engaged. Since Reagan his class has won every substantive political battle, even though his moneyed political class fails to represent the majorities polled in this country on almost every issue. It is less ironic than immoral that as a writer he aligns himself with the community (majority) and yet accepts compensation to decry every partial victory of the class to which he pretends membership.

I’ve been to Detroit, and I know what a Republican “community” and right wing “ideological ends” look like.

No matter how small conservatives pretend the government should be, it will represent some particular interests, and to write that some interests should be silenced to avoid a culture war (while corporations are given even greater voice in the role of an ever reduced government) is … can I write “dishonest and not in good faith”?

42

MS 01.30.12 at 5:07 am

I was thinking: Is this going to be the typical Ross Donut thing where he sort of sounds like he is making an argument and then says something so infuriating and stupid that it rivals Thomas Friedman in its dumbness?

And yes, there are lots of gems like this. My favorite is that Catholics believed that universal health care was required by their social justice teachings so therefore the government betrays them by not acceding to all their wishes on how they cover the medical care of their employees who do not wish to follow Catholic teaching on contraception.

Sometimes, *this* seems like the true characteristic of the conservative: a tendency to reason very peculiarly. But I think that is the means to how they embrace such contradictions and not the end that motivates them to do so. (Another trait they tend to have is a complete lack of the self doubt that’s caused by the awareness of complexity and ambiguity–but many liberals have this as well.)

But I’d say that there’s a case where he thinks the Catholic magesterium is entitled to rule over the lowly cleaning lady who does not want more children. If she is Catholic and a regular at mass she will only want to use artificial contraception at a slightly greater rate than the average woman her age.

43

anon/portly 01.30.12 at 7:58 am

No, seriously: if the barn-raisers really value voluntary barn-raising so damn much – if that is their first concern – they will build the barn, pill be damned.

There are all kinds of costs the government could impose on the barn raisers. JH suggests making them raise barns for women on the pill. What about other categories of behavior that putative barn-raisers might find objectionable, such as not treating animals a certain way, or not following good soil-conservation practices?

It seems like when the government takes away the barn-raisers ability to decide for themselves who they will and will not raise barns for, they are imposing genuine costs on the barn-raisers. If these costs are too high relative to the benefit the barn-raisers get from raising barns, they will not raise barns. This doesn’t mean raising barns isn’t their “first concern,” it just means that the government is imposing a true cost. Saying “they will build the barn, [insert symbol for objectionable behavior here] be damned” as John Holbo does, makes sense only if you think the government’s policy is not in any sense imposing a cost on the barn-raisers.

44

Eli Rabett 01.30.12 at 8:20 am

Time to remind everyone of Albert Hirschman’s “The Rhetoric of Reaction” about how conservatives think and argue.

* Perversity is claiming that any purposive action to improve something only exacerbates the condition one wishes to remedy
* Futility is holding that attempts at transformation will be unavailing and will simply fail to make a dent
* Jeopardy argues that the cost of the proposed change is too high and endangers some previous valued accomplishment.

45

John Holbo 01.30.12 at 8:22 am

“JH suggests making them raise barns for women on the pill.”

For the record, I think the government would do best to adopt a hands-off approach.

I meant to emphasize 1) that even if the government unwisely intervenes with some rule, it is wrong to accuse the government of being hostile to this sort of voluntarism. It’s clear that the most plausible reason why a rule would be imposed (probably unwisely) would be to protect a woman’s right to take the pill. 2) I meant to point out that if our primary value is voluntaristic communitarianism, then the barn will get built. I’m not saying there’s no cost in the government imposing rules. I’m saying the cost will be borne, by hypothesis. If what you want most is an apple, and the apple costs something, and you can pay the something, you will pay the something.

46

John Holbo 01.30.12 at 8:23 am

Andrew F. and adam.smith (whom I still think of as sebastian) make good points. I’ll respond to them later.

47

anon/portly 01.30.12 at 8:47 am

Ostensibly, he is worried about “a darker American future, in which our voluntary communities wither away and government becomes the only word we have for the things we do together.” But if that were truly his concern, he would be urging the Catholic groups that say they are going to dissolve, rather than go along, to go along.

If Douthat is right about the broad impact on “voluntary communities” in general, why would that concern dictate his stance on this particular instance of it? Or why would his stance even matter?

To introduce a Holbo-esque example, suppose Douthat was writing about his neighbor Bob moving back to Toronto, and claiming that the Obama administation is doing something to make Canadians want to leave the country. Is he wrong about the latter point if he doesn’t try to talk Bob into staying?

48

Zamfir 01.30.12 at 9:31 am

I meant to point out that if our primary value is voluntaristic communitarianism, then the barn will get built.
But are barn-raisings and other acts of generosity in themselves the prime value of Douthat’s communitarianism? I am no expert on Douthat, but elsewhere I hear similar things described as a package deal: people are generous to their community, which makes being part of the community attractive, which means that people have to live up the values that community, which in turn makes people more willing to be generous to their fellow value-upholders.

People usually picture both sides of the deal as advantages: both the generosity, and the soft-policing of norms. They don’t think that people are required to be very generous to outsiders, to people who don’t stick to the rules of the community.

49

John Quiggin 01.30.12 at 9:58 am

RAF @25 Actually, the data shows that

Frequent participants in nonreligious organizations (blue) contributed more of their household income to nonreligious charities than those in religious organizations (red) – 0.9% compared to 0.5%.

The results showing that participants in religious organizations are more generous than others are (more than) fully explained by the fact that they are participants in an organization. That’s consistent with the general Putnam line about social capital, but not with any beneficial effect of religiosity. If anything, it seems that religious organizations divert energies that might otherwise go to helping people.

http://yashwata.info/2010/07/15/charity1/

50

Harald Korneliussen 01.30.12 at 10:10 am

If anything, it seems that religious organizations divert energies that might otherwise go to helping people.

If you assume they would have participated in a blue organization if they weren’t in a red. That is a rather big “if”.

51

Susanna K. 01.30.12 at 1:01 pm

It is not a stretch for me to imagine that some businesses around here would love to be able to state that their female employees mustn’t use contraception. I suppose that, legally, they can’t mandate such a thing. But businesses, especially small businesses in a small town, have all kinds of unwritten rules. For example, it’s assumed that employees don’t drink, or aren’t atheists, or don’t root for the wrong sports team.

52

Russell Arben Fox 01.30.12 at 1:58 pm

John Q, (#49),

If anything, it seems that religious organizations divert energies that might otherwise go to helping people.

The reply of Harald Korneliussen (#50)–“If you assume they would have participated in a blue organization if they weren’t in a red. That is a rather big ‘if'”–anticipates mine. Part of the point of my original response to John (#15) was the idea that, for members of many conservative religious communities, the do-gooding they do is inseparable from the covenants they’d made in becoming (or continuing as) members of said community. Hence, while John’s observation about the barn-raising/hospital-work being in a very real sense secondary to the community’s pill-withholding/social-arrangement-defending principles is apt, I also am unsure about how much work it actually does in criticizing Douthat. Okay, from the liberal point of view if you want to buy-the-apple/raise-the-barn/provide-medical-care you should/will do so, and the costs (not being able to withhold the pill) ought to be/will be borne. But to argue against the priority of the social arrangement which drives all that do-gooding in the first place misunderstands that they (the social arrangement and the do-gooding) may be inseparably connected. And–to stretch things a little bit–I thought liberal egalitarian defenders of the market, given their acceptance of Rawls’s individual-inequality-in-the-name-of-fairness scheme, recognized those sort of connections.

53

mdc 01.30.12 at 2:04 pm

For ‘voluntarist’, why not ‘voluntary’? Let’s reserve the former for its important metaethical meaning. (Douthat is not a voluntarist, eg)

54

Bruce Baugh 01.30.12 at 3:00 pm

Shorter Douthat: “Existing communities are barely surviving the ravages inflicted by the people I support! How dare anyone else suggest adding any additional stresses?”

Also, as if the people he supports were ever shy about waging culture and class war by all available means, regardless of what their designated enemies might be up to.

55

james 01.30.12 at 3:16 pm

John Quiggin @49
The article you link to re-defines charitable giving to purposefully exclude moneys/time given to the Churches directly. This reasoning is flawed.
First: This exclusion is not done when calculating giving to other charitable endeavors like education. Donations/Time given to maintain buildings or pay teachers’ salaries is considered charitable. Given your past writings it appears you believe this yourself.
Second: Western Society has defined charitable to include this type of religious giving.
Third: In a free society it is for individuals to determine what constitutes a worthy cause. For religious individuals, conveying Truth as defined by their Faith is the highest cause. By the standard of Western Society and the religious givers, they are being charitable in their actions.

56

ajay 01.30.12 at 4:26 pm

Another example of why it’s high time the US completed its move to a money economy, rather than having most of the population receiving part of their compensation in the form of barter.

57

Consumatopia 01.30.12 at 6:13 pm

Is Douthat’s assumption that the employer/employee relationship is an example of “voluntary community” broadly shared? It makes for a more interesting argument to grant it to him, but it also strikes me as plainly wrong. If barn-raisers insist on having the lady put her hand on a Bible and swear she won’t take the pill, I would consider that unfortunate, but I don’t think the government can really stop that.

On the other hand, if they insist that she sign a contract, the government could reasonably decide not to enforce that contract. Or if the barn-raisers are employees working for a large non-profit organization, the government still regulates the terms under which they may be employed.

Our system guarantees freedom of association and freedom of religion. But it grants Congress the power to regulate commerce. Those can interact in tricky ways, but in this case it’s simply false that we’re inhibiting voluntary cooperation at all–we’re simply removing a tool of coercion that some people would like to make such cooperation contingent on. But I can choose to make my cooperation contingent on anything–like if you want to visit my soup kitchen, you have to let me slap you in the face.

58

SamChevre 01.30.12 at 6:31 pm

Is Douthat’s assumption that the employer/employee relationship is an example of “voluntary community” broadly shared? It makes for a more interesting argument to grant it to him, but it also strikes me as plainly wrong.

That’s not the argument–as I read it or as I’d make it.

Go back to the barn-raising example; if the community were to hire a crane, there might be considerations relevant to them, and not to “typical” employers–for example, not someone who uses language they consider inappropriate. It’s not that the crane operator is part of the community–it’s that the community has rules about how it will interact even with non-members.

59

Consumatopia 01.30.12 at 6:38 pm

I guess I’m still not getting it. Of course the government should regulate how an organization interacts with non-members, at least when commerce is involved.

60

SamChevre 01.30.12 at 6:55 pm

Your “of course” is where the difference is.

I would say, “Of course a religion has rules about how to interact with the world in general” – that’s a nearly-universal feature of religions.

61

The Raven 01.30.12 at 7:04 pm

“Is Douthat’s assumption that the employer/employee relationship is an example of ‘voluntary community’ broadly shared?”

It is a common libertarian trope. See, you can quit your job. You’re free. To starve, I suppose.

The Roman Catholic Church, which claims to be the representative of the King of Kings, cannot honestly claim to be a voluntary community.

62

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 7:09 pm

The Roman Catholic Church, which claims to be the representative of the King of Kings, cannot honestly claim to be a voluntary community.

Not to mention that it might want to work on convincing its own congregants to accept its doctrine on contraception before trying to bully the government.

63

Bruce Baugh 01.30.12 at 7:29 pm

As always, I imagine what it would be like for someone like Douthat to get precisely this worked up over his church’s teachings on the death penalty, false witness, and usury.

64

bianca steele 01.30.12 at 8:35 pm

It’s probably a reflection on me and not the OP that I only just figured out, while reading this morning’s newspaper, how this connects to John Holbo’s interest in voting in his previous thread. I really thought this was being attacked from a strange angle. But if, say, the Bishop tells the legislature that the interests of all the Roman Catholics in his diocese are infringed by the legislation, I suppose that is like the Bishop’s having their votes to cast (I’m slow in winter)–in a kind of Habermasian, voting is about reconciliation of group interests sense. It’s a kind of democracy, even if the content of the votes is determined by the church’s administrative hierarchy, whether directly or by educating and then propagandizing the” flock.” But it doesn’t work. For one thing, as it happens, some institutions, it seems, have people who can “wield their vote” in this sense, and some don’t (I find it difficult to imagine, for example, Episcopalians or Quakers, expecting their bishops to lobby the US government in this way). For another, if that’s what we have, what are people like Douthat for? They would have to be violating the rules of engagement in some way. Unless we’re to suppose the New York Times is published by and for the members of one single religion. And I assume we all agree that this would be implausible.

Also, I think it matters whether Henri Vieuxtemp is right or wrong about what the local community is doing. If it is self-government, then barn-raising is a government function. If there is a government of some kind that’s a central government, then what they’re doing is an “extra.”

65

blondie 01.30.12 at 8:51 pm

Funny how Douthat can talk and talk and talk. Yet he always wends his way back to a conclusion that takes away a little freedom from women.

66

bianca steele 01.30.12 at 9:01 pm

Well, on further though, it’s the kind of democracy where you let most of the people whose beliefs you don’t want leave before you start telling the government the will of “your” people is to legislate the beliefs you do want. But that’s another problem with Douthat’s argument, because there is a pretty big difference between a religion you can leave, and a country where people can leave a religion and pick up another one right away, or have no religion, and the traditional kind of society where everyone stays pretty much in the same place they were born for their whole life.

67

Consumatopia 01.30.12 at 9:18 pm

I would say, “Of course a religion has rules about how to interact with the world in general” – that’s a nearly-universal feature of religions.

Right, I wouldn’t disagree with this. Some religions, as we can see here, only permit members to provide services or employment to non-members if it also means they can coerce those non-members in some way.

But that doesn’t contradict what I said–that commercial interaction between members and non-members is subject to government regulation. Sure, some religions are going to make their performance of some noble activity contingent on their desire to break some law. But it’s not the law that makes it harder to perform the activity, it’s the religion that puts this unrelated requirement on its followers.

68

SamChevre 01.30.12 at 9:27 pm

Some religions, as we can see here, only permit members to provide services or employment to non-members if it also means they can coerce those non-members in some way.

But there’s no “also” here. The argument is whether the religious can provide religiously-acceptable services without ALSO providing religiously-unacceptable ones. It’s conceptually similar to requiring all restaurants and groceries to sell pork chops–for a vegan, or kosher, or halal restaurant it’s an additional service, which is contrary to the sort of service they do provide.

69

blondie 01.30.12 at 9:43 pm

No. It is not conceptually similar, #68. It is not the service of a university to provide health insurance to employees. The “service” it provides is to educate students. The health insurance is an incident to employment, similar to the way it would be at a restaurant or grocery.

70

Consumatopia 01.30.12 at 10:40 pm

The argument is whether the religious can provide religiously-acceptable services without ALSO providing religiously-unacceptable ones.

No, it absolutely is not. The Catholic organizations are not required to provide the unacceptable service. The insurance companies supplying the insurance that Catholics may give to their employees are required to provide money for someone else to provide the unacceptable service.

Note that our country routinely collects money for things that some might have religious objection to.

71

piglet 01.31.12 at 12:10 am

The post is way too long. Of course it is obvious that conservatives wanting to deny access to contraception are acting as authoritarians, not as defenders of liberty and autonomy. That one has to point out something as obvious is frustrating.

Open Question: do readers know of other Western countries where there is serious debate about access to contraception? I don’t, and it just blows my mind how backwards the United States can be.

72

Shay Begorrah 01.31.12 at 12:56 am

@piglet

Open Question: do readers know of other Western countries where there is serious debate about access to contraception? I don’t, and it just blows my mind how backwards the United States can be.

Almost. Here in the sunny Republic of Ireland condoms were illegal to sell until 1978 and you could not get them over the counter outside of a pharmacy until 1993. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland so that is one medical procedure no employer provided health insurance will be covering.

Not coincidentally we have the highest birth rate in the EU, of which we are puzzlingly proud.

73

adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 01.31.12 at 12:58 am

@piglet.
Absolutely. In Germany, e.g., typically health insurance will not cover contraception for adult women (women over 20 to be precise). I wouldn’t be surprised by (though I don’t know of) similar rules in neighboring countries.
For what it’s worth, most Germans (regardless of sex/gender) would be perplexed to see that framed as a question of access, though.
I think your view of the US as backwards is mistaken. In terms of actual rules and regulations – how easy is it to get an abortion? How easy to get the morning after pill? etc. – the US is pretty much average among Western countries.
I think what sets the US apart from the rest of the world is hysteria. Questions of reproductive health just don’t attract the same type of heated debate in Europe (anymore). If the German council that determines what health insurances have to cover would decide to cover the pill for all women that would raise few eyebrows and certainly no screeds about the end of religious liberty.

74

G. Mcthornbody 01.31.12 at 1:22 am

“it just blows my mind how backwards the United States can be.”

You must not live in the USA:p

Kdrum comments that organizations receiving tax benefits from the government should be obliged to follow such rules, which makes obvious sense.

http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/01/if-you-take-taxpayer-money-you-have-follow-taxpayer-rules

I am pretty sure he is referring to the 501(c)(3) status and then grants that faith based groups can apply for. It would be fairly simple to make grant approval require adherence to current health policy. Every single religious group would be arguing for all sorts of exceptions otherwise. Furthermore, as JH notes, religious people don’t have to take advantage of the coverage simply because it is offered. (I note above that basically they all would anyway). If there is a bad health policy that might end up being covered, such as “pray-the-gay-away psychology”, it still has to get passed into current law. No scientist would support it, nor would insurance companies since no one one would buy that policy, so the chances of getting something as stupid or invalid as a lawful requirement would be a stretch. MBachmann would have to be president first. Even if the unthinkable came true and coverage for reparative therapy were offered, hardly anyone would take advantage of it. It’s stupid on both a business and social sense.

Overall I’m not worried. The congregations want their birth control, and they are perfectly happy to go to confession every week for using it. Maybe the priests are just tired of forgiving people.

75

James Wimberley 01.31.12 at 10:44 am

“If there were some super-nosy technical means whereby employers could wield ultra micro-managemental moral authority over every aspect of their employees’ lives, by nixing any disapproved acts of consumption…”
While money is currently anonymous (ajay in 56), this isn’t set in stone. Banknotes are numbered, unlike coins, as a measure against forgery. Add an RFID tag and you can track individual notes in real time. Virtual transactions – credit card purchases, bank transfers, cheques – can also be monitored in detail and analysed with modern data mining technology. You could give each dollar and euro in a bank account an identifying tracking number like the banknotes, but this isn’t necessary. John Poindexter’s Orwellian”Total information awareness” scheme was abandoned because it was irrelevant to finding terrorists and an excessively obvious assault on the fraying fabric of civil liberties, not because it was infeasible. Cf, Google’s oxymoronic new privacy policy.

76

Niall McAuley 01.31.12 at 11:01 am

Shay Begorrah writes: Abortion is still illegal in Ireland

Kind of.

The only law on the books against abortion is unconstitutional, so I don’t think anyone could actually be prosecuted for providing abortions.

This is a result of a royal screw-up by the anti-abortion campaigners back in the 80s, which successive governments have refused to even attempt to fix.

77

piglet 01.31.12 at 5:45 pm

Thanks Shay 72. Yes I have heard of Ireland and historic barriers to contraception. But I wonder, is this still an issue?
The relatively high birth rate is interesting. The fertility rate however has been below 2, and stable, since 1993 (nice coincidence) and up to 2006. It then reached a new high of 2.1 in 2008 (according to google public data). It is a lot higher than Germany but similar to France.

73: “I think what sets the US apart from the rest of the world is hysteria.”

Yes, that’s what I mean. Of course Americans do in general have access to contraception and make use of it. What I mean by backwards is the fact that there is a public debate about the morality of using contraception, despite the fact that everybody does it. I guess what I’m asking is this: how is it possible that a fringe group of religious extremists out of touch with mainstream life manages to dominate this debate? This doesn’t make sense and although I do live here, it still defies understanding.

The debate is however a bit more than symbolic. At issue in the NYT article is not just whether birth control is covered by insurance but even whether clinics can refuse to prescribe it. Then there is the absence of sex education in many schools. Which may not be the sole cause but certainly contributes to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the US, and that is truly a sign of backwardness.

You are right that in Germany, public insurance doesn’t cover contraception for women above 20. I had forgotten that. But significantly, it is free for teenage women. And, doctors must give advice about contraception and of course prescribe it, and insurance must cover the advice but not the prescription itself. There is still an affordability problem for low-income women (e. g. http://www.profamilia-sh.de/pages/verband/aktuell/) but there is no cultural taboo.

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piglet 01.31.12 at 5:56 pm

Another data point thanks to google public data: Regarding fertility rate Ireland is close to France and US. Regarding teenage birth rate, Ireland is much higher than France or Germany but way below US: about 14 vs. 7 vs. 36 per 1000 women.

There is a time series for contraceptive prevalence but the data look spotty and unreliable.

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Bloix 01.31.12 at 9:05 pm

The novel My Dream of You, by Nuala O’Faolain, describes the death from cancer of a middle-aged woman – the mother of the protagonist – in a Catholic hospital in Dublin. Because she is pregnant (for the 13th time, IIRC), the hospital will not give her morphine. And so she dies in terrible pain and the foetus dies as well. This is the world that Douthat wants us to live in.

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John Holbo 02.01.12 at 4:01 am

Still haven’t had time to respond. I should say this much. Russell’s good comments definitely need to be addressed. He’s right, I think, that there’s something a bit fishy about my ‘if you value it so much, go for it’ argument. I’ll try to do a follow-up.

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piglet 02.01.12 at 7:47 am

In related news: Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation cutting off Planned Parenthood.

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Bloix 02.01.12 at 5:47 pm

“A man from the government now shows up and tells the barn-raisers that, henceforth, if they are going to raise barns AND THEN BILL THE GOVERNMENT FOR THEIR TIME AND MATERIALS, they can’t refuse to raise them for women on the pill. (They don’t have to build everyone a barn, but this cannot be the exclusion condition.)”

Fixed it.

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MarkusR 02.02.12 at 2:52 am

Don’t feel bad about the length, even Sadly,No! had excessively long takedown. And they are known for their “shorters.”

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Jeffrey Kramer 02.02.12 at 7:56 am

Have the Watchtower people raised similar objections to insurance policies that cover blood transfusions? If they did, is Douthat going to treat their case with equal sympathy? Or would that be a case of “That’s Different, Because…”? (e.g., “In one case, we have a practice which is condemned by the leaders of an approved, long-standing religion, but in the other case, we have a practice which is only condemned by the leaders of a weird, upstart religion, so the ‘Community’ claims of the latter don’t have to be taken seriously”?)

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EB 02.02.12 at 11:18 pm

“Conservatism is the theoretical voice of … animus against the agency of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, agency, the prerogative of the elite.”

Well, no. That describes some conservatives, some of the time. But it’s amazingly tone-deaf about American Conservatism at the present time. I do not hear conservatives (of whom I am not one) arguing that we should abolish direct election of public officials. Yes, many are cranky about dependency — for which the solution, in their mind, is agency, not passivity. Yes, the cynical political operatives among them will try to surpress the votes of low-income people, but if you don’t think that politica operatives on the liberal side have a history of similar scheming, think again.
But at this point those who describe themselves as Conservative are indistinguishable from those who describe themselves as liberal when it comes to income level.

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adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 02.03.12 at 4:05 am

@EB – then you’re not listening closely. Anti-ACORN campaigns? Disenfranchisement laws? Rigorous voter ID and registration laws? I mean, sure, you _can_ believe their true intentions are merely to prevent election fraud. If you actually believe that, I have a business proposal that I’d like to discuss with you…

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EB 02.03.12 at 11:40 pm

I repeat, adam.smith, a segment of the Republican political operative world — maybe even most of it — does use those tricks. But that doesn’t mean that there is a considered philosophy of keeping poor people down that underlies the whole thing; it just means that a group of political opportunists, motivated by greed for power and money, uses those tricks to surpress votes that dont’ tend to go their way. Political operatives on our side have used other tricks to maximize those votes — paying people to register voters turned out not to be such a good idea, remember? ghost voters, same story; –and we’ve also used non-trickery ways to do that too. I’m just saying that there’s not a very close relationship between political philosophy and the way today’s politics are playing out.

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adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 02.04.12 at 12:34 am

“But that doesn’t mean that there is a considered philosophy of keeping poor people down that underlies the whole thing; it just means that a group of political opportunists, motivated by greed for power and money, uses those tricks to surpress votes that dont’ tend to go their way.”
and if that’s the case, why do those campaigns resonate so incredibly well with the Republican base? It’s one thing to, say, back-room gerrymander to minimize minority voting impact. But campaigns against ACORN and ID laws are trumpeted out loud and supported by an angry underbelly of the conservative movement.

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