Julia Child, Conservative

Five years ago, before the current Julia Child mania, I wrote the following reflections on the woman on another blog. I still think there’s a lot to this, so here it is, followed by the original link:

I just got finished watching a program on Julia Child on PBS. Made me think (as most things do nowadays) about conservatism. It occurs to me that Julia Child was, in a funny way, a conservative–in the most authentic and serious meaning of that term.

First and foremost, she stood for the importance and primacy of domestic life. At the time she was writing, large corporations were expending enormous effort to convince women that cooking was drudgery, and they could get around all the effort and time involved with it by using frozen and canned food. Julia Child attacked this idea directly, arguing that cooking was not drudgery, but a soul satisfying, meaningful human activity, and that something profound is lost when we lose our connection to food–and with it the deep human desire to feed others food that we ourselves have prepared. Domestic life is meaningful only to the degree that the home is the site of production–once nothing is produced in the home, it becomes simply a place where people sleep, not a place where real family life is possible. I think this also shows, once again, the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” that Daniel Bell pointed out, the way that markets can eat away at important–and conservative–mediating institutions like the family.

Second, Julia Child was an elitist, and connected to this, an anti-postmodernist. That is, she believed that there was a right way to do things, that some people knew how to do these things, and that if you wanted to do things right you should look to the people with serious training and understanding. Her programs were fun and seemingly unrehearsed, but she studied carefully in French cooking schools and worked hard to figure out exactly how particular dishes should be cooked. That is, she believed that there was a way to cook a chicken, and a wrong way–and that people ought to take the time to learn the right way. Cooking was a discipline, and even though she was a populist, in the sense that she believed that anyone COULD learn how to cook French food, learning involved time and a willingness to submit to authority (her!).

Finally, and connected to this, was a belief in civilization. Julia Child believed that classical French cooking was one of the great accomplishments of human endeavor, something that had evolved over a long period of time. While progress was possible, it was only possible once one inherited the accumulated knowledge of centuries of gradual development. That is, Julia Child was no Cartesian–no “I think, therefore I cook” kind of building off of nothing but raw rationality. One had to immerse oneself in a particular tradition before anything like real creativity was possible. This cut against the grain of powerful trends in American culture, but, in the American context, so does any real conservatism. She believed that high could be distinguished from low, and that to acheive great things one needed to begin, to paraphrase Matthew Arnold, with the “best that had been prepared and cooked.”

So let us pay tribute to Julia Child, a woman who, as much as anyone of the last half-century, helped to civilize America.


The Country is Going to the Dogs

Sir Jonathan Sacks pens an empty Jeremiad about moral decline in Britain.

Not as you would expect the Bishop of Barchester, but the usually lucid British Orthodox Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (London Times, June 26):

..what has gone wrong in society as a whole? I believe we have lost our traditional sense of morality…

When it comes to personal behaviour we have now come to believe that there is no right and wrong. Instead, there are choices. The market facilitates those choices. The State handles the consequences, picking up the pieces when they go wrong. …

Concepts like duty, obligation, responsibility and honour have come to seem antiquated and irrelevant. Emotions like guilt, shame, contrition and remorse have been deleted from our vocabulary, for are we not all entitled to self-esteem? The still, small voice of conscience is rarely heard these days. Conscience has been outsourced, delegated away. So, in place of an inner code, we have regulatory authorities.

Is there any actual evidence to justify this stylish wailing? The scandal over expenses in the British House of Commons concerned an institution with exactly 646 members. The financial meltdown was engineered by a handful of clever, greedy idiots in a handful of banks and brokerages. AIG for instance had 116,000 employees in 2008; but the main damage was done by its London derivatives unit, with 377, and the majority of these must have been mere executants not principals. The same surely holds for Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, RBS and Northern Rock. So why isn’t the narrative: a gang of greedy fat cats trash the casino again, rather than: it’s everybody’s fault, woe is me?

Sacks’ claim that “we have now come to believe that there is no right and wrong”, that most people have lost a moral frame of reference, is absurd.

Continue reading “The Country is Going to the Dogs”

The Incredible Shrinking Bobby Jindal

Jindal rhymes with “dwindle.”

The returns are in and Bobby Jindal is widely viewed as (at best) taking a whiff in his at bat responding to the President’s address to Congress. He sounded like a 2nd grade Sunday school instructor, and his theme that “Americans can do anything” and that all we have to do is get government off our backs sounded just like George W. Bush in its realism and sophistication. He complained about legislative provisions that don’t exist (the supposed maglev train from Disneyland to Las Vegas) and ones the are probably meritorious (Governors of states dependent on hurricane warnings should not criticize money spent on Volcano warning).

His criticism of borrowing to stimulate the economy completely ignores the Keynesian argument that we would have even less GDP and a higher long-term debt without the stimulus. Doesn’t engage with reality. It’s Jindall that’s “irresponsible,” not Obama.

If “Americans can do anything,” then they should just produce energy at zero cost. Or travel in time back to 2004 and regulate credit swaps and mortgages. Then everything is solved. Good night.

This from the person regarded as a Republican “policy wonk.”

Jindal rhymes with “dwindle.”

Oakeshott and De-Regulation and Social Security– Just askin’

Mark is right that David Brooks is wildly off the mark in tarring Obama with Oakeshott. Where were the devotees of Oakeshott when Republicans wanted to deregulate banks, or privatize social security, or remake the Middle East?

Mark’s riff on the silliness of David Brooks enlisting Oakeshott against Obama reminds me: where were Brooks and other conservative devotees of Oakseshott when the radical privatizers like Phil Gramm and George W. Bush wanted to take apart settled institutions such as Glass-Steagall and Social Security, for the apparent benefit of the rich and super-rich. or when the neo-cons and George W. Bush wanted to remake the Middle East?

A little consistency is just too much to ask of conservative columnists.