Family’s retreat in the time of Conservative triumph

In his conversations with Antonio Polito, published five years ago as “On the Edge of the New Century“,Eric Hobsbawm made the startling observation that the central emblemic figure of the 20th century is not the worker or the peasant, but the mother:

As a reversal of a centuries long process, the long historical wave which moved toward the construction and gradual strengthening of territorial states or nation- states comes to an end (the end itself starting around 1960s and deeply accelerating after 1989), Hobsbawm notes that it has become increasingly difficult to mobilize people on collective lines specially in the West. This underlines the crisis of class based action today and also the reason why Hobsbawm considers the most appropriate symbol for the 20th century not to be the working class or the peasantry but a mother with her children.

“The people who have most in common are mothers, wherever they live on the face of the earth and inspite of their different cultures, civilizations and languages. In some ways, a mother’s experience reflects what has happened to a large part of humanity in the 20th century”.

In his recent review on a new book, Hobsbawm returns to the theme of the family and points to the contradiction between the ‘triumphant’ post- 1990s capitalism and its inability to carry forward, and actually reverse, the libertarian and egalitarian trends in the Western family that were unleased during the 1960s:

In my view it also underestimates the relationship between effects on the family of the Western cultural revolution of the last third of the 20th century and its economic equivalent, the belief in a theoretically libertarian capitalism which thinks it can function without the heritage that gave it much strength in the past, the rules of obligation and loyalty inside and outside the traditional family, and other proclivities which had no intrinsic connection with the pursuit of the individual advantage that fuelled its engine. As neo-liberalism triumphed in economics its inadequacy could no longer be concealed. In the light of the contents of this book, it may be suggested that we are also reaching this point in the ideology of cultural libertarianism.

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