When I first read political scientist Melinda Cooper’s 2017 book Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism it left me searching in vain for a cliché to use besides “mind-blowing.” Her central idea is that conservatives and neoliberals have collaborated to restore the central importance of the family in American society, and along the way she reinvents the intellectual history of the second half of the 20th century. Cooper flips and twists the coordinates of American politics — and in prose that’s uncommonly clear for an academic.
The book became a cult hit across the (normally fractious) left-wing intelligentsia, earning plaudits from magazines including Dissent, Jacobin, and Viewpoint. Now available in paperback from Zone Books, an imprint of MIT Press, Family Values deserves mainstream attention. Ahead of the release, Medium spoke with Cooper — a professor in the School of Social and Political Science at Australia’s University of Sydney — about conservative socialists, why the family is becoming more important in American policy, and more.
Medium: The titular alliance between neoliberals and social conservatives is often figured as pragmatic or mercenary, but you make the argument that they share a common purpose. You write that “the dismantling of welfare represents the most effective means of restoring the private bonds of familial obligation.” Are these ideological currents (neoliberalism and social conservatism) closer than some would have us believe?
Cooper: As political philosophies and frameworks for understanding the world, economic liberalism and conservatism do have distinct lineages and styles of analysis. There is a certain common sense to the argument that they are at loggerheads. The liberal defense of the free market is built on a critique of inherited status, of so-called unearned…