Sunday, December 2, 2012

A conservative moment

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's recent admission that she, not so long ago a proud libertine who identified strongly with the political left, is now une bourgeoise who loves family life and having a husband and doing the same thing every day is not without significance.

Don't ask for how long (I want to say) she will be content with her domestic routine; enjoy the conservative moment. For Carla Bruni is one of the few contemporary figures who has old-fashioned star quality, and so symbolic importance.

In fact, the 44-year-old seems to have developed a strange kinship with a former generation of Hollywood stars whose public personas transcended their cinematic achievements and somehow represented for many people an ideal, a mode of life at once sophisticated and traditional.

Emma-Kate Symons has written a piece which discusses Bruni's mid-life conversion as 'counter-cultural' in the context of our 'post-familial' world.

And so it is. But whether the paradox of a counter-cultural conservatism can deliver long-term moral benefits is doubtful.

Symons notes that a number of writers have recently elaborated on the negative moral and demographic consequences of the anti-family culture which now dominates Western social and political life.

It has been clear for decades, however, that, while the model of the traditional family may survive, it has lost its dominant position and normative influence; rapidly becoming, in fact, just one possible option amongst many.

I sometimes think that humans in general – and not just children – function better and more happily when choices are constrained.

I know this raises awkward political questions, about who determines and applies the constraints, for example; and social questions about the legitimacy of traditional cultural constraints.

But I am not making policy prescriptions here – just making the observation that freedom is often a mixed blessing.

Carla Bruni may even agree with me on this.