Women voters and the nanny state

Soccer moms, or their grandmothers, have always been the root of all evil. At least that’s what John Lott seems to be saying in his paper How Dramatically Did Women’s Suffrage Change the Size and Scope of Government? Give women the vote, it appears, and very soon you’ll have the nanny state. The paper itself, available for download in *.pdf format, is long and academic, with lots of stuff about differential economic incentives, statistical regression and so on. It does, however, include an impressive graph that summarizes Lott’s basic point.

18 thoughts on “Women voters and the nanny state”

  1. I haven’t read the article,
    I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know whether Lott discusses the questions I have about his graph. It does show correlation, but one can’t tell which trend caused which or whether both were caused by one or more other factors.

    When Utah was a Territory it gave women the vote because polygamy (abolished when Utah became a state) ensured big majorities for Mormon-sponsored statutes. This had nothing to do with the feminization of government, etc., which I infer is Lott’s thesis. Other states had other political complications at the time. In addition, most states gave women the vote before the Nineteenth Amendment forbade a state to deny women the vote in Presidential elections. That is, long before 1920 most states had limited forms of woman suffrage, and one would therefore have to study the effect of, say, municipal suffrage on the size of city governments, the effect of state-only suffrage on the size of state governments, etc.

    Finally, some of the most totalitarian and most nanny-state (or should I say daddy-state) regimes in the world over the past century have either denied women all political rights or have had totally meaningless universal suffrage.

    But as I said, I don’t know whether Lott takes up these questions.

  2. I forgot to add the
    I forgot to add the following observation to my previous post’s penultimate paragraph: It would seem to follow that Lott was writing only about democratic governments, which presumably respond to what the voters want. That poses the question whether democratization inevitably leads to the enactment into law of innately feminine attitudes—to the point of altering the very character of politics.

  3. I believe Lott is onto an
    I believe Lott is onto an effect which is real and I applaud him for writing about this. Furthermore, I believe there are ways in which the existence of large numbers of enfranchised women in a society affects things other than just irrational, out-of-control, hare-brained social-program spending and the adoption by society of broad, totally inappropriate non-judgementalism. Those other areas have to do with what I believe to be women’s inability to conceive of things like countries (when you talk about “countries” with women, on the most fundamental level they simply do not have any idea what is being discussed). They just can’t; nor can they easily conceive of anything which they can’t “personalize,” that is, see in feminine-style “personal” anthropomorphic terms, and not only that, but usually either effeminate terms or infantile/childish ones, seldom or never masculine ones.

    How can countries, then, NOT go out of existence once women get the right to vote? It would seem to be inevitable, since, not perceiving their existence, women can’t be counted on to vote for things that enable them to continue to exist.

    Frieda, may I ask—your pen name implies you are a woman: are you?

  4. Unadorned: Yes, I am a
    Unadorned: Yes, I am a woman.

    Before I sign onto any such uncomplimentary generalization, I think it would be wise to dispose of alternative explanations, if objective reasoning based on historical facts can in fact dispose of them. To say this is not to deny that there are certainly innate differences between men and women in thinking/feeling patterns.

    Consider one set of data: The woman-suffrage movement, although in existence since the early nineteenth century, became most influential later in the century, and its tenets shifted somewhat as well. This seems to have been in response to a momentous change in American society: when millions of people moved to cities and began working in factories. Now, what relation could that have had with feminism?

    Well, look at one family, which moved from a farming community to a city. Father gets a job in a factory, and mother stays home to look after the 5 kids. For the first time, they are forced to buy food, packaged, canned, stuffed (sausages, etc.) the production of which they know nothing about. They must buy clothing produced in factories that were known to be breeding-grounds of TB. The crucial fact is that they knew they had no control over these commodities, yet must buy and use them.

    A consumers’ movement appeared, to demand government regulation of these industries, which were engaged in interstate commerce and so were under federal purview. It happens that the leading propagandist for what became the Pure Food and Drug Act was a Socialist, Florence Kelley. But millions of people who supported her cause couldn’t have cared less about ideology. They were worried about their health and that of their children. At the same time, cities had to arrange for water and sewer services, and street-cleaning in a time when many vehicles were drawn by horses, which left deposits in the middle of the street (which I remember clearly—yech). Again, most people who wanted government functions to be vastly expanded to deal with such things were not ideologues, or dimwits who couldn’t think in abstractions. Both men and women often called these new governmental functions “housekeeping.” It did not have any invidious connotations. And the very active anti-suffragist movement of the generation before 1919 also wanted governments to take on those functions. So the suffragists and anti-suffragists argued publicly about whether women needed the vote to give the government the benefit of their knowledge of what families and homes needed.

    Historical truth hides in the small details, and lots of other such details could be discussed in this context. I’m merely suggesting that, before we allow ourseelves the pleasure of grand generalizations and philosophical disquisitions about the relationship between woman suffrage and the expansion of the nanny state (I’m sure there is one), we should examine what happened when and where and how.

  5. Frieda, you make excellent
    Frieda, you make excellent points and I agree with all of them, and I am not saying women shouldn’t get the franchise. Once women do get it, however, society must prepare itself to cope with certain drastic shifts (I think we agree on that much), and I feel that one of those shifts is toward the effacement of distinct countries, women having no clear perception of what “a country” is.

    I do not consider women to be “dimwits who can’t think in abstractions,” any more than I consider men to be. Women have their own kind of intelligence which emphasizes certain things (at which women are by nature quite adept), and de-emphasizes others (at which they are not). A grasp of some of these “others” may be necessary before a voter, say, will be induced to vote in favor of what promotes the health and preservation of portions of society’s traditional set-up—and that includes portions which women themselves may value highly and may bitterly regret losing but haven’t the faintest understanding or instinct how to keep.

  6. Unadorned: I don’t think
    Unadorned: I don’t think you really meant that women have “no clear perception of what ‘a country’ is.” (And I’m not even a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution or any of the dozens of other women’s patriotic organizations.) Like me, in a post on another topic, you were doubtless engaging in a wee bit of hyperbole so as to draw attention to an important point. But, just in case I’m mistaken, I should appreciate it if you’d furnish the sources of surveys that yield that conclusion. I shall then read those documents and abandon my skepticism on that question.

    While you’re looking up the sources, perhaps you’d take the time to explain the connection between these feminine interests and the effacement of a sense of distinct nationalities. If there is empirical evidence to support this generalization, then we shall have to explain why such concerns as health, etc., are incompatible with a sense of distinct nationalities. We already know that Arabs are spectacularly lacking in a sense of distinct nationalities, that they consider themselves one People, and that that lack of a sense of countryness is not due to the feminization of their politics. But of course that does not disprove your point, and I’m not suggesting it does. I’m merely asking for evidence.

  7. Frieda’s discussion of the
    Frieda’s discussion of the conditions in the late 19th century that led up to women’s suffrage does not address the question of the continuing evolution of society that occurred after women’s suffrage is instituted. I don’t know that women’s vote must inevitably move a society toward the nanny state, but it seems likely that it produces a trend in that direction.

    Remember also that if a modern society deliberately continued withholding the vote from women, that would imply that the society has a whole philosophical and cultural basis for doing so, i.e., that it is is consciously resisting total democratization and welfare statism. Conversely, a society that gives women the vote is not just giving women the vote but expressing a whole orientation toward ever greater equality across the board. So it’s not just women’s vote, but the general move toward equality that is the issue.

    I also think Unadorned is indulging in a bit of hyperbole when he says women have no idea what a country is.

  8. I agree with everything that
    I agree with everything that Mr. Auster has said. It’s consistent, BTW, with the fact that the first Territories and states that enfranchised women were in the West. And it’s consistent with the fact that the last holdouts were in New England and the Old South, where social hierarchy still existed, albeit tenuously. Further, it’s consistent with the fact that the last European country to give women the vote was Switzerland, which also required every man to own a firearm (correct me if I’m wrong here).

  9. Frieda, thank you for your
    Frieda, thank you for your helpful comments. Once again, you make lots of excellent points. No, I regret that I don’t know of any research to back up what I said, namely that “women can’t conceive of ‘countries’ [to the extent men can, on average, and to the extent of knowing how to weigh society’s varied interests so as to cast their votes without threatening the continued existence of their own country].”

    Switzerland was (before 1972) and is now a fine country. I have little doubt that the malaise which is presently dragging the countries of the West down to their deaths will proceed faster in women-enfranchised Switzerland than it would have done there, had voting continued to be reserved to men.

    I do not see how, on *practical* grounds, a country today can reserve the franchise to men even were it demonstrated to the satisfaction of many, through research, that it was desirable to do so. Furthermore, I don’t see how any “research” on this question could overcome the objection on *moral* grounds that attempting to limit the vote to men (or in a more extreme formulation, to property-holding men) would violate the basic principle that groups which cannot vote cannot defend their rights.

    Finally: men and women have different competencies, and society can suffer, even suffer drastically, when either sex gains public or governmental influence beyond its competency in some area of importance. A military having all female officers would be incompetent, for example, and so would one having female officers present in numbers above a certain threshold, even though some might argue that that threshold is higher than zero. The military is an especially clear case but there are other cases where this consideration is a valid one, albeit less starkly so. Societies are best served and healthiest where sex differences are respected, just as much as they are where the Pythagorean theorem is not disregarded, on political grounds, by someone building a bridge.

  10. Unadorned writes: “I do not
    Unadorned writes: “I do not see how, on practical grounds, a country today can reserve the franchise to men even were it demonstrated to the satisfaction of many, through research, that it was desirable to do so.”

    I agree, and I think the reason for this has to do with the form of modern society and the way it organically represents itself. In the days when 90 percent of people were farmers, and families were functioning economic units, it made complete sense for the man, through male-only suffrage, to represent his family politically, since his family was a unit. But in contemporary society which is articulated not in the form of families but in the form of individuals, including many unmarried individuals, it would be very difficult to say that only men should vote, since that would deprive women of representation.

    Thus, in order for a restriction on female suffrage to seem plausible and legitimate, society would first have to return to a traditional form, centered around the nuclear family.

  11. Unadorned’s and L. Auster’s
    Unadorned’s and L. Auster’s last comments are completely right, IMO. They both point to the hypothesis that there’s a close relationship among the movement toward woman suffrage, egalitarianism, and the atomization of the population. It would be interesting to discover what causes which and which causes the other thing. Doubtless the influences are reciprocal to some extent, and of course we must throw into that stew the influence of industrialization and urbanization. Shall we subsume them all under the rubric “modernization”?

    But there’s a fascinating implication in Mr. Auster’s last comment: about the return to the nuclear family. Where to begin?!? Here’s one datum: so far as I know, no polity has reversed its decision to broaden the suffrage (the temporary enfranchisement of women in New Jersey in the late 18th century was an accident). After all, no group will vote to disfranchise itself, and the other groups would have to be virtually unanimous (especially in the case of black suffrage and woman suffrage) to make a majority (at their peril).

    That’s a simple fact compared to the question whether such a return is possible in the Internet Age. The “community” that Robert Nisbet and other conservative sociologists wrote about may be gone forever, and with it the milieu that evolves and shelters traditional values and transmits them to the next generation. Recall Unadorned’s reasonable question whether the frieda he was addressing was a woman. On the ‘Net we’re not flesh and blood people, interacting in a community; we’re bunches of squiggles on a screen, and I for one can’t envision any way in which our discussions of traditionalist conservatism can be much more than comforting nostalgia. We who are posting these comments live in different parts of the country (I’m assuming; see?) and know nothing about one another. Our very medium subverts our message.

    So our analyses of the pernicious effects of feminism and egalitarianism are historiography. We can oppose the effort to put women into combat and other nasty objectives of the atomizers. But we can’t hope for a rollback. Please, someone, disprove this contention.

  12. Frieda’s summing up here may
    Frieda’s summing up here may be the reason why in Plato’s view democracy is always followed by despotism. Democracy is intrinsically incapable of repenting of its failures, which eventually overcome it.

  13. It’s certainly hard to think
    It’s certainly hard to think of any combination of policies, especially any combination that has a realistic prospect of adoption, that could reverse the long-standing tendency toward increasingly radical forms of egalitarianism, social atomization, and so on. Further—as Frieda points out—that tendency is based on “hard” factors like technology as well as things that seem softer, like social ideals.

    Still, it seems clear that the tendency can’t proceed forever, because it would eventually make complex formal methods of social organization impossible. The problem is that radical egalitarianism is parasitic on things it destroys. Large complex formal organizations like the modern managerial state or for that matter the Internet won’t work unless, for example, most people are somewhat honest. That won’t be so unless people accept and pass on informal understandings felt to be authoritative of what it is to be a good person and the like. Such understandings are always traditional and particular, and they always have anti-PC aspects that from the advanced egalitarian standpoint pollutes them and means they should be abolished. A tradition of honesty, for example, denigrates some people as “dishonest,” and, since “dishonesty” is the defense of the weak against oppression, blames the victim. Also, to avoid dishonesty requires some ideal of honor and individual moral integrity. Such ideals are essentially elitist, and for them to be concrete enough to be usable they must have some connection to a particular cultural background and so be racist as well.

    So it seems clear that eventually there will be basic change. What sort is of course unclear—maybe there will new developments and changes in social emphasis that suddenly transform the configuration of things and make the world look surprisingly different. Or maybe we’ll go through something like the collapse of the Soviet Union only more so, because the things liberalism tries to root out (like gender and particular culture) are more basic to human life than the private property the Bolsheviks tried to eradicate. Either way, radical egalitarianism will be abandoned and something else will take its place.

    None of this is cheering, exactly—it would be nicer to have a sure-fire remedy—but I do think it’s enough to support efforts to understand what is happening and to keep as much alive as possible. When and how those efforts pay off in public life is impossible to say, but there’s no reason to think them pointless.

  14. “We who are posting these
    “We who are posting these comments live in different parts of the country (I’m assuming; see?) and know nothing about one another. Our very medium subverts our message.”—Frieda

    For the record: I’m a white man (half-German, half-Russian in ethnicity), happily married, with teenage children; originally from New York City; lived a long time in Europe, now in rural Vermont; am Catholic though was never confirmed (my Russian mother was one hundred percent allergic to all forms of organized Christianity her entire life—couldn’t STAND the stuff—and pulled me out of Catechism and Sunday Mass and all organized Catholicism in about the third grade; I did get to make my First Communion, then no more religion for me; all but one of my closest friends growing up in NYC from first grade to the end of college were Jewish; I re-discovered Christianity entirely on my own, in a slow, gradual process that lasted many years, starting after I finished college); finally, I’m a proud, defiant member of “The League of the South” (I threw that in because, first and foremost, I’m extremely proud of that membership, and also because something about Frieda makes me suspect she’s a Southern woman and might be interested to know the South has staunch friends north of the Mason-Dixon line).

  15. Jim Kalb’s observation about
    Jim Kalb’s observation about the comparatively moderate(!) character of the Soviet revolution is worth underlining, I think. I was recently reading a complacent piece by some neoconservative arguing that socialists such as the British Labour Party have given up their revolutionary position. In fact what has happened is that having been discredited on the economic side, they have turned to even more fundamental forms of social interference.

    Ian Hare (Atlantic Canada)

  16. To Mr. Hare,

    Mr. Kalb said
    To Mr. Hare,

    Mr. Kalb said that the things the Soviets tried to root out were less basic to human life than the things liberalism tries to root out, an arguably true statement. However, that’s not the same thing as saying that Soviet Communism was “comparatively moderate,” since it was a system of totalitarian despotism and slavery, which liberalism obviously is not. However destructive liberal democracy may be, and however critical we are of it, we should beware of the deadly mistake of making moral equivalencies between liberal democracy and Soviet Communism, let alone of comparing Communism favorably to liberal democracy. Once people start thinking like that, the next step is to say things like: “We shouldn’t have protected Europe from the U.S.S.R. for forty years, since, after all, there’s no real difference between the two systems.”

  17. Obviously the Soviets used
    Obviously the Soviets used more immoderate and immoral methods in their revolution. Nevertheless their “achievements” may have been on a more moderate level than those of liberal democracy. One has the impression that the societies of Eastern Europe and Russia were in some ways more conservative than those of the West, although certainly they, too suffered from social disintegration along with their particular economic failure. For instance, literature was still considered to be important and powerful in the USSR (which is doubtless why the authorities considered it necessary to control it so tightly).

    Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed that both liberal democracy and Communism were two aspects of the prevailing leftism or egalitarianism and, more specifically, that totalitarian oppression was somehow “necessary” only in comparatively backward societies where the people were unwilling to accept leftist measures peacefully and democratically. The social effects of the soft, democratic form of leftism were, he believed, I think, just as bad as those of the hard totalitarian kind. One example he gave of this social corrosion was that the inhabitants of the advanced Western part of Europe put up much less resistance to the occupying Nazis than did the backward Eastern peasantry.

    Some people would argue that the requirement that people turn over something like half of their incomes to the state, in most contemporary advanced states, does amount to slavery, though again obviously it is of a “softer” variety than slavery in its traditional form.

  18. It now occurs to me that the
    It now occurs to me that the Soviets did not in fact limit themselves to trying to abolish private property. At least in the early revolutionary years they were apparently also quite interested in abolishing differences in sex roles and (I think) in abolishing the family. This effort seems to have run out of steam fairly soon, perhaps because the Soviet state was converted from a revolutionary enterprise to a gangster-regime with revolutionary window-dressing.


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