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By John Gray

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But it cannot be irrelevant to policy that single parenthood is only rarely a chosen condition. Concern for individual wellbeing is not shown by policies which treat one-parent families as if they were always, or even typically, expressions of autonomous choices. In a liberal culture in which autonomy is for most people vital to wellbeing, neither familial fundamentalism nor liberal neutrality is an intelligent response to the fragility of families. The goal of policy should be to enhance individual competences, to ensure that the obligations of parenthood are understood and accepted, and to assist single parents to return, or sometimes, to enter for the first time, the world of productive work, because participation in it is, for us, the precondition of self-esteem and independence.

European social democracy probably required for its survival an historical niche – the strategic environment of the Cold War – which has now vanished. The intense pressure to adopt neoliberal policies in all European Union countries may be explicable in part by the new intensity of the competition which those countries face from low-wage but often high-skilled post-communist countries. It is this altered geopolitical environment, more than any other single factor, that explains the neoliberal evolution of European policy and institutions.

Only by respecting these sentiments can public policy hope to be effective. In the wake of social democracy policy should aim at local justice, the balancing of irreconcilable claims within complex fairness. It is not reasonable to hope to put the social-democratic project back on the road. That belonged within an historical niche that is gone beyond hope of recovery. 31 To imagine otherwise is to misread entirely the lessons of the 1980s, which showed the overwhelming power and urgency within our culture of the demand for individual autonomy.

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