The Sordid Lessons of Kinderläden at Unherd
On cutting off the drunk drivers of the left.
In my book, Here Be Monsters: How To Fight Capitalism Instead of Each Other, I wrote about a particularly disturbing moment in the history of Leftism, the Kinderläden.
I’ve now expanded upon that topic for an essay published today at Unherd:
Every Leftist project that has bettered people’s lives was born from the radical imagination: the eight-hour work day, the now-disappeared family wage, the end of the transatlantic slave trade. The Left is always the first to point out that states described as natural, or inevitable, can in fact be changed. But the radical imagination can backfire.
This is particularly the case when Leftists try to either remake the psyche or recalibrate the most intimate of our social relationships. Recently, projects to reconstruct (or abolish) family relations have come back into fashion. Sophie Lewis, for instance, asserts that the family is part of a “traditional practice of grooming kids into cis-genderism and heterosexuality”, which demands to “inseminate the minds of kids” with sex-based pronouns. M.E. O’Brien, meanwhile, has argued that the family is a primary enemy of “gender and sexual freedom” that ought to be replaced with “communes”. Both are supporters of “youth liberation”.
What our current family abolitionists don’t acknowledge, however, is that the Left does not have a good record when it comes to changing society through children. In fact, some radical projects centred on them have gone very, very wrong. The late Sixties offers an illustrative, if extreme, case: that of the West German Kinderläden, or “children shops”.
It’s the first essay of mine published with them, and I definitely hope there will be many others.
When I first learned of the Kinderläden1 from another leftist, I was as shocked as she was. Maybe shocked isn’t the right word: we’d both felt as if everything we’d known about the left suddenly seemed untrue.
She’s no longer a leftist, and I completely understand why. The parallels between the Frankfurt School’s complete abandonment of class and material analysis in favor of changing social forms and “structures” and the current social justice identitarianism are impossible to ignore. Back then, they thought you could stop fascism and undermine capitalism by getting rid of sexual inhibitions; now, they think you can stop fascism and transform capitalism by making people use each other’s chosen pronouns.
The real problem with this way of thinking isn’t the projects themselves. I’m absolutely indifferent to the new gender framework, since it’s clear it will change again (and again, and again) over my lifetime. Nor do I have any strong feelings about the psycho-sexual framework — some of us could definitely benefit from fewer inhibitions, while I think others could definitely do less harm if they had more of them.
The real problem is with the target — children. Changing the way an adult thinks requires coming up with a good argument, reasoning well, and taking into account their counter-arguments. Children don’t have the skills or the experience to question or even to notice when they are being indoctrinated and essentially experimented upon, which is specifically why the new — and old — social change ideologies target them in the first place.
The most remarkable thing about the Kinderladen movement for me was how the parents themselves admitted how trapped they’d felt in an “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment. Many had quite a few misgivings about encouraging their children to have sex with each other and even with adults, but were afraid of appearing “reactionary” or admitting that they even had doubts. I think the same is happening now for many in regards to these new ideological forms.
I’m bracing for some wild anger about this essay from other leftists, but I’ve dealt with this before. Their reactions will be precisely the sort you get when you cut off an alcoholic from their liquor and take away their car keys so they can’t drunk drive home. By doing so, you’re not actually causing them to change — only they can do that — but you’re at least reducing the likelihood they’ll do serious harm to themselves or to others that night.
You can read the entire essay here (no paywall unless you’ve already read ten articles on the site this month). You can also read more about the strange history of psycho-sexual delusions in Germany from German historian Dagmar Herzog’s excellent book, Sex After Fascism. And of course, you can read my book to see how all this plays out into a larger problem with leftism and what we can do about it.
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Kinderläden is the plural, Kinderladen is singular. This spelling convention didn’t initially carry over into the essay’s publication.