Book Review: The Supportive State, by Maxine Eichner

Maxine Eichner, The Supportive State. Oxford University Press 2010 (168 pages plus notes and index); $49.95 hardcover edition)

The Supportive State by Maxine Eichner is an excellent read for anyone interested in political theory, public policy/social justice or family law. Ms. Eichner thoroughly covers the current government treatment of families and pushes for a change with well thought out arguments and potential solutions to what she sees as a problem.  Ms. Eichner leads the reader down the trail from what she considers the problem to methods to address the issue, providing cogent arguments and supporting facts the entire way.

Ms. Eichner discusses the cases and policy that have led the government to respect the privacy of families and how families are treated with a “hands off” approach.  The current approach focuses on the idea that individuals are autonomous and able, and should not be dependent on the government. However, Ms. Eichner argues that this “hands off” policy should be altered in a way that supports and aids the family.  She still advocates for privacy and autonomy within the family and their decision making, but feels the government should play a larger role in providing the structure which provides the choices for the family to make.

In the book, Ms. Eichner describes how all citizens are dependent for at least the first decade of their lives; there is an inherent dependency in all people.  In the past, children and elders were dependent on family members who cared for them when they could not do so themselves; the caregiver was primarily a woman in the family who did not have a paying job.  As times have changed, there are fewer such family members available to provide care, a fact which Ms. Eichner feels needs to be remedied through government intervention.

The author does acknowledge the support the government provides to a family,  if the family needs such support.  She states though that this support should not be dependent on the failure of the parents. Ms. Eichner feels that there should be a cognitive division of moral responsibility – holding several persons responsible, and not relieving a party of their responsibility if the other party meets their duties.  If such a division could be met, the state would take on some level of responsibility towards providing care and support for children no matter the actions of the child’s parents.

Over all, Ms. Eichner makes some compelling arguments for more government involvement.  Based on one’s political viewpoint, this book can serve either as a reinforcement of those viewpoints or at least gets one thinking about alternatives.  Even if your viewpoints are diametrically opposed to the idea of further government involvement in the life of the family, the author makes many valid points and defends her position intelligently and with concrete examples which are interesting to read.

I admit that at certain areas I found myself thinking that some of Ms. Eichner’s solutions were well beyond where I feel the government should intervene, but she never lost my interest or had me totally dismissing her arguments. By the time I finished reading this book, Ms. Eichner did not change my mind on my political views, but she did keep me interested and kept me thinking throughout.

Ms. Eichner does an excellent job of describing the issue and making her arguments for change.  However she does not just stop with this, but she also presents solutions and ideas on how the government can implement these solutions.  She covers all facets of family life, including the issue of gay marriage, and discusses how further government intervention can help.

Reviewed by Paul D. Venard, Reference Librarian, University of Dayton Zimmerman Law Library

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