'Tiger Mother' isn't about parenting. It's about declining American exceptionalism.
The parenting questions Amy Chua's book raises are the questions facing the US. Should America be more hard-working and disciplined like China? Do Americans value free-expression and self-fulfillment too much?
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Although Chua never uses the term, the phenomenon she describes in her work is the same one noted by the political scientist Ronald Inglehart in the 1970’s. He argued that it was possible for an individual in the developed world to feel content and secure enough to be willing to give up authoritarianism and an emphasis on social order in order to pursue other types of freedoms, including a drive for meaning and self-expression.Skip to next paragraph
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Do we need to work harder like the Chinese?
Thus, Chua finds herself stymied by the question: What does it mean to give a child a “better life?” She supports routines, strong family structures, and respect for the past, but finds her children craving autonomy and self-expression. Here Chua asks: Must all Americans end up capitulating to grand social forces and decide to go easy on their children, valuing free expression over order and discipline?
Chua’s dilemma is the same one which America itself faces today. Do we want to be more like hard-working China or more like the free-wheeling, self-actualized Europeans? Particularly today, it sometimes seems that free expression and self-fulfillment have gone too far in America. News stories describe the rise of hate speech, an irresponsible media, and candidates who don’t respect the political system or their elder statesmen. America seems characterized by generational warfare, class tensions, and anti-immigrant sentiments. In short, America seems to be becoming more like Europe.
The question then becomes whether discipline and the restoration of order are the only possible solution to the growing pains that America seems to be experiencing. Would embracing Chinese parenting and Chinese values thus be a step toward the future or a step toward the past?
Mary Manjikian is assistant professor of international relations at the Robertson School of Government, Regent University, and holds degrees from The University of Michigan (MA, PhD), Oxford University (M.Phil). She is the author of the coming book “The Romance of the End: Americans Imagining Apocalypse and its Implications for International Relations Theory.” She is a former US Foreign Service officer.