One of the many very incisive things that novelist and essayist George Orwell had to say is this: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” Indeed, talking at length about what until just recently everyone assumed to be a given is always sort of an odd thing.
If I had to pen an article defending the importance of eating or breathing, people would look at me askance. If I spent a lot of time trying to convince people that something like the law of gravity is real and we must take it seriously, most folks would think I have lost the plot.
But that is where we are now at when it comes to one of the most basic, most important, and most essential elements of any functioning society: the family. Everywhere families are taking a beating, and we have come to the place where we actually have to make the case as to why families are so very important.
I have written on this often in the past, but the “restatement of the obvious” continues to be an important need in our day. In fact, several meaty chapters in my 2014 book Strained Relations look at these matters in great detail, with hundreds of footnotes documenting all the claims being made. The reader is advised to turn there if they wish to have full documentation to what is said here in brief outline form.
So let me engage in another round of restatement. Despite so much bad press today, families are indispensable to all cultures. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said this: “As families go, so goes the nation.” Or as historian Arnold Toynbee has said, “Nations rise and fall with the health of its families.” The strength and health of any nation can be judged by the strength and health of its families.
If families thrive and flourish, chances are good so will the nation. But if families are in a bad way, you can be pretty certain that the nation is in a bad way as well. When we wage war against the family, we are declaring war on a nation itself. And activists who have sought to take down nations have known exactly that. They have even boasted about it.
Consider just one example, the anti-family ideology adopted with gusto by the post-revolutionary Soviets. In 1917 they passed decrees which among other things made divorce easy, recognised only civil marriages, abolished shared family property. and banned adoption.
And in 1918 state courts took over parental rights. “True liberation of women, true Communism comes about only when the masses rise up … against … small-scale households,” wrote Vladimir Lenin in 1919. He also said this: “Destroy the family, destroy the nation.”
Today we may not always have exactly the same open hostility being expressed about families, but the outcomes are largely the same nonetheless. Various groups have made it clear that they also detest the traditional family, and they consider it to be an oppressive and outdated institution. Furthermore, they even claim it is just an invention from the 1950s!
Never mind that the married, two-parent family with children has been the norm throughout human history. Indeed, the nuclear family, along with the extended family, has been the main building block of almost all enduring cultures. But now all that is being undone by various activist groups and radical ideologies.
Tragically so many forces are now actively working to pull the family apart. Plenty of them could be mentioned here. They would include: economic pressures forcing both parents into the paid workforce and children to be raised by strangers; the growing welfare state and the dependency culture it creates; radical feminism; the homosexual lobby; the pornography plague; anti-family indoctrination in our schools; and so on.
Many groups exist for the stated purpose of taking down the traditional family. This will always be bad news both for children and society at large. Said sociologist William Galston:
A substantial body of research suggests that family structure is an independent factor influencing the well-being of children. Even after correcting for variables such as family income, parental education, and prior family history, children from single-parent families tend on average to fare less well economically, educationally, and emotionally, and encounter more difficulties on the road to becoming self-sustaining adults.
Or as UK social science researcher Rebecca O’Neill has observed:
The weight of evidence indicates that the traditional family based upon a married father and mother is still the best environment for raising children, and it forms the soundest basis for the wider society. For many mothers, fathers and children, the ‘fatherless family’ has meant poverty, emotional heartache, ill health, lost opportunities, and a lack of stability. The social fabric – once considered flexible enough to incorporate all types of lifestyles – has been stretched and strained. Although a good society should tolerate people’s rights to live as they wish, it must also hold adults responsible for the consequences of their actions.
The importance of the nuclear family simply cannot be overestimated. Crucial values which are passed from generation to generation mainly come through the family unit. As T. S. Eliot has argued, “by far the most important channel of transmission of culture remains the family: and when family fails to play its part, we must expect our culture to deteriorate”.
Winston Churchill agreed: “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained.” Yet today we find the state increasingly taking the role of the family, and with devastating results.
Government bureaucracies can never become a suitable substitute for loving and dedicated parents. The vital interpersonal connection of mother, father and child can never be bettered. And until recently, almost everyone recognised that truth. As we find in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and State.”
But now the state is subverting and undermining the role and rights of the family. The welfare state – no matter how well-intentioned – can never replace the nuclear family in terms of helpful outcomes for children. President Ronald Reagan was certainly correct when he said, “We know that government may be powerful enough to destroy families. We know it is not powerful enough to replace them.”
Or as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pointed out: “Our children need strong families raising them with sturdy virtues, not to be smothered in the cold arms of the state.” But it is not just Republicans and other conservatives who are saying this.
As but one example, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson said in his 1965 commencement address at Howard University: “The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitudes, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses, it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled.”
Instead of working against families, governments should fully be working for families. All government policies should come with a ‘family impact statement’. If a particular government policy harms or undermines the family, it should be rejected or at least radically revisited.
As sociologist James Q. Wilson said, “A family is not an association of independent people; it is a human commitment designed to make possible the rearing of moral and responsible children. Governments care – or ought to care – about families for this reason, and scarcely for any other.”
The truth is, when we tamper with families, or simply allow them to be tampered with, we are saying goodbye to our own future. That in part is why we are so very concerned about the institutions of marriage and family. When they fall apart, entire cultures fall apart.
And everyone suffers as a result, but especially our children. As UK’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks once said: “The fact that we have deconstructed the family – morally, psychologically, economically, politically – is the single most fateful cultural development of our times.”
It certainly is, and a dedicated and rigorous turnaround is urgently needed. To that vital end I and others are completely and unapologetically committed. We ignore the family at our own peril.