"The Family in America"    Online Edition    [SwanSearch] 

Volume 14  Number 05

 

May 2000

 

  

The End of Patriotism: Tearing Up the "Seedbed of the State"

By Bryce Christensen, Ph.D.

"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." For more than 200 years, the brave words of Nathan Hale have stood for something more than the courage of one American spy. For generations of grateful Americans, they have typified the selfless patriotism of an entire generation, willing to pledge their lives and sacred honor to their new nation. Unfortunately, this kind of patriotism has dwindled in recent decades. The attitude which prevails among growing numbers of Americans might be summed up as the antithesis of Hale’s stirring declaration: "I only regret that I cannot get more out of my country during one lifetime."

That expressions of selfless patriotism have largely disappeared, few would deny. Journalist David Brooks acknowledges that "patriotic eloquence went into long-term decline" during the 20th century and that in recent years, "America has struggled to rediscover a compelling patriotic language." As a people, Brooks suggests, Americans have retreated into "the easy comforts of private life," so completely losing touch with "higher, more demanding principles and virtues" that we now "look on everything that does not immediately touch on our own lives with an indifference that is laced with contempt."1 Even when commentator Cynthia Crossen insists that patriotism perdures in contemporary America and indeed is "booming along with the economy," she writes of a patriotism light years away from the self-sacrifice of Nathan Hale. "The newest breed of patriots," she concedes, "distances itself from the word {patriotic]" because of "its recent connotations of right-wing extremists and militias." But she argues that the Americans of today are patriots nonetheless because "they love the opportunity, the personal freedom, and the beauty of America." After all, as Americans, "we’ve got Microsoft, we’ve got Disney, we’ve got FedEx."2 Somehow, the national outlook that Crossen dubs "patriotism" has many of the marks of the "easy comforts of private life" that Brooks condemns as its opposite.

The need to regain an authentic patriotism of self-sacrifice indeed defined one of the major themes of Senator John McCain’s failed campaign for the Presidency. "The spirit of America is dissipating," he lamented. "People are not proud any more of their institutions. They are not eager for public service or willing to work for a cause greater than themselves."3 Corroborating McCain’s perception, a recent Roper Center study concluded that for almost two-thirds of Americans, patriotism now does not involve "making active sacrifices for the public good"; consequently, "someone does not actually have to do anything in order to be patriotic."4

Arguably, the decline in selfless patriotism can be traced in part to the debacle in Vietnam and the tawdry deceptions of Watergate, which made the country look less worthy of personal sacrifice by its citizens. However, the self-absorption of which Brooks has written and McCain has spoken reflects unwillingness on the part of American citizens to make sacrifices for any cause or institution larger than self, no matter how noble. Neither Vietnam nor Watergate can be blamed for that. What can be blamed to a great degree is the national retreat from family life. For it is only within the family that we are likely to acquire those moral attitudes which make possible selflessness of any sort–including that of patriotism. Because of the family’s claim to a type of immortality, the family can invest sacrifices made for its sake with profound meaning–at once biological and religious–-a meaning that can extend to sacrifices made for a government perceived to be the ally of the family. But when the family disintegrates, so too does the selflessness necessary for patriotism.

"Mothers give us life," remarks Jehan Sadat, widow of Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat. "They are our first teachers, giving us the lessons and values we will carry for the rest of our lives."5 America, just as much as Egypt, needs young citizens who have acquired from their mothers the values of lawfulness, integrity, and selflessness. Even the framers of very modern nontraditional theories of morality require mothers and families just to get started with their theorizing. As ethicists Owen Flanigan and Kathryn Jackson critically observe, modern theories of justice "need to assume that there will be loving parents in order to ensure the stability of a just society and the development of a sense of justice in new members." "Theories of obligation," they point out, "…must take out a loan not only on the natural duty of parents to care for children…but on the natural virtue of parental love.… The virtue of being a loving parent must supplement the natural duties and obligations if the just society is to last beyond the first generation." "For any human interaction to take place, there must be family land nurturance. Otherwise the helpless infant will not survive its first night."6

Of course, a helpless infant at home will generally be found in her mother’s arms. But a mother’s ability to imbue her children with such values depends heavily upon her family circumstances. A raft of studies indicate that married mothers achieve far greater success than single mothers in instilling essential moral values in their children. In a 1999 study of preschoolers and their families, for example, researchers found that single mothers were more likely than married mothers to use "negative controlling behaviors" with their children, resulting in "increased children’s aggressiveness" among the offspring of the unmarried mothers.7 Likewise in a 1998 study of inner-city grade-schoolers, researchers documented "harsher parenting" in single-parent households with "poorer behavioral adjustment" among the children as an apparent consequence.8 Not surprisingly, then, rates for juvenile delinquency, drug use, and academic failure all run higher among the children of single mothers than among peers reared by married mothers.

Family and Human Values  

Clearly, it is the intact family to which Americans must look for the instilling in children of the moral orientation which engenders selfless patriotism. For good reason, Cicero wrote of the family as "the seedbed of the state."9 Without the family, the civic and patriotic impulses which inform a healthy country soon disappear. Consequently, America’s greatest leaders have with Cicero recognized the nation’s need for the morality which only the family can inculcate. It was George Washington himself who emphasized that "Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of Free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?"10 And as one who praised his own "revered Mother; by whose Maternal hand...I was led from childhood,"11 Washington knew who laid that foundation.

Family devotion also informed the patriotic vision of Abraham Lincoln, whose political integrity preserved what Washington had founded. Speaking of his own mother, Lincoln said, "God bless my mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her."12 The theme of debts owed to family also ran through the words Lincoln spoke to troops summoned to make great sacrifices for their country. "There is involved in this struggle," he stressed, "the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed." "We should," he urged, "perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government."13 The same commitment to family which could motivate men to acts of self-sacrifice for their country could also impel them to selfless vigor against an institution which the Great Emancipator hated for the way it "separated [men] forever from...their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them, from their wives and children."14

Even in the far less articulate and less acclaimed American patriot Dwight Eisenhower we may see the importance of the family in fostering selfless valor. Eisenhower’s biographer Kenneth S. Davis traces the "selfless integrity" which carried Eisenhower to victory against the Nazis to the "moral tenets" which he acquired from the "happy stable family" of his boyhood. "Of a healthy society the family is not only a portrait in miniature," writes Davis, "it is also the vessel...through which the roots of the living culture can draw nourishment from a warmly human past. Out of it grow the human values which are the substance of social justice, the very essence of democracy: the values of tolerance, sympathetic understanding, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice in the common good."15 America’s dependence upon the family as the institution which can best cultivate such values is particularly acute because of our political tradition separating Church and State (a tradition taken to secularist extremes in recent decades). If the family does not instill this vital set of values, no other American institution can serve as an adequate substitute.

Since the transmission of internalized moral values–including selfless patriotism–depends heavily upon mothers and families, the nation risks a rupture in civic culture whenever society changes in ways that deprive children of maternal care in an intact family. We should therefore attend with particular concern to the findings of a 1988 study of day care which discovered that while mothers try to teach their children obedience, paid day-care workers seek to make children focus on their own desires while acting independently. The authors of the study consequently warn that day care "may be altering a social pattern characterized by a willingness to sacrifice one’s needs to those of the family."16 Perhaps it was with such findings in view that the prominent child psychologist Jay Belsky conjectured that day care may be preparing children for a future in which "everyone is out for himself."17

Strangely, despite the nation’s need for citizens willing to make selfless sacrifices, the Federal government has in recent decades subsidized non-family, nonmaternal child care at the expense of higher taxes for traditional one-earner families who care for their children at home. Worse, tax subsidies for day care count as only one of the ways government now subverts family life.

The Federal government indirectly weakened family life in a series of post-war decisions which made it very hard for families to perpetuate the agricultural way of life which had for generations reinforced generational and marital ties. As historian Allan Carlson has written, the government turned against "farm families on farms [considered] too small or too unproductive or both." "Federal policy was reshaped, often in subtle ways," Carlson observes, "to encourage the consolidation of these farms into larger units and the movement of the ‘surplus’ agrarian population into other jobs."18 With the near disappearance of the family farm, parents–no longer working with each other and alongside their children in home, barn, or field–lost priceless opportunities to shape their children’s moral attitudes. But the State also lost something vital to its health. It is the "intimate connection between family feeling and preservation of the land" which Tocqueville has in view when he asserts: "Where family feeling is at an end, personal selfishness turns again to its real inclinations. As the family is felt to be a vague, indeterminate, uncertain conception, each man concentrates on his immediate convenience."19

But Federal policies not only drove families off the farm, they also made it harder for fathers to earn enough in urban employment to support a home in which his wife could stay home to care for their children. As Carlson has shown, a shift in Federal policy away from "women’s home-centeredness" helped destroy the "complex sexual division of labor" which had created "the Western family wage" which had previously sustained one-earner families with homemaking mothers.20 Reflecting such policy shifts, the percentage of young men ages 20 to 24 who earned enough to keep a family of three out of poverty–above 60% as late as the 1970’s–fell to 40% by the mid-1980’s.21

Family life sustained a more direct blow from the government in 1973 when the Supreme Court, with only the flimsiest pretense to constitutional logic, struck down the anti-abortion statutes of all fifty states with subsequent rulings denying parents of unmarried daughters and husbands of wives any legal standing in an abortion decision. Similarly dubious jurisprudence gave unmarried women legal access to the Pill. Government policy thus helped heat up the sexual revolution and destroy the sexual self-restraint essential to family life. It has also increased illegitimacy by fostering the perception that women alone bear responsibility for pregnancy and childbearing decisions. Hence, researcher Janet L. Yeller and her colleagues conclude that legalized abortion and contraception have helped drive up the illegitimacy rate (surprising many who anticipated the opposite effect) because "the technological shock of abortion and female contraception" effected "changes in sexual and marital customs." Specifically, abortion and contraception made young women far more willing to "participate in uncommitted premarital sex," while making young men far more loathe to accept responsibility for "women who passed up available contraception and abortion options." So emerged a new social world in which "men who wanted sexual activity, but did not want to promise marriage in case of pregnancy, were [no longer]...expected nor required to do so."22

But while government policy was undermining wedlock, it was also making it less economically necessary for women and children who increasingly relied for their support on a welfare state which grew dramatically under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative.23 Pushing down marriage rates and pushing up illegitimacy rates, welfare largesse created what sociologists Randal Day and Wade C. Mackey have called "the mother-state-child family." Because of the proliferation of this family form, Day and Mackey assert that married fathers must now "pay directly for their own children, and, in addition, must pay a heavy tax burden to support the state, as the state takes the role of the supportive ‘traditional father’" to the children of unwed and divorced mothers.24

Even if the defenders of the welfare state deny anti-family motives, sociologist David Popenoe argues that "the inherent character of the welfare state by its very existence help[s] to undermine family values or familism–the belief in a strong sense of family identification and loyalty, mutual assistance among family members and a concern for the perpetuation of the family unit."25 And though much ballyhooed as an improvement, the reform of the 1990’s may actually have made the welfare system more subversive of the family. For while the Great Society welfare system fostered fatherless families, the new post-reform welfare system creates parentless families by forcing unwed mothers into low-paying employment while putting their young children into tax-subsidized day care.26 But then, tax subsidy of day care for welfare mothers constitutes part of a much larger government commitment to push mothers–married and unmarried–into paid employment, a commitment manifest in ever-more-ambitious programs for federalizing day-care costs.27 Because of its commitment to a "fully mobilized workforce"–male and female–the Federal government focuses (in the words of two critical analysts) "less on what is best for the parent-child relationship than it does on what is best for the labor force. To the degree, for example, that the mother-child relationship conflicts with the mother-job relationship, the mother-job relationship is almost always treated as primary."28

Government efforts to keep women linked to employers contrast sharply with government indifference to the dissolution of their unions to their husbands. In truth, since the enactment of no-fault divorce laws, the government has actually made itself the ally of the disloyal spouse who wants to break the marriage vow. As attorney Steven L. Varnis points out, "The law [under no-fault] generally supports the spouse seeking divorce, even if that spouse was a wrongdoer, by granting divorces with little regard for a spouse who may not want it."29

Nor is the State’s moral obtuseness in family matters limited to the divorce court, an institution many Americans still manage to avoid. For although many teachers and administrators still believe in the family and the moral principles which sustain it, enemies of the family have made astonishing strides in gaining control over what is taught in the public school, a government institution much harder to avoid than the divorce court. In the opinion of education critic Edward Wynne, the public schools have stopped teaching moral principles supportive of the family and have even become "indifferent or hostile to such efforts."30 This indifference to a family-nurturing morality may be glimpsed in social-science textbooks giving "no explicit, objective definition of family," but instead "vague and inaccurate" notions such as the idea that "a family is a group of people" or "a family is defined as ‘the people you live with.’"31 Stanford scholar Kingsley Davis goes so far as to speak of "the school system, one of the main functions of which appears to be to alienate offspring from their parents."32 Certainly, since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, many public educators have been working overtime to separate young people from any traditional gender roles their parents may have tried to teach.

The ‘No Sacrifice’ Soldier and Sailor  

Given that the public schools once helped the family to inculcate chastity, fidelity, and filial devotion, Americans must regard their current indifference and hostility to the family as a stunning reversal. But an even more astonishing reversal has occurred in the American military, an institution which until recently honored the family as the wellspring of loyalties which inspired soldiers’ highest martial and patriotic aspirations. American soldiers fought not only to protect their public institutions, but also–and often more importantly–their wives, their children, their sisters, and their parents. Thus, sacrifices made for the military were a natural extension of family responsibilities.

But today’s military appears to have given up on asking soldiers for sacrifice. No longer are soldiers summoned to enlist because of national need ("Uncle Sam Needs You"), but instead are promised excellent career training ("Be All You Can Be!"). But then, appeals to naked self-interest (which in fact are not working very well in attracting recruits) almost had to replace demands for self-sacrifice. For feminist social engineers have captured the military so fully that a family-instilled willingness to sacrifice now seems as out of place in the ranks as a single-shot musket. Any doubt as to the triumph of anti-family ideology in the military was dispelled in 1994 when a Navy commander was relieved of his duties and twice recommended for dismissal when he resisted policies putting women into his combat unit. The officer in question explained that his reading of the Bible taught him that it was a man’s responsibility "to protect and provide for the family" and that "part of that is you don’t subject women to violence." The Chief of Naval Operations did finally reject the repeated recommendations that this pilot be dismissed for "substandard performance of duty based upon failure to demonstrate acceptable qualities of leadership." After all, the officer’s "record of service and performance was impeccable." But it was universally understood that this man could never again hope for career advancement within the military.33 Once a critical inducement to military ardor, a desire to protect wives and daughters from violence now disqualifies a man from leadership.

No wonder, then, that the military finds itself demoralized and paralyzed by sex scandals and gender tensions. Military leaders can scarcely worry about inspiring patriotism while trying to make male soldiers less sexually aggressive in the gender-integrated ranks. And it is not patriotism but confusion they sow when these same leaders also try (as they now do) to teach male soldiers not to attempt potentially dangerous measures to protect female comrades from rape or other sexual abuse at the hands of enemy soldiers. "It is impossible to believe," hazards Robert Bork, "that both efforts can succeed simultaneously."34

But then, most young men are now avoiding both aspects of the military’s schizophrenic gender-role training by simply opting out of the new feminized armed services. Military officials admit that recruiting difficulties are now "the worst they’ve seen since the mid-1970’s when Americans were grappling with the aftermath of the Vietnam War." Gone are the "young men low on money but high on a sense of adventure and patriotism"; young men are simply "spurning the military for other options." Conceded one top recruiter, "This is as serious as any recruiting shortfall we’ve since the end of the draft."35 "The waning allure of a military career for young men," explains Wesley Pruden, may at least in part be traced to the ascendance of feminist ideology: "When young men are told that fighting wars–killing people and breaking things for their country’s sake–is something that women can do as well as men, a lot of young men who would otherwise be drawn to a warrior career will say ‘to hell with it.’ Army recruiters have to make up the slack with more women, which further changes the culture, which further repels young men, which requires recruiting more women, which...."36 Though military officers fear career-destroying discipline for speaking out on the issue, more and more evidence substantiates Bork’s judgment that "feminist ideology is inflicting enormous damage on the readiness and fighting capability of the armed forces," auguring a day when "engagements are lost, or won at unacceptably high costs."37

But we need not wait for a future war to see many of the wounds that the national retreat from family life has inflicted on the body politic. Deprived of the moral impulses which only a strong family life can instill, many Americans now lack the minimal degree of selflessness to give community service, to work for a political or civic organization, or even to obey the law. What psychologist David Myers calls "the triumph of individualism" has meant a sharp decline in community participation, evident in lower rates of involvement in scouting, the Red Cross, the PTA, and the Jaycees. It has also meant falling attendance at public meetings on town or school issues, declining involvement with political parties, reduced willingness to hold or run for public office or even to vote. Opinion surveys find public trust at historic lows, while political cynicism now runs very high.38 To try to reverse this decline in public-spiritedness, the Clinton Administration has launched the AmeriCorps national service program, seeking to enlist young volunteers to work in schools, parks, or auxiliary police at minimum wage (with $5,000 in student loans forgiven). But critics are dubious that many young people will respond, and they warn that "a failed national service plan [will] be worse...than nothing."39

Meanwhile, although politicians have tried to make much of the declines in violent crime in the 1990’s, violent crime is still four times higher than it was in the 1960’s. Violent crime is (in the words of one criminologist) "still off the charts and...at an unacceptable level."40 "The crime statistics should have been falling," stresses historian David T. Courtwright, who points to the predictable demographic effects of the baby bust of the 1970’s. Despite this birth dearth, juvenile violent-crime arrests more than tripled between 1965 and 1990, and the recent slight declines still leave juvenile crime and violence at "unprecedented levels."41 Even during the recent period of modest national declines in crime rates, youth violence and homicide continued to climb in some large cities, including Washington and Philadelphia.42

Other evidence of the unraveling of the civic culture has received less media attention, but should alarm us nonetheless: revenue authorities report that "tax cheating is on the rise," with tax evasion now costing the Federal government at least $80 billion annually.43 Nor can government officials hope to see greater honesty and compliance in paying taxes among the next generation of taxpayers, since school officials are now seeing an "erosion of conscience at every level of education," manifest in an unprecedented epidemic of cheating and "deceits [which] devalue learning."44

The temptation to cheat in paying taxes has grown ever stronger as anti-family policies have increased the tax burden. As Oxford philosopher Basil Mitchell has pointed out, government policies which ignore or attack the family must invariably "weaken the moral ties which bind society together." The result is then "an increasingly heavy burden upon the State apparatus. The process is cumulative–the greater the number of marriage breakdowns, the greater the number of one-parent families in need of support; the greater the number of sexual relationships in which no definite responsibilities are assumed; the greater the insecurity of any children born to them; while in turn the official acceptance of such relationships, combined with an emphasis on the needs of children as the sole consideration tends inevitably to diminish the standing of marriage....So there are more casualties for the State to rescue, and the more single-mindedly it concentrates on this task, the more unmanageable the task becomes."45 Citizens consequently witness the sorry spectacle, decried by Jacques Barzun, of "public agencies...disintegrating, working against their best interests, and unable to change."46

In view of the terrible social and civic chaos produced by family decay, Americans may well wonder just what judicial theorists and political leaders have been thinking in recent decades as they have turned against the family. Have they intended to plague the country with crime, dishonesty, bureaucratic overload, and civic apathy? Probably not. But for at least three decades, many of America’s political elite have succumbed to a very old utopian illusion: the belief that the State’s power to perfect society can be enhanced by weakening or destroying the family as a competing seat of authority and governance. From Plato to Bellamy, utopians have supposed that once loyalty to family has been vanquished, perfect loyalty to the State will be possible. The 17th-century utopian Thomas Campanella, for instance, confidently asserted that once the family is destroyed, "there remains only love for the State."47 Undivided love for the State will at last enable utopians–including the New Left and feminist activists of recent decades–to effect social changes long prevented by competing loyalties to parents, children, and spouse.48

But allowing the State to cannibalize the family has not recommended itself as prudent strategy to all political theorists. The 16th-century philosopher Jean Bodin, in fact, poured scorn on the utopian notion that an ideal regime would have no need for non-governmental associations, among which the family has always come first. "The societies of men," he reminded his utopian adversaries, "...have sprung from the love which was betwixt man and wife: from them have flowed the mutual love betwixt parents and their children; then the love of brothers and sisters toward one another; and after them the friendship between cousins and other kinsmen; and last of all the love and good will which is betwixt men joined in alliance." It is foolishness, he cautioned, to suppose "that a commonweale can be maintained and upholden without love and amity, without which the world itself cannot long stand."49 Far more recently, Ohio State ethicist Andrew Oldenquist has stressed that "the family is our most ancient society" and that the larger society very much needs "the different species of love that bind families together." The love and loyalty which inspire us to "work and sacrifice for our families," he argues, help cement "a moral community." Thus, "small tribes are beautiful" because they provide "the emotional foundation of our capacity to feel a larger national loyalty."50

Family Decline…Civic Disorder  

But quite aside from the theorizing, we have ample empirical evidence indicating that civic order suffers when families decline. Sociologist Robert Sampson reports, for example, that a high divorce rate is a strong predictor not only of a high crime rate, but also of "low rates of participation in community politics, recreation (e.g., YMCA), and educational activities....Married persons are likelier to participate in formal organizations than are divorced and unmarried people."51 One reason that divorce drives down civic participation surfaces in another study revealing that "adolescents from broken homes are more likely to show a high level of distrust of other people" than are peers from intact families.52

The folly of anti-family utopianism appears more evident with every passing year. For it is not selfless public spiritedness which manifests itself when the family disintegrates; rather, it is cynicism and opportunism. Just as Tocqueville warned, Americans turn away from the demands of public life to pursue "immediate convenience" when "family feeling" becomes an "indeterminate, uncertain conception."

True, any number of politicians have advanced their own careers by currying favor with environmentalists, feminists, senior citizens, and other groups pushing agendas harmful to the family. True, too, recent surveys do indicate that millions of young Americans who no longer have strong family ties have "shift[ed] allegiance increasingly to themselves and to the State."53 But because these young citizens have never learned the moral selflessness which the family instills, their allegiance to the State is very fickle, vanishing whenever it conflicts with self-interest. Deprived of the civic nurturance of the family, atomized citizens cling to the State simply to extract benefits, not to offer the services of selfless patriotism.

Anti-family activists may bring a burst of energy to public life (of the sort we currently see among the homosexual zealots that some politicians are now pandering to).54 But the long-term effect of this activism is always civic malaise, not health. At a time when "activist" counts as a term of praise in media commentary while "patriot" connotes xenophobia and violence, we ought to keep in mind research showing that the activists of the 1960’s have had a decidedly elevated divorce rate.55 Since we know that crime and cynicism go up and civic involvement goes down in divorce-prone communities, what kind of national future can such activists give America?

Inevitably, political movements borne of self-assertion produce citizens who regard the government as a benefits machine which exists to fill their individual needs (even at the expense of other citizens). They do not view the government as the authorized defender of families which–being more important than the individual–can require the individual to make sacrifices for the common good. The family may teach Americans to echo the words of Nathan Hale; the special-interest group never will. The political agendas of the National Organization for Women and the American Association of Retired Persons reveal much about what such groups expect to receive from their country; they are quite silent about the sacrifices they are prepared to make on its behalf.56 Indeed, the kind of self-centeredness encouraged by such movements will in the long run consume not only the family and the country, but finally the movements themselves. It should come as no surprise to hear, for example, prominent commentators now lamenting that feminism is "falling victim to individualism" as "independent-minded women ensconced on the fast track to fame and fortune" refuse to make sacrifices for the sake of other women.57

Of course, millions of American families have survived the transformation of the American government into a benefits machine serving special-interest groups. But many of these families now regard their government with far greater suspicion than strong families did in the past and manifest far less willingness to make sacrifices on its behalf. Because (in the words of one traditionalist scholar) "opponents of liberal doctrines are increasingly treated as outlaws,"58 many citizens with strong family commitments feel profoundly alienated from their government. Millions have quietly withdrawn their willingness to sacrifice for a government they now regard as subversive of their moral principles.

Many enemies of the family congratulate themselves on their remarkable success in reducing the political influence of its defenders.59 Perhaps they should reflect more seriously on the dismal experience of the ideologues who waged war against the family in the former Soviet Union. As the historians Becky Glass and Margaret Stolee point out, the founders of the Soviet Empire made an assault on the family central to their effort to erect a communist utopia. They thus enacted new family codes providing for "collectivized upbringing of children," legitimating "broad definitions of what constituted a family," facilitating easy divorce, abolishing the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate birth, enforcing child support, and giving women greater economic rights in marriage. Contrary to the ideologues’ expectations, these laws created not a healthier and stronger country, but rather "social and internal confusion." The relevance of the Soviet ideologues’ failure should be obvious to anyone who recognizes with Glass and Stolee that "many of the provisions in the earliest Soviet family law codes are the same issues . . . currently being discussed by [American] legal professionals, family scholars, and legislators."60

A Tottering Political Culture  

The social and internal confusion caused by anti-family policies may not disturb America’s leaders during our current period of peace and prosperity. But recent difficulties in military recruiting portend a true crisis in times of deep national distress–and only those hopelessly ignorant of history can suppose that such times will not come. The nation’s anti-family politics have produced millions of de-racinated Americans totally incapable of selfless sacrifice. Their loyalty to America will last only as long as the stream of government benefits continues. On the other hand, among those Americans whose strong family ties still give them the power to make selfless sacrifice, many now feel profoundly estranged from a government which has waged undeclared war against the family for three decades. Who then will step forward in, say, 2005 to risk life and fortune for a beleaguered America?

Fortunately, the civic and political consequences of anti-family policies are attracting the attention not only of traditionalists, but also of many liberal statists who are belatedly realizing that in destroying the family, they have also unintentionally destroying the State. Thus, many neo-liberal statists have banded together in a coalition calling itself the Communitarian Movement, led by former President Carter’s domestic policy advisor, Amitai Etzioni. "Our political culture is in very bad shape," concedes one of Etzioni’s lieutenants, ". . . we have not attended to what citizenship is all about. As long as we allow people to refer to themselves as ‘taxpayers’ and to think that their relationship to government is they pay the bills and get the service, then alienation will steadily get worse." As part of their effort to "heal a sick political culture" by contracting Americans’ bloated sense of entitlements, Communitarians are finally challenging a regime of "easy divorce," while "encouraging families to stay together."61

To be sure, Communitarians have very far to go in rolling back thirty years of anti-family governance. Nor should anyone underestimate the difficulty of effecting a true reversal in the government’s posture toward the family, especially since the political background of most Communitarians makes it very difficult for them to speak candidly about feminism or the welfare state. Real candor on such topics is essential, however, if Communitarians are sincere about healing a political culture infected by anti-family pathogens. If the Communitarians cannot help cure the contagion, then America may find very few defenders when the next crisis arises. But if Communitarians can join with other Americans in restoring to national governance a commitment to defending the family, then America’s next great trial will bring forth an army of patriots willing to make sacrifices on her behalf.

Endnotes

1 David Brooks, "Politics and Patriotism: From Teddy Roosevelt to John McCain," The Weekly Standard, 26 April 1999, pp.16f.

2 Cynthia Crossen, "Patriotism Warms Americans’ Hearts," The Wall Street Journal, 28 June 1998, Ed. B., p. 2A.

3 Quoted in Brooks, "Politics and Patriotism."

4 Scott McLean, "Land That I Love: Feelings Toward Country at Century’s End," The Public Perspective, April 1999, pp. 21f.

5 Jehan Sadat, "Preservation of Family Is Promotion of Peace," World Congress of Families II, Geneva, 16 November 1999, http://worldcongress.org/gen99_speakers/gen99_sadat.htm

6 Owen Flanigan and Kathryn Jackson, "Justice, Care, and Gender: the Kohlberg-Gilligan Debate Revisited," Ethics 97(1997): 630.

7 Marjorie A. Pett et al., "Paths of Influence of Divorce on Preschool Children’s Psychosocial Adjustment," Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1999), pp. 145-164.

8 Jeanne M. Hilton and Ester L. Devall, "Comparison of Parenting and Children’s Behavior in Single-Mother, Single-Father, and Intact Families," Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Vol. 29, Nos. 3/4 (1998), pp. 23-50.

9 Cicero, De Legibus.

10 George Washington, Farewell Address, 19 Sept. 1796,www.virginia.edu/gwpapers/farewell/ fwatran.htm.

11 Quoted in Harrison Clark, All Cloudless Glory: The Life of George Washington (Washington: Regnery, 1995), Vol. 1, p. 9.

12 Quoted in Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, one-volume ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954), 111.

13 Lincoln, Speeches to the One Hundred Sixty-fourth and One Hundred Sixty-sixth Ohio Regiments, 18 August 1864, www.hetins.net/showcase/creative/lincoln/speeches/ohio.htm.

14 Lincoln, Letter to Mary Speed, 27 September 1841, Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basker (Cleveland: Word, 1946), 121.

15 Kenneth S. Davis, Soldier of Democracy: A Bio-graphy of Dwight Eisenhower (Garden City: Doubleday, 1945), 46, 472.

16 Susan D. Holloway, Kathleen S. Gorman, and Bruce Fuller, "Child-Rearing Beliefs within Diverse Social Structures," International Journal of Psychology 23 (1988): 303-317.

17 Belsky remark at a consultation on "The Risks of Day Care," sponsored by The Rockford Institute, 6 December 1988.

18 Allan C. Carlson, Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1988), 162-163.

19 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1848), trans. George Lawrence, ed. J.P. Mayer (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 53.

20 Carlson, Family Questions, 111-113.

21 Associated Press, "Young Men’s Earnings Fall by Nearly One-Third," Rockford Register Star, 12 June 1987, p. 6A.

22 George A. Akerlof, Janet L. Yeller, and Michael L. Katz, "An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics 111 (1996): 277-317.

23 See Irwin Unger, The Best of Intentions: The Triumph and Failure of the Great Society Under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 256-258.

24 Randall D. Day and Wade C. Mackey, "Children as Resources: A Cultural Analysis," Family Perspective 20 (1986): 258-262.

25 David Popenoe, Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1988), 72.

26 See Mary Baker and Elaine Fersh, "A welfare reform necessity: more and better child care," The Boston Globe, 29 July 1998, p. A19.

27 See L. Feldman, "Clinton’s $21 Billion Day-Care Gambit," The Christian Science Monitor, 8 January ’98, U.S. sect., p. 1.

28 Barbara D. Whitehead and David Blankenhorn, "Man, Woman, and Public Policy," An Institute for American Values Working Paper, Publication No. WP3, Feb. 1991.

29 Steven L. Varnis, "Broken vows, therapeutic sentiments, legal sanctions," Society, Nov.-Dec. 1997, pp. 32f.

30 Edward A. Wynne, "The Great Tradition in Education: Transmitting Moral Values," Educational Leadership, Dec. ’85/ Jan. ’86, p. 8.

31 See Paul Vitz, Censorship: Evidence of Bias in Our Children’s Textbooks (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1986), 37-38.

32 Kingsley Davis, "Population Policy and the Theory of Reproductive Motivation," Economic Development and Cultural Change, 25 supp. (1987): 176.

33 See Eric Schmitt, "Officer Who Wouldn’t Fly With Women in Combat Is Retained," The New York Times, 20 Aug. ’95, Lt. ed., Sec. 1, p. 23.

34 Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (New York: Regan Books, 1997), 223, emphasis added.

35 See Judy Jones, "Military loses ground in mountain recruiting," The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 4 April 1999, p. 1a; see also Mark Mueller, "Armed services recruiting misses the target," Boston Herald, 24 Oct., 1999, p. 12.

36 Wesley Pruden, "No jiggling, please, we’re very military," The Washington Times, 19 November 1999, p. A4.

37 Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, 223.

38 David G. Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (New Haven: Yale University, 2000), 175-180.

39 See United Press International, "The President’s summit concludes," 29 April 1997, BC Cycle; see also Michael S. McPherson and Morton O. Schapiro, "What Price Patriotism?" The New York Times, 3 June 1993, p. 23A.

40 See Timothy W. Maier and Michael Rust, "A Decline in Crime?" Insight, 27 April 1998, p. 8.

41 David T. Courtwright, Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1996), 275.

42 See John J. Dilulio, Jr., "How to Deal with the Youth Crime Wave," The Weekly Standard, 16 September 1996, pp. 30f.

43 See David C. Johnston, "The Old Tax Dodge," The New York Times, 15 April 1998, p. D1; see also Larry Van Dyne, "Tax Games People Play," Washingtonian, April 1997, pp. 74f.

44 See Carolyn Kleiner, "The Cheating Game," U.S. News & World Report, 22 Nov. ’99, p. 55.

45 See Basil Mitchell, Why Public Policy Cannot Be Morally Neutral: The Current Confusion About Pluralism, The Social Affairs Unit, 1989.

46 Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 783.

47 Thomas Campanella, City of the Sun, trans. Thomas Halliday, in Ideal Commonwealths, rev. ed. (Port Washington: Kennikat, 1968), 147-156.

48 Bryce Christensen, Utopia Against the Family: The Problems and Politics of the American Family (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1990), 4.

49 Quoted in Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order & Freedom (1953; rpt. San Francisco: ICS, 1990), 114.

50 Andrew Oldenquist, The Non-Suicidal Society (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1986), 120, 139, 196.

51 Robert J. Sampson, "Crime in Cities: The Effects of Formal and Informal Social Control," in Communities and Crime, eds. Albert J. Reiss Jr. and Michael Tonry, Vol. 8 in Crime and Justice, eds. Michael Tonry and Norvel Morris (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987), 271-307.

52 See Christina Giuliani et al., "Peer-Group and Romantic Relationships in Adolescents from Intact and Separated Families," Contemporary Family Therapy, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1998): 93-106.

53 See Paul C. Glick, "The Family Life Cycle and Social Change," Family Relations 38 (1989): 123-189.

54 See William Goldshlag, "Gore Gets Nod From Gay Group, Backs Benefits," Daily News (New York), 17 Feb. ’00, p. 28.

55 Doug McAdam, "The Biographical Consequences of Activism," American Sociological Review 54 (1989): 744-760.

56 See "NOW’s Political Agenda" (Editorial), Boston Herald, 24 April ’98, p. 28; see also "A Matter of Fairness. AARP’s Agenda" (Editorial), The Union Leader (Manchester, NH), 29 June 1995, Ed. pg.

57 See Pat Swift, "Is Feminism Falling Victim to Individualism?" Buffalo News, 10 June ’95, p. 7C.

58 See George A. Panichas, Growing Wings to Overcome Gravity: Criticism as the Pursuit of Virtue (Macon: Mercer University, 1999), 37.

59 See Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and the Practice of Equality (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2000), 462-469.

60 See Becky L. Glass and Margaret K. Stolee, "Family Law in Soviet Russia 1917-1945," Journal of Marriage and the Family 49 (1987): 893-901.

61 See Rob Gurwitt, "Communitarianism: You Can Try It At Home," Governing Magazine, August 1993.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 1997-2012 The Howard Center: Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required. | contact: webmaster