I offer here Two
Themes, which I hope to show are closely interrelated:
My first theme:
"The Family is the natural
and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by
society and the state."
(This language is taken directly from Article
16 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
And my second theme:
We must now become creative social
Allow me to explain.
In December, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted
and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It was, most clearly, a reaction to the horrors and crimes of Naziism and related ideologies during the prior fifteen years, where the
concept of "race" had waged war against human dignity, with a
It is important to remember here that, in some respects, the idea
of "race" or of the "racial state" represented a perversion
and corruption of the idea of family.
Naziism and its related ideologies took the reality of
"genetic relationship" and, through the manipulations of
pseudo-science and false history, extended it to mythical
racial-nations. In the pursuit of power and empire, the acts of marriage,
human reproduction, and child rearing were also subordinated to the
demands of the "racial state," again with terrible result.
And so, a critical task after the war was to restore the concept
of the authentic, real, or natural family, a task which the
architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took seriously. We find in the 1948 Declaration these extraordinary
"Article 3: Everyone
has the right to life, liberty and security of person."
"Article 12: No
one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy,
family, home or correspondence…."
"Article 16: (1)
Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race,
nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a
family.… (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and
full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of
society and is entitled to protection by society and the State."
"Article 17: Everyone
has the right to own property alone as well as in association with
"Article 23: Everyone
who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for
himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and
supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection."
"Article 25: Motherhood
and childhood are entitled to special care and protection."
And "Article 26:
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that
shall be given to their children."
These are concise and powerful statements in affirmation of
family living. They
the unqualified right to life of all individuals;
the reality of family autonomy relative to the state;
the absolute right of men and women "of full
age" to marry and procreate without state interference;
the place of the family as the fundamental base of
society, one deserving special protection
the linkage of family and liberty to property;
the moral imperative of a family wage;
the special social, cultural, and policy status of
motherhood and children;
and the "prior right" of parents to direct the
education of their children.
call in this Congress to promote the stability, autonomy, and fecundity
of the natural family is wholly consistent with--indeed it is in the
full spirit of--this Declaration. Many
of us, I believe, would say that we ask nothing more than that the
nations of the world, and The United Nations itself and its allied
bodies, fulfill the family-centered promises of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
But unfortunately, it would
be incorrect to conclude that all is well with the natural family as the
Second Millennium draws to a close, or that a positive family worldview
governs contemporary international deliberations.
Although the systematic use of "race" as a corruption
of the true human family system has largely disappeared, other
ideological corruptions of the family idea have taken its place.
And signs of disarray--marriages delayed or foregone, mounting
levels of desertion and divorce, a diminished valuation of children
evidenced in both child abuse and below-replacement fertility--these
steadily mount. In seeking a family-centric and child-friendly world, the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights still has much work to do.
contemporary ideological corruption of family, which I shall call
"collectivism" here, assumes that the whole of a
"society" can be operated on the family economic principle of
altruism: from each person
according to his or her ability, to each person according to his or her
need. This is a rich and beautiful ideal, and the vision does in
fact work well within family households and some other entities,
such as the self-sufficient village or the religious community. But it must be emphasized that this form of altruism can
operate only in small places, where the character and practical
strengths and weaknesses of each individual are known, and where the
face of love can function on a direct human scale.
When this vision is made the organizing principle of a whole
society, the result is human tragedy, and the very opposite of altruism
contemporary corruption seeks to lift persons completely out of
their human family connections; to supplant the bonds of men and women
in marriage, of parents to their children, and of the generations by
focusing solely on the isolated individual, and that individual's
relationship to the economy and the state.
would call this pure liberalism, but that does violence to the
original liberal ideal. As
the political philosopher John Locke explained in his treatise, Of
Civil Government, the liberation of grown children from the
legal authority of their parents never implied liberation from other,
and more fundamental, authorities and bonds.
God having made the
parents instruments in His great design of continuing the race of
mankind, and the occasion of life to their children…,
so He hath laid on the children a perpetual obligation of
honoring their parents which containing in it an inward esteem and
reverence to be shown by all outward expressions, ties up the child from
anything that may ever injure or affront, disturb, or endanger the
happiness or life of those from whom he received his…. From this
obligation no state, no freedom, can absolve the children.
liberalism can only operate within this framework of Divine order
and respect for family obligations.
Over the last half century, though, God and family have commonly
been lifted out of the liberal system, an action that has created a very
different political order: one centered on the unfettered individual; one that we might
label atomistic. Political
and economic liberty--the goals of a liberal polity--actually have given
way under the regime of atomism to new forms of dependency:
reliance on either the "post family" bureaucratic
state, which ignores marriage and trivializes parent-child bonds; or on
the growing economic power of secular, multi-national corporations; or
on both. In any of these
cases, the place of the family as the "fundamental…unit of
society" is overturned, a danger anticipated, I believe, by the
architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This document also deserves praise for its careful description of
"the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of
society." In using
this term, "natural," the authors of the Declaration chose not
to use the common phrase, "traditional," to describe the
family, and in this they were very wise.
largely by 1948, and almost completely by 1999, the whole of the truly
"traditional" world had already passed away.
By "traditional," I mean a society where a whole way of
life is dictated by birth into a web of customary, unquestioned
sociological parlance, birth into a gemeinschaft community of
unblinking submission to the existing way of things.
The contrast here is with the "modern" world, a regime
resting on the reality (or at least the illusion) of choice and intent.
In our so-called global village, almost everyone now lives under
the modern regime of choice and intent; that is, persons know they could
live in different ways. Except
perhaps for a few tribal groups untouched by the consumer economy, the
international media, or government, we are all "moderns" now.
But the architects of the Universal Declaration understood that the
family stood outside both the regime of
"tradition" and the regime of "choice."
They used the word, "natural," to convey their
understanding that the human family system had its basis in human
nature: that is, in the
very biological and psychological makeup of men and women. This means that our very identity as human beings impels us
toward family life; toward marriage and children. A religious person would probably explain this as the
consequence of Divine intent, in the Creation.
The person of science could explain this as a consequence
of ten thousand generations of human evolution.
The conclusion, though, would be the same:
to be human is to be familial.
The architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also
understood that this family system grounded on marriage and
procreation was universal: to be found all over the globe.
On questions of family life, religious, racial, national,
and geographic differences were overwhelmed by the commonality of the
human experience, rooted in the unity of human nature.
It was in the same spirit that a group of twenty-five, from all
the inhabited continents, met in Rome last year to craft this definition
of the "natural family":
natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed by the Creator
in human nature and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a
woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage for the purposes of:
Satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and
Welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional
development of children;
Sharing a home that serves as the center for social,
educational, economic, and spiritual life;
Building strong bonds among the generations, passing on a
way of life that has transcendent meaning; and
Extending a hand of compassion to individuals and
households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.
definition is, I believe, in full harmony with the Universal
Declaration's description of "the family" as
"natural," and it is at the core of our work here in the
where, then, are we left? How
do we fit this "natural" family into our "modern"
world, with its own ideological corruptions, in a way that promotes
another goal of the Universal Declaration:
"the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the
My answer is this: We
must all become good social engineers.
This answer may upset many, who correctly see certain forms of
"social engineering" as a cause of contemporary family
disarray. But in using this
phrase, I actually draw my inspiration from a most special and
unexpected place: The Old
Order Amish of North America.
On the surface, the Amish appear to be one of the
few communities in the developed world where "tradition" still
holds absolute sway, and where the modern process of "social
engineering" would be the least likely to be found.
After all, the Amish still use horses for field work and
transportation. They wear clothing that, in its basic design, is
unchanged for hundreds of years. They
end the basic education of their children at age 13 or 14, and rely
thereafter on old-fashioned apprenticeships in farming, craftwork,
gardening, and homemaking. How
can these apparent slaves to agrarian tradition be called exemplary
answer lies in what sociologist Donald Kraybill calls "The Riddle
of Amish Culture."
For it is simply not true that the Amish reject all technological
innovations or changes in their way of life.
In recent decades, for example, gas refrigerators have replaced
iceboxes and hydraulic water pumps have replaced hand pumps on Amish
homesteads. Wood fired cook
stoves have given way to modern gas ranges.
Gasoline engines power hay-bailers, while air-powered sewing
machines are displacing tredle machines and Amishmen stand among the
world's finest hydraulic engineers.
truth is that the Amish have learned how to build and use "moving
cultural fences" to protect their communities from the arbitrary
intrusion of both alien values and new technologies.
Instead of "surrendering" to modernity, they have
learned to bargain with it.
The bishops of this religious community understand their role as
"watchmen on the walls," responsible for guarding their flock
from the "little foxes" of worldliness--of modernity--who
would dig under the walls and undermine the vital bonds of community.
They engage in "selective modernization," where they
judge potential changes and innovations against a set of fixed
standards. While successful
competitors in a market economy and while growing rapidly (from 5,000 in
1900 to an estimated 150,000 in 1999), the Old Order Amish have learned
to be masters of change rather its slaves, and to keep
"modernity" subservient to their community's values and goals.
It is in this sense they are the world's foremost social
central achievement, I believe, has been their refusal to let
industrialization in all its forms oust the major functions of life from
their homes. With fierce
obstinance, they have defended "family integrity" and the
functional nature of the family. Education
and certain form of primary production are still home-centered.
Family members are functionally interdependent:
these are people who still need each other, where the economic
and the sexual are bound together in love.
And in consequence, their families are larger and stronger.
Divorce is rare. And as Kraybill summarizes:
"Marriage is highly esteemed and raising a family is the
professional career of Amish adults."
is a family-centric world, full of life, children's laughter, and
essential security. The
typical Amish family has seven children; the typical elderly couple will
have 45 grandchildren; the typical child will have 75 first cousins.
Contrast this with the near future of many so-called
"developed" lands where, in the wake of the Second Fertility
Transition focused on the 'one child' family, over half of the
population will have no brothers or sisters, no aunts and
uncles, and no cousins.
so, my point is this: While
the details will surely differ, family reconstruction in our time must
work from some of the same principles used by the Amish.
married couples must intentionally create
homes that fiercely defend "family integrity" and embrace
certain primary human functions, such as education, or child care, or
food production, or basic craft skills;
technological and cultural innovations must be judged
against fixed standards of social health, particularly the stability,
political autonomy, and fecundity of the natural family; and
family, religious, and community leaders must serve as
gatekeepers, protecting their members from the anarchy of mindless,
is the social engineering most needed in our time:
the kind that will protect the natural family and allow it
We are gathered here, toward that end.
And we are gathered here in the spirit of those delegates from
the nations of the world who, fifty-one years ago, sought to protect
those very same principles in their Universal Declaration of Human
Let this Congress begin….
John Locke, Of Civil Government
Gateway, 1955): 52.
See: C. Owen
Lovejoy, "The Origin of Man," Science 211 (23 January
1981): 348. Lovejoy surveys here the paleo-anthropological record and
advanced material culture and the Pleistocene acceleration in brain
development are sequelae to an already established hominid
character system, which included intensified parenting and social
relationships, monogamous pair-bonding, specialized
sexual-reproductive behavior [by male and female], and
bipedality. It implies
that the nuclear family and [monogamous] human sexual behavior may
have their origin long before the Pleistocene."
The following discussion draws extensively on this book.
Full citation: Donald
B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture
(Baltimore and London: The
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).