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WHY ARE WE HERE?

  Opening Address

 
Allan Carlson, Ph.D.

   BIO

Madame First Lady, religious leaders, Ambassadors, Ministers, Distinguished guests, on behalf of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, I welcome you to this grand conference, the third in a series of international assemblies: Prague in 1997; Geneva in 1999; and México City today. At the very outset, I extend my great thanks to Red Familia (or Family Network) and to Familial e Sociedad (Family and Society) for their primary work in organizing this event. Besides visiting this remarkable world city, why then are we here?

First, we are here to acknowledge—in the words of The Geneva Declaration—“that the natural human family is established by the Creator” and “inscribed in human nature.” To live in families is to be in harmony with this Divine intent and with the order of the Creation. All the children of Abraham share in this heritage of family, indeed, all of humanity does.

Second, we are here to affirm the Marriage of Man to Woman as the First and Necessary Social Bond, the foundation of Civil Society. Marriage holds such distinction for it is natural and self-renewing, rooted in the mutual attraction of man to woman, beings who feel their incompleteness when existing alone. Woman and man also come together, of necessity, so that the human race might continue. Healthy cultures surround marriage with public celebration and commonly religious ritual.

In this civic sense, marriage is also the true reservoir of liberty. It exists prior to other human bonds, be they village, city, state, or nation, and it has the endless capacity for renewal, even in periods of persecution or social and moral decline. In the modern age, as ever before, each new marriage is an affirmation of live, love, and human continuity over against the darkness. Every new marriage of man and woman is also an act of defiance against ambitious political and ideological powers that would reduce human activity to their purposes. And each true marriage contains within it the potential of biological reproduction that brings to life new human beings, unique and unpredictable in their character.

Marriage bears another special power. Equal in dignity before their Creator, man and woman each hold special gifts, important differences in thought, action, and skills. In marriage, man and woman are transformed into husband and wife, father and mother. This complementarity transforms their union into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Marriage starts as a covenant between two individuals, a man and a woman who agree to give each other mutual care, respect, and protection, and who open their future to the life issuing from their sexual union. Marriage can fulfill this role, and function properly, only when the bond is considered to be for life.

At the same time, marriage is the foundation for other social bonds. Each true marriage is also a covenant between the couple and their kin. In marriage, two extended families merge in a manner that perpetuates and invigorates both.

More broadly, marriage is the solution to human society’s universal dependency problem. Every community must resolve the same issues: who will care for the very young, the very old, the weak, and the infirm? How shall the rewards given to productive adults be shared with those who are not or cannot be productive? In the natural human order, these tasks fall primarily on kin networks where spouses care for each other “in sickness or in health;” where parents nurture, train, and protect their offspring until they are able to enter marriages of their own; where the aged enjoy care, purpose, and respect; and where kin insure that no family member falls through the safety net. Even “social security” systems function best when they build on and respect, rather than replace, family-centered security.

Marriage is also a covenant between the couple and the broader community. The bearing of children within marriage offers the best promise of new community members who will be supported and trained by parents without becoming a charge on others and who will grow into responsible adults able to contribute to the community’s well-being. Predictably, children reared within natural marriage will be healthier, brighter, harder working, and more honest, dutiful, and cooperative than those raised in other ways. They will be less likely to slide into violent, abusive, or self-destructive behaviors. As such, each marriage represents the renewal of a community through the promise of responsible new citizens to come. When the marital institution weakens before hostile policies or ideologies, then the social pathologies of suicide, ignorance, crime, abuse, poor health, and crippling dependency surely grow. Eventually, these pathologies born from the decay of wedlock will consume the community itself.

Third, we are here to affirm the necessity of the Autonomous Home or Household. Marriage creates a new household. When gathered together, these households form the second institutional tier in natural social life and the one on which political life is properly built. The household will normally encompass the wedded man and woman, their children, and perhaps extended family. Successful households aim at a certain autonomy or independence, enabling their members to resist oppression, survive economic, social, and political turbulence, and renew nations after troubles have passed.

The basic human need for functional independence dictates the vital importance of a household’s bond to property, including land and various forms of capital. Autonomy requires, at the least, the capacity to secure a regular supply of food and the ability to preserve this bounty for consumption during adverse times. The dwelling or house where the family lives is another vital form of family property. This is where children are protected and nurtured, where love and economy merge together, where the future of nations takes form.

Accordingly, the good society views land and housing as different-in-kind from other forms of property. A critical social, political, and economic task becomes the fair, family-centered distribution of land and habitat, so that home ownership is widely spread. Governments properly aim first at housing young parents with children, so turning them into property owners. This, in turn, drives the domestic economy and the family-centered development of nations.

The autonomous household, rooted in family-held property, also builds its own home economy, including still important productive tasks such as child care and meal preparation. More broadly, it is true that the industrial revolution of the 19th century, dependent as it was on balky power sources such as flowing water and the steam engine, encouraged centralized factories and stimulated the “great divorce” of work from home. This weakened the traditional order of the family farm and village. The 20th and 21st centuries, however, have delivered successive waves of new technologies which have returned “power,” in both senses of that word, to the household economy: from the small electric engine, to most recently, the household computer, linked to the internet. This extraordinary new tool, also once confined to large central work units, is now available for decentralized use. Where the competitive advantage in the 19th century clearly lay with the industrial factory, the productive homestead has improved prospects as the dawn of the 21st century.

Another central function of the household is the education of children, for which parents are primarily responsible. The household bears the obligation and natural authority to transmit to children the spiritual doctrines and beliefs of the family, the customs and folkways by which the household lives, the practical skills necessary for the later creation of new households, and the values required for successful engagement in the world of work and commerce. While outside agencies, such as parent-controlled schools, may be usefully employed for part of these tasks, those households fail which abdicate the whole of education to others.

Fourth, we are here to affirm the role of local community as a shelter for family households. Indeed, the village or neighborhood forms the next layer of social order. A broad society of households allows for the diversification and specialization of skills within a context of general competence and an expectation of fair exchange. Within such communities, the individual internalizes restraints on behavior and ambition. In this level of civic order, children also receive a kind of communal rearing, where the sharp edges or peculiarities found in each household can be tempered. Such close community also offers the best protection of individuals from pathologies within households, allowing social intervention to occur without threatening the normative pattern of family living.

Commerce begins between households through markets. Communities rely on sentiments of common humanity to soften the rough edges of competition, to principles of fair exchange, and to preserve the household basis of the economy. Communities strive to forestall a complete industrialization of human economic and social life, by protecting the home economy through devices such as “the family wage.”

Fifth, we are here to affirm the proper role of government as a servant of families. The state exists to protect households, villages, and their members from external threat and to mediate disputes between households and communities that cannot be resolved at a lower level. Having no fixed metaphysic, the structure of the state can vary from place to place and circumstance to circumstance: from monarchies to republics. The guiding principle is the limitation of the central power. Natural authority resides in households and communities, where it is conditioned by innate human affections. These entities cede to the nation-state by the authority necessary to keep foreign armies and other alien pressures at bay and to protect the mechanisms of fair commerce and exchange. Constitutional arrangements insure that basic authority remains in local and household hands, that powers granted to the state remain limited, and that leaders of the state be persons of character and self-restraint. Full citizenship in the state is granted to those who fulfill certain obligations: including the maintenance of personal independence through a productive homestead; ownership of home, land, and capital; and marriage procreation, and acknowledgement of responsibility for the next generation. All forms of healthy governance rely on a body of property owners committed to family creation and constitutional duty.

The danger posed by the central state is its potential to become an end in itself, exercising authority not ceded by the foundational social units, but rather claimed as primary. Working to destroy the traditional order, this rogue, post-family state will assert power to “protect” individuals from the rooted authority of households and communities. It will build “state schools” to impart a state morality. It will create artificial “rights” that bludgeon traditional authority that denies the family. It will make family-centered enterprise difficult, and will undermine family property. At its most perverse, this wayward state will set wife against husband, husband against wife, children against parents, and household against household. Aggrandizing its own power, this state will weaken the legal protections of marriage; create financial incentives to out-of-wedlock births and divorce; take over the dependency functions of care for the young, the old, and the infirm; undermine family-held property; deny the functional complementarity of women and men; transfer the concept of “autonomy” from the household to the individual; redefine marriage to encompass non-procreative bonds; and invert the meaning of liberty, casting it as the gift of the state. Such actions undermine natural society and erect in its place an order where individuals tend to become wards of the Leviathan state. An order of free citizens becomes a “client society,” where bureaucrats minister to the needs of “citizen subjects.”

Sixth, we are here to affirm the central place of the family in economic development. The wild card in human social relations is the corporation, an artificial, voluntary union of persons toward some common end.

So understand, corporations appear to have existed in most historical ages. Whether the task be missionary conversion to a faith or the production and sale of a commodity, the corporation serves as an agent of change, disrupting inherited ways, and reordering the context in which natural society operates. Where natural society tends toward stability, each corporation represents a push for instability, for what economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” Conflict between these social visions is inevitable. If the challenge by the corporation is too great, the result can be the distortion or destruction of natural social life. At the same time, though, the corporation can indirectly help renew natural society, by providing a positive response to challenges. While traditional society can suppress corporate-induced change to the point of stagnation and decline, natural society can also tame or humanize the explosive force of corporate innovation, turning it to constructive ends. One important test facing any age is to find a workable balance between the stability of family-centered community and the disruptions spawned by corporate-driven change. In the global economy of the 21st century, the challenge is particularly great.

One proven response here has been the encouragement, through public policy, of the family-held corporation. New attention to this very old form of business shows that such firms—when compared to publicly-held joint stock companies—are more loyal to their communities, are more likely to respect and protect the family bonds of their workers, are less likely to dismiss workers during business slowdowns, and are more likely to maintain a healthy, long-term investment perspective.

Until forty years ago, everything that I have said here would have been exceptional, routine, without controversy. As late as 1965, the spirit behind the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was still alive and well, as in:

Article 16c(3): “The family is the fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state”…and

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 assistance.”

Article 26: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”…and, of course,

Article 16c(1): “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion, have the right to marry and found a family.”

Today, however, every one of these principles is deeply controversial under assault, in many individual states and at The United Nations. It is fair to conclude, I believe, that the very basis of social order is now at risk.

The nihilist foes of society understand that ordered liberty rests on a pyramid of relationships: a submission to the sacred; the creation of marriages which flow into households; and the formation of households into communities, states, economies, and nations. While ready to weaken any of these tiers of society, they probably vent their greatest fury against the Divine source of life and the institution of marriage, for it is on these two pillars that all else rests. This truth underscores the dangers posed by the militant foes of faith and by the contemporary challenge to marriage, under the rubric of “freedom to marry” and “gay marriage.” Accordingly, defense of the sacred canopy and of the traditional marital covenant becomes the moral and political imperative for a family-centered order. When they thrive, all else tends to follow, and human existence can know joy and peace.

Finally, we are also here to take the next step in building an international alliance of pro-family organizations. The 1999 Geneva Declaration is a powerful and compelling statement of philosophical principles. We hope that this assembly in Mexico City will lead to a Platform of Action and encourage a new network to carry this great and necessary work into the future. And we look forward to other family-conferences in 2004, leading to a great inter-governmental meeting in Doha Qatar next November. On behalf of The Howard Center and the earlier World Congresses, I again welcome you here and wish you Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

 

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