THE war on the family is ongoing. Our system of values – not ‘our values’ but the ones with which we are obliged to agree – is one which seems dedicated to the replacement of the family with anything else.
Once considered the basic unit of any sane society, the family is under attack. Liberalised no-fault divorce laws, the travesty of same-sex unions diluting the name with the attendant purchase of children, and the feminist idea of marriage as some kind of prison to be escaped are all examples of the liberalism which drives the campaign against the family.
This liberalism, which sees itself as the guarantor of human liberation, urges people to slip the bonds of tradition as if they were shackles. It is never clear where we are to escape to, being more concerned with making a hellish example of every institution into which we were born. The first of these is the family.
In this two-part series I will treat some of the history of ideas against the family, leading up to the ideology of the present day. In part two, I will look at how we live, and the modern developments such as technology, working patterns and pharmaceutical innovation which have combined to produce the perfect storm of social upheaval which is erasing the family unit.
I was once asked: ‘Where do ideas come from?’ It was horrible to be stumped. In this case, I can provide an answer. Ideas against the family derived from an Enlightenment leading to revolutionary and emancipatory currents, each dedicated to supplanting God with a new order of Reason.
An early sign came from France, when in 1792 the National Assembly passed a law allowing divorce. ‘For the authors of the decree, divorce was inextricably linked to the concept of liberty: it was “a consequence of individual liberty which an indissoluble engagement would destroy”.’
Where did the ideas of the supremacy of liberty and equality come from? They came largely from childless men.
The Liberal enlightenment arguably began with the work of Rene Descartes, who was childless. So were Locke, Hobbes and Spinoza. Rousseau, a direct inspiration for the French Revolution, gave all his children up for adoption. These men formed much of the Enlightenment rationalism which built a religion of mankind whose end times we inhabit.
After these came Marx, whose Communist Manifesto expressly denounced marriage. In his native Germany, measures were taken by the Prussian and Reich governments to counter the socialist threat to the family. Engels, Marx’s patron and collaborator, published The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State in 1884. This book, written shortly after the death of Marx, was believed by Engels to encapsulate his dead friend’s dedication to the abolition of the family.
Why did Marx desire its destruction? By his logic, the ‘bourgeois’ family was hypocritical and inhumane, whose unchallenged history he saw as the bedrock of a society he sought to undermine and replace with a collectivised, socialist solidarity. He wished to show what the family might become under communism. He intended it would bear little resemblance to the family of tradition. If we seek his monument today, we must only look around us.
From its beginnings, the war on the family is symptomatic of a wider antipathy to any dimension beyond the immediate self. To make sense of it is to understand that to liberals and revolutionaries alike, every custom and institution is seen as a restraint on the liberty of the individual.
It is a negative dialectic, to borrow a term, whose object is to make everything normal seem awful, so that we might prefer the alternative. It has led to the opposite of order in every aspect of life it has sought to reform.
This is not a matter for lamentation alone, as the recognition of this fact could provide for the basis of a renewed conservatism. What is conservative if not the steadfast belief in the precious and primary value of God, family and country? The little platoons of Burke do not thrive in the warehouses of Amazon, nor in the wage cubes of modern office makework.
They are the expression of social bonds, of a nation which sees itself as an extended family, not one of obligations to strangers or patterned on retail therapy. These factors reduce the nucleus of society to that of the atomised individual, free from obligations and meaningful ties to others, liberated only in the pursuit of its own desires. To move beyond the abject failure of our politics to defend anything of value is to recognise not merely what but how it has been lost.
Conservatives-in-name-only have conspired in the war on the family, because they are often right-liberals who believe that the derestriction of caprice is the key to emancipation. It is a whimsical life which sees everything as a consumer choice to be satisfied.
Yet a marriage and a family is not a mere transaction. It is not like the replaceable parts of an electric toothbrush, to be upgraded once worn out. It is a sacrament and a dedication, a union which is the correct foundation of the state. Its dissipation does much to explain the increasing instability and chaos of our society.
The history of the family is one of continued dilution, a shrinking unit in danger of complete extinction as it is legally refined into a bewildering spectrum by the latter-day revolutionaries of our legal system.
In 2018 Sir James Munby, Britain’s most senior family judge, said we should ‘welcome and applaud’ the collapse of the nuclear family, but did not give any reasons. Instead he noted how technology and the liberalisation of marriage law had encouraged the proliferation of ‘an almost infinite variety of forms’ of alternatives to the short-lived nuclear family model, including polygamy, surrogacy and same-sex partnerships alongside the growing trend of unmarried parents.
He is of course a vocal supporter of no-fault divorce and the purchase of children by single people. A more emblematic Establishment figure would be hard to find to champion the Marxist dream of the abolition of the family. Yet the war on the family could never have been fought by these revolutionaries and extreme individualists without the assistance of technological and social changes which combined to produce a toxic environment for anything beyond the self.
In Part Two I will discuss how we have come to live like this, taking in the social currents which provided such fertile ground for the defeminisation of women, the demonisation of men, and which has promoted a vision of the future as a child-free Utopia.