Wednesday, June 1, 2016

When the Government Becomes Your Family

From the American Conservative:
Studies have shown that the well-being of marriage and the family carries large consequences for children and for the economy, but the Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall offered an additional warning when she cautioned, “If we want a limited government … conservatives need to stand for the family.” Marshall’s statement draws on the idea that the family, as the basic unit of society, is also a bulwark against big government. If the family, extended and immediate, is failing in its fundamental duty to lead members to care for one another, the government will step in to fill that vacuum. Subsequently, as the state grows in power and increasingly provides for citizens’ material needs, the need for the family is diminished.

Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw the danger of weakening family ties in democratic societies when he wrote:
In [the past] man almost always knows about his ancestors and respects them; his imagination extends to his great-grandchildren and he loves them…in democratic ages on the contrary, the duties of each to all are much clearer but devoted service to any individual much rarer. The bonds of human affection are wider but more relaxed…they form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation
For generations, raising a family was a community venture with young families rallying together for support and family members pitching in to help with new children. The extended family was the bedrock, and was the first source one looked to when in need, whether for a loan to purchase a new home or merely for someone to watch the children for an evening. Boys and girls learned generosity and duty at the knee of the generations who raised them, and it was within this thriving sense of community where virtues of civil society were first instilled into children. Unfortunately, the highly individualistic tendencies of democracy that Tocqueville warned of have taken firm hold in the past several decades, and the importance of the extended family has thus been significantly de-emphasized. Since the Industrial Revolution, and most especially in the Northeast, young men and women move away from home towards the city in large numbers, determined to earn their independence and make their way. Once they’ve done so, they often settle down to raise their families far removed from their own parents, grandparents, and ancestral roots, resulting in the rise of the nuclear family structure over a multigenerational one. (Read more.)

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