Family and State

In my ongoing efforts to remain unread in as many venues as possible(1), I hereby post a comment I made on Sarah Hoyt’s blog, where, in a typically good post worth your read, she discusses the difficulties of growing up if others – the state, or even the extended family – are always there to make sure you don’t hit bottom.

While I agree with much of what she’s saying, I tend to focus on another aspect: the family as the foundation of the state and a bulwark against its excesses:

I’ve told our kids (1 left at home, 2 in college, one graduate) that they will always have a home, but I’m not interested in subsidizing a wasted life. It’s still early, but, so far, I’m more afraid they’ll never come back than that they’ll never leave! Our college kids have spent a total of two summers between the 3 of them with us, and, even then, they found their own jobs and worked. Otherwise, they haven’t even come back for the summer, but have pursued some adventure or other.

Part of it is that we never ran them through the school mill, where ‘success’ is measured out in approval doled out for pleasing authority figures. Instead, they tend to see success in setting and achieving their own goals. (this has the odd side-effect of them sometimes being dissatisfied with getting an ‘A’ if they don’t feel they did good enough in the class.) I guess I’m saying that, so far, my experience is that merely having that family net does not make one soft.

That’s all an aside, really – my main comment is that extended family is a good thing, one that not only establishes that support mechanism which you’re writing about, but also stands as the only practical opposition to the omnicompetent state. That’s why Marx and Gramsci wanted so badly to destroy it, and why it seems to be always in the cross-hairs of progressives everywhere: schools are presumed to raise our kids for us, Social Security is presumed to care for our elderly for us, the rights of the individual trump the rights of the family in divorce, custody and visitation decisions so much so that (right here, I imagine) it strikes people as odd to even imagine a family having rights, and outrageous to imagine that those family rights might need to be placed in the scales and weighed against what the omnicompetent individual wants.

That ancient understanding is that, if a family has duties, it must also have rights, has mostly been driven off the stage. Sarah, in your stories I’ve read (mostly on this blog – don’t know if that’s a representative sample or not), it is common for the hero to become a loner or at least be stripped of his group membership, then find purpose and fulfillment by becoming part of another, better, group – a family, even. Makes for good drama, and resonates with what I think we’d all like to have. I’m suggesting that those families, bound by love and Ideals, are good and essential even before the bullets start flying. Heck, maybe if we focused enough on building and sustaining them, the bullets might not even need to fly…

To go even further: the Founding Fathers (some of them, anyway) were very interested in restricting the franchise to men who had property. While their interest in such restrictions were firmly based in their completely justified horror at the tyranny of the majority and stopping that whole ‘vote yourself a free lunch’ thing that demagogues in all ages always eventually get around to,  it seems to me to be more essentially the dim reflection of the old understanding of family rights and duties. A man’s right to property was not traditionally seen as absolute – a man had a right to own and quietly enjoy those things he needed in order to fulfill his duties. Therefore, a man with a family has the duty to care for it, and therefore a right to acquire and keep stuff – a home, an income, tools, comforts that support family life.

A married woman participates in these duties of her husband, and therefore participates in these rights. In practice, a husband would be unwise to the point of insanity to consider his wife’s belongings to be his own, but in theory, if push came to shove, and a decision needed to be made about ALL their possessions, he would have the *duty* to make it.

To look at this the other way around: a man or woman who joined a religious order and took a vow of poverty surrenders all rights to own property. The simple monk or nun has no duties that require ownership. Yet the clothes on their backs and other such personal items are theirs in all practical senses. If the monastery were to up and move, say, the abbot or abbess might decide that they should leave some belongings behind, thus, in an extreme case, exercising the rights of ownership that fall to the office of abbot with the duty to manage stuff for the good of all and each.

In the middle ages, when this understanding of rights springing from duties was prevalent, a widow might inherit all the belongings of her late husband – but she might not. It might be that another man had by law or custom the duty to care for her and her family, in which case he would become owner of the property.

If you find this outrageous, seeing everywhere opportunities for abuse, I can only agree that this system could be and was abused. My only counter argument is that the system we have today is also abused constantly, and in more frivolous ways, as when in an acrimonious divorce, the parties try to stick it to each other over every last pot and pan, the rights of any children involved being irrelevant or denied outright.

Be that as it may, it remains true, as noted above, that progressives, whether consciously and purposely or not, tend strongly to favor measures that undermine the family, especially the extended family, insofar as families provide a fixed point from which to challenge the power of the state.

In a similar way, we might see restricting the vote to men who own property as outrageous. We can all think of many exceptions that defeat the purpose of such restrictions: the indolent rich, the industrious poor. And, of course, women(2).

So, now, women and men all may vote, regardless of any duties or property they may or may not hold. And perhaps this is, overall, a good thing. My point here, as elsewhere on this blog, it simply to point out that there is always a trade off, a cost to all social changes. Instead of having a representative of the family sally forth into the larger political world as the representative  of the family and its interests and cast his vote accordingly, we now have implicitly declared that our duties and rights as citizens are greater than any duties and rights we may have as part of a family. In fact, we recognize fewer such family duties and rights with each passing day.

That a vote might cause dissention within a family is considered no cost at all; that a vote might put members of a family at cross purposes is almost a joke. Thus, both the family and voting are trivialized. Is this really better?


  1. To all 6 of my regular readers – Just kidding! Love you all!
  2. Mike Flynn, in his epic Eifelheim, set largely in 14th century Germany, mentions in passing a couple cases where the duties of men fell to women – who then had rights they exercised shoulder to shoulder with the men. Given mortality rates and life expectancies – even without the occasional Black Death – a society would have to have orderly ways for property to be inherited and managed. It is greatly to the honor of those medieval villagers that they had such humane ways of handling transitions brought about by the death of a property owner. Unlike, say, a society in which not just the stuff they owned, but the villagers themselves would be considered the property of the king.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

One thought on “Family and State”

  1. I think that every system is able to be abused by the immoral (some more than others). The only way to avoid this completely is for citizens to be virtuous.

    My major problem with the social justice warrior is that he wants to try and create a just society with unjust people.

    Christi pax,


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