Arguments about the Meaning of Family

Devon, PA.  Scott Yenor, Associate Professor of Political Science at Boise State University, has provided two dispassionate and informative articles on the historical function of the family and the means we may take at present to regain a more just evaluation of its necessary function and nature.  I recommend both essays for a number of reasons, not least of which is the systematic researchYenor has undertaken to found his claims and the caution with which he formulates his recommendations.  I shall not mention what reservations I have about his analysis because, first, no doubt his argument was constrained by the length suitable for a short column and, second, because I intend to re-furnish my own precise position Thursday.

Much of the writing I publish at FPR comes under attack, especially those essays on the nature of the family.  Many or our readers seem to be attracted by the vision of community and place foundational to this journal’s mission, but have not fully thought out the conditions that make substantive communal life possible (much less the goods that are the final cause of human community).  Others seem to read essays on this site, because they envision place and community as an crown of arugala to bejewel and season otherwise conventional lives in the age of the superstate and global capital, and we provide occasional, weaker nourishment along the lines of what one can also get at Whole Foods or in those expensive magazines on living a simple life.  Still others come here because they have made the erroneous calculation that, because they find global capital and its myriad deleterioius material effects repulsive, the local, as its definitive antithesis, must be good.  Such a belief would seem to comport well with those who are generally suspicious of all institutions and customs that constrain individual autonomy.

But, as thinkers from the philosophes of Enlightenment up to the reactionary thinkers of the early Twentieth Century (such as T.S. Eliot and Jose Ortega y Gassett) understood, you cannot have place without limits or community without laws of inclusion and exclusion.  To desire to be part of a community, as all persons on some level do, is nothing other than a desire to conform to the laws of our human nature, and so it is the first of many acts of submission to various laws that make possible human happiness.  And thus, modern liberal notions of individualism and autonomy are not only incompatible with the sustaining of human community, but are the result of misconceptions of our natures and those desires that had done so much to make human happiness impossible in our day.

Much of my writing has been in the effort to envision, or to re-imagine, what a life lived in conformity to our natures looks like — to show forth, that is, its form.  I have sought to do so by considering it in terms of the vision of human fulfillment and happiness.  But I have also tried to present the startling consequences, the incongruity, real communities and communal life have when compared with what is now the assumed life of the individual in that sprawling global zoo we had better call the “cosmopolis” for fear of discrediting the word “society.”  My hope would be, therefore, to show why the traditions of communal life are good and why, because they are not goods for consumption but laws imposed on us by the Creator of our and every nature, those traditions also have consequences that may, to the modern individualist, feel like great sacrifices.

Naturally, those who want their communal cake and to eat it too are going to resist much of what they find in my writing.  But, though I have just accused many such readers of having inadequately considered their own positions, I have typically found their comments laced with good insights and occasioned by serious questions worthy of response.  Because I publish a great deal, much of the time, I find myself thinking that a given reader’s question (or counter-argument) has already received due consideration in another of my essays.

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