A recent book about the family, “The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays,” by Dr. Allan C. Carlson, has been recognized as an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2014 by “CHOICE” magazine, the journal for academic libraries published by The American Library Association. The library review describes the book as “a brilliant history and analysis of the most important building blocks of civilization: marriage and the family.” It concludes: “In a time obsessed with the possibility of redefining both marriage and family, Carlson’s work is simply indispensable.”
Dr. Carlson is President of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, Editor of its journal “The Family in America,” and Co-Founder and International Secretary of The World Congress of Families. In “The Natural Family Where It Belongs,” Dr. Carlson emphasizes the self-reliant and independent qualities of the natural family that were influential at the time of the Founding of this nation. He argues that linkage of marriage and child-bearing nurture responsible personal and political independence and helped to generate the collaborative synergy that contributes to individual and social educational and material success. He makes a strong case that the Founders who created and built our Republic believed that democracy largely rests upon autonomous homes and a family-centered economy.
The importance of the family to a stable, productive society and to a sound and responsible form of government were ideas that were widely accepted in the intellectual world at the time of the Founding. During the previous century, some of the greatest writers had been emphasizing the connection between family relations and political relations in society. For example, in his “Second Treatise of Government,” Locke observed that mankind has a nature that is “under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination, to drive him into society. ... The first society was between man and wife, which gave beginning to that between parents and children ... .” They form political societies “by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living, one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a great security against any that are not of it.”
Jean Jacques Rousseau, the most influential exponent of the “social contract” notion of social organization agreed. He declared that “[t]he oldest form of society – and the only natural one – is the family,” and that “the family [is] the basic model of all political associations.”
Montesquieu, whose writings, especially, “The Spirit of the Laws,” were cited more often than any other secular writer by the American founders during the decade in which the Constitution of the United States (and of several states) was written, explained that “[l]aws in their most general signification, are the necessary relations arising from the nature of things,” and that one the first laws of human nature is man’s natural desire to live in society.
Perceptive observers now (like Dr. Carlson) and then (like the Founders and like Locke, Rousseau and Montesquieu more than two centuries ago) understand the critical linkage between the health and safety of families and the health and safety of societies and the stability and efficacy of democratic governments. If the Founders and the intellectual lights who guided them were correct, the contemporary disintegration of the nuclear family in America – due primarily to nonmarital cohabitation, childbearing out of wedlock, and the termination of close to one-half of all marriages by divorce – has profound implication not only for the health and happiness of the members of such families, but for all of society and for the stability, efficacy and survival our form of representative, democratic government. The failure to responsibly form, respect and maintain marital families is not just a private tragedy, it is a public calamity that portends a developing social and political disaster.
Lynn D. Wardle is the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University. He is author or editor of numerous books and law review articles mostly about family, biomedical ethics and conflict of laws policy issues. His publications present only his personal (not institutional) views.