The death and life of the family
Bryce J. Christensen, Utopia Against the Family: The Problems and Politics of the American Family. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990, 146 pp.
Bryce Christensen is editor of The Family in America, and director of the Rockford Institute Centre on the Faily in America.
His book is a must for all those interested in the threats which the family faces in contemporary society, whether or not one agrees that utopianism is largely to blame.
To an astonishing degree, writes Robert Nisbet in a foreward, Western political and social thought, from Plato on, has bee indifferent or hostile to the role of the family in the good society.
“The utopian impuse,” writes Christensen, “has replaced rather than expressed religious faith. At least since the Renaissance, secular utopians have sought – with considerable success – to reshape all of society.”
Redefining the family
The book refers to U.S. developments, but we in Canada are equally faces with “child-rearing factories’, schools which deliberately undermine family values, and even attempts to redefine the very word family so as to make it include homosexual parodies of traditional family relationships.
If utopianism is not clearly responsible, the worship of change is. Wyndham Lewis wrote in 1932 that “the notion of progress leads naturally to the development of an attitude of disdain and hostility for anything that is not the latest model. So all human values end by imitating the conditions and values of the constantly improving machines of the Machine Age.”
It 1958 Dorothy Thompson complained that public school teachers no longer recognized the value of character building; many were positively undermining character in children. The idea that the school should take a stand on what is ethically could has become a notion at risk.
The ideological basis of American education, Christensen writes, focuses attention on Utopia, not Eden:
“Whereas religion once defined the integrative center of American education, and intellectual life, the Supreme Court now finds even silence offensive if its purpose is to permit students a moment of prayer.”
In some fields, such as the social science, anti-religious assumptions are deeply ingrained in the very definitions of the subjects; study of the Bible and church history, for example, is systematically excluded from the education of American youth.
Instead various rivals to religion have taken over.
In a section entitled ‘Feminist Fantasies: A Textbook Case,’ Christensen describes how radical feminists – women with a decided animus against motherhood and the family – have infiltrated the schools and colleges..
Studies show that better-educated women tend to be less favourable to large families and more permissive on issues of sexual behavior and women’s roles.
As philosopher Michael Levin has pointed out, “Feminism has an ambitious educational agenda. This agenda has become institutionally entrenched with remarkable speed,” and it involves a definite bias against motherhood and the family.
The dilemma of American education, Christensen writes, is that it cannot improve its dismal performance without strengthening marriage and family life, yet modern education is committed to principles which undermine both.
“Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me,” wrote Emily Dickinson in a famous poem.
Modern Americans, Christensen observes, do not want to stop for death – do not even want to contemplate its possibility. They live for here and now, and as Herbert Marcuse once pointed out, utopian aspirations grow as theological and philosophical contemplation of death dwindles.
Meditation on death can remind the individual of his debt to past generations and his obligation to future ones; the person who has no concern for his ancestors is likely to have none for posterity.
“Certainly,” Christensen says, “it is hard to believe that those who accept abortion as merely a ‘choice’ have seriously contemplated death.”
Sweden – the nation that failed
Christensen regards as almost unbelievable that some Americans hold up Sweden as the model their country ought to imitate.
Utopian measures, he contends, have wrought tremendous harm on Swedish family life: the marriage rate is the lowest in the Western world, the non-marital cohabitation rate the highest, half the children are born out of wedlock, and the birthrate is even below the deplorable depressed American rate.
Sweden is indeed an example – an example of family dissolution, an example of what is to be avoided.
I have only touched on a few of the highlights of this important and interesting book.
In a brief conclusion, Christensen points out the paradox of the present situation: Americans continue to crave the love, intimacy and security of family life, but crime, drug abuse, youth suicide, academic failure and sexually transmitted diseases have all reached epidemic proportions.
What is the solution? Sociologist Pitrim Sorokin hopes that after the brutal war against decency has run its course, society might eventually be purified and brought back to reason, and to eternal, universal and absolute values.
Christensen’s hope is hat those who still remember how to make a permanent marriage and build a family will preserve the truths essential for renewed domestic life in a land now descending into chaos.
Utopia against the Family can be ordered from Aquinas Books, Mail Order Company, 1A Hannaford Street, Toronto, M4E 3G6. Phone (416) 691-6427