The family has been an important part of western civilisation, indeed, of all civilisations and of primitive cultures too. Parental care and nurture is important even in the animal world (particularly among those closest to man - apes and monkeys). The family provides meaning, continuity and purpose in the lives of individuals. It provides a nurturing and protective environment in which children can progress to adulthood and the best environment for the care of the aged, the disabled and the young.
"There is no engine of progress, security and social advancement as powerful as the family, particularly the bourgeois family whose customs and ethics defined western civilization during the two centuries before the Great Unravelling of recent decades. There is no instrument of economic growth, savings and investment, job creation and job training as effective as the middle-class family. There is no cultural institution as ennobling as family life. There is no better way to rear the young, protect the weak or attend the elderly. None." (William J Gribbin, in July 1986 National Review p 33).
Monogamous Marriage And Family
George Gilder in Wealth and Poverty New York (1982) pp 88-89, 90-91,92, persuasively outlines the importance of the family:
"Indeed, after work the second principle of upward mobility is the maintenance of monogamous marriage and family. Adjusting for discrimination against women and for child-care responsibilities, married men work between two and one-third and four times harder than married women, and more than twice as hard as female family heads. The work effort of married men increases with their age, credentials, education, job experience, and birth of children, while the work effort of married women steadily declines. Most important in judging the impact of marriage, husbands work 50 percent harder than bachelors of comparable age, education, and skills.
The effect of marriage, thus, is to increase the work effort of men by about half. Since men have higher earning capacity to begin with, and since the female capacity-utilization figures would be even lower without an adjustment for discrimination, it is manifest that the maintenance of families is the key factor in reducing poverty.
A married man, on the other hand, is spurred by the claims of family to channel his otherwise disruptive male aggressions into his performance as a provider for a wife and children. These sexual differences alone, which manifest themselves in all societies known to anthropology, dictate that the first priority of any serious program against poverty is to strengthen the male role in poor families ...
... poverty stems largely from the breakdown of family responsibilities among fathers. The lives of the poor, all too often, are governed by the rhythms of tension and release that characterize the sexual experience of young single men. Because female sexuality, as it evolved over the millennia, is psychologically rooted in the bearing and nurturing of children, women have long horizons within their very bodies, glimpses of eternity within their wombs. Civilised society is dependent upon the submission of the short-term sexuality of young men to the extended maternal horizons of women. This is what happens in monogamous marriage; the man disciplines his sexuality and extends it into the future through the womb of a woman. The woman gives him access to his children, otherwise forever denied him; and he gives her the product of his labor, otherwise dissipated on temporary pleasures.
It is love that changes the short horizons of youth and poverty into the long horizons of marriage and career. When marriages fail, the man often returns to the more primitive rhythms of singleness. On the average, his income drops by one-third and he shows a far higher propensity for drink, drugs, and crime. But when marriages in general hold firm and men in general love and support their children, lower-class style changes into middle-class futurity.
The key to the intractable poverty of the hardcore American poor is the dominance of single and separated men in poor communities. Black "unrelated individuals" are not much more likely to be in poverty than white ones. The problem is neither race nor matriarchy in any meaningful sense. It is familial anarchy among the concentrated poor of the inner city, in which flamboyant and impulsive youths rather than responsible men provide the themes of aspiration. The result is that male sexual rhythms tend to prevail, and boys are brought up without authoritative fathers in the home to instil in them the values of responsible paternity: the discipline and love of children and the dependable performance of the provider role. ...
It was firm links between work, wealth, sex and children that eventually created a future-oriented psychology in the mass of western European men ... "The act of marriage is necessarily one which stands centrally in the whole complex of social behaviour." In particular it stands centrally to a man's attitude toward time, and thus toward saving and capital. Conversely, a condition of widespread illegitimacy and family breakdown can be a sufficient cause of persistent poverty, separating men from the extended horizons embodied in their children.
An analysis of poverty that begins and ends with family structure and marital status would explain far more about the problem than most of the distribution of income, inequality, unemployment, education, race, sex, home ownership, location, discrimination, and the other items usually multiply regressed and correlated on academic computers."
The breakdown of the family poses problems for the system. Traditionally, the family has played an important part in the maintenance of law and order. It is not possible to have policemen on every street. Control which parents traditionally exercised over children (a control which is no longer effective in the same way) helped to maintain law and order. The breakdown of the family and the decay of discipline in the schools which the progressivists (so-called) have engineered has contributed in a very large measure to the growth of teenage vandalism, crime, drugs and alcoholism. The escalation of these problems from the 1960's onwards corresponds to the decline of the family and familial discipline and to the growth of permissiveness.
A teacher argued here, that the breakdown of school discipline which has accelerated over the last five years is the result of reduced family discipline. Children come to school from a non-authoritarian and indulged background. Their parents have no control over them - so how is it possible to expect schools to exert real control over them? They have grown up in an environment bereft of authority, discipline and respect, they therefore have no concept of respect - they cannot understand discipline. Schools can do little to fill this lacuna, yet they are often critically identified as the cause of this moral decay.
The answer to this is another question: how did discipline break down? The ideas of educationists, especially in the tertiary sector, have played a prominent part in the relaxation of discipline in society and school. This includes the attack on and undermining of moral values.
The decline of the importance of the family unit creates not only social consequences but also economic effects.
"An ever increasing proportion of nations' families can no longer fulfil the basic function for which the family exists — to act as the primary system for the delivery of welfare, health and education services to the young, the sick and the old". Newsweekly, August 20, 1980, p 16.
When these primary services are greatly reduced, or even totally disappear, they do not cease to be essential. Children have to be fed, cared for and educated. The sick must be treated, the old must be assisted. All that happens is that the services of great economic value, once performed by the family without economic cost, are transferred to the government, which has to pay handsomely to ensure that the same services are provided by professionals, teachers, doctors, nurses, social and welfare workers, the proprietors and staff of hospitals and homes for the aged and other individuals and institutions. This is one of the basic reasons for the explosion of welfare expenditure which has far-reaching budgetary and economic consequences.
The common law and the western tradition provided special benefits and protection to the intact family. This was a recognition of the moral and practical importance of the family unit. The claim that other units (de factos and homosexual partners) which lack the moral and practical advantages of the traditional family deserve equal recognition and state patronage cannot be supported. Toleration of alternate life styles is a part of a liberal order but it does not follow that such life styles can be supported by the law and the state (see section 8.4).