The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The Natural Family in a Dying Sensate Culture


Allan C. Carlson


The concept of the natural family rests on a vision of the good life: a regime of optimism, responsibility, and love. It presumes a culture that sees the marriage of a man to a woman as the primary aspiration of the young. This culture affirms and defends natural marriage as the surest path to health, security, and flourishing. It casts the home built on marriage as the true foundation of political sovereignty, the source of true democracy. This culture also holds the household constructed around marriage to be the primal economic unit, a place marked by rich activity, material abundance, and broad self-reliance. This culture treasures private property in family hands as the rampart of independence and liberty: the place where the state may not enter. It celebrates the marital sexual union as the unique source of new human life. These homes are open to a full quiver of children; these are places where the large family exists as a special gift to society. This culture encourages young women to become wives, homemakers, and mothers and young men to become husbands, homebuilders, and fathers—so fulfilling their natural destinies.

The culture of the natural family acknowledges true happiness as the product of persons enmeshed in vital bonds with spouses, children, parents, and extended kin. It treasures a landscape of family homes and gardens busy with useful tasks and ringing with the laughter of many children. In such homes, parents are the first educators of their children. These places also shelter extended family members who need special care due to age or infirmity. Neighborhoods, villages, and towns are the second locus of political sovereignty. This culture affirms a freedom of commerce that respects and serves family integrity. And it expects nation-states to consider protection of the natural family as their first responsibility.

And yet, the natural family is not just a vision, or ideal. It is a way of life to be found in all healthy, ordered, and creative societies. Honest historical accounts of family systems in the past—from Edward Westermarck, Pitirim Sorokin, Carle Zimmerman, and George Murdoch (among others)—all find this family model in ages of civilizational progress. Moving even deeper in time, paleo-anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy shows the invention of “social fatherhood”—the pairing off of men and women into permanent bonds, intensified parenting, and “specialized sexual-reproductive behavior”—to be the key step in human evolution: a social change that occurred in his reckoning over two million years ago.[1]         

Indeed, the foundation of this family order, grounded in the bond of the married, procreative couple, is obvious even to its foes. For example, Evan Wolfson—an acknowledged leader of the same-sex-marriage movement in America—admits that there is something “natural” about the male-female pair. As he writes:

At first glance, the “basic biology” argument seems to make some sense. After all, it doesn’t take more than a fourth-grade health class education to know that men’s and women’s bodies in some sense “complement each other” and then when a man and a woman come “together as one flesh” it often leads to procreation.[2]

Why, then, do we see social decay and a culture of sterility and death all around us? Why is the natural family under relentless assault? Why have children become the primary victims of legal and political systems run amuck?

The answer is that it is our fate to live in the latter years of a dying Sensate culture. The term is Pitirim Sorokin’s. It refers to a cycle of civilizational change, recurring over the centuries, where the truths of the natural family—just as other great truths behind a healthy culture—give way to an aggressive campaign to normalize and celebrate “chronically excessive, illicit, and disorderly sex activities.”[3] The signs of a late Sensate culture, Sorokin explains, include low birth rates and diminished parental commitments; vastly increased erotic content in literature, film, and other media outlets; and high levels of divorce, abortion, pornography, promiscuity, homosexuality, and out-of-wedlock births. All this sounds too familiar.

None of us, to be sure, chose to be born into this matrix, to face a gale of anti-family and anti-child activity, to witness forms of social and cultural madness. Yes, it would have been easier to live our values out in another, better era. And yet, in a different respect, this is a wonderful time to be alive. For history has not come to an end in the moral cesspool of the early twenty-first-century West. The future will not lie with the child-denying partisans of the late Sensate order, for the simple reason that without children, there is no future. Rather, we may expect a great turn—or, better put, a return—to a family-centered culture, either Ideational or Idealistic, to use Sorokin’s terminology. As he writes: “We are seemingly between two epochs: the dying Sensate culture of . . . yesterday, and the Ideational or Idealistic culture of the creative tomorrow.”[4]

The great early twentieth-century defender of Christian orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton, also reminds us of the power latent within the natural family to rebuild a healthy social order. He writes in his 1920 pamphlet, “The Superstition of Divorce”:

The ideal for which [the family] stands in the state is liberty. It stands for liberty for the very simple reason . . . [that] it is the only . . . institution that is at once necessary and voluntary. It is the only check on the state that is bound to renew itself as eternally as the state and more naturally than the state.[5]

Or, as Chesterton argued in What’s Wrong With the World:

It may be said that this institution of the home is the one anarchist institution. That is to say, it is older than law, and stands outside the state. . . . The man and the woman are one flesh—yes, even when they are not one spirit. Man is a quadruped.[6]

So be joyful, not despondent. Be hopeful, not despairing. Be forceful in your protection of homes and children, not fearful. And may this World Congress of Families X be remembered as a time and a place where the culture of the natural family began its great renewal!

 

Allan C. Carlson is Editor of The Natural Family and co-founder of the World Congress of Families.


[1]     “The Origin of Man,” Science (January 23, 1981): 348.

[2]     Evan Wolfson, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), 75. 

[3]     Pitirim Sorokin, The American Sex Revolution (Page number?) Porter Sargent, Boston.

[4]     Ibid., page number?

[5]     G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works: Volume IV: Family, Society, Politics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 256.

[6]     Ibid., 67-8.

 

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