Thoughts from a Principled Conservative Outpost—Second in a series on the aspects of Panhandle conservativism.
“Early morning on September 24, 2019, in New Home, Texas, I watched with deep appreciation the order and discipline of students exiting a bus. Most impactful was the sight of a young man—a big kid, probably a junior or senior who appeared to be about 6′ 3″ tall—help a 3′ 0″ preschooler off the bus. He held her hand. Was this his sister?”
“Two things impressed me. First, he had a mountain of opportunities before him if he would exercise thoughtful choice in the attainment of his dreams. Second, my heart was softened to see this young man caring for what might have been his little sister, maybe a cousin or simply a child on the bus whom he felt obligated to look after.” Somehow, family. From “Considering College,” an E-Book penned a few years ago.
The concept that the family is the genesis of a republican form of government stems from a classical understanding of family from many perspectives. Family life plays a critical role in shaping the moral and civic virtues of its members, which are essential for a well-functioning hierarchical social structure and the operation of a constitutional republic. The simplest and smallest hierarchical structure is a family built on the qualities of self-reliance, responsibility and public and private virtue. These qualities, and others, are often first nurtured within the family unit, which promotes values and principles necessary for good citizenship, such as respect for the law, hard work and a sense of duty towards the community, all critical to success in sustaining republican forms of government. The National Library of Medicine reports that “families influence health by providing context, care, continuity and connections.” They are crucial to our nation’s health.
The support for family structures has been a consistent theme across cultures and historical periods, often reflected by influential thinkers. Confucius (551–479 BC) emphasized the importance of family and hierarchical, respectful relationships within it. His teachings promoted filial piety and respect for elders, central to traditional family structures in all societies. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) emphasized the connection between family and social life and believed in the power and influence of natural law, which included the idea that the family is the central unit of society.
Hinduism, with its diverse schools of thought, has had numerous thinkers and scholars who have supported and advocated for traditional family life. Many see the family as the “Heart of Hinduism.” The importance of family values, duties (Dharma, “the right way of living”) and social roles are central to individual and societal well-being. The importance of family obligations and the role of the family in an individual’s life cannot be overstated.
Pope John Paul II, Pope from 1978 to 2005, emphasized the importance of the family in numerous writings and speeches. His apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” (The Family in the Modern World) specifically addresses the role of the family in society.
Jewish thought and philosophy have long emphasized the importance of family life, which is outlined in Jewish Family Life and Customs: A Practical Guide.
Christina Hoff Sommers identifies as a feminist but has criticized aspects of contemporary feminism that she sees as antithetical to men and traditional family values. While her focus is more on gender issues and education, her advocacy often includes support for traditional roles within families.
Perspectives on family are diverse. In recent history, critiques have come from various people. Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin and others believe that conventional views of family subjugate women, create archaic ideas regarding sexual identity and gender roles and foster racial inequalities. They tend to lean toward a post-modern view of the world, the underpinnings of which are thoughtfully questioned by Noam Chomsky. David Brooks wrote in The Atlantic that “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.” But, every substitute structure he offers is flawed, according to Scott M. Stanley’s opinion in Psychology Today. Kay S. Hymowitz agrees, “Yes, David Brooks, the Nuclear Family Is the Worst Family Form—Except for All Others,” an opinion published by The Manhattan Institute. Marx and Engle critique the bourgeois family and its role in perpetuating capitalist values in “The Communist Manifesto.” They worked to denigrate the value of the traditional family by dismissing the structure altogether as families, by their definition, gave passive acceptance of hierarchy, and that’s the nemesis of Marxist thinking.
Diverse cultural, philosophical and historical backgrounds, from Moses to Marx, share a common belief. Do family structures shape society? Moses and others saw the family as the building block of society; Marx as the stumbling block of a utopian specter turned into a dystopian reality. Recorded history has answered the question. The Panhandle affirms this in its deepest roots. Family and family life are fundamentally important. The embrace of fleeting constructs undermines that notion of our nation and the definition of education, the goal of which is to answer these questions: Who and where we are? How or why we might move forward?
At West Texas A&M University, understanding family life is an invaluable effort.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.