The Sacred Family
"Man's holiest feelings are of home origin." The Dial
The president of the United States has declared the family to be a "sacred institution." His conservative perspective is by no means unique. For instance, we find a similar declaration by a New England Transcendentalist author in the 1843 issue of The Dial:
"Sacred precinct is the family: and supreme it should be also. Every home-act should be as sacred as the secretest emotions in the soul; effusing a perpetual sabbath."
President Bush advocates government regulation of marriage according to his religious prejudice. He would have marriage constitutionally confined to a monogamous, heterosexual union. Some politicians of the same religious persuasion would allow for civil unions whereby same-sex couples would have all the civil rights of married couples but would not be married, hence there would be no stain on holy wedlock. Ironically, now that such civil unions have been made law in France, they are becoming more popular with heterosexual couples than with homosexual couples.
President Bush has also called for premarital training. We might suggest that a test be given; a couple must pass the test prior to issuance of a marriage license. And why not require the partners to put up bonds to ensure that their obligations to each other and their offspring will be fulfilled?
On the other hand, if the family is as sacrosanct as the president claims, and if he is not a hypocrite, then why does he not keep his grubby political and religious hands off of it? A primitive conservative, a libertarian who would have his marriage free from both religious and political interference, would favor a simple declaration before the community: "We are married."
During the good old Roman days, the state and its religion kept their hands off sacrosanct marriage and home religion: a husband could dispose of his wife and children at will; later law specified certain grounds for divorce, such as practicing witchcraft, and specified that, except for adultery, a husband should notify his wife's kin before executing her. But men rarely killed family members. They tended to love their hard-working wives, and praised them on tombstones. Furthermore, after a father died, he needed children to attend to the family fire and provide his spirit with food.
In any conservative event, surely the government should not be allowed to interfere with the sanctity of the family or pollute the purity of marriage lest the family be destroyed. And our New England Transcendentalist agrees:
"The public sentiment which now condemns war, and slave trading, and hanging of men, must extend its condemnation to the quieter and subtler contrivances of legislation and tradecraft, and presscraft, which more certainly obstruct the attainment of human happiness: these institutions are equally fatal to the reign of the human family, and the highest, purest affections on earth."
Well, now, it appears that what happens between man and wife and children is none of the government's business, even if the family be a sort of den of vipers. Privacy is the key word here, and privacy allows people to do what they want to do in their family relationships; of course the patriarch of a patriarchy has more liberty than anyone else. Mates may feel that they own one another as private property; at least the sacred sex act, without which the race would die, should be private, for man is not a gorilla: hence let no man interfere with the sex act.
Diogenes observed that if an act is good, there is nothing morally wrong with its public performance. But never mind pornographic exhibitions; just keep in mind that the sacred nuclear family, with which the polluting society should not interfere, is actually a social institution, an institution that has not been universal over the life of humankind and its precursors. Still, we want quiet enjoyment of our mates and c hildren and homes, and what we call the progress civilization works to the deprive us of that enjoyment.
"The great opponent of death, as the great friend to life, is privacy. Quiet, serenity, vigor of soul, originality of thought, are fatal to a system which lives by noise, bustle, decrepitude, and imitation."
Indeed. Many city dwellers could use some peace and quiet, wherefore they are looking forward to their next vacation to the countryside - others who love noise, bustle, decrepitude, and imitation are planning trips to Mexico City, Manhattan, Vegas, and other popular spots. Wherever a family might be, they should, according to our New England Transcendentalist, be aware of the following:
"Neither Church, nor State, nor Commerce can produce one living human being. They are but dead externals, animated by so much of life as creeps into them of family origin. Commerce should consist in the exchanges of affection. The State is rightfully the family economics: in this all questions of law, of government, of justice should be discussed and determined. The Church is nowhere, if not in the holy family: its progress, its sacraments, its praises are hourly, continually repeated."
The family is everything. Or is it? The great conservative teacher, Confucius, would have reformed the degenerating society of the Warring States period by means of a good family education, that the ideal family become the model for the states. The terms designating the relationships of the members of the family had become confused if not meaningless, hence he worked to correct the meaning of the names by redefining them according to their traditional meaning. Then each member of a family would know his position, rights and duties. Hence state reform would be achieved from inside the family outwards. That is, uniform family values, a carefully ordered structure, would bring about peaceful reform. On the other hand, Mo Ti, founder of Moism, the pacific doctrines of a warrior order, advocated reform from without to within, by means of love: that is, we should love those farthest away from us; that, in turn, will assure our safety. However, contrary to popular belief, Mo Ti d id not reject the traditional teachings of Confucius.
We have occasion here to repeat the usual platitudes. The ultimate social relation is between the individual, which would be absolutely free or omnipotent if it could, and the society of individuals which must restrain the will to absolute power that the species may survive; hence the "person", or relation between individual and society. The family or other immediate group order is an intermediary organization between the individual and the broad society. The family is in fact a social institution, and the rhetoric about its purity and holiness is attractive due to its promise of private comfort and security against the herd that would trample its sacred values. Yet the family is not as private and pure and liberal as we would like it to be; it can be just the opposite: constant exposure to cruel tyranny.
There certainly is a dark side to family privacy. Certain Utopians are so disgusted with marriage and the nuclear family, which they perceive to be the root of all social evil, that they urge the abolishment of marriage and the traditional family. Not only social workers but all too many of us know something about the secret of what happened in the woodshed. For instance, several years of abusive home-schooling in one family recently culminated in the suicide of three children. Still the advocate for home-schooling argued against the subsequent call for regular inspection of homes: he said the inspection would constitute "an invasion of the sacrosanct privacy of the family."
In fact, the progress of our brand of civilization with its focus on competitive self-help for the love of money; rugged individualism; individual free will; liberty and equality; mechanical and robotic mass production and consumption outside of the home; serial relationships of convenience; cultivation of aloneness; - is gradually abolishing the family and resulting in an impersonal sort of floating unfeelingness, as well as a flat feeling of mechanical dullness, if not a feeling of general anxiety. The new family is not the good old family who resented intruders and whose young greased themselves up and went out and warred on members of other groups when they grew hungry or uneasy; the new order is a highly structured global system which promises to break down all familial and group barriers and to atomize everyone into monadic automatons if they do not blow up the world before the division of wage-slave labor is perfected.
Thus the progress is away from the sacred family the president of the United States ambiguously advocates. His suggested legislation and his general economic policy is part of the regular and methodical destruction of the traditionally "sacred" family. I do not blame the president for his sentimental nostalgia. If I were wealthy - raw wealth translates directly into power under our present cult of the money-god - I might build a mansion on a well-secured ranch, marry a willing woman, have a few children, enjoy my sacred family very much when not attending to the ruthless pursuit of more might so I could always be right. I might then have more cause to gladly preach with smirking face the virtues of the sacred family and the polluting evils of sodomy and abortion from time to time. I might remember how my mom washed my mouth out with Texas soap for saying the N-word, then recommend parental training to the nation. That is not to say that I would appear to be very happy to a n objective observer if he peeled the roof back and studied me with my family. But I suppose I would be happier than most people if I could get away from my family ever so often.
Note: the original The Dial was the journal of the New England Transcendentalists from 1840-1844. Margaret Fuller was editor in 1840. Ralph Waldo Emerson became editor in 1842