Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
FAMILY. The state, at its inception, had to do not with individuals only, as the baseless hypothesis of certain philosophers would have us believe, but it found itself in presence of the family, a primitive agglomeration of individuals with its own moral and material unity. Such are the entirely natural limits which are presented to the all powerful action of politics. If the individual exists of himself, if he has a destiny and duties to fulfill, what social authority can without crime do away with that free and responsible personality, hinder the pursuit of this end, or place obstacles in the way of the accomplishment of these duties? How can it claim to be master of the thoughts, the religion, the labor, the savings of the individual? Are not these things which belong to his own individual domain, which are connected with the human person, and which can not be withdrawn from his control by the state without the most odious of all confiscations? And now if the family is necessary to the preservation and development of the individual, if it takes care of his earliest infancy, protects him and gives him moral nutriment, no less necessary than the support of the body; if it constitutes a sacred whole formed by the wants, the sympathies, even the liberty of those whom it develops, how can policy dream of abolishing the family or offering violence to it?
—It is astonishing that a man of genius like Plato, exclusively preoccupied with the unity of the state, could have believed that the abolition of the family would increase the love of country. But he confined to the class of warriors the unnatural régime which abolished the family in his famous ideal republic and replaced it by a gross promiscuousness. By confining the country itself within very narrow limits both as to population and territory, he may, misled by the example of Lacedemonia—an exceptional case and one which was moreover of short duration—have thought, that all the affection of the citizens would be concentrated upon the city. But is this illusion possible for publicists who draw their plans of society in the midst of our vast and powerful agglomerations of individuals in the midst of modern nations, and for Christian peoples? The more the country extends, the more the love of humanity takes the place of a sensitive and cruel spirit of nationality, the more must this broad sentiment, threatened with extinction or coolness on account of its very extent, be rekindled at the hearth of family affection. Under the kindly action of maternal instruction, under the influence of common joys and sorrows, of participation in happiness and misfortune, is formed the faculty of loving with the greatest tenderness, delicacy and strength; the habit of devotion, inspired by mutual affection and by the power of example; and that idea of solidarity, which, commencing with an attachment to the honor of the family name, rises to an heroic pride in the honor of the common country, and is willing to sacrifice all for it. The sentiment of fraternity, which some men have wished to turn against the family in order to extend it to all the members of the human race, acquires a precise meaning and has its origin only in the bosom of the family itself. Is not the quality of father, husband, orphan, mother or widow that which interests and touches us in others, so that we fee, disposed to give them real affection and efficient aid? Are not the most accessible avenues to our heart on that side?
—Almost all communistic sects have sketched for us a picture charged with the evils which spring from the family. The family, they say, renders one egotistical, selfish, and enervates him who yields to its influence. The family renders one egotistical! It would be more just to recognize that it frees man from his isolated self, and his solitary brutality. Is it not true, that, even in countries of the highest civilization, which offer the loftiest objects for affection and the noblest employments for the activity of man, bachelors are considered, and too often justly, as forming the most egotistical part of the nation? The family renders one selfish! There is some truth in this allegation, but let us take the trouble to see if it does not rather redound to the credit than to the blame of the family. Is it not better to work for one's own than for one's self or not to work at all? All society derives profit from these increased efforts and this foresight. Is not the capital necessary for its support and development formed and accumulated in this way? Who, with the exception of a few dreamers, can believe that there could be manifested by the individual, for the sake of his country and humanity alone, the virtue which consists in depriving one's self of all enjoyments, in order to save, and the courage to devote one's self with zeal to thankless and obscure labor? The family enervates, it is said; say, rather, that it softens hearts and that it polishes manners. We are thankful that with the sentiments it nourishes there is no danger of seeing again either the first or the last of the Brutuses, or Peter the Great, sacrificing his son to political necessity. Is it very certain that this is so great a misfortune? Doubtless there exist weak men who are enervated by the pleasures of the family more than they are strengthened by its trials; but should the legitimate repose and happiness be condemned, which we, worn out in the struggles of life, seek under the beloved shelter of the domestic roof?
—The family is the first germ of society, the first school of the sentiments and of duty. The rare attempts at abolishing the family, which the world has witnessed, have strikingly proved that these attempts, always ephemeral, destined in the mind of their originators to strengthen the social bond, turned against society itself. The absence of the family, pitilessly sacrificed, at Lacedemonia, plunged the citizens into the most shameful vices, destroyed arts and literature, and changed a free city into a sort of military convent. A right no less sacred than individual liberty is the property derived from it through the application of its labor, and as an extension of the faculties which constitute the person. No civilization without guaranteed property. Granted; but no property worthy of that name without the family. What would the family be, if it possessed nothing of its own? Hence it is seldom that these two bases of society are not attacked at the same time. It is because the family, with the institution of property which it necessitates, involves a certain inequality of conditions, that it is blamed and its destruction wished for. It is for this very reason that we praise it in the name of political science, and that we wish to maintain it. Inequalities which are founded upon monopoly and privilege are most frequently harmful. Those which arise from the respect given to the variety of aptitudes, of merits and the free development of the best sentiments of the human heart, are the very life of society.
—By protecting the family as well as the individual in its essential rights against the attacks of legislative omnipotence, we do not intend to claim that politics and legislation have no legitimate power over the family. Families have relations with the state, which it belongs to the state to regulate. Thus neither marriage, nor the right of bequeathing property, nor paternal authority itself, is a thing entirely given up to the arbitrary will of individuals. The family has been successively modified and improved. Although this is chiefly due to morals, the action of the law has not been without its effect. Law, governed by a purer morality and the precepts of Christianity, has abolished legal concubinage and punished adultery Law has limited the arbitrary and absolute power of the father of the family, and taken under its protection the life of the child, as it defends its mind against the perverse instruction which, under cloak of the family, might seek to lead it astray and corrupt it. The action of law, purified by religion and by philosophy, has sanctified the rights of woman, her dignity, her equality as a moral person, and protects her against the caprices, the bad treatment or the desertion of her husband. It is the law, finally, which, together with the influence of morals, manners and customs, relegated into the depths of the past the oriental family, with its debasing polygamy; and the Greek family, in which, it is true, the head of the family no longer bought women, and had but one legitimate wife by her own consent and that of her parents, but which permitted a plurality of concubines, and in certain cases authorized the marriage of brother and sister. The law substituted a superior form in place of the Roman family, which made the husband absolute master of the person and property of his wife, gave him the right to condemn her to death, and did not raise the legitimate wife, after she had become a mother, above her own children. The law also greatly modified the feudal family, with its harsh traits and shocking inequalities.
—Politics have also had an effect upon the constitution of the family, and it would not be difficult to render this truth even more obvious by the aid of history. Monarchical power was pleased to borrow its most natural and touching symbol from paternal power, and paternal power itself has played the rôle of absolute monarch. Feudal society and the feudal family were made in the image of each other. The more society is subjected to the artificial arrangements of violence and conquest, the more the animating spirit of the family and the laws which govern it assume a hard and pitiless character. The prohibition of marriages between plebeians and the patrician race at Rome, the absolute subordination of woman and the rights of males in the family of the middle ages, and the almost forced inheritance of professions, afford additional proofs to those already given. The efforts of Christianity and of modern times seem to have been directed toward replacing the family upon its most natural bases. The less politics interferes with the family and the less it believes itself permitted to interfere, the more in general both the nation and the family gain. The principal task of politics is to respect this material and moral condition of the existence and improvement of individuals—the family—and to cause it to be respected. A free nation is composed of free families, and the tyranny of laws introduced into the family only bears witness to the tyranny which reigns in society and the state.
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