Conservativism’s emphasis on formative institutions gives it a unique appreciation for the role and importance of the family in raising children and shaping the habits and character of all its members. Families also serve a crucial social and political function, transmitting the community’s traditions, norms, and expectations to the next generation. The work done across centuries by preeminent thinkers in describing the family’s enduring roles is essential to the task of preserving those roles for an uncertain future.
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke located the roots of patriotism and citizenship in the family unit, noting that “we begin our public affections in our families,” whose model of care shapes our approach to broader obligations, and which “we pass on to our neighborhoods” as well as to the nation.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Tocqueville famously observed that America’s local institutions were essential to maintaining its democratic spirit. Chief among these was the family, which resisted atomization and cultivated habits of self-government. “As long as the spirit of the family lasted,” Tocqueville wrote, “man who struggled against tyranny was never alone.”
Carle Zimmerman, Family & Civilization. Zimmerman, an acclaimed Harvard sociologist, analyzed the relationship between the state of the family and the health of a civilization. Drawing upon nations ancient and modern, he outlined the implications of family structure and family breakdown on society.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1947. 352 pages.
Michael Novak, “The Family Out of Favor.” Novak argues that fewer Americans instinctively recognize the importance of family because the leading institutions of public life are oriented to individuals seeking “liberation” rather than families seeking continuity. The “antifamily sentiments” in contemporary culture, especially those pioneered by large corporations and universities, thus “diminish the moral and economic importance of the family.”
Harper’s Magazine, April 1976. 3500 words.