Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Free Market in Family Structure

I share a number of values with the League of the South, particularly interest and pride in southern history and heritage. But this rant against the breakdown of the nuclear family doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with Southern culture:

The gist is that the trend away from marriage and the nuclear family means the end of civilization… yadda, yadda, yadda…. let’s all get back to nuclear families…. stigmaitize bastardy….blah, quack, woof. How does one propose to compel people to form nuclear families and enter into and maintain state sanctioned marriages when more and more people clearly prefer not to do so or are unable to do so?

The author of the article attributes the trend to moral decadence, making us ripe for mass conversion to Islam of all things; however, I reckon that we ought to consider whether the failure lies with the institutions at issue rather than with the people themselves. The institutions exist to serve people, not the other way around. As I see it, a big problem is the state’s meddling in family structure. If left to their own devices, people will by and large form family structures that meet their needs, that are economically and socially strategic. But people are not, in fact, left to their own devices because the state privileges some arrangements over others, albeit not as aggressively as some might wish and certainly with no consistency. Presumably the author of the article cited above would support state intervention to maintain his favorite household dynamic, although to his credit he does not explicitly call for coercion.

I call for separation of family and state. Repeal all laws that provide incentives or disincentives to the formation of any particular family form. Perhaps the nuclear family will regain its popularity in competition with other strategies; perhaps not. In any event, I predict that a variety of family structures would emerge to accommodate the diverse needs of differently situated families.


Steve Scott said...

I agree. If you think about it, the "nuclear" family isn't really that biblical, but the religious folks are the ones who push it most. Abraham and many other bible characters had many pagans as servants, were circumcized, held familial priviledges, gained inheritance, etc. Adoption was a broader concept than orphaned children alone. Widows with children were common, with special biblical laws to protect them.

Vache Folle said...

I have thought the same thing, Steve. The patriarchs lived in patrilineages and often had several wives and adult married children living in the same compound or camp. Also, as you point out, many non-relatives were part of the household. This worked for them in their day, but can you imagine if the state tried to enforce or promote this pattern of living today? "The ideal family is one man, several women, their children, and an entourage of servants. Children do better in a patrilineal clan system, and it is irresponsible to raise children any other way."