Sunday, July 5, 2015

Family as Foundation

I have received several comments to my post Libertarians and Culture.  I have decided to address selected comments via this post.

Robert Wenzel was gracious enough to publish my post at Target Liberty.  I will begin by addressing one of the comments from Wenzel’s site, regarding this paragraph of the original post:

Every thriving – even surviving – society requires governance; not government as the term is currently understood, but governance.  The lowest level, closest to most voluntary, most decentralized level of societal governance, is the family.  Destroy the moral foundations of family and you destroy society.  Of this there is no doubt, and history has enough examples.

The comment:

I don't share the same view of how sacred the family is. This smacks of conservative moralizing. Genetic connection is one of the least voluntary connections. Family members are often people one would never choose to affiliate with otherwise.

Who said anything about sacred?  Unless one falls into the Bakunin camp of anarchist thought, there will be hierarchical structures in human institutions.  Anarcho-capitalists desire that these hierarchical structures are – to a maximum extent – voluntary. 

There will be governance.  As an adult, I voluntarily submit to many forms of this: to my customers (whether a boss or consumer), to my spouse, to my church, to social norms (within bounds that I find reasonable).

There are some basic facts about family: every single person on earth has a father and mother – maybe not present (but this issue only furthers my point), but a father and mother nonetheless; except for cases of rape, the relationship between the father and mother was voluntary – I suspect most would agree the most intimate voluntary relationship.

Children are raised in a family – again, I am quite aware of the dysfunction in society today where this is not always or even often the case, but this only furthers my point.  For children, the relationship isn’t voluntary in any sense that fits within the generally-accepted meaning of the term, but libertarian theory has more than one incomplete answer when it comes to the issue of children.

Once children reach maturity – however you care to define the term – off they go, responsible for their own way; the relationship between child and parent is re-defined, and now voluntary.  If the now-mature child – or the parent – no longer wishes to associate with the other, feel free.

But where was the foundation laid?  There is no institution on earth that is more common to all than family, and in no other institution could one say that the foundation for and application of governance (not government) is as widespread.  None.

From whom should children receive this governance if not the parents (because, protest as you might, a child will receive governance) – public schools, head start programs, mandatory pre-school, government paid supervisors, television?  Can it be argued that third-party intellectuals, on average, know better what is good for the day-to-day raising of your child than you do?  A peek into any of these bureaucracies and institutions will provide a decisive answer to the question.

Regarding the dysfunctionalities that I touched on above, these are nothing more than breakdowns in the foundation of family.  It need not be labeled “conservative moralizing” to suggest that children being raised in a two parent home have a better chance at a successful life – meaning a life where they can contribute positively to society; there is evidence of this in every racial and socio-economic group.  Look around you and tell me otherwise.  I don’t mean as exceptions – of these there are many.  I mean as a rule.

Can it be argued that this foundation in a family is irrelevant, that however a child is raised for the first five, ten, eighteen or whatever years doesn’t matter?  Once they get out of the house they start with…nothing…a clean mental, intellectual and moral slate?  I am no sociologist or psychologist, but I know enough to know the answer to this question.

I know that libertarians – myself included – point to various voluntary organizations to provide governance and support in the absence of a state: churches, civic organizations, social clubs, etc.  There are two important things missing in each of these that are present in the family: first, none of these are as universal; second, by the time someone joins, much of the foundation for what an individual will be has already been laid….in the family.

Now, what about destroying society if the family is destroyed.  This won’t take long: the results speak for themselves.  In most environments, cultures, and communities where the family is not valued, civil society isn’t to be found.

For those who believe that this is all just conservative moralizing, consider the possibility that a libertarian society will be a far less libertine society than what we live in today.  Who will subsidize the libertine lifestyle in a libertarian society, as the state does today?  Children out of wedlock is perhaps the most obvious example, but if I want to spend some time on making a list, I can come up with a few more.

Now, on to some of the feedback at my site:

WillyTruth June 29, 2015 at 4:42 PM

Like you, I don't believe the state has any legitimate claim to control marriage….Yet, despite all this, I am happy for my friends who were before banned from the option to (ask permission from the state to) enter into marriage with one another.

As Willy suggests: no one was banned from marriage.  They were merely banned from the state recognizing the marriage; they were banned from using the state to ensure receipt of certain benefits available only to state-recognized married couples; they were banned (although this had been crumbling in any case) from forcing businesses to deal with them.

Yet…an idea underlying Willy’s comment is one that I have struggled with even when writing the original post.  Many married libertarians have used the state to achieve the condition of being married in a state-recognized manner – thereby gaining access to various state-sanctioned benefits and privileges. 

I have nothing to add.  It is an idea that remains a struggle for me.

Jonathan Jaech July 1, 2015 at 9:01 PM

I take issue with your implication that the [Supreme Court] opinion is a signpost of increasing decadence in culture….

I need not lean on the Bible or religion for this.  From Jacques Barzun’s Dawn to Decadence:

The blow that hurled the modern world on its course of self-destruction was the Great War of 1914-1918.

Barzun points to four individuals who stirred the public in their thought prior to the war; of these he points to George Bernard Shaw and the Fabians as “[t]he most unified and best organized.”

His enormous output of plays, preface-essays, political tracts, music and drama criticism, and correspondence – a quarter of a million letters, most of them also small essays on the subject he was master of – make him a 20C Voltaire carrying the message of a Rousseau in his propaganda for radical change in government, morals, aesthetics, and religion.

…what preoccupied Shaw was philosophy and religion.

The Fabians were successful at what Barzun calls “the Great Switch.”  This is where liberalism was redefined to its opposite – where classical liberalism changed to what is today known as liberal.

What was the result from the Great War, laid at the feet of the new liberals birthed by the Fabians, the war that Barzun decries as the death blow?

Class barriers lost rigidity; conventions were relaxed.  The soldier was cut loose from his nine-to-five at the office or six-to-four in the factory as well as from home and its constraints.  Watchful neighbors having scattered, each spouse, now separated, gained sexual freedom if it was wanted, or at least escape from a bad marriage.

It scrambled the continuities of western culture.

…family life broken as badly as by divorce…social distinctions and manners diluted or erased…

The devastation, both material and moral, had gone so deep that it turned the creative energies from their course, first into frivolity, and then into the channel of self-destruction.

I find nothing directly linking Shaw and Fabian thinking to this Supreme Court decision (nor would I expect to); yet it doesn’t take a great imagination to link the two.

When it comes to understanding the road to and meaning of decadence, I will go with Barzun (for the atheists in the audience).

Anonymous July 1, 2015 at 11:27 PM

Does homosexuality, recreational drug use, acceptance of other cultures, beliefs or religions necessarily threaten your personal views on morality if they don't violate the NAP?

I would not use the term “threaten,” but given the spirit of your question I answer: yes, moderately, no, no, and no.

Couldn't they serve to strengthen them? Decadence has consequences as you mentioned, and there's no more powerful tool of persuasion than dramatic demonstration. Wouldn't the examples created serve to show those you love why your moral stance is preferable when the consequences are in plain sight?

There is plenty of “dramatic demonstration” around us today, with consequences for certain destructive behaviors in plain sight.  It doesn’t have much effect except, occasionally, when the “dramatic demonstration” hits very close to home.  It is the acceptance or rejection of ideas that wins out.

I just don't see how attacking subjective morality that doesn't violate the NAP instead of framing it as a libertarian issue helps anyone but the state.

I was clear to separate the libertarian and non-libertarian aspects of my post.  I do not suggest that the state need be involved in any way regarding the issue of morality.

I will suggest that libertarians praising such lifestyles drive away far more people from libertarianism than do libertarians like me.  My tent leaves room for all, as long as they support the NAP.  Those who demand that libertarians praise such decisions and such lifestyles shrink the size of the tent.

Vonu July 2, 2015 at 3:45 PM

A marriage license is an adhesion contract, and there is no way that an adhesion contract can be entered into voluntarily.

I had to look up “adhesion contract”:

A standard form contract drafted by one party (usually a business with stronger bargaining power) and signed by the weaker party (usually a consumer in need of goods or services), who must adhere to the contract and therefore does not have the power to negotiate or modify the terms of the contract. Adhesion contracts are commonly used for matters involving insurance, leases, deeds, mortgages, automobile purchases, and other forms of consumer credit.

Unless one is pointing a gun to your head demanding that you sign the contract or else (which makes the contract voidable by the coerced party in any case), an adhesion contract – like every other contract – is entered into voluntarily.

Don’t sign it.  See how easy that is?


I thank everyone who provided feedback.  In working through the points raised, I feel even more sure of my earlier statements and conclusions.


  1. I wish that I'd been born into a healthy family. Or been adopted by a healthy family. It was the government school (there was no church in our family) that saved me from going off the rails. At least there I found a smidgin of stability and acceptance.

    I realize things are different now. In those days, in school, if you can believe, we began each day with a psalm, the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the former two in a public school! Of course, school is no substitute for a healthy family.

    I think it matters little whether it's a gay family or a single parent family so long as there's love and acceptance. In that light, I hope that efforts at social, political and cultural renewal will be able to reach out to parents who are sick in mind and heart with the kind of support that will help them with the obstacles and problems they face. Maybe we'll see the emergence of evangelical family outreach associations with and without the religious overlay.

    1. As an adoptee, I suggest your desire may be somewhat naive. Adoptees always remain foundlings and must forge their own path to happiness in relative isolation, possibly not much different from your experience.

      Slaves free themselves, or they remain slaves forever (because slavery is a state of mind, not physical essence.) The same is true of those seeking happiness. Few people now receive instruction on how to find the path to happiness; pop culture invariably pushes people into false paths, AKA vices (casual sex, porn, drugs/alcohol, gambling, the shallow relationships fostered by (anti)social media, etc., etc.) leaving most people to either reason their way to that path or, failing that, relying on pure luck.

      The path to happiness is not that difficult to discern. Partnership, self-improvement, honor, and seeking merit-based respect from respect-worthy others are all part of it. Being different for the sake of being different is NOT.

  2. As I told my sons while I was raising them, there are but two kinds of control in this world: Self-control & Others-control.

    If they were not self-controlled, and reached my size (6'3", 210lb) the "Others" who'd control them would come with badges, guns and bad attitudes.

    It was MY job, as their father, to control them while they were small, while they leaned self-control. I was the only one, along with their mother, who could be entrusted with that coercive power because we LOVED them and had no incentive to maintain that coercive control any longer than was necessary. I told them I was more than fully occupied managing my own life, and looked forward to their successfully managing their own.

    As you allude, compare that to people PAID to manage others' lives. Their very occupation rests on keeping other humans on their own little plantation. This is of course part of why the welfare state doesn't "cure" poverty.

    The family is the natural locus of human devotion. The state's endless parasitic managers and rulers covet that devotion (and the power that accompanies it), thus the state is always at war on the family. We see this war and its victims everywhere we look, and now that the family has in many visible ways been weakened and parenting skills eroded, critics point to these STATE-CAUSED dysfunctions as evidence of the family's lack of utility.

    My sons are all grown, educated, highly productive, married to nice girls and starting their own families. THEY are on the Path to Happiness Plateau, the place so many modern people can't find because they are lost, lonely and chronically depressed.

    This is what the state produces. The state produces people who cannot find happiness, all they find are vices (in Spooner's term) that they mistake for leading to happiness: casual sex, hedonism, shallow relationships, porn, drugs & alcohol and disdain for social norms that proved successful for millennia.

    I pity those who can't see this truth.

  3. I take partial exception to your article. Certainly in most cases the union between a man and a woman is completely voluntary. You have, however, said that the child's participation in the matter is involuntary. However, you cannot know whether that is true. It is possible that the baby has no spirit, and thus is merely a physical being. It is equally possible that the baby has a spirit, which was created beforehand and had the choice as to whether it was going to be born into this family, another one, or no family at all.

    Personally I believe that if a God exists, that He (or She) must certainly respect voluntary association and would, therefore, permit the spirit of the child to decide whether said spirit would be born into that family or into another one.

    1. I agree with you 100% on this. And there is evidence, beyond the mystical, that what you are saying is in fact true. Check out the book "Journey of Souls" by Michael Newton.

    2. If you think a child, regardless of how intelligent he or she may be, is capable of making such momentous decisions, then you have either not raised children or you were volitionally blind while doing so.

      Children have all the intelligence nature gave them, but there is a reason we can discriminate between mature adult behavior and the perfectly normal and natural behaviors of children.*

      Parents are like training wheels, without which the "bicycle" falls over and Lord of the Flies results. This is so obvious to me (after raising kids, and listening to my wife, the teacher, describe endless experiences from her work) that I'm not sure why it's worth discussing.

      *That so many people above the age of 25 no longer exhibit normal mature-adult behavior is an indictment of Progressivism/collectivism that could occupy entire books.

    3. It's a unilateral contract.
      And you can no more absolve yourself from the responsibilities.
      Anymore than you can drive through your neighbors fence and not be held liable.

      Two people made a choice by having sex (contract)

      Not to mention what kind retard couldn't look into a babies
      eyes and see a spirit.

      You have a third party that has been injured.
      That is why the child has consideration.

      Does not matter if he is even fully developed(Abortionist argument} There still not even self reliant at birth.

      He has a claim on you!

  4. The State's war on the family has been going on for a long time and is producing many casualties, to be sure.

    The latest assault on the family is a new California law requiring parents who want to send their kids to either public schools, private schools, or day care to subject them to the full slate of vaccines recommended by the CDC.

    Many people do not understand that vaccines are much riskier than the government bureaucrats claim, especially for certain individuals/families who are more prone to vaccine injury or death.

    One would be hard-pressed to imagine a greater attack on parental authority or the family unit than blackmailing parents into playing Russian Roulette with their vaccine-injured children in order to obtain a state-mandated education. Needless to say, not every family or single parent is in a position to home-school their children (while that exemption remains available).

    1. California is a place of extraordinary totalitarianism, and sadly its ethos tends to metastasize from west to east like a vast malignancy.

      We get the (political) government to which our neighbors consent, or at least that to which they acquiesce. Given we are surrounded by masses of narcissistic, deluded and unhappy people, our political system is predictably toxic and adding a future economic cataclysm promises adventures most of us would prefer to skip.

  5. "the Great Switch"? I, too, have read some of "Dawn to Decadence", but I don't recall Barzun mentioning the switcheroo. Thanks for doing so now; it gives me an idea for a blog: Great Switchback.

    It so happens that I've identified as a liberal for years---without appendages like "classical"---and have for about as long as that been calling the leftists what they are, i.e. illiberals. I make it clear, however, that leftists are not alone in illiberalism. This leaves room in their big tent for people like militarists, who are ever reluctant to condemn military conscription.

    Sure enough, "conservatives" inform me authoritatively about "liberal" that "the word is too far gone" to restore it to its proper use. Yet still they wonder why they don't enjoy greater success.

    1. The Great Switch - page 688 in my volume, in the chapter entitled "The Great Illusion."

  6. Philosophy aside...
    First please, know this. I believe the state has NO business in marriage.
    Having said that, for simple empirical reasons, stipulating that two parents are better than one, I would rather that "Johnny has two daddies, or two mommies" than only one parent.
    I think there is something about growing up observing two people (imperfectly, probably) loving each other, and adapting their OWN selfish desires to accommodate the other, that sets a priceless example for the child.

  7. I had written a long and thought out response, but it seems to have been eaten by a Chrome crash. Thanks for responding to my comment, you do great work here. I agree with your above sentiments on the family unit. I just hope you don't equate gay marriage with a dissolution of those foundations. More committed, stable gay couples means more families for the cast out children that are most in need of love. Gays are blamed for most gentrification, after all, so they can't be too bad, right?

    And re: my earlier comment, I frankly believe the symbolism aspect of marriage is worth a lot in and of itself. In my opinion, the fact that the government can no longer tell gays they cannot "marry" who they love--and yes, of course it is tantamount to asking permission from the king--is one small step towards liberty that probably has little effect on you and me but a great deal to those who are now slightly freer to do something most people value very much. Although there may be anti-liberty threats on the horizon, such is the nature of the state.

    1. Willy, thank you for the further comment.

      “I just hope you don't equate gay marriage with a dissolution of those foundations.”

      While I believe it belongs on the list, I can think of many things higher on the list. I don’t think I would even place it in the top half when I consider all of the ways “family” has been and is being destroyed.

      This is why I wrote as I did in this post: “Dreher is right – the sky isn’t falling; it fell, long ago. Nothing has shifted tectonically with this decision.”

      I guess the importance I place on this Supreme Court decision reflects a) the importance placed on it by society at large, and b) whatever one’s view of the significance, it will always remain a symbol. We cannot point to the key event in the almost exponential growth of children born out of wedlock, for example; in few other “dissolution” examples is there such a distinct symbolic event.