The Conservative and the Family | Cole James
In the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd, conversations about black lives in America have been at the forefront of public discussion. Talks of the disparities that plague Black America and the reasons for those disparities have polarized our nation to the brink of a cultural revolution. It seems to me all sides agree that something needs to happen in Black America for this group to enjoy the prosperity and freedoms that America guarantees its people. Now, what needs to happen for Black America to acquire these things is where the sides start to diverge.
One side looks back on America’s dark past and the sins she has committed and proceeds to argue for a top-down approach to helping the black community. For this side, slavery and Jim Crow have a deleterious effect on the black community today, and reparations or some form of top-down aid should be offered to break the chains of those morally reprehensible institutions that previously existed in America.However, on the other side, some individuals argue that it is the breakdown of the black family that plagues Black America.
Individuals on this side, often cite marriage statistics among the black community during Jim Crow and Slavery and then compare marriage statistics among the black community after the welfare state. The reason for this is because many on the “conservative” side argue that the welfare state has decimated black families, not slavery or Jim Crow. Welfare has incentivized poverty. When the government pays a woman for having children out of wedlock and not having a job, this individual becomes reliant on the government for their needs. Conservatives argue that the welfare state has created a cycle of poverty in which children are raised without fathers.
My point in this article is not to defend the actual cause of the disparities that the black community faces, but merely explain why the conservative argues (almost ad nauseam) in favor of the family. Conservatives privilege the experiential over the abstract. Following the experiential, conservatives generally distrust politics that stem from abstract reasoning (which is reasoning that is devoid of experience). This is why conservatives generally squawk at the Huxlean utopias of the left. The utopian ideals frequently miss out on the experience of everyday people and the societies that these people encounter. Now, this is not to say that the conservative is somehow anti-intellectual or anti-philosophy. Instead, the conservative stresses that our reasoning or philosophy be intertwined with the way reality is.
All too often, the social engineering from abstract reasoning disregards the lived experiences of humans for some transcendental ideal to be attained regardless of the way society actually is. Eric Voegelin knew this all too well in his view of science, which can easily be applied to the political philosophy realm. Voegelin says, “Science starts from the prescientific existence of man, from his participation in the world with his body, soul, intellect, and spirit, from his primary grip on all the realms of being assured to him because his own nature is their epitome.” For the conservative, this sums up her position on the abstraction and enforcement of those abstractions on society. Abstract reasoning should start with man and his participation in the world, and then move to implement whatever it is they want to implement.
What are the societies that humans first experience? The family. Like Aristotle, Conservatives believe that “man by nature is a political animal.” Man, by nature, is a social organism that is inextricably linked to society and society to him. Aristotle makes the argument that the starting point of society is the family. Aristotle goes onto argue that from the family comes several households, and from several households comes a village, and from several villages comes a city. For Aristotle, the family and in-turn the city exist by nature, and from this, he concludes that “man by nature is a political animal.” Contra the Hobbesian contractual agreement society does not arise from a mutually agreed contract but from the natural union of male and female to bring tradition and the future together with their children. Alexander Hamilton emphasized the primacy of the local in the federalist papers. Hamilton says, “It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large…” Even Hamilton’s rivals agree with him on this point. Cato (The Governor of New York George Clinton) says, “The strongest principle of the union resides within our domestic walls. The ties of the parent exceed that of any other, the next general principle of union is amongst citizens of the same state, where acquaintance, habits, and fortunes, nourish affection, and attachment.” The Conservative’s emphasis on the family is a staple of the conservative philosophy. The primacy of the family did not arise with the modern white evangelical butis in the very foundation of conservative thought itself.
Just as the family is the foundation of society, so it is also the foundation of economics. The etymology of the words economics is Greek and comes from the word oikos and nomos. That being said, the Greek termoikonomia refers to the management of the household. In a natural economy, we start by laboriously transforming nature to provide for ourselves and our family. The things we produce from our labor become our wealth. This wealth provides the necessities for the family. Whatever goes beyond the necessities for the family is surplus or capital that can be used to add to the wealth that has already accumulated. That being said, wealth not only provides necessities for the family but also provides a way for a family to operate. Hilaire Belloc makes this point, “Therefore, to control the production of wealth is to control human life itself. To refuse man the opportunity for the production of wealth is to refuse him the opportunity for life.” As noted earlier, if the village, towns, and cities are natural extensions of the family, then today’s economy builds up from the family and allows for divisions of labor. From this division, builds up the economy. Benjamin Wikersays it better than I can when he writes, “What the family cannot provide, the village can; what the village cannot provide economically, the county can; what the county cannot provide economically, the state can. Thus, we end up with layers of intermediate economic institutions, each supplementing, not supplanting, the previous.” Economics is the management of the household, and it starts with the family.
The conservative’s battle cry of the family is not some recent phenomenon and is not exclusively a Christian ideal. It stems from experience and the foundation of society. In any community, not just the black community, once the family starts to falter, society at large begins to falter. Alexis de Tocqueville recognizes that society in America is built from the ground up. Tocqueville says, “America, on the contrary, one can say that the township had been organized before the county, the county before the state, the state before the Union.” For the conservative, the family has to be protected at all costs because it is the foundation of what we know. If the family breaks down, society breaks down, and America breaks down. If the family holds up, the Conservative will not have to answer Cicero’s question, “Tell me, how did you lose a republic as great as yours so quickly?” So, when you hear the conservative go on and on about the family, remember, for her,society is a house of cards, and the ones at the bottom are the family.