The progressive cultural elite has long perpetuated prejudices against the family that, unchallenged, lead to its ruin. Among several I cite three: (1) the assertion that marriage makes men and women less free; (2) the assumption that children are a burden; and (3) the insistence that sexual differentiation is a fiction. These three ideas represent, as it were, three waves of the anti-family movement of the past 150 years. The first is the Marxist contribution; the second is the eugenicist; the third is the fruit of recent gender theorists.
Social conservatives too often play a battle of catch-up with the progressive left. We marvel at abortion; we worry over divorce; we wonder at the rise of the homosexual lobby. It is right that alarm is sounded. But even before lobbying, if the family is ever to regain its natural position of prominence, conservatives need to recover the memory of how the “traditional family” lost its way. In this and the next two articles I would like uncover the three stages of the long war against the family, and then note briefly some helpful lines of response to them. We’ll begin first with the Marxist contribution.
Common to both Marx and Engels is the belief that social relations not characterized by strict material equality are unjust. In his influential study, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels attacked the family as the original cell of inequality and slavery. As an extension of man’s first desire for property—Marxism’s equivalent of the fall—man also wished to secure the transmission of property to his posterity. In Engels’ account this drive is what gives rise to monogamy. Men with land want heirs with a legitimate title. Hence, in marriage women belong to men simply “as an instrument for the production of children.” In Engel’s view the enslavement of women, naturally, like all inequalities, will cease once the means of production are transferred from private ownership to the state. With no right to property and no possibility of handing on an inheritance, men will no longer care to identify their offspring. An upshot is that once the economic conditions that gave rise to marriage cease, so also will marriage. At the end of history, sex will again be unfettered.