A Progressive Defense of Family Values

One of the more significant changes that has taken place in the Western world over the past fifty years concerns the breakdown of the family.This is a well-known story: marriage rates are down, divorce rates are up, average family size is down, etc. And while there are legitimate financial reasons to avoid starting a family these days – or for limiting the number of children within the household – shifting public opinion against marriage and children has doubtless contributed to this trend.

Many people in our hyper-consumerist, career-oriented society view having children as a major burden, especially from a financial standpoint. This is obviously true. In addition to the major commitment of time and effort involved in being a parent, raising kids is expensive! Food, diapers, toys, daycare, and many other things can strain an already tight budget, and with mounting student loan debt, decreasing job prospects, and stagnant wages for most average people, the decision to start a family should be taken very seriously. In fact, a significant percentage of people should probably be discouraged from doing so, and this for a variety of reasons including but not limited to financial insecurity.

This economic deterrent is exacerbated, however, by the way people who do prioritize their families – over their careers and monetary aspirations – are perceived. They are often perceived negatively. This is especially true from the standpoint of most feminists and “progressives”, as they attempt to dictate how “liberated” women (and not just them) should think and act. Women who freely choose to stay at home with her children and guide them through their formative years, for instance, are widely disparaged as failures. This is no hyperbole – they’re made to feel guilty for deciding to have kids and, more importantly, for wanting to be around them as much as possible. This stated desire apparently conjures up memories of the days when women were subservient to men.

Why would any self-respecting woman (or man!), the assumption goes, choose to forego climbing the corporate ladder? And to do so in favor of spending time changing diapers and being around crying kids?! Why would any woman (or man!) with any dignity choose a life of domestic chaos over pursuing the social recognition accompanying a successful career? Smart and well-educated folk are particularly dumbfounded when they meet up with such anomalies who don’t share their materialistic values. They typically can’t fathom such a seemingly “reactionary” mindset.

For those of us who do have kids, however, and who gladly embrace the myriad burdens involved in active parenting, the answer is obvious: there is nothing more beautiful and meaningful than being engaged in our children’s lives. It sounds mawkish but seeing our kids take their first step, say their first word, read their first book, play in their first game, etc. is worth the sacrifice in terms of not maximizing our earning potential.

Raising our children to be passionate, curious, articulate, appreciative, and attuned to the mystery and wonder of the world is something that we, as members of a larger social and historical community, should celebrate. Cultivating those traits in them – and in ourselves – should be viewed than much more than expressions of eccentricity. Hostility to traditional family values in the West must change quickly. But concomitant with this renewed appreciation of family values is a radical transformation in the way we relate to our world, to Being; the two are inseparable.

We must learn to appreciate the simple joys of parenting – and of life more generally – and must also see how choosing our families over careers – if decision is taken freely and intelligently – is not at all a matter of “settling for less.” Quite the contrary, this shift in values represents a rejection of the nihilistic ones currently holding sway, and an equally emphatic affirmation of life and Being, now considered as more than mere resource exploitation.

Moreover, we should endeavor uphold core values underlying successful marriages, including “old fashioned” things as commitment, monogamy, frugality, and spirituality. Simple virtues such as these serve as counterpoints to a world where essential human bonds – i.e. non-instrumental – have largely given way underneath the weight of the needs of global economy. People now spend a bulk of their time working in order to chase after the latest fashions and trends.

We should try to be around our kids more than strangers or paid workers. Furthermore, they should never doubt that they are loved and cared for. Part of this concern involves inculcating moral and intellectual virtues which will shape their character for the remainder of their lives. They are not receiving these things within our current public educational system – where they are subjected to a set of much different values – nor are they receiving them through the culture at large (movies, television, etc.). What they receive is a constant barrage of slogans, advertisements, and images portraying a narrow interpretation of “success,” one which is invariably associated with the acquisition of money and possessions.

There is not a job in the world that is more important to our children, and to the overall health of our society. Our communities are lacking in virtue and responsibility these days, and a good deal of the blame for this can be traced to the dissolution of family bonds. Individual cut off from family and community now stand more isolated than ever before under the all-powerful gaze of the massive administrative state and its various specialists and experts. This predicament is reminiscent of the “soft” tyranny outlined in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

The return on this “investment” in our children is obviously more “spiritual” (and lasting) than material. However, kids who become habituated to the virtues and values modeled by their parents will generally grow up to make great workers. They also tend to make great citizens who can align their interests in with those of their community. This spiritual aspect should guide and inform material interests in the same way that the materially-directed element of society in Plato’s Republic is subordinated to the wisdom of philosophy. Philosophy – at least in its genuine form – is particularly well-suited to distinguishing between the high and the low, the honorable and the base. Religions make this distinction, too, and are more practical than a spiritual aristocracy within the context of a modern liberal democracy.

Without making prudent lifestyle changes, however, choosing to spend more time with your children will be impractical. So this reorganization of our lives comes with a literal cost. If you work less then you need to spend less (depending on your family background and/or line of work). You will have to forego such unnecessary things as fancy clothes, expensive cars, exotic trips abroad, etc. Once you shift your mindset, though, you understand that the strong desire for these consumerist trappings are hindrances to genuine growth and wisdom.

Ultimately, the main goal is to challenge public opinion. By making the decision for marriage and family respectable to thoughtful people again, even those (especially those!) who incline towards progressive values, we challenge the false idols working to subvert the family and community today. The highest expression of human existence transcends selfishness and hedonism; it is based instead on connecting with other human beings, with the natural world, with the creativity lying within ourselves, with the divine manifested in and through the world, etc.

By prioritizing the lives of our children we engage in the struggle for the soul of the world. This is no hyperbole or rhetorical ploy: We are in a moment of profound crisis, but because of that also one of possible transformation. To avoid potential misunderstandings, this is not a recommendation live in poverty – especially when kids are involved. It should not be taken as necessarily anti-capitalist either, or as supporting communism.

There’s a big difference between advocating poverty and voluntary simplicity, and it should be clear where we stand on the topic. Our deep respect for initiative, hard work, and creativity will be addressed soon within our preferred economic system of distributism.

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