When the Government Becomes Your Family
By KELLY THOMAS
In a recent panel discussion entitled: “The Future of Marriage in America,” three panelists, Wade Horn, Jennifer Marshall, and Heather MacDonald, explored marital trends in the U.S. over the past several decades, and offered insights into the possible ramifications on the family of such phenomena as the rising median age of marriage or the growing percentage of cohabiting couples having children out of wedlock. Studies have shown that the well-being of marriage and the family carries large consequences for children and for the economy, but the Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall offered an additional warning when she cautioned, “If we want a limited government … conservatives need to stand for the family.” Marshall’s statement draws on the idea that the family, as the basic unit of society, is also a bulwark against big government. If the family, extended and immediate, is failing in its fundamental duty to lead members to care for one another, the government will step in to fill that vacuum. Subsequently, as the state grows in power and increasingly provides for citizens’ material needs, the need for the family is diminished.
Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw the danger of weakening family ties in democratic societies when he wrote:
In [the past] man almost always knows about his ancestors and respects them; his imagination extends to his great-grandchildren and he loves them…in democratic ages on the contrary, the duties of each to all are much clearer but devoted service to any individual much rarer. The bonds of human affection are wider but more relaxed…they form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation
For generations, raising a family was a community venture with young families rallying together for support and family members pitching in to help with new children. The extended family was the bedrock, and was the first source one looked to when in need, whether for a loan to purchase a new home or merely for someone to watch the children for an evening.
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