Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Family at Home? (Part One)

I had the opportunity recently to hear Allan Carlson speak. Carlson is, in some ways, the dean of the pro-family movement. I don't know his stuff real well, but he seems to be writing the most thoughtful stuff (he's a think-tank guy) on why families matter and how to promote them.

In this and my next post I will explain what I like and dislike about Carlson's position.

On the first part of his argument, why families matter, I am wholly in agreement with him. His new book, The Natural Family: A Manifesto, sets out to be a real manifesto, laying out why the promotion of family is necessary to a thriving republic. (He wrote it with Paul Mero, who seems to be more of an assistant than a co-worker.) Most of all, he wants to restore, especially in young people, the aspiration to have big families. He argues, and I agree, that without this aspiration, society is pretty much doomed.

Nowadays, even Evangelicals -- the mythical "Christian Right" -- almost universally proclaim that children are a burden on marriage, that young people should strive for "more" than "just" having kids (what a world view!), and that, if nothing else, you should spend several years building a "healthy" marriage before you think about having kids. All of these, Carlson and I agree, mean the death of the republic, because all of these mean minimal investment in the future, minimal care for the personal, and minimal love for Nature.

He also argues, and I agree, that a family movement that stages its battles on issues like gay marriage is hopeless. Once we concede all that we have conceded -- the new Evangelical view of marriage, plus no-fault divorce laws, societal acceptance of sex outside of marriage, in vitro fertilization and contraceptive sex, etc. -- there are really no grounds for fighting gay marriage. We need to restore a marriage culture. We need to engage the battle much farther up the hill. On all of this, I agree with Carlson.

But I disagree with his means. Carlson proposes a whole series of laws -- he's working closely with the mythic Senator Brownback -- to promote his vision of family. The laws include things like tax credits for stay-at-home moms and a whole series of things to promote telecommuting, so that families can be together during the day. Now, I oppose this stuff in principle because I really think social engineering is a bad idea. I'll talk about that more in other posts, but I think these things tend to give broad scope to limited ideas -- trying to force round pegs into square holes -- and they also tend toward abuse. Consider the mortgage deductions, which had noble intentions of promoting an ownership society, but ended up putting money in the pockets of people with good tax lawyers, killing urban real estate, and forcing renters to subsidize other people's real estate -- basically redistribution from the poor to the rich. Social engineering is bad.

In the next post, I'll explain why I don't like what he's trying to engineer.