Build the Family

Social transformation continues at a breakneck pace. Ideas germinating in leftist fever swamps have become public dogmas in a matter of a generation—or a couple of weeks—or the last few hours. Thus, the calls by Sophie Lewis, and most recently Black Lives Matter, to abolish the family cannot be ignored.

Lewis’s book Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against the Family renews the feminist call for the abolition of the family. Simone de Beauvoir, founding mother of modern feminism, said in a 1972 interview: “I think the family must be abolished” and replaced “with communes or with other forms which have yet to be invented.” The list of feminists who followed Beauvoir is long. Revolutionaries from Black Lives Matter have hopped on board, hoping to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and replace it with “extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another.” 

Moderate family abolishers merely hope families will wither away into irrelevance without much pushing. For these moderates—“moderate,” by my desperate standard—progressive steps must be taken to weaken the authority of parents over children, to thin out family loyalty, and to detach husbands and wives. 

Others, more radical like Beauvoir, think family should be proscribed by laws backed by force. Families should be mocked and dishonored as “comfortable concentration camps” (to use Betty Friedan’s lingo). A public opinion shaped by Black Lives Matter radicalism would not permit anyone to trace social ills like poor education, murder, or crime to family breakdown. 

For Lewis the radical, every time is a good time to abolish the family. On George Soros’ Open Society website, she argues, “the coronavirus crisis shows it’s time to abolish the family.” At The Nation, her acolytes chime in: “Want to dismantle capitalism? Abolish the Family.” A fawning interview at Vice captures the spirit: “We can’t have a feminist future unless we abolish the family.”

Her rhetoric aims to put those who would defend the family on their heels, making them own every horror that has ever originated in a family. People are not safe in their own homes, so the coronavirus stay-at-home order consigns women to “intimate partner rape” or children to “psychological torture.” Far from being a haven in a heartless world, family life, for Lewis, is “child abuse, molestation, intimate partner rape, psychological torture, and more.” Being in the home “genders” all concerned, as housework comes to mean more. 

The family, according to this view, is a pressure cooker, a source of repression. People come to think that they have responsibilities or duties to other people. This makes them vulnerable or angry. Worst of all, it oppresses women, who would never take on such duties unless tricked by the patriarchy. 

A Blinkered, One-Sided View

Such ills would disappear, for Lewis, with “full surrogacy.” Full surrogates would not just carry a baby for another. We would all be surrogates for each other, spontaneously, and with great dedication. We would inhabit bigger, broader systems of care that fully provide people with the support and love that today they expect from blood relations. Liberal feminists before Lewis have embraced this “surrogate” family for a generation, in the hope of creating what they call Intensive Care-Giving Units (ICGUs). While some feminists would allow the blood-tie to remain at the heart of such units, for radicals like Lewis full surrogacy transcends blood. 

These are not the mere ravings of academic cranks. David Brooks, weathervane of the respectably woke, now agrees that “the nuclear family has been a mistake” and should be replaced by virtuous group living. 

First, the pretense. Air sometimes gives destructive agency to fire, so let’s abolish air! Radicals try to make defenders of family life own every misfire of every family while denying the contributions of families to sustaining and nurturing life. Anyone who makes such arguments is no well-meaning reformer, but a fanatical revolutionary with no interest in making anything better. 

In fact, it turns out that family misfires are all on her side. Subcultures in America have long moved in the direction of the abolition Lewis embraces. Fewer families form in the mean streets of Baltimore or in the hollers of Appalachia than ever. Has there been some major movement toward peace, greater trust, less violence, brotherhood, and human happiness in these parts of our country? Have decreases in family contact led to more upward mobility or happiness or justice? No. Instead crime, misery, dashed-hopes, and violence beset these communities. Lewis and anyone who endorses her ideology must own this misery, and they ought to be made to blush if they have consciences. 

There probably has never been and never will be a human association more crucial to civilizing human beings than the biological family, especially when it is duly limited in a political community. Certainly not the university. And not the New York Times editorial page. The choice isn’t between the oppressive family and liberated Elysian Fields; it is between the mostly good family and the Killing Fields

The Truth About Family

Why? Human beings thrive when they can trust others with their lives and honor. Families build themselves in mutual reliance, and by habit and experience, they build such trust. Mutual reliance shows that all those who are interdependent in the family are also responsible for someone other than themselves. And thus they come to love someone other than themselves. Who do you call in times of illness or distress? Who but a strong, virtuous husband or brother will protect a smaller, vulnerable woman from predator or thief? Who can you count on when you contract cancer or have your dreams crushed or when you are an infant? 

If you have no one, your life is very poor indeed. Those with families are most likely to have someone. The COVID-19 lockdowns reveal these truths to more of us every day. 

Americans should seek to extend the blessings of family life to more people. Sophie Lewis and her feminist allies, now including Black Lives Matter, blow the smoke of a pernicious ideology that instead seeks the family’s destruction. That ideology distracts us from our true problems, while exacerbating them. We must clear the underbrush of anti-family ideologies to address the real problems confronting Americans. 

Lewis screams “too much marriage,” when in fact it is “not enough.” She says “abolish.” In reality, we must build. 

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About Scott Yenor

Scott Yenor is a professor of political science at Boise State University. His book The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies was published in 2020 by Baylor University Press.

Photo: Enisaksoy/Getty Images

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