Pete Wehner cites a startling new essay from Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution about the collapse of the family over the past 40 years, and what it means for America’s present and future. The statistics are grim. Wehner’s response, in part:
Mr. Haskins, in reviewing programs tried at all levels of government, finds that the results have been mixed and, for the most part, hardly encouraging. We are dealing in a realm of human behavior where the positive effects of public policy look to be quite limited. What will be required is a substantial shift in social mores–in how we view the institution and purposes of marriage, the duties of parenthood, our commitments to one another, and even human fulfillment itself–and there’s little evidence that is about to occur anytime soon.
In 2000, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he had seen in his 40-year political career. Moynihan responded, “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” This change has occurred in “an historical instant,” Moynihan said. “Something that was not imaginable 40 years ago has happened.”
Indeed it has. (The trends that concerned Moynihan have, in fact, accelerated.) The historian Lawrence Stone said the scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent. It is unique. And as a civilization we seem unable, or at least unwilling, to do much of anything about it.
I agree with that, I guess, but seriously, what can be done? Are we not in a sauve qui peut (every man for himself) moment? That’s a little overstated, frankly, but I cannot see any government programs or society-wide initiatives capable of reforming the Sexual Revolution — and certainly not in a media and market culture that constantly catechizes people that assenting to their desires and consuming experiences, particularly sexual ones, is how they assert their liberty and humanity. I may be wrong, but the only realistic resistance I can see is within churches and small communities who work to be intentionally countercultural, for the sake of saving their marriages and their children from the hedonistic plague that has been devastating our civilization for nearly half a century.
If you have a better idea, let’s hear it. Before you speak, though, read either the Hoskins article, or Wehner’s summary. The numbers don’t lie: the Sexual Revolution has been a disaster for the family, and especially for the poor.
UPDATE: Interesting comment from reader Anastasia, an American who lives in the Netherlands:
Before you start pointing the finger at what has caused the meltdown of the American family, I think it’s helpful to look at other Western cultures where families are still pretty stable and ask yourself what the difference is. In the Netherlands family life is still sacrosanct, despite the “success” here of the Sexual Revolution. My take on it, after living here more than half my life, is that it has to do with the smaller gap between the wealthy and the poor and with deeply ingrained social customs. Although you can find some pretty wealthy places to live, on the whole the Dutch are not into conspicuous consumption. It’s considered crude and vulgar, and “keeping up with the Joneses” is not at all an acceptable practice. Most Dutch people, rich and poor, place enormous value on family life. The Sunday afternoon visit to grandma and grandpa is still a well-entrenched custom. On birthdays, most Dutch people will have some kind of get-together, usually with family members, and if you attend such an event you walk into the house and say “Congratulations,” not only to the person whose birthday it is but also to all their family members and to their friends.
In his book Amsterdam, Russell Shorto claims that the idea of the modern family — father, mother and children in one house — was born in the Netherlands. I believe it. Go to any Dutch city and watch the moms and dads riding their kids around on their bikes, sometimes two and even three kids at a time. Parents have time for their kids. They don’t feel the pressure to compete with each other or to show off their wealth. Most people’s idea of a good time is getting together with another family, cooking together, maybe watching football. It’s gezellig, a word that’s more or less at the basis of Dutch culture but is, oddly enough, untranslatable in English.