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Liberalism & The End of the Natural Family

Michael Brendan Dougherty has a powerful piece about how changes in law, culture, and technology are exploding the concept of the natural family, in favor of the contracted family model. Excerpts:

The language of this news report is the language of the new dispensation. It assumes that what the law has to say trumps what the genes of Marotta and his daughter say. A partisan of the natural family would tell Marotta and other sperm sellers that when they go to the clinic, they are not just selling “material.” They are standing in a position of power over their posterity and selling their future child’s claims upon them.

Legally recognized sperm (and egg) “donors” take money with the expectation that the resultant children will not be “theirs.” That is, for the convenience (and profit) of adults, children are deprived not only of their parents’ care, but even the knowledge of their origins. They are deprived of knowledge about their ethnic background, family history, their grandparents — the very things that define us.

The rhetoric of traditionalists about the natural family has sharpened in recent years in debates over same-sex marriage. Traditionalists say that the entire sexual revolution is giving adults unprecedented autonomy to do “what they want,” but that it comes at the cost of children’s claims upon their parents. No-fault divorce creates incentives that deprive children of the stable homes in which they most flourish. And donor-assisted reproductive technology could be considered a kind of no-fault divorce itself. Parents simply impose a legal and social divorce on their biological child.

Naturally, the argument that natural families are in any way superior is met with suspicion by the democratic mind, and by those who are loyal to the emerging dispensation of the contractual family.


But the changes wrought by the sexual revolution that O’Toole celebrates have created new sanctioned tyrants — and children are their subjects. In the egalitarian future that he wants, parents are no longer forbidden by taboo, superstition, or law from selling their children’s claims in a flesh market desperate for orphans. Mothers are made free to abort their children in the womb. And the normalization of market-created children puts poor biological parents at risk of losing their children to richer strangers deemed more “competent” to act in the best interests of the child.

A reader sends a story from Sweden reporting that the government is planning to make taxpayer-funded IVF treatment available for single women. That’s right: the state intends to facilitate the birth of children without fathers. The state is promoting the dismantling of the natural family. And it’s not especially controversial:

However, the proposal enjoys wide support from both political blocs and is expected to be approved. All parties in parliament apart from the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats support fertility treatment for singles.

Madness — but there’s a logic to it. If autonomy, especially sexual autonomy, is the summum bonum of life under liberalism, then the state that gives individuals maximum freedom to do what they want is the ideal. Children are products of adult desire, nothing more. Men are beside the point, except as sperm donors, and we cannot assert the good of children, because we cannot even say what it is.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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