The Family

The Family

The Family

The Family

Excerpt

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States and Europe, the family is today the subject of almost unremitting scrutiny, giving credence to the belief that an institution so persistently watched over must indeed be in jeopardy. While reports of imminent disaster-indeed, the possibility of the final demise of the family--circulate widely, books are written to show how exaggerated are all such claims, and how tailored they are to the needs of the news media, searching always for the sensational and the novel. So long as the explosion of interest in the family is seen principally as the expression of concern for an "endangered" institution, there is no possibility of correctly interpreting the events of recent decades, nor of estimating how major developments have affected perceptions, mores, and beliefs, not only as they have touched the family but also as they have affected other institutions related to it.

There are at least two major errors, commonly believed, that this volume is intended to refute: first, that the family is a weak organism, constantly under attack, largely inert, and incapable of warding off great and powerful bullies, whether they appear as world-shaking events, such as, for example, the industrial revolution, or as more parochial forces, such as the expansion of the power and authority of the federal government in the United States; second, that objectivity about the family is easily achieved, that those who recommend changes are interested only in the general welfare, that their facts are incontrovertible, and that their passions are under close and deliberate control--in short, that they are "objective" scholars or public servants, without political or other partisan interests. These are serious mistakes; they ought not to be indulged in. Nor, for that matter, ought we to proceed in the naive belief that we know all (or much) of what we need to know about the family--that the time for theorizing is over--and that only action, to alleviate admitted injustice, will now suffice. This volume, while explicit in many of its recommendations for change, starts with the premise that serious and substantial inquiry into the family is of relatively recent origin, that it now involves numerous academic disciplines and professions, and that we are only now beginning to profit from certain of the research that is going on.

The demythologizing process is only in its earliest stages. We still accept a largely fictitious view of family organization in the past, recalling a stability and order that never existed, but that is intended to put into bold relief the massive untidiness of contemporary family life. Many treat the modern family as a fragile and delicate object--the "Victorian lady" of yesterday--buffeted on every side and scarcely able to cope with the threats to its authority. We refuse to see why the family is at the very center of many of our contemporary political debates, and why it is impossible to talk about equality (or liberty) without talking also about the family, or why "family policy," even in its patchwork American forms, has larger social purposes, related to the education, health, and welfare of all citizens. Despite the pretense of uniformity in family life throughout the industrial world, the differences are in fact conspicuous, not only between individual nations, but also between various classes and regions. Uniformities exist, obviously, but not always of the kind that are looked for.

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