The War Over the Family
by Brigitte Berger and Peter Berger

The War over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground describes the ideal of the bourgeois family, the objections raised by critics of it, the alternatives to it, and, finally, why it will outlive all of its competitors. The subtitle refers to the fact that the authors defend a position somewhere to the right of the intellectual elite and the counterculture and somewhere to the left of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. (Unless otherwise noted, all numbers enclosed in brackets refer to pages in this book.)

The Bourgeois Family Ideal

The ideal bourgeois family (called Victorian in England and Biedermeier in Germany and by other names in other places) begins with the nuclear family: parents living together and sharing responsibility for their children and for each other. In addition to being a nuclear family, the bourgeois family has the following characteristics: an emphasis on high moral standards, especially in sexual matters; an enormous interest in the welfare of children, especially their proper education; the inculcation of values and attitudes conducive to economic success and civic peace; at least the appearance of religious faith; a devotion to the "finer things" in life, especially in the arts; a sense of obligation to redress or alleviate conditions perceived as morally offensive. [7]

The bourgeois man is a good provider for his family because he has the Protestant virtues necessary for economic success in a free-market economy: frugality, enterprise, diligence, decency, common sense, abstinence, discipline, attention to detail, reliability, politeness, respect, and fairness. [107]

For generations, affluence and domesticity have been important aspects of the bourgeois life. [101] The bourgeois woman is free from drudgery and able to be the companion and helper to her husband, the supervisor and facilitator of her children's development and education, arbiter of taste, culture, and all the finer things in life. [102]

A Brief History of the Bourgeois Family

"There is one tradition, reaching from Plato through Rousseau to Marx, in which the family is viewed as a barrier to the achievement of virtue, justice, and equality in society. There is another tradition, going back to Aristotle and continued by Locke, Hegel, and De Tocqueville, which declares the family to be the cornerstone of social order." [172]
The industrial revolution caused productive work to be progressively taken out of the household. The family changed from being a unit of production to being a unit of consumption. The increase in per capita income allowed people to afford new interests. Childhood as we now understand it was a luxury invented by the rising bourgeoisie of Europe. Their affluence meant that their homes became more attractive, and bourgeois families could now afford a new tenderness toward children, a greater interest in their development, and a prolongation of the period before children would have to go to work. [92] The mortality rate for children fell dramatically from what was normal for most of human history and from what it is in the Third World today. [113] The adolescent was also invented as a social type in the industrial societies of the West in the 19th century.

The origins of both social work and the welfare state lie in the missionary efforts by which the bourgeoisie sought to propagate its family ethos among the lower classes. [5] Bourgeois women took on a new role. Bourgeois women, not their spouses, were the standard bearers of the new sensibility, first of all within the home (where they were very much in charge), but then more and more in the public arena as well. Bourgeois women in England and America were the shock troops of the various movements (for example, the Temperance movement) that sought to evangelize other classes with the blessings of the middle-class family ethos. The Protestant clergy were an important ally in this mission. Families whose values and practices deviated from the norms of the new sensibility were seen as problems. [7] Bourgeois women were the prime builders of bourgeois civilization.

Modernization put strains on the bourgeois family in the 20th century as more people moved to urban areas away from their old communities. Modern life became more mobile, city life became more anonymous, relationships became open to revision. [11] Professional educators and experts in the new sciences of sociology and psychology began to take over more and more of the bourgeois mother's role in educating and socializing children. The rise of the suburbs in America in the 1950s marked a brief family renascence. [14] The cultural movements of the 1960s brought new attacks on the family. The feminist movement and other movements for sexual liberation such as the gay and lesbian movements, the various cults of sensitivity and personal liberation (the "California syndrome"), the New Left, and the new counterculture (hippies, flower children, druggies, communalists) all rejected and mocked the bourgeois values. [16] Meanwhile the welfare state was growing, and those in the "helping professions" began taking over more and more of the functions of the bourgeois family. Following the dictates of the Supreme Court, they began to secularize all public life and to preach moral relativism to school children. Regardless of the wishes of parents, schools began to teach children that all life-styles and forms of cohabitation are equal.

As the various welfare programs wrecked havoc on society, new programs would arise to deal with the unintended consequences of the previous programs. The financial costs of the welfare state grew, and the tax rates were raised higher and higher. By the 1970s, the average wage earner could no longer afford to support a family at the old 1950s standard of living. More women, even mothers of small children, began to join the work force to pay the taxes (or as the feminists would see it, to find self-fulfillment).

In 1973, the Supreme Court barred states from prohibiting abortions in the first trimester. An avalanche of abortions followed, more than a million by 1975. This sparked a pro-life movement, which led to a more general pro-family movement. The predictable failures of the social planners and "experts" became apparent to everyone else as society suffered from rising divorce rates, single-parent households, working mothers with young children, illegitimacy, runaway children, teen-age pregnancy, teen-age drinking and drug addiction, teen-age crime and suicide, child abuse and spouse battering, learning disabilities, and old people living alone. [33] By the late 1970s, the pro-family forces were organized, and they began to mount a counterattack against the feminists, homosexuals, Marxists, pornographers, abortionists, and the so-called experts in the education and "helping" professions.

The Class War

"it is only a minority, and a highly class-specific one at that, which has directly challenged the ideals. Most people, even if constrained by necessity to live under other-than-ideal circumstances, regret this fact and continue to uphold the old ideal of parents living together and sharing responsibility for their children and for each other--the old ideal, in short, of the bourgeois family." [185]

"On elite college campuses, where the next generation of Americans is preparing (or not preparing) for life, the desire for a family has become somewhat shamefaced--almost a "dirty little secret," looked at as irrational, uninformed, or plain reactionary." [140-141]

Those who study the social sciences in college learn that all cultures are equally good, except bourgeois culture, which is narrow minded, imperialistic, exploitative, greedy, and capitalistic. The educated elite are now trying to undo the earlier bourgeois evangelism by preaching a diametrically opposed ethos to the lower classes. [126] The elite are meeting strong resistance, especially from recent immigrants who have a sturdy sense of family, work, and ambition.

One project of a segment of the educated elite is the moral education movement, which developed in the 1970s. Two outcomes are possible:

"either moral education in schools will be an empty rhetorical exercise, or it will be effective to the extent that schools become agents of an increasingly conformist and authoritarian society. It should also be stressed that the notions of morality embodied in this program are overwhelmingly those of the college-educated upper middle class (or "new class")-- ideologically liberal-to-left and strongly secularized--so that the movement represents yet another missionary project of this class to impose its values on the lower classes." [161]
The lower classes were the object of the missionary zeal of the bourgeoisie in the 19th and early twentieth centuries. The evangelism was very successful. The bourgeois family and its norms became society-wide. [126]
"Working-class parents, more than middle-class parents, today want their children to be independent, ambitious, competitive, and risk-taking. This suggests that, perhaps paradoxically, the working class may eventually be inheriting the entrepreneurial positions that many in the middle class find uncongenial." [157]

"If one is concerned for the future of America, one might willingly exchange the entire membership of the American Sociological Association (or, for that matter, the combined faculties of all the Ivy League Universities) for the people who cross the Rio Grande in any given year. A parallel argument may be made about the 'guest workers' of Western Europe (though the decadence of the latter region may have reached a point where even the Turks and the Algerians will not be able to reverse the trend)." [136]

The Failure of the Alternatives

"The burden of proof rests on all proposals to deprive children of the intensive interaction with their mothers that for good reason, has been the norm throughout history.

All of the recent alternatives to the bourgeois ideal have failed. Despite the modern practice of adding the word community after every group name, there is no group that we feel more a part of than the much disparaged family. No other group can take its place.

...even if two individuals could spend their lives reinventing the world on a daily basis, it would be well-nigh impossible to socialize children in such a situation: Children need a world to grow into. It follows that any program of radical deinstitutionalization is futile in this as in any other area of social life. The meaningful question is not whether there will be an institution of the family in the future but, rather, what kind of institution is likely or desirable." [146]

"The school as an institution appears to be quite ineffective in instilling basic moral values-unless it serves to reinforce values already instilled in the individual by his homelife. Very much the same is true of the churches. The law ... is also singularly unsuited for this function ... The family, today as always, remains the institution in which at any rate the very great majority of individuals learn whatever they will ever learn about morality." [176]

The Anti-Family Feminists

Radical feminists sometimes seem hostile to motherhood in general and to children in particular. They have more enthusiasm for abortion and for day care than they do for childbirth and motherhood. They want to prevent children from being born. Failing that, they want to dump children on day-care centers so that mothers can pursue their selfish programs of self-realization. [27] Fortunately, the radical feminist ideology, like that of the celibate Shakers, is self-defeating. They have few children, so in a free nation they could not pose a serious threat to future generations.

The Counterculture

The Age of Aquarius never went very far. It remained parasitical on the modern technological society and, at best, was successful in revolutionizing the private lives of relatively small numbers of people. The data collected about children who were raised on American communes in the counterculture is overwhelmingly negative: they were subjected to bizarre and frequently damaging experimentation, instability in all the relationships significant to the child, neglect and neurosis, and they suffer from all sorts of physical and emotional deprivations. [158]

The Youth Culture

Youth culture and gangs have risen to try to fill the void where there is no bourgeois family structure.
"It may be argued that this happened precisely because the educational institutions have been unable to provide the emotional and moral "services" that the family surrendered to it; in consequence, the young individuals, left to themselves in this bewildering and stressful situation, had no recourse but to turn to each other. Be this as it may, there now exists a new and very powerful socializing force, the young individual's own peers, in many ways arrayed against the influences of both family and the educational system." [159]

"The youth culture has institutionalized a number of anti-bourgeois attitudes and values: rebelliousness, hedonism, a fixation on the here and now, and all this in a strongly collectivistic/conformist mold (peers at this age level are, perhaps instinctively, a horde)."

"The empirical consequences of this are not difficult to discover: juvenile delinquency and (increasingly) serious crime, drugs and alcoholism, suicide, a frenetic preoccupation with sexuality, mental disorders, and the appeal of fanatical cults." [160] "The much-heralded youth culture did not produce the new, liberated individual but, rather, a multitude of new pathologies and anxieties." [161]

Experts Can Learn: It Just Takes Them Longer

"And perhaps surprisingly, our rational and experimentally inclined science of child psychology has rediscovered what human beings have taken for granted for many thousands of years: the overriding importance of love for the healthy development and even the sheer survival of children." [150]

"There are, of course, the basic physical requirements: protection against outside dangers, feeding, treatment of illness (with whatever means are available), and encouragement of physical learning (including opportunities for motor development). In addition to these, which are obvious, there is broad agreement that there are four further minimal imperatives so that a healthy, alert, and emotionally content infant may develop: a stable structure, physical as well as social; in this structure (and thus stably present), care and love by adults; a fair amount of interaction, communication, and stimulation between the infant and adults; and consistency and predictability in the relations with the important adults in the infant's environment." [151-152]

"It seems that without the presence of caring adults an infant is much less likely even to physically survive, let alone develop emotionally." [152]

"The infant is "bonded" with individual adults, in small numbers, and not with a large, anonymous collectivity." [153]

"By far, in most societies, it is parents who are in charge of the infant's care and socialization." [152]

"Parents are usually the best judges of what their child needs; only they, in most cases know the child fully and can appreciate the individualized needs of the child; by contrast, the knowledge of outsiders tends to be partial (derived, for instance, only from the child's behavior in school or in as psychologist's office) and abstract ("this type of child"...). [156]

"The evidence also suggests that it is not essential that both parents have the same intensive interaction with the child; it also suggests, though, that initial interaction is tied to the mother or, in her absence, another female, whom, faute de mieux, we will have to call a "mother figure." [152]

Theoretically, the role of the "mother figure" could be played by a male, but
"this is not too likely for a simple reason: If such an arrangement were viable for the development of healthy infants, the vast variety of family arrangements in differing cultures would make one expect that it would have been successfully tried somewhere!" [152-153]

"The child must be able to trust the love of adults who care for him--and he must also trust in the fact that they will continue to be around in the future. None of the available alternatives to the bourgeois family provide a basis for either kind of trust; for that reason alone, they are not viable alternatives." [153-154]

Professionally conducted child-care facilities commonly supply neither love nor stability. [153] A persistent feature of all such facilities is high personnel turnover. The necessary emotional bonding with one or two adults is either impossible (there simply isn't time for it) or (even worse emotionally) each attachment is soon followed by a painful loss. [155]

Children raised in an Israeli kibbutz grow up to be very sociable and conformist and well-adapted to communal living, but they find it hard to exist in any less-collectivistic situation such as the rest of Israeli society, outside of the kibbutz. [158]

Children raised in bourgeois families

"have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, do better in school, have higher rates of achievement, and move more easily from dependence to autonomy." [162]

The Family Is Here to Stay

In the welfare state, "helping professionals" working for the government at taxpayer expense have taken over some of the functions traditionally carried out by the family, especially those related to education of children, care of the sick and handicapped, and care of the aged. In a free nation, the state would not perform these functions. So other institution would have to provide these services. The bourgeois family is the prime candidate.
"People continue to marry as frequently as they used to, and there has been no lessening of marriage by the divorced (giving continued credence to Dr. Johnson's famous dictum about marriage as the triumph of hope over experience)."

"Married people are much more likely to say that they are happy than single people" "Women, contrary to feminist assumptions, are even happier than men when married... in higher age brackets, married women stay about as happy as when they were younger, but single women express much less happiness, and single women over forty appear to be the least-happy group in the population. Curiously, it is marriage rather than parenthood that seems to be the crucial factor here: Married couples with children are not happier than those without." [163]

"the well-being engendered by marriage extends to the physical aspects of life too. Data indicate that married individuals have less disease and a greater life expectancy than those not married." [167]

"Of adult Americans, 92 percent rate the family as their most important personal value (followed, in descending order by friendship, work, patriotism, and religion); 83 percent would welcome more emphasis on traditional family ties; 33 percent said they place more emphasis on family togetherness than their parents did, 55 percent the same amount, and only 12 percent less; 78 percent said they consider the family to be the most meaningful part of their life (as against only 9 percent making this claim for work). Also, while these data show the great majority of the individuals surveyed following very traditional patterns, both as an ideal and in actual practice, they were quite tolerant of others following different patterns. This is an important finding, because it indicates that one should not interpret tolerance of deviant life-styles as a preference for them." [164]

"Americans have been ready to accept differences as long as, and only as long as, the different groups could plausibly be perceived as sharing some common values of the society. In that case, ordinary and initially prejudiced Americans are quite ready to conclude that these different people are "really okay." What are these common values? Mostly, they pertain to interpersonal relations in the private sphere: reliability, honesty, industriousness, respect and concern for others, willingness to take on responsibility." [184]

Asian and Mexican immigrants exhibit these common values more than the Black underclass. So Asian-Americans and Mexican-Americans are more acceptable, even though they are more different in language, dress, and other cultural characteristics.
"we would contend, the high divorce rates indicate the opposite of what conventional wisdom holds: People divorce in such numbers not because they are turned off marriage but, rather, because their expectations of marriage are so high that they will not settle for unsatisfactory approximations." [166]

"we believe that there is no viable alternative to the bourgeois family for the raising of children who will have a good chance of becoming responsible and autonomous individuals, nor do we see alternative arrangements by which adults, from youth to old age, will be given a stable context for the affirmation of themselves and their values. The defense of the bourgeois family, therefore, is not an exercise in romantic nostalgia. It is something to be undertaken in defense of human happiness and human dignity in a difficult time." [167]

In a free nation, conservatives could not use law to impose their essentially provincial morality on the entire society. Similarly, the left-liberal elite could not use law to impose their secularism and egalitarianism on society, and feminists will not be able to force other people to provide free day care or to subsidize their life plans. In a free nation, we do not have to worry that the rearing of children by lesbians or pairs of homosexual maternal uncles will become the norm. As long as coercion is not used to favor one life-style over another, the bourgeois family structure will win out over all its competitors. Most people will choose bourgeois life-styles. All we have to do is allow them the freedom to choose.

Year Read: 1996


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