All Commentary
Sunday, July 1, 1973

The Family

The Reverend Mr. Rushdoony is President of Chalcedon, an educational organization dedicated to furthering Christian research and writing. He is author of numerous books and a frequent speaker on college campuses.

This article is reprinted by permission from Applied Christianity, December, copyright, ¹972.

The family has been under major attack in the modern world from a number of sources, and more than one scholar has predicted the death of the family as Christian civilization has known it. These predictions represent not only wishful thinking but a militant hostility to the family. In order to understand the motivation for these attacks, it is necessary to recognize the social significance of the family.

The family in Biblical law, and in Western society since Justinian, has been the custodian of the most important things in any society: children, property and inheritance. In Biblical law, the family alone is the custodian and controller of all three, and its social powers as a result are very great. Control over children, property and inheritance means a control over the future.

As a result, every institution which dreams of power begins immediately to attack the family because of its monopolistic powers in these areas. It attacks also the basic legal reform and revolution instituted by Justinian and Theodora in the sixth century. This legal revolution, which brought civil law into conformity with Biblical law, was responsible for shifting the foundations of society from the state to the family.

There were five aspects to this legal reform with respect to the family. 1. Only heterosexual relations in marriage were made legally allowable. All other sexual relations were made subject to criminal charges. 2. This law was made applicable to all classes, so that the same standard of family life and sex was mandatory for all classes and professions, and all acts to the contrary were criminal. 3. All illicit sexuality was made punishable by corporal punishment, imprisonment, or banishment. 4. No legal contract could be made regarding non-family sex, i.e., with a mistress, concubine, prostitute, procurer, nor anyone else, and to secure such a contract made the inciting party an accessory to a crime. 5. The family was defined as the legitimate and normal way of life and status.

In the medieval church, there was both an emphasis on the Christian family and a depreciation of it in favor of the primacy of the church. With the Reformation, and especially with Puritanism, the family regained primacy, and even Rome followed suit. March 19 was now stressed (St. Joseph’s Day), and the cult of the foster-father of Jesus was made, beginning in the 16th century, a counter-development to the new vitality of family life in Protestant countries.

Enter — The State

There is no true understanding of the struggle for power in the modern world without an awareness of these facts. The family, re-shaped in Western civilization to conform to Biblical law, was now the dominant power. By means of its control of children and their education, it defined the future. Capture of the control of children and their education thus became an imperative for any social agency seeking to gain power. The earlier power of the church was now replaced by the greater power of the modern state and its schools, instruments ably designed for social control and the disintegration of the family and its power.

In the Bible, property is immune to taxation and seizure, and both offenses were regarded with horror (I Sam. 8:10-18; I Kings 21). The state now began to tax property and to assert again the old pagan power of eminent domain. Finally, the state, by means of the inheritance tax, declared itself to be the first heir, i.e., the firstborn in terms of Biblical law, in every family, and it began to destroy the independent power of the family by confiscatory taxes.

Not surprisingly, but rather, logically, Marx saw the theological foundations of the family’s strength. He attacked the Holy Family, the Trinity, as the foundation of the earthly family, and Engels saw the family of Biblical law as the source of capitalism and property. Anti-familistic thinking governed socialist theoreticians. H. G. Wells, a Fabian Socialist, called for “the liberation of individual sexual conduct from social reproach and from legal controls and penalties.” He held to “the absolute right of society to intervene directly [where] the existence of children is involved.”

James Bryant Conant, former president of Harvard, U.S. High Commissioner in West Germany after World War II, scientist, and investigator in education for the Carnegie Foundation, saw the family as the roadblock to democracy. In one of his reports on education, Conant wrote:

Wherever the institution of the family is still a powerful force, as it is in this country, surely inequality of opportunity is automatically, and often unconsciously, a basic principle of the nation; the more favored parents endeavor to obtain even greater favors for their children. Therefore, when we Americans proclaim an adherence to the doctrine of equality of opportunity, we face the necessity for a perpetual compromise. Now it seems to me important to recognize both the inevitable conflict and the continuing nature of the compromise.

Democracy is the goal. How can democracy hope to succeed if an aristocratic institution like the family, where every parent seeks the best for his children, is allowed to survive? Clearly, it must go! Earlier John Dewey had held that orthodox Christianity had to go because it is incompatible with democracy. By separating “the saved and the lost”, heaven and hell, good and evil, orthodox Christianity is radically anti-democratic and is committed to a “spiritual aristocracy”. “I cannot understand how any realization of the democratic ideal as a vital moral and spiritual ideal in human affairs is possible without surrender of the conception of the basic division to which supernatural Christianity is committed.”

The Suicide of Culture

The family’s autonomy and power are thus under attack and in process of erosion. Statist education is anti-familist to the core; modern legal “reforms” have as their purpose the elimination of Biblical premises from the law.

This is often openly stated. In Sweden, for example, a government legal expert, Professor Alvar Nelson, has declared, “our aim is to remove all traces of Church morality from legislation.”

Because of the deliberate neglect of the meaning of the family in society, the average man thinks of marriage purely as a regularized sexual relationship which perhaps contributes to the mental stability of the children born of the union. He has no awareness of the fact that basic social power and planning, in terms of Biblical law and the conforming of Western law to this Scriptural standard after Justinian, resides in the family. To surrender this power over children, property, and inheritance to the state, as has steadily been done, is for man to surrender his essential powers and freedom to the state.

The nemesis of every attempt to undermine the family is the suicide of the culture which attempts it. Greek, Roman, and other cultures, while far below the Biblical standard in their concepts of the family, still had familistic eras. With their decay, society decayed and collapsed.

A Brighter Side

This is no cause for pessimism, however, but rather for optimism.

The approaching collapse of the age of humanism and the state will see the strong revival of familism, and the United States is already giving evidence of this. Basic to that revival of the family’s integrity and power is a theological and legal reformation. There must be an awareness of the legal centrality of the family, its theological importance, and its far-reaching significance as a social institution.

Under God, the family is a monopoly, having exclusive powers in certain areas. The state is in process of attempting to seize that monopoly for itself. The proven ability of the family to be the responsible agency, when it is first responsible to God, in the areas of children, property, and inheritance is the mainspring of Western civilization and its advances.

On the other hand, our growing social crisis is the product of the state’s incompetence in these realms. The impotence of the state is increasingly apparent in its inability to cope with the problems it has created.

The times are thus exciting and alive with challenge; it is a time of decision and a turning point in history. Our future will be family oriented, and it will be dominated by those who prepare for it.