Sophie Lewis of Open Democracy, a far-left organization, recently posted an article entitled, “The coronavirus crisis shows it’s time to abolish the family”. After you’re done furrowing your brow, wondering why the heck anyone would think the family needs to be abolished, read on.
First off, yes, this is a real article and the author of it is serious. Second, it’s horribly flawed in logical thinking. But I’ll get to that shortly.
First, some may wonder, “Why even bother with a nonsense article like this? No one is going to take it serious. It’s not going to become a national reality or anything.” To such a person I would say, read some history. This isn’t the first time wicked — yes, wicked — and illogical things have been espoused and more or less implemented. All that radical minority thought needs to overtake sensible majority thought is two things: time and indifference. Or, as Plato is quoted, “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
What Open Democracy in general and Lewis in particular are promoting is nothing short of Marxism. This isn’t me name-calling, either. Do a quick search on their site and you’ll see they have articles on whether or not Marx would agree with so-and-so and such-and-such, and they’re written from the perspective that Marx is the plum-line. This idea of abolishing the family was also envisioned by Lenin during the Bolshevik Revolution. David S. Mason, in A Concise History of Modern Europe, comments on this.
When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they expected that, under socialism, the family would ‘wither away,’ as would the state. They believed that capitalism was particularly oppressive for women, and they aimed to remedy that. Lenin envisioned the establishment of public dining rooms, kitchens, laundries, and kindergartens that would relieve the woman ‘from her old domestic slavery and all dependence on her husband.’ Free unions of men and women would replace marriage, which would increasingly become superfluous. In the early years of communist rule, legislation (including legalized abortion) was crafted to liberate women and to encourage the disappearance of the family.David S. Mason. A Concise History of Modern Europe (MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). 123.
This same mindset was also present in the United States during the Progressive Era (1890-1920). For instance, Ellwood Cubberley, a progressive educator, once said, “Each year, the child is coming to belong more and more to the state and less and less to the parent” [quoted in McGroarty, et al. Deconstructing the Administrative State (FL: Liberty Hill Press, 2017). 81.]. Additionally, Lewis links to an article by Commune Magazine entitled “Six Steps to Abolish the Family”. This article speaks of furthering “communes of collective social reproduction”.
Nothing new here.
So, how exactly does Lewis link the family and its need to be abolished to the Coronavirus crisis? Her train of thought goes more or less like this: The Coronavirus has resulted in stay at home orders, but domestic violence occurs at home and we’re going to see a lot more of that as a result. Plus there are a lot of people who have no home…what about them? Oh, by the way, home is where the patriarchal capitalist system thrives, which is the evil of evils. So how do we deal with all this? Simple. Abolish the family and private property and establish collective spaces (i.e. communes).
Oh, by the way, regarding capitalism, Dyson (the vacuum company) responded to the Coronavirus pandemic by developing a ventilator in 10 days so that it could bring thousands of them to hospitals (and they’re not the only business to respond to the crisis in this way). Meanwhile, Open Democracy longs for the centralized economy of its late soviet comrades.
Lewis asserts the family needs to be abolished for essentially three reasons: 1) criminal activity is committed in the home; 2) some people don’t have a home to go home to, so private property needs to be abolished because housing is a human right; and 3) the family is capitalist in nature and capitalism is by nature evil. I’ll provide a few representative portions of the article and respond in kind.
How can a zone defined by the power asymmetries of housework (reproductive labor being so gendered), of renting and mortgage debt, land and deed ownership, of patriarchal parenting and (often) the institution of marriage, benefit health? Such standard homes are where, after all, everyone secretly knows the majority of earthly violence goes down: the W.H.O. calls domestic violence “the most widespread, but among the least reported human rights abuses.”
Clearly, Lewis thinks very lowly of the home. To her, and others of her ilk, the home is nothing more than a place for men to reign supreme, dominate, and mark their territory in the institution (such a dirty word) of marriage. It’s a place where we’re constantly reminded of our debts, and a place where men vent their anger on the weaker vessel.
Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking. The problem is not that there’s absolutely no truth to what is said. Are there domineering men who rule their homes like a king with a heavy fist? Of course. Are there families struggling under the pressure of debt? Yes. Are there men who take their stresses out by being physically and emotionally abusive? Again, yes. The problem, however, is in extrapolating this and making it the norm. It’s in communicating that these scenarios are somehow inherent to the family. This comes out when Lewis says that the home is “defined by” these things. But you can’t argue against the family by attacking its abuses. To consistently apply this reasoning, Lewis would have to advocate for the uprooting of any and all institutions that have experienced abuses of any sort. This would be utterly irrational, of course. Yet, this irrationality is the radical spirit of the revolutionary. Forget nuances and distinctions; just uproot the whole thing. Scrap it!
Lewis has presented abuses and hardships that exist in the context of the family and utilized that as the characterization of family. If this has been Lewis’s experience of her own family, my heart goes out to her, as I’m sure do others. But I would point her to the truth of family and its wholesomeness. For instance, in Ephesians 5 we see that wives are not only to submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ — I know this is difficult for someone of the egalitarian mindset to appreciate — but husbands are to love their wives by caring and sacrificing for them, just as Christ sacrificed himself for the Church. While the husband is certainly to be the head of the house, this is not meant to be a domineering headship but a loving headship patterned after Christ’s tender leadership of his Church. This does not mean women have no voice in the home or that they’re lesser than men, but it does mean that men and women are different and that God has ordained differing roles between them. As Richard Phillips says in The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men, “A husband who seeks to practice headship in a context of partnership–fully respecting and encouraging his wife’s contributions–is off to a good start on loving his wife” [p. 112]. Lewis may find this hard to believe, but it’s homes that exhibit this mutual relationship of submission and love that are the most joyous and harmonious, far from being what she sees as definitional of the home.
On the subject of debt, the reason housing is so expensive is not because of the family. The reason, in short, is due to government intervention, whether that’s price controls, regulations, etc. To want to abolish the family as a result of this is to fundamentally misdiagnose the situation. It’s like stubbing my toe in the middle of the night and instead of turning on the light I decide to cut my darn toe off. Rather than call out government failure, as well as hold people personally accountable for the financial decisions they make, Lewis looks for a scapegoat — in this case, the family.
But the first and starkest problem with the directive to stay home is simply this: not everybody possesses access to a private dwelling. As the Oakland-based Moms 4 Housing put it: “how do you #ShelterInPlace when you don’t have a place?” It turns out there are at least a couple of different ways: sharing and occupying. In ethical defiance of state directives, relatively immune neighbors in many cities have been voluntarily opening their homes to the exposed and sick, judging the duty of neighborly solidarity with the unhoused more pressing than the imperative to avoid contagion.
Again, the family didn’t do it. Is there truth to what Lewis says? Of course. Not everyone has a home to shelter in. As tragic as this is, the answer is not to abolish the family (or private homes in this context), as the family is not the culprit. In fact, what makes homelessness so tragic is the reality of the beauty of the family. We recognize something’s not right when we see people on the street, because we inherently recognize the solidarity, comfort, security, and naturalness of the family. Lewis’s response is to do away with that which is natural for the sake of that which is unnatural.
What Lewis and others want is for private property to be abolished and for communes to be set up in their place. According to Lewis, “comfortable housing is a basic human birthright”. Not just housing, mind you, but comfortable housing (however one defines comfortable). Apparently, the moment someone is born they have the right to a particular kind of housing that fits the 21st Century American standards of Lewis and her comrades. You see, the economic feasibility of these things is not important. What is important is the ideal. While compassion for people in such situations is certainly desired, the reality of economics cannot be ignored. It’s not an either-or situation. This is a lesson learned under the U.S.S.R. and its initially compassionate sounding central economy where the government promised to provide everything and equalize. Of course, we know how that ended. It resulted in overproduction of some things, underproduction of others, black markets, mass starvation, and mass murder. What’s interesting, though, is that Lewis actually mentions the proper response to such situations: voluntary support and charity. This is true community and compassion, not eliminating private property rights, the family, and forcing society into communal living.
In short, the pandemic is no time to forget about family abolition. In the words of feminist theorist and mother Madeline Lane-McKinley; “Households are capitalism’s pressure cookers. This crisis will see a surge in housework – cleaning, cooking, caretaking, but also child abuse, molestation, intimate partner rape, psychological torture, and more.” Far from a time to acquiesce to ‘family values’ ideology, then, the pandemic is an acutely important time to provision, evacuate and generally empower survivors of – and refugees from – the nuclear household.
Much of what I’ve already said equally applies to this last quotation. The important thing to note, however, is the direct connection made between family and capitalism. This gets to the root of the problem, as far as Lewis and others who think like her are concerned. To them, capitalism is the worst of evils. Therefore, any institution that supports this evil, oppressive system must be abolished along with it. They’re still living in the 19th Century under the notion of the labor theory of value and factory-workers slaving away for 60-70 hours a week. They fail to realize that value is a subjective determination, that entrepreneurs reap the rewards they do because of the financial risks they take while employees receive a consistent paycheck, that employees, far from being property, have the ability to learn new skills and move around to different areas and different companies, and that much of the economic problems we face are Fed-induced (as in the Federal Reserve) and due to overregulation (none of which is definitional of capitalism). By the way, the Coronavirus has resulted in a large shift to remote work, both professionally and educationally. This would not be viable without the entrepreneurship of various tech companies having already developed means of remote communication and collaboration. So thank a capitalist.
Capitalism is a good thing, and whether or not the family has a direct relation to capitalism, so is the family. The family is foundational to any society of longstanding prosperity. Strip society of the home and you deprive it of its greatest bonds, sentiments, and past-times. Family heritage is the most intimate of legacies and traditions.
For the family always has been the source and the center of community. In the phrase of Edmund Burke, the family is the origin of “the little platoon we belong to in society,” and it is “the germ of public affections.” The family is held together by the strongest of human bonds—by love, and by the demands of self-preservation. The family commences in eros, but grows into agapo. Its essential function is the rearing of children. Those societies of the past and the present which we call good societies have been strongly marked by powerful family ties. These have been societies possessed of a high degree of both order and freedom. Societies in which the family has been enfeebled have been disorderly and servile societies—lacking love, lacking security.Russell Kirk. “The Little Platoon We Belong to in Society.” https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/the-little-platoon-we-belong-to-in-society-november-1977/
It is we, those of the familial spirit, who have both history and reason on our side. It is family that “extends backward to ancestors and forward to posterity” [Kirk. Ibid.]. Families produce a continuity of obligations and culture that are felt throughout the greater society. We are indeed a larger community with a shared history, not mere individuals, but there would be no societal or national history without the family. To abolish the family is to abolish society.
To those who are of like mind as me, take heed that you do not become indifferent to these ideologies of the culture of death, lest their perversities prevail and we find ourselves the subjects of evil rulers who promise that which they cannot give and destroy everything around them in the process of trying.