The Generals Who Started the War on the Family

Family Politics: The Idea of Marriage in Modern Political Thought Scott YenorBaylor University Press, 2011; 430 pages, $39.95 Scott Yenor wastes no time in getting to the point. The political science professor at Boise State University writes in the opening chapter of this book: “Modern individuals see themselves as persons independent of unchosen duties such as many of those associated with family life; history seems to be on the side of emancipating individuals progressively from impositions of society and nature.” He stands on solid ground in making his observation; the most recent data indicate that 41 percent of all births in the United States in 2009 were to parents living outside the protective bonds of marriage. Indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville’s vision of “an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls” has proven prescient. To be sure, Tocqueville had expected that, for the modern man, his “children and personal friends [would be] for him the whole of the human race.” (Charles Dickens insight is perhaps more insightful on this latter point, as his portrait of Mrs. Jellyby whose “telescopic philanthropy” led her to neglect immediate family ties in pursuit of the good of humanity writ large.) Yet, for an increasing number of Americans, Tocqueville may have been too optimistic. He did seem to recognize that even family ties might be contingent for the restless modern: “he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country.” From whence did the seemingly ubiquitous self-image that Yenor diagnoses arise? According to the professor: “Today’s ‘war over the family’ is a war of visions, a battle of ideas in a longer war among greater, deeper thinkers—the ‘generals’ in the conflict—that shapes how we view the world.” Identif
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