The family has to take on the task of rebuilding society, for no other institution is prepared to. Yet how can the smallest, weakest and least powerful institution rebuild what major institutions cannot?
By finding “birds of a feather”, by grouping together, by sharing wisdom and human resources, and by gradually bringing into the flock more and more of the “disenfranchised”. Each family needs to do this at the most local of levels – among friends and trusted neighbors —for the sake of their own children. But in doing so they can spread the word and their know-how. Every parent with half a heart wants his child to become a happy adult, and when you cut through all the discourse everything boils down to two goals: developing in the child the capacity for hard work and the capacity to attract a good spouse. Lots of work goes into this but what has to be achieved is pretty simple and straightforward.
At the universal, natural-law level, the family has to accomplish these two goals for each child it brings into the world, and parents who pull this off are great successes. When their child walks down the aisle and is marrying a great spouse, then both sets of parents are really content and it is a happy wedding. Once their last child is on his way, they can sit back a bit and let their children take on the heavy lifting — in turn aiming for the same two goals for their children. Thus, each generation succeeds when the new generation is ready to dedicate themselves to raising future parents.
Given this central measure in society’s success or failure, the ultimate measure of every other institution is whether it facilitates these two goals. This is the measure, not just of the family, but of the church (at the natural level), the school, the marketplace, and government. If, in practice, they are stumbling blocks to these two goals one can say that whatever blocks these two goals is dysfunctional (or even more bluntly, evil).
Many may disagree but only if they are prepared to say they do not care about raising children and they do not care about the common good. They are not of “the birds of a feather” that will rebuild America. Though free, they are not free to claim they are building a solid society. They are not. (This does not mean that everyone has to get married. But everyone had best, when their station in life calls for it, assist in ensuring fruitful marriage. Today’s social science findings on rising suicide rates point to many falling down on the job of these two goals.)
Given the widespread lack of support, families will now have to strike out on their own to find other families that are serious about these two tasks — by finding other couples that are raising the sort of children they want their own children to marry. They will cluster particularly around schools and colleges that support these goals. One friend of mine sent all his daughters to the University of Dallas, saying “I am sending you there so that you can meet a good husband!”
These families have to be both conservative and liberal: on defense (to keep their children on track and off the other tracks) and on offense (pulling in all those other broken and lost families that want to give their children a better future — a good marriage to a good spouse). There are lots of injured people needing help — yet if we grow enough cooperation among families-on-track we will pull in more and more over time. America has done this a number of times in its history, developing it’s famous “can do” spirit.
This time the goal is rebuilding the foundations, way more important than putting a man on the moon, building 5G global connectedness for everyone, or renewable energy that never fails. The last few generations have learned that the pursuit of material successes does not give us thriving children nor a thriving society. Children were happier and better off in poorer times (so suicide numbers tell us) and many are in much poorer countries today.
It is time for America to take on the task of renewing itself. By rough estimate, I figure about one-third of the nation is already committed to these goals. Properly harnessed we have enough to give courage and hope to the other two thirds.
For the future of America let us work so that our children walk down the aisle to marry a good spouse.
Pat Fagan is the director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at The Catholic University of America.