November 17. 1997, Hotel Maritim, Frankfurt am Main

" The Family yesterday, today and tomorrow " by Bernard Mitjavile



A topic such as family, yesterday, today and tomorrow is a vast topic to cover in 10-15 minutes. So I will not make in this paper an exhaustive study of the family throughout the ages and in various cultures but instead show the central role played by the family structure in yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's societies.

Sometimes we hear people defending the family on a same footing as other political, religious or educational institutions. But in my view, this is a wrong and even a counter-productive approach. First, you see in cultures throughout the world very different types of families which do not all correspond to my ideal of a family. But most of all, we do not defend the family as we would defend democratic institutions, old monuments or environmental causes such as the preservation of whales. This is not to diminish the importance of all these other institutions or good causes but for their own sake, we must recognize that the family is not an institution among others. Instead, it is the central institution from which all others derive their meaning and existence. Let us ask a few questions: Can we save the educational system if the family is crumbling? Can we save democratic institutions and protect well such things as human rights or children rights if the family is breaking down and is no longer able to transmit democratic values, such as respect for others' rights, duty and a responsible use of freedom? Can we maintain law and order if the authority linked with a role of parents is questioned or undermined? The answer is simply no.


I feel the central role played by the family structure in history, in various societies and cultures has largely been underestimated by historians.

A few years ago, a young French sociologist, Emmanuel Todd, made some very interesting studies about the links between various types of family structures and the political, religious and cultural environment. Todd became first known in France when, still in his twenties he published a book in 1976 entitled " The Final Fall " in which he accurately predicted that the Soviet Union would not survive in the 1980's. In his studies on the family, he identified many types of families (nuclear, extended, matriarchate, patriarchate) but with four basic categories which are combined in various ways. These categories are unequal type families with no equality between brothers and sisters, in particular concerning inheritance and often a birthright for the eldest son, egalitarian type families with all children on the same level, authoritarian type with children depending from their parents even after reaching adulthood and freedom-centered families where children freely leave the family and marry outside when they reach adulthood. He contended that a big historical event such as the French Revolution with its conflict between the values of freedom and equality which found some temporary solution with Napoleon and an authoritarian type regime granting some basic equality before the law among citizens with the Napoleonic Code of Laws, was a reflection of a struggle within families around the question of birthright, equality among brothers, authority and freedom from family ties.

Todd focused his studies first on family structures in France, then in Europe and finally throughout the world gathering an impressive quantity of data on this topic (see his book entitled La Troisième Planète, Publisher Seuil).

What is interesting with Todd's studies, is that it is the type of family, not the socioeconomic environment, not even religion, which is the most fundamental and important factor in defining a culture or a society. For example, to say that a society belongs to the Islamic world will give certain very general traits of this society but you can find key differences between Muslim societies in monogamous Bosnia or Malaysia with those in polygamous black Africa. In his study, he showed that differences in family structures do not coincide with racial differences, language barriers, nationalities or other traditional ways of distinguishing groups of people.

As a Christian (Unificationist), I was a bit shocked by his work because I felt he downplayed the role of religion. So I met him and interviewed him for a US newspaper, the now defunct New York City Tribune. He is not dogmatic and does not pretend the family structure explains all but he questioned Max Weber's view that religious changes such as the Protestant reform were the cause for other social or economic changes, saying instead that some types of societies and family structures were more receptive to some types of religious changes and were adapting these changes according to the prevailing type of family in these societies.

Even if his work is not the work of a moralist but of a sociologist, he is not at all enthusiastic for free sex. He said " in country with authoritarian type families, free sex is leading to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World " and more generally, free sex is leading to a reinforcement of the role of the state. One important criterion in Todd's work is the age of marriage.

Anyway, Todd's studies run counter the common modern view which insists on economic and social factors as decisive in children's education and development. Sure, if a family lives in extreme poverty, it is difficult if not impossible to educate children properly. But it seems that some cultures generate poverty while others generate wealth and this has much to do with the quality of family life in these cultures.

Many data show that the type of family and economic progress are closely linked. Of particular importance is the role of women in Third World economies. For example, studies in India show that alphabetization is progressing much quicker in some states giving an important social role to women (Kerala, Tamilnadu) than in others where mothers have not the power or authority to encourage children to study. It seems that in negating the role or potential of women, a society is condemning itself to stagnation.

This is not only true for the Third World but also for western economies.

Sociologist Christian Jelen in his study of immigrants in France ("  La famille, secret de l'intégration " published by Robert Laffont) compared the development of Chinese, Vietnamese and African immigrants in France.

When coming to France, all these groups started from very difficult economic situations. Asian immigrants escaped in large numbers from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos after the coming of communism in these countries. The first African immigrants were called upon by French industrialists during the sixties who were looking for manpower as French economy was rapidly developing. Then their families followed them, leaving African villages with almost nothing.

But in the following years, we can see drastic differences between the evolution of these groups. Very quickly Asian immigrants integrated into French society, developed many small businesses, their children adapting well to the French education system and in Asian districts in Paris, the crime rate is lower that the average.

On the other side, many families of African origin have remained in a trap of poverty, the criminality rate in districts with a high percentage of African immigrants can be two or three times higher than the average and many children have specific difficulties at school. This is a kind of generalization and you can find many successful businessmen from African origin in France.

The differences between the achievements of these groups have to do with family. Asians after their coming to France maintained their traditions of respect of elders, their emphasis on education while many African families literally exploded in their contact with French culture or tried to keep their identity by cutting themselves from French society. The respect for elders who could not adapt to French society disappeared, the tradition to leave children out in the street which was well adapted to an African village with elders overlooking what was going on, opened the way in Parisian suburbs for a street school for crime.

Jelen noted that polygamy was a very serious handicap for integrating in French society. Despite various social help, these families could not easily find proper housing adapted to several wives for one husband, children were poorly educated and wives because of their lifestyle were cut from other French wives.

A few years ago, I was talking with a young, well-educated, Arab woman living in Sarcelles (La cité des 4000), a suburb of Paris. Evaluating the impact of government program to improve the situation in this suburb, she said it was mostly a waste of money. Government agencies were mainly aimed at young Arabs between 15 and 20 years old, trying to please them in building swimming-pools, aiding with funds rap and rock groups, paying social workers to work with these young people. But she said the cause of the problem is not Arab teen-agers, it lies within Arab families; so the focus of government programs should be to support parents, helping them to play properly their role, organizing forums with them etc...because this role cannot be replaced by the state. It is because these immigrant parents do not function as parents, she said, that we have a high crime rate and all the other problems. This young well-educated Arab who had been living in this suburb for most of her life before studying in Paris, really helped me to better understand this problem.

In recent years, politicians and sociologists among others are becoming increasingly interested in the topic of the family. Last June, at a Congress of the Youth Federation for World Peace which I attended as president of the French branch, President Bush told us " people must understand that as my wife Barbara often says what matters is not what happens in the White House, what matters is what happens in your house. " In the US, not only Republicans but also Democrats are talking about the family. Thus, President Clinton inaugurated a "Parents day" which will be celebrated each year in the US.

This renewed interest should not be misunderstood. We realize the importance of the family because the deterioration of the family almost everywhere in the western world has reached a critical state. It is like with air, we realize how important air is for our body and our life when we are deprived from it and suffocate.

This interest comes after a century of the diminishment of the family and an increase in the role of the state and of the individual versus the family.

In the past, predominantly rural societies, families, whether nuclear or extended, played a crucial role in developing in its children economically useful skills, in transmitting moral rules and values as well as in supporting old or handicapped people.

Modernization in the 19th and 20th centuries brought about several changes among which a general urbanization of populations, political centralization and a growing role of the state.

Some of these changes had a positive influence on family life. Today, even the most radical Marxists will not deny that there has been a general trend towards improved standards of life for families in the United States and Europe. Statistics show a regular decrease in the rate of infant mortality or of people not able to read or write.

But this process of modernization was accompanied by two phenomena which on the long term have had devastating effects on the family.

The first of these phenomena has been increasing government interference into family life which tended to diminish the role and responsibilities of parents.

To make up for the many social woes in growing industrializing cities, for the failure of Christianity to address social problems and to fill up the gap left by the disruption of traditional links, the government came to play a growing role in social, educational and finally family life.

This was done with the best intentions but as the French saying goes " Hell is paved with good intentions ".

In the United States and to a lesser extent in Europe, the side-effects of government policies to help the poor and families have been very well documented. To speak of side-effects is an understatement because these policies, despite billions of dollars spent, have not reduced the percentage of poor people and have been accompanied by a drastic rise in single parent families, teen-ager pregnancies, divorces etc..

I would like just to mention a telling example concerning aid to unmarried mothers. Studies made in the US showed that among blacks, the percentage of unmarried mothers was the highest in cities where government aid for single mothers was the highest. Thus, in the sixties in Albany, New York State, fatherless families among blacks were not more frequent that in Greenville, South Carolina and the average standard of living was about 20% higher. In the seventies, as government help and interference developed much more in New York State than in the South, the rate of single mother families became more than twice higher in Albany than in Greenville. The common reasoning in New York State among poor blacks was “why should a girl marry with a young black with a minimum salary if not unemployed, when she can get more than this salary from the state by remaining unmarried ". The role of the father was thus undermined and children were raised without really knowing who their father was.

I would like to speak about my personal experience as a father of five children living in a mixed suburb south of Paris.

This year and last year, when my second and third daughters entered at 11 years old, the so-called French College cycle, they brought home a paper from the health department of College administration encouraging me to get them vaccinated against Hepatics B, the paper saying " as your child is going to begin his sexual life, we advise you to get him vaccinated against Hepatics B ". I replied each time with a letter saying that I supported vaccination against Hepatics B because this disease is being easily transmitted but not because my daughter will begin at 11 years old "her sexual life", whatever these strange words might mean. What is distressing with campaigns against Aids is that educational authorities think it is very normal for them to go to tell children at school how and when to have sex under the pretence of protecting them against aids as if parents would not have anything to say on these matters.

I would like to speak of a problem which does not seem at first view so important, the lack of respect towards elders and parents. The local College sent parents recently a questionnaire asking them to choose among Aids, drug addiction, violence and racist tensions, which problem they considered as the most pressing for children at College. I replied none of them, the most pressing problem being according to me the lack of respect towards teachers and parents. Drug consumption or the rise in youth violence or suicide is not a causal phenomenon. Many studies show instead that they are closely linked with a general breakdown of family ties and a questioning of authority, in particular within the family. There has been recently in France a wave of violent incidents even murders against teachers, completely new phenomenon. It might sound very conservative to speak of respect as the most pressing issue but I take respect in its original Latin meaning of looking behind. It means understanding that a teacher or a parent is not just an individual but that when looking behind, one can see the past generations, the past development of science and education. Respect is absolutely necessary for the transmission of values and knowledge from the past to the present and future generations. Friends of my eldest daughters call me sometimes by my first name, Bernard. I told their parents I did not feel well about being called Bernard by young teen-agers but they replied that their children did not mean anything bad. I agreed that they did not mean anything bad and are nice children but calling me by my first name is still an expression of a lack of respect with damaging consequences for the transmission between generations.

The first, quite subtle phenomenon of the growing role of the state has been accompanied by a second phenomenon which is well known, so I will not dwell on it : a blatant attack against the family and family values. This attack took many forms. One prominent form is the Marxist one, the family being considered as a by-product of bourgeois society or ideology, class belongings being much more important that family belongings. Another form has been the Freudian and more generally hedonist one, with no transcendental meaning being recognized for the family and marriage being simply a hypocritical way of controlling or repressing the urge of the libido.

Beyond these ideological attacks, there is a pervasive undermining of family values in media, films and TV. I will simply give one example: well over 80% of love or sex scenes seen on TV or in films today concerns love or sex between non-married people. It seems love or sex is interesting or worth to be shown only when it is going against traditional moral values.

Despite all these attacks, families have somewhat remained passive, taking these attempts to undermine the family structure as something inevitable, linked with "progress". But instead, when understanding the seriousness of the situation, we should react, claiming "power to families" instead of power to people.

It must be clearly affirmed that children's rights and human rights cannot be protected if families are undermined. Today in France, we have a 36% divorce rate (around 50% in the Paris area), 1.2 single parent families raising 2 millions children. Among these, 600,000 never see their father. In a way, they are orphans. How can we speak of children's rights if we do not deal with this situation? The first right of a child is to have a father and a mother taking care well of him.

We have still a difficult struggle ahead of us against media, government and educational authorities. It must be clearly understood that there is not any alternative to families nor any other viable structure for the spiritual, psychological and social development of children. Totalitarian states have tried to replace the family by the State; socialist utopists have tried many strange things such as the sharing of wives in Fournier's phalanxes. They all failed, it simply did not work because it contradicted man's inherent nature. This is why one thing is sure: in the end family values will triumph because they correspond to man's nature given by God.


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