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.
focused his studies first on family structures in
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
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
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.
show that the type of family and economic progress are closely linked. Of
particular importance is the role of women in
not only true for the
Christian Jelen in his study of immigrants 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
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
differences between the achievements of these groups have to do with family.
Asians after their coming to
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.
years ago, I was talking with a young, well-educated, Arab woman living in
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
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.
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
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 ".
like just to mention a telling example concerning aid to unmarried mothers.
Studies made in the
like to speak about my personal experience as a father of five children living
in a mixed suburb south of
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.
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
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.
be clearly affirmed that children's rights and human rights cannot be protected
if families are undermined. Today in
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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