The Basis of Civilization
“Ideals,” says G.K. Chesterton, “are the most practical thing in the world.” This is why we still defend the family. This is why we insist on the ideal of marriage as a permanent union between one man and one woman, which creates the only proper setting for bringing new souls into the world, and that this purely natural act should not be interfered with.
The social trends have steadily moved in the opposite direction from this ideal in the last century. It is no longer a matter of a few loud critics getting a little testy at our quaint ideas of morality; we have gone past being attacked to being brazenly ignored. But if the society at large does not understand the moral arguments for the family, perhaps it will gain some appreciation for the practical arguments. And the recent bad news has been good news in this regard. Our arguments have been given a huge boost with the collapse of the world financial markets and the continuing economic fallout.
An economy built on massive lending and spending cannot be sustained. But the reason it cannot be sustained is not merely economic, it is moral. It regards material wealth as the ultimate goal, and people as merely a commodity to achieve that goal. It is selfish and therefore self-destructive.
An economy based on the family is self-sustaining. Its focus is on the nurturing and training of children and not on the mere acquisition of goods. The family ideal as defended by Chesterton is something quite different than the industrialized consumer family, where the family members leave the house each morning by the clock and on a strict schedule to pursue work and recreation and the majority of life outside the home. Chesterton’s ideal was the productive home with its creative kitchen, its busy workshop, its fruitful garden, and its central role in entertainment, education, and livelihood. Unlike the industrial home, life in a productive household is not amenable to scheduling and anything but predictable.
The only thing surprising about this ideal is that it was once shared by almost everyone. Children used to be considered an asset; at some point they began to be seen as a liability.
Chesterton saw the beginning of this problem when he noticed people preferring to buy amusements for themselves rather than to have children. He pointed out prophetically that children are a far better form of entertainment than electrical gadgets. The irony today is that the retailers that sell the electronic amusements are going out of business because there are not enough people to buy this merchandise.
But there is another worse problem why children are now considered a liability. They don’t merely make other material desires cost-prohibitive, they are cost-prohibitive themselves. They must be educated. The cost of educating them is obscene. A college education is the most overpriced product on the planet, and over-rated as well. Parents have the privilege of sacrificing nearly everything to send their children to college, only to have them get their heads filled with doubts and destructive ideas, undermining everything their parents have taught them.
But there are fewer parents because there are fewer children.
When social security was instituted, each retiree was supported by 15 workers. Now each retiree is supported by only three workers. Those of us who are still working spend 15% of our income to support those who aren’t working.
Our lack of domestic life is reflected in the fact that we don’t have a domestic economy. We don’t produce anything. We are suddenly watching massive layoffs, but the people being laying off (no offense to them) were not producing anything. They were either selling things, or sitting at desks and computer terminals, being paid with borrowed money, so that they could also go into debt. Now the financial center of the country has moved from New York to Washington, DC, as Gudge has passed the baton to Hudge, who has promised that all the problems that were caused by too much borrowing will all be solved by even more borrowing.
But the younger generation cannot pay the older generation because we have committed demographic suicide. We are paying a high price not only for slaughtering our unborn children but for contracepting them. In fact, we have demonstrated that we cannot afford the high price.
We have seen the natural consequences of unnatural acts. We have witnessed a monumental economic disaster that is not the result of inflation or recession but of the devaluation of children.
Chesterton says that every high civilization decays by forgetting obvious things. The obvious things are the ordinary things, and we have forgotten them. The modern world that we have created has brought with it great strain and stress so that even the things that normal men have normally desired are no longer desirable: “marriage and fair ownership and worship and the mysterious worth of man.” Those are the normal and ordinary things. Those are the things we have lost, and we need to recover them.
“The disintegration of rational society,” says Chesterton, “started in the drift from the hearth and the family; the solution must be a drift back.”
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