The family over all: An interview with Dr. Allan Carlson
By Bernard Chapin
Dr. Allan C. Carlson is one of the leading experts on family and marriage in the United States. Currently, he is the President of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society and a Director of the Family in America Studies Center. He is also Editor of the journal, The Family in America. He earned his Ph.D. in Modern European History and is the author of numerous books such as Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis, The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics: The Myrdals and the Interwar Population Crisis, From Cottage to Work Station: The Family's Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age, Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity, and Society, Family, Person. He latest work is The Natural Family: A Manifesto and was co-written with Paul T. Mero.
BC: First off, let me ask about your manifesto itself. The language is colored by phrases such as "we affirm" and "we will transform" but how can you, I or any other citizen defy the wishes and laws of the Leviathan in this area? Isn't what "Senators Kennedy and Senator Biden affirm" most important?
Dr. Allan Carlson: We have to recognize that the family is something older, more natural, and innate than government. Yes, the government can persecute and undermine the family in the short-term, but, in the long run, it will triumph as it is the more enduring institution. In the manifesto our assertions and arguments are defined within the context of human nature and our history. Governments come and go as the Nazis did, and as communism basically has but, in the long run, the family will always be victorious. As G.K. Chesterton argued, the family is the one truly anarchical institution. He used this term in the positive sense as the family existed prior to the state and functions independent of it.
BC: Why does mass schooling equate with a decline in fertility? Wasn't it put into place before the baby boom of the fifties and the Second World War?
Dr. Allan Carlson: The assertion in the book comes from the work of demographer John C. Caldwell. By examining evidence in Australia he came to the strong conclusion that mass schooling is one of the major forces behind a decline in societal fertility rates. The public schools separate children from their families, and they transfer moral authority from the state to the family. The state then becomes the architect of a child's future. The Caldwell thesis also shows a close correlation in the United States between public schooling and declining fertility. With the baby boom, yes there was a brief surge in the birthrate but that was a product both of good social policy and the unique psychology of those people who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War. It was a unique phenomenon in American life and was a fascinating era but did not last. After the 1960s, our society resumed its previous course.
BC: Why is it, for those unfamiliar with your book, that no country holding individualism to be its strongest value can survive? I mean, of course, individualism within limits such as by the type we have in the United States.
Dr. Allan Carlson: It ultimately relates to what is the fundamental unit in human society which is the family and not the individual. Individualism is an expression of the selfish ego; a reflection of the radically autonomous person which leaves no room for the family and the corresponding virtues of society. My co-author and I disagree with the conclusion that self-interest has been the deciding force in human affairs. It isn't but altruism and the willingness to create a family and rear children is. The family provides citizens with a commitment to the future, and a method to overcome the troubles and pains that come from raising children. The society which celebrates the individual over the family is a society in decay—it is overwhelmed by aggressive selfishness.
BC: You restate part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence," which is a most noble sentiment, but couldn't one make a convincing argument that the United States government currently interferes in our privacy to a massive degree (particularly in regards to marriage)?
Dr. Allan Carlson: I think there has been a change in the laws over the course of the past few decades and it's been a negative development. This has paved the way for government's invasion of the home. We have seen, particularly in domestic violence laws and child custody decisions, laws which have harmed the family. Remember that fewer cases of abuse occur in married homes for all concerned, and by this I mean for women, men and children. If the government really was serious about helping its citizens then it would put all of its energy into strengthening the natural family which would be best for everyone. Due to the influence of feminism and socialism, the government has set up laws that view parents as being the problem, but regardless, just because it happened it does not diminish the deeper truth which is that the family is a positive influence upon society.
An important question to ask here is why do we have marriage? Why of all possible relationships is the heterosexual relationship between man and woman the only one that the state is interested in? Property concerns originate any time a child appears and the state has a huge interest in the offspring of marriages. Children are the citizens of the future and are the future. Without procreation the state would not be involved at all. So yes, producing children is the most important purpose behind marriage. Even in our age, the child's greatest chance of being happy and healthy is to be raised by two natural parents; having a mother and a father increase the chances of a child's success dramatically. Ideally, that's why government gets involved. They should encourage reproduction. That's what a wise state would do and such a government would be a limited one. The state must protect the home as a healthy society is built upon healthy homes.
BC: It seems to me that men face far more risks in marriage than do women—a biased court system, legal concepts like "equitable paternity" and marital rape, and severe punishment for those males who get divorced—so, given the nature of our misandric society—why isn't cohabitation a better decision for men than marriage?
Dr. Allan Carlson: Well, I won't say that it is because ultimately cohabitation is a wrong and immoral choice, but, for the reasons you just cited, it may have certain advantages. The key though is for us to change the laws to benefit marriage and the family. Men and women should be equal in the eyes of the law, but family autonomy must be taken into account. There are important differences between the sexes which have to be acknowledged in our law and public policy. People do things differently and they do different things well. Unfortunately, the law has become corrupted so we must restore its legitimacy.
BC: You argue that socialism gains greatly from the denigration of the family. I agree but don't you find it ironic that so many women, even traditional women, vote for candidates who promise more and more government despite its eroding the foundation of marriage?
Dr. Allan Carlson: Well, the socialist movement plays very effectively on a deep historical problem that many do not recognize. Changes brought about by the industrial revolution have forever complicated family life and the rearing of children. This was a radically new change based on our history before 1800 when the majority of people worked and lived in the same place during their lifespan. Now that's changed completely. Who will take care of the children is an important question in our times. Socialism promises a solution to the problem on everyone's mind. It tells people that the state will ease their burden and take over childrearing and this appeals to many women and some men as well. Of course the joke here, the supreme irony, is that in Scandinavia feminism turned this into a very odd development. Women's work became socialized and transferred to the state. The government then took on the traditional function of the home and family with the state providing child care. Then women, in turn, rejected the private sector and largely took jobs within the government. They continued to do what has traditionally been women's work except now they provide child care for other people's children. Their role has not changed but now they're married to the state.
BC: I noticed that you mentioned body dimorphism in relation to the sexes in Chapter 2 which brings me to ask, what is your position on evolutionary psychology? Would you agree that there is a biological basis for human behavior?
Dr. Allan Carlson: Yes, there is a biological basis for human behavior, but what I find so fascinating is not the differences between the creationist and the social-biological views but, rather, the similarities between them. What's so striking is the way in which they agree with one another. The Biblical view can be found in Genesis I and II where it states that man needs woman, a helpmate, and that together they should become fruitful, multiply and inherit the earth. Well, most of what you need to know about marriage is right there in Genesis. The paleo-anthropologists astonishingly tell the same story. C. Owen Lovejoy writing in the journal Science argued that from the very moment humans emerged on the African savannah the pairing off of males and females emerged as a unique feature of the species and provided the basis for our success. What distinguishes humans from other creatures is our long-term monogamous relationships which focus upon childrearing. A commitment to this bond and marriage is what has given us an edge in regards to the other species. It defines us. Both accounts show that marriage is not an arbitrary construct but instead our defining characteristic.
Dr. Allan Carlson: I think that's a probable consequence but back up here a little bit. The problem with marriage today isn't just gay marriage. The problem we face is a revolution in marriage law that's been going on for three or four decades. Radicals want to deinstitutionalize marriage. They want to take the marriage contract and strip it of its contractual language. Marriage is far weaker today than any business contract as one party can easily get out of it and there's no recourse for the party who wishes to maintain it. Look at illegitimacy, a term that used to be well-known, now out-of-wedlock births are treated no differently than legitimate ones. This has been a revolution in the law. Gay marriage comes in at the end of this long process. Nowadays marriage carries few obligations and has more penalties than it does obligations. There are a few benefits as well such as health care and social security advantages which, understandably, are very attractive to gay couples. The thing is though that if all we do is stop gay marriage then we won't be doing very much to revitalize marriage itself and preserve it as the core unit of society.
BC: I liked a phrase you had very much, "the violence of androgyny." You define it as the negation of woman and man. How would you respond to those who claim that androgyny is the basis of equality due to each sex acting just like the other?
Dr. Allan Carlson: Those people have grossly misunderstood the meaning of equality. The nature of equality is to set up a legal system allowing men to be men and women to be women. The sexes should be able to fulfill their biological destiny as a marital pair. It comes down to another saying of G.K. Chesterton's in which he describes a human being as a quadruped with four legs in two different bodies. This is based on the biblical message of two becoming one flesh. That's the nature of our species. Androgyny denies our complementary nature. Men and women differ biologically in matters of human reproduction so the law must protect and cherish those differences.
BC: Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Carlson.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!