No, It’s Not Time to ‘Abolish the Family”

By Matt Barber Published on May 30, 2015

In an article for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation titled, “Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?” Joe Gelonesi, host of “The Philosopher’s Zone” radio program, calls the natural mom-dad family a “weathered institution ever more in need of a rationale for existing.”

While he admits that it may be premature to “abolish the family and put children into care of the state,” Gelonesi suggests, nonetheless, such government action might be the most “straightforward answer” — if only “from a purely instrumental position.”

But what’s the question? And why such hostility toward the natural family?

In the context of marriage, family and economics, Gelonesi offers an upside-down brand of “equality” that, in order to level the playing field, must bulldoze the playing field altogether. As Gelonesi explains it, “The power of the family to tilt equality” creates an “unfair advantage” for children without loving biological parents. “When a parent wants to do the best for her child,” he claims, it necessarily “makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.”

I wish Gelonesi were a lone eccentric, but his argument is depressingly representative of large swath of the left.

In order to bolster his thesis, Gelonesi interviews Adam Swift, a professor of political theory at the University of Warwick in the UK. Swift has co-authored, along with University of Wisconsin professor Harry Brighouse, the book, “Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships.”

Don’t let the title fool you. There’s nothing ethical about what these two men propose. “Challenging some of our most commonly held beliefs about the family,” boasts the editor’s summary, “Brighouse and Swift explain why a child’s interest in autonomy severely limits parents’ right to shape their children’s values, and why parents have no fundamental right to confer wealth or advantage on their children.”

Yikes.

Gelonesi’s article describes Swift as “a philosopher with a rescue plan very much in tune with the times.” This, as you will see, says a great deal about “the times.”

“One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family,” suggests Swift. “If the family is this source of unfairness in society, then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”

Swift concedes, however, that the family does confer some benefit to children, and, therefore, institutionalizing the little brats may not be the best solution.

Yet.

“What we realized we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children,” he told Gelonesi.

The operable words here are “allow,” “unfairness” and “other people’s children.”

“For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test,” continues Gelonesi.

“‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realize these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’

“In contrast, reading stories at bedtime, argues Swift, gives rise to acceptable familial relationship goods, even though this also bestows advantage.”

Swift opines that, while banning bedtime stories outright might be an impractical step toward ensuring fairness — banning private schools is at once a plausible and necessary means to that end.

“We could prevent elite private schooling without any real hit to healthy family relationships, whereas if we say that you can’t read bedtime stories to your kids because it’s not fair that some kids get them and others don’t, then that would be too big a hit at the core of family life.”

“For Swift and Brighouse,” writes Gelonesi, “our society is curiously stuck in a time warp of proprietorial rights: If you biologically produce a child, you own it.”

“‘We think that although in practice it makes sense to parent your biological offspring, that is not the same as saying that in virtue of having produced the child the biological parent has the right to parent.’”

By now, you should be saying “holy crap” or some such, because this way of thinking has quickly gone from lunatic fringe to mainstream progressive. This is totalitarianism on parade.

Speaking of parades, Swift goes on to explain, “Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: There might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,” he observes.

“Politicians love to talk about family values, but meanwhile the family is in flux, and so we wanted to go back to philosophical basics to work out what are families for and what’s so great about them and then we can start to figure out whether it matters whether you have two parents or three or one, or whether they’re heterosexual et cetera.”

But lest we deem the good professor entirely bat-guano-crazy, he sets an arbitrary cap on parents permitted. “We do want to defend the family against complete fragmentation and dissolution,” he graciously allows. “If you start to think about a child having 10 parents, then that’s looking like a committee rearing a child; there aren’t any parents there at all.”

According to Swift and millions of very dangerous people just like him, the biblical admonition to “honor thy father and mother” is totally passé. While some arbitrary mix of parents may still have a role to play, they are little more than temporary bureaucrats of the all-powerful state. The rule seems to be: “Honor thy progressive overlords.”

 

Matt Barber is founder and editor-in chief of BarbWire.com. He is an author, columnist, cultural analyst and an attorney concentrating in constitutional law. Having retired as an undefeated heavyweight professional boxer, Matt has taken his fight from the ring to the culture war. (Follow Matt on Twitter: @jmattbarber).

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