The Family on Trial
Special Relationships in Modern Political Thought
Philip AbbottA defense of the modern family, in historical perspective, this book reconstructs political theory with the family in an important and honorable place. By reviewing critically both traditional and contemporary thought on the most special relationships—as well as current public policy issues relating to them—the author addresses concerns shared by professional and lay constituencies. Noting Tocqueville's observation of the American obsession with reevaluating and remodeling the family, Professor Abbott pleads for a balanced view.
The development of liberal ambivalence toward the family, along with radical hostility toward it, is clearly traced. For the most part the family was safely incorporated into political theory from Aristotle to Cicero and onward to Augustine and Aquinas (Plato's Republic being the great exception) until modern times. Then came the challenges of the rational individualists (notably Hobbes and Locke) and the romantic individualists (preeminently Rousseau), followed by the attacks of social and psychological radicals (exemplified by Fourier, Marx, Engels, and Freud). Some traditional criticisms of the family are shown to be soundly based, albeit less devastating than the critics supposed.
As expanded in contemporary life, however, the great critics' revisionist models take on a fantastic quality. Here we are introduced to pleas for the "eroticization of children" and for freedom from "tyranny of reproductive biology." Proposals for new bureaucratic support structures appear with great frequency: professional guardians, children's camps, cloning hospitals. And people try to act out the roles prescribed for them by theorists who attempted "to set the solitary in new and different units."
Liberals and radicals, the author argues, are infatuated with a "rights model," which "takes as its basis self-sufficient rational human beings"—at the expense of "solidarity among human beings." A tradition exists, Professor Abbott holds, that facilitates reconciliation between the modern family and the political order: pluralism. Pluralism is an attempt to balance individual autonomy and mutuality, decentralization and stratification, reform and tradition, reason and sentiment. Public policy in respect to schools, housing, health care, working conditions, and recreation should be designed to foster a pluralistic family-centered society. In line with this thesis the author offers a fresh perspective on such burning issues as abortion, sexual preference, alternative lifestyles, child abuse, and children's rights. The Family on Trial therefore is relevant to the concerns of social and behavioral scientists, the helping professions and the clergy, teachers and parents.