Stephen Baskerville’s new academic paper on the family

An excellent paper explaining how the breakdown on the family isn’t caused by fathers abandoning their posts. It’s caused by specific government policies. And the conseequence of this crisis is that government size and power increases to deal with the problems.

Here is the PDF.


Unilateral divorce involves government agents forcibly removing legally innocent people from their homes, seizing their property, and separating them from their children. It inherently abrogates not only the inviolability of marriage but the very concept of private life.

If marriage is not a wholly private affair, as today’s marriage advocates insist, involuntary divorce by its nature requires constant government supervision of family life. Far more than marriage, divorce mobilizes and expands government power. Marriage creates a private household, which may or may not require signing some legal documents. Divorce dissolves a private household, usually with one spouse having done nothing legally wrong. It inevitably involves state functionaries—including police and jails—to enforce the divorce and the post-marriage order. Otherwise, the involuntarily divorced spouse will continue to enjoy the protections and prerogatives of private life: the right to live in the common home, to possess the common property, or—most vexing of all—to parent the common children. These claims must be expunged by force, using the penal system if necessary.

Given that 80 percent of divorces are unilateral, divorce today seldom involves two people simply parting ways.10 Under “nofault” rules divorce often becomes a power grab by one spouse, assisted by people who profit from the ensuing litigation: judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, counselors, mediators, and social workers.

The most serious consequences involve children. The first action in a divorce is typically to separate the children from one parent, usually the father. Even if he is innocent of any legal wrongdoing and did not agree to the divorce, the state seizes his children with no burden of proof to justify its action. The burden of proof (and the financial burden) to demonstrate that they should be returned falls on him.

A legally unimpeachable parent can thus be arrested for associating with his own children without government authorization. He can also be arrested through additional judicial directives that apply to no one but him. He can be arrested for domestic violence or child abuse, even without evidence that he has committed any such acts. He can be arrested for not paying child support, even without proof that he actually owes it. He can even be arrested for not paying an attorney or psychotherapist whom he has not hired. In each case there is no formal charge, no jury, no trial. The parent is simply incarcerated.

And another one:

The growing confrontation between the family and the state reveals that the relationship between personal morality and freedom is more than a cliché. It illustrates the direct connection between the breakdown of traditional morality and tolerance of governmental intrusion and control.

Sacrifice for others begins in the family. The family is where both parents and children learn to love sacrificially, to put others’ needs before their own desires, and to sacrifice for the wellbeing and protection of the whole. If such responsibility does not begin in one’s own home among loved ones, it is not likely to begin at all. People unwilling to sacrifice for their own flesh and blood are not likely do so for the strangers who constitute their fellow citizens and country.

Linda McClain writes that families are “seedbeds of civic virtue” and “have a place in the project of forming persons into capable, responsible, self-governing citizens.”12 For the American founding fathers, argues David Forte, “The bridge from reining in ‘private passions’ to producing a ‘positive passion for the public good’ was the family’s inculcation of public virtue.”13

But we can say more. In the family, children learn to obey and respect authorities other than the state—God, parents, extended family, and others who are not government officials: pastors and priests, teachers, neighbors, coaches, and other figures of civil society. By accepting these authorities, the bonds to which often are reinforced with love, children learn that government is not the sole authority and claim on their allegiance and that it is an institution that can and must be limited.

And another:

When fathers protect and provide for their families, they will resist the state’s efforts to usurp those roles. Under their leadership, families are a force for limiting state power.

The single mother, by contrast, is ordinarily not predisposed to resist the state’s encroachment into her family. On the contrary, she usually demands it. She is our society’s principal claimant on a vast array of state “services” without which she cannot manage her children: services to keep the father away and extract money from him, services to feed and house and clothe the children, to baby-sit them, to educate them, and to control their misbehavior and criminality. As the state usurps the roles of protector and provider and disciplinarian, it becomes husband and father, and it has no incentive to limit its own power. Henceforth the state protects and provides. And the state demands obedience.

And one last one:

Under the divorce regime the authority of fathers and parents generally is fragile, because court orders can readily be obtained to undermine or countermand it. Family wealth—traditionally used by fathers to obtain obedience from children and put limits on government—is increasingly useless for both purposes, because it can be simply confiscated by the court and handed to whomever the court chooses: the wife or children or lawyers or government. Children need not learn responsibility with money, because the government hands it to them unconditionally after confiscating it from their fathers. Differences within the family are settled, not by negotiation or compromise or intervention by relatives or church, but by government orders.

It’s 17 pages of pure goodness. Marriage is better when you understand how subversive it is. Once you get away from the idea that it’s not about you having fun, it’s really quite an enterprise – a way of serving God by being unselfish and loving others.

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