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Toward a Family-Centered Economy

STRENGTHENING THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE

By Allan C. Carlson | December 1997
Allan C. Carlson, a Lutheran, is President of the Rockford Institute in Rockford, Illinois, and the author of, most recently, From Cottage to Work Station: The Family's Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age (Ignatius Press).

We begin with what some still call the paradox of an age of abundance and wealth that is also an age of moral degradation and family decline.

Twentieth-century industrialism has produced a cornucopia of material goods, rising average incomes, and longer life spans. The 20th Christian century has also witnessed an unprecedented level of family breakup. I define the natural family to be a man and a woman bound in a socially approved covenant called marriage, for purposes of the propagation of children, sexual communion, mutual love and protection, the construction of a small home economy, and the preservation of bonds between the generations. As we close the Second Christian Millennium, this natural family is disappearing as a culturally significant presence in most of the Western world. Declining rates of first marriage, soaring divorce, low levels of births within marriages, mounting illegitimacy, rampant promiscuity, cohabitation, and abortion, and the sexualization of popular culture: These developments have been especially pronounced in the very nations where the triumph of industry has been most complete.

Critical questions arise: Are these two developments related? Does the rise of industry cause family breakup? And if so, is it possible to find a way to have both material abundance and family virtue? Can we craft a virtuous economy?

To the first question, the obvious, yet now mostly forgotten, answer is “yes”: Modern industrial production tends, by its very nature, to undermine the material and psychological foundations of the family. To understand why, we need to turn to the very essence of modern industry, and what it replaced.

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