Industrialism and the Breakup of the Family
Fox News’s Tucker Carlson caused quite a stir earlier this year with his comments on the breakdown of the family in the united States, a problem for which he believes the Elite are showing too little care:
This brought forth a stream of reaction from various conservative commentators - National Review, American Family Association, etc. A few examples:
For ourselves, we would like to focus on one thing he said near the end: ‘Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society’.
It is here that the lower classes Mr Carlson dotes on have been their own worst enemy. They have cheered on the technological revolution in the hopes of attaining the much-ballyhooed American Dream of a higher standard of living. In so doing, they have created the very economic system ‘that weakens and destroys families’, ‘that is the enemy of a healthy society’. That economy is the industrial economy.
At this point, we will let another Carlson, Allan Carlson, have his say on the industrial economy and the capitalism that undergirds it:
I turn now to my remarks on the Industrial Revolution. To be sure, this event had sweeping effects on human life. Whether industrialization was pursued under the creed of Manchester liberalism, as in 19th Century Britain, or under the creed of Stalinist Marxism in the Soviet Union of the 1930s, or under the new hybrid creed of Communistic-Capitalism now found in China, some of industrialism’s effects have proved to be universal.
The most important of these, and the one most often forgotten, has been the wrenching apart of the workplace from the place of residence. Prior to industrialization, the vast majority of people — well over 90 percent — lived and worked in the same location, be it a peasant or family farm, a fisherman’s cottage, a nomad’s tent, or an artisan’s shop. This unity of workplace and home formed the normal, even natural, human experience. Men and women, joined in marriage, worked together to make their small enterprises a success, sorting out tasks according to their strengths and skills; and so finding a natural complementarity. Children, too, commonly found useful places within these small home economies.
The Industrial Revolution — resting on centralized factories and offices — tore these productive homes apart. The men moved into certain factories; the women moved into others; and, in the early decades, so did the children as well, most working 10 to 12 hour days, six days a week. Economic historian Karl Polanyi calls this change “The Great Transformation.” Francis Fukuyama prefers “the Great Disruption.” Both phrases capture the huge effects on human relationships of this event.
Industrialization, by definition, also has meant the progressive displacement of the home economy. In pre-industrial societies, most homesteads sought and achieved some degrees of self-sufficiency. They raised, and preserved their own food – grains, vegetables, and meat animals. They spun their own cloth and sewed their basic garments. They built their own shelters and raised their own draft animals for field work and transportation. At their best, as on the freehold peasant or family farm, these self-sufficient home economies delivered an autonomy, or freedom, that analysts of liberty such as Thomas Jefferson would admire.
Industrial Production means replacing these products and tasks of a home economy by industrially made goods and services. As it turned out, there would be no end to the process. It usually began with factory-spun cloth and world proceed relentlessly until family households would be stripped of virtually all productive functions, including in the end infant care and meal preparation (in our terms think “daycare” and “fast food”).
Again, these effects are common to all industrial orders, be they of the classical liberal variety or of one of the socialist models. The conservative remembers that the gift of industrialization — a great array of commodities — has been accompanied by these large social costs.
. . .
Fifth, capitalism undermines natural human bonds and wages a relentless war against tradition. Economist Joseph Schumpeter viewed capitalism as an evolutionary system, one full of nervous energy, one that could leave nothing untouched and changed. This was and is the process of “Creative Destruction,” — his phrase — which “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” [Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy]
Capitalism also excels in leveling natural institutions — most notably, the family itself. Writing in the 1930s, Schumpeter could point to data showing that marriage, family life, and parenthood meant ever less to men and women. Tumbling martial birthrates and “the proportion of marriage that produce no children or only one child” were the clearest signs of this revolution in values. This revolution derived, he said, from capitalism’s “rationalization of everything in life,” the embrace by persons in the capitalist era of an “inarticulate system of cost accounting” that exposed “the heavy personal sacrifices that family ties and especially parenthood entail under modern conditions.” This sharp decline in a desire for children left already functionless homes with even less value.
But what is the alternative? Mr A. Carlson answers with some words from the conservative economist Wilhelm Roepke:
The necessary task, he said, was broader still: a “deproletarization” that would take industrial workers who lacked roots in “home, property, environment, family and occupation” and transform them into free men. This meant, in Roepke’s mind, “rendering the working and living conditions of the industrial worker as similar to the positive aspects of the life of the peasant [in our language, the family farmer] as possible.” Beyond his praise for family garden homes, the economist celebrated businesses like Switzerland’s Bally Shoe Company which actively assisted its workers in acquiring houses and land and supported their small agricultural endeavors with plowing services, fertilizers, locally adapted seeds, and special animal stock. All of these initiatives were designed, Roepke said, “to save [these families] from their proletarian existence.”
To heal the distortions of human life wrought by 19th Century laissez-faire Capitalism, Roepke even sought to undo — in some degree — the industrial revolution. Writing in The Social Crisis of Our Time, he called for nothing less than the “drastic decentralization of cities and industries, [and] the restoration of some more ‘natural order’.” He labeled the modern big city a “monstrous abnormality,” a “pathological degeneracy” that devitalized human existence, adding: “the puling down of this product of modern civilization is one of the most important aims of social reform.” Relative to the decentralization of industry, he urged that “the artisan and the small trader” receive “all the well-planned assistance that is possible.” He also saw promise in the rise of the “tertiary,” or service sector. Moreover, Roepke believed that recent technological advances — such as electric motors, the internal combustion engine, and compact machine tools — lent new competitive advantages to small enterprises. Anticipating Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor (who has said that you buy local products and pay a small premium at Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon instead of at the Mall in St. Cloud, because Ralph is your neighbor), Roepke urged that consumers “should not shrink from the sacrifice of a few cents in order to carry out an economic policy of their own and support [local] artisans to the best of their ability and for the good of the community.”
This process of “deproletarization” also meant restoration of a peasantry: that is, a country side of small family farms. Roepke called such farm families “the very cornerstone of every healthy social structure” and “the backbone of a healthy nation.” He continued: “A [family farmer] who is unburdened by debt and has an adequate holding is the freest and most independent man among us.” This household also showed “that a type of a family is possible which gives each member a productive function and thus becomes a community for life, solving all problems of education and age groups in a natural manner.” Given these qualities, Roepke held that “a particularly high degree of far-sighted, protective, directive, regulating and balancing intervention [by the state in agriculture] is not only defensible, but even mandatory.” He pointed with particular admiration to the relatively advanced family-farming systems then found in Switzerland, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, and France, and he looked with particular hope to the prospects for specialized production in dairy, eggs, meats, fruits, and vegetables.
All of this is quite good, and far better than the usual Left vs. Right sloganeering the public usually is fed. But something is still amiss; nominalism is still lurking about. There is an assumption here that the naked nuclear family (father, mother, and children) is the basic building block of society. That is too reductive. Society is not only the present generation, but all generations, past, present, and future. The agrarian way of living helps reinforce this truth, as families remain generation after generation on the same land, in the same house, using the same tools, telling the same stories their forebears did and which will be passed on to those not yet born.
The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) put this into words quite beautifully in his famous work Democracy in America:
Amongst aristocratic nations, as families remain for centuries in the same condition, often on the same spot, all generations become, as it were, contemporaneous. A man almost always knows his forefathers, and respects them: he thinks he already sees his remote descendants, and he loves them. He willingly imposes duties on himself towards the former and the latter; and he will frequently sacrifice his personal gratifications to those who went before and to those who will come after him (Richard Heffner, edr., Signet Classic, New York City, New York, 2001, Part II, Book 2, Chap. 27, p. 193).
Things become decidedly less fair to behold when aristocracy/agrarianism fades and democracy/industrialism becomes the norm:
Amongst the democratic nations, new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken, and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class approximates to other classes, and intermingles with them, its members become indifferent, and as strangers to one another. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king: democracy breaks that chain, and severs every link of it (de Tocqueville, pgs. 193-4).
No one should be in doubt about the connection between these pairs. It is necessary for industrialism to create the masses of nameless, faceless, atomized individuals for work in its factories, offices, etc. This radical change in the social order is then reflected in the political order, where the individual, rather than the patriarch of the broad kin group (who more or less ceases to exist), becomes the focus of politics.
The South, both in her entirety before her conquest by the industrial North and in those few havens that continue to withstand it now, shares this wholistic view of society. The South Carolina agrarian writer James Kibler, Jr, writes,
Literary historian, M. E. Bradford (1934-1993), often elaborated upon what Southern writers, past and present, owed to Classical Latin literature. He found that a major similar understanding of the two was the recognition that life should be viewed not through the minutely introspective individual ego but through the long view of family and kin through time. In “That Other Republic: Romanitas in Southern Literature,” he outlined the “public character” of both Roman and Southern literatures in saying that “the central figure, [the] formal protagonist, in much Southern fiction is not an individual at all, but a family, its living members, ancestors, the hope of a posterity, and the principles which such families embody” (Generations of the Faithful Heart: On the Literature of the South , 24-25).
. . .
Donald Davidson, again in “Lee in the Mountains, 1865-1870,” understood the deep significance of Lee’s loss of the Lees’ Stratford Hall and Arlington house. In a sense, those losses were emblematic of many similar tearings of the Southern familial fabric in the family’s displacement from and dispossession of the land of the fathers. These portrayals lend credence to the statement that the loss of the plantation has been the great theme of Southern fiction. When the plantation represents the landed, agrarian Great House tradition of family continuity and the life on the land of the patria, one of the respected long traditions that undergird the continuity of Western civilisation, then the subject is again Roman pietas . . . (The Classical Origins of Southern Literature, Abbeville Institute Press, McClellanville, South Car., 2017, pgs. 161 and 171).
A real conversation about family and economy is long overdue in the States and across the industrial West. We are grateful to Tucker Carlson for raising interest in the subject, but we also hope that the sterile voices of capitalism and socialism, of Adam Smith and Karl Marx, will be ignored in favor of those like Wilhelm Roepke, Allan Carlson, the Southern Agrarians, etc., whose ideas can bring forth good fruit in modern society.