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                                             may–june 1998 • vol 2. no. 3

                                Family and democracy,
                                   by Brigitte Berger

                        family in a great
                        variety of forms
                          stands at the
                          core of every
                                     for some time now scholars across
                                     the academic disciplines have been
                                     preoccupied with questions relating
                                     to the nature of modern society, its
                                     career, and its future. Today most
                                     analysts agree with Alexis de
                                     Tocqueville that the rise of the
                                     modern world is a consequence of
                                     peculiar institutional developments,
                                     which found their clearest expression
                                     in the capitalist economy, political
                                     democracy, and individual liberty. In
                                     present-day analyses it is taken for
                                     granted that these institutions
                                     constitutive of modern society are
                                     functionally interrelated and
                                     dependent upon each other. What
                                     precisely these linkages are and the
                                     ways in which they are anchored in
                                     society, however, remains elusive
                                     and the subject of much debate.

                                     This article seeks to contribute to this
                                     debate by identifying some of the key
                                     factors instrumental in the rise of the
                                     modern world that have been
                                     strangely disregarded by most
                                     analysts. I will suggest that the
                                     institutions characteristic of modern
                                     society have common sources and,
                                     more specifically, that these common
                                     sources must be located in the inner
                                     dynamics of a type of family
                                     established in parts of Europe long
                                     before the onset of the modern era,
                                     its ethos, and the moral communities
                                     in which it was embedded.

                                     After having made the case for the
                                     historic role of the family in the rise
                                     of the modern world, I will further
                                     argue that the institutional structures
                                     constitutive of it continue to be
                                     dependent on the same inner
                                     dynamics that propelled and
                                     structured its rise in the first place. If
                                     it can be shown that the
                                     distinguishing institutions of modern
                                     society have been set into motion by
                                     the inner dynamics peculiar to a
                                     particular family type, it stands to
                                     reason that a strong argument can be
                                     made that similar (or minimally
                                     analogous) mechanisms are needed
                                     also today for industrial liberal
                                     democracies to flourish. The
                                     exploration of the validity of this
                                     argument provides this article with its
                                     ordering principle.

                                     In view of the fact that the family in a
                                     great variety of forms stands at the
                                     core of every society be, it the family
                                     of antiquity, that of exotic groups in
                                     remote corners of the globe, or, as
                                     the case may be, in the teeming
                                     centers of contemporary Third
                                     World urban conglomerations, I will
                                     first argue that dynamics emanating
                                     from the private world of the family
                                     provide not only the rock-bottom
                                     foundation for the development of
                                     corresponding macro-level economic
                                     and political institutions within that
                                     society, but that family-related
                                     dynamics also set up cultural
                                     potentials for future economic and
                                     political developments to occur.

                                     Second, I will attempt to provide a
                                     summary overview of research
                                     findings from social demography and
                                     social history that allows me to argue
                                     with a good deal of confidence that
                                     the type of family in question, which
                                     for lack of a better term I shall call
                                     the nuclear, individualistic,
                                     proto-bourgeois family, was the only
                                     institution sufficiently dynamic to
                                     spontaneously engender social
                                     processes that made for both the
                                     development of a modern market
                                     economy and the rise of civil society
                                     during the l8th and l9th centuries in
                                     the northwestern part of Europe.

                                     Third, I will outline why the social
                                     habits, norms, and the cognitive style
                                     peculiar to this type of individualistic
                                     family system remain the core
                                     features of any social order based on
                                     the principles of individual liberty,
                                     political democracy, and a market
                                     economy. In short, despite the
                                     industrial system's numerous
                                     permutations during the past century
                                     that exacted social, political, and
                                     economic adjustments on a grand
                                     scale, the forces that stood at its
                                     cradle continue to be constitutive of
                                     it in the future as well.

                                     It is necessary first to say a few
                                     words about the use of the term
                                     individualistic, proto-bourgeois
                                     family. The term encompasses the
                                     nuclear or domestic family of father,
                                     mother, and their children living and
                                     working together, tied to each other
                                     by mutual bonds of affection and
                                     obligations that can be found in a
                                     number of variations in history and
                                     across distinctive cultures. In the
                                     literature, the distinctive
                                     characteristics of this family are
                                     typically associated with what at a
                                     later stage has come to be known as
                                     the bourgeois family and its
                                     correlative individualistic, striving,
                                     and acquisitive bourgeois ethos. It
                                     includes the proto-industrial family
                                     social historians hold to have been
                                     the precursor of the European family
                                     system under industrialism, and in the
                                     literature, the term is frequently used
                                     interchangeably with the Victorian
                                     family and its Victorian virtues. In
                                     more recent decades all these terms
                                     have come to be replaced by the
                                     term the middle-class family and its
                                     corresponding middle-class life style.
                                     While I think it quite acceptable to
                                     use all these terms interchangeably,
                                     as long as one knows what type of
                                     family one is precisely talking,
                                     about"for analytical purposes I prefer
                                     the use of the terms proto-bourgeois
                                     and bourgeois family.

                           family is the
                          institution par
                                      Both terms do not confine the
                                      phenomenon to either geography or
                                      historical time, but are reflective of
                                      particular behavior patterns and
                                      mind sets. At the same time, the
                                      proposed labels sidestep an undue
                                      emphasis on the economic
                                      dimension, which the term class
                                      invariably carries. In contrast, it is
                                      necessary to liberate the term
                                      bourgeois from its clich-ridden
                                      Marxist connotation which, to my
                                      mind, profoundly misrepresents its
                                      culture and its values. Like Simon
                                      Schama, I find it of considerable
                                      importance to broaden the
                                      economic aspect of the term to
                                      include its civic dimensions–as the
                                      Dutch with the term burgerlijk or the
                                      Germans with the term bGrgerlich
                                      do. By broadening the term
                                      bourgeois to include its civic
                                      dimensions, more is altered than just
                                      its linguistic form. What sets the
                                      bourgeois family apart from other
                                      family forms, including the amoral
                                      familism characteristic of some
                                      more traditional societies, is
                                      precisely the novel combination of
                                      economically productive behavior
                                      patterns, a growing civic
                                      consciousness, and an intensified
                                      respect for individuals and their

                                      the family and culture
                                      Let me argue straightforwardly that
                                      the family is the culture-creating
                                      institution par excellence. All over
                                      the world wherever one turns,
                                      today, as in the past, an
                                      incontestable argument can be made
                                      that the family, and not the
                                      individual of the economist's
                                      paradigm, is the most basic building
                                      block on which all other social
                                      forms rest. The family itself is the
                                      product of the most elementary and
                                      most virulent emotions of human
                                      nature–love, hate, sex, hunger,
                                      sacrifice, loneliness, punishment,
                                      yearnings for transcendence and so
                                      forth. It is also the basic locale in
                                      which human production and
                                      reproduction takes place, becomes
                                      routinized, habituated, and ultimately
                                      institutionalized. The patterns or
                                      ways in which these properties of
                                      human nature and human existence
                                      interact and reinforce each other
                                      over time lead to the formation of
                                      very particularistic family systems
                                      which, in turn, provide the
                                      foundations from which vastly
                                      different cultures and civilizations
                                      arise. In other words, it may be
                                      argued, that distinctive family
                                      cultures shaped and activated in a
                                      complicated interactive process by
                                      the enabling force of an ethos
                                      anchored in religion, not only
                                      provide the rock-bottom foundation
                                      for the development of
                                      corresponding political and
                                      economic structures, they also set
                                      up cultural potentials for future
                                      economic and political

                                      We know today with a fair degree of
                                      certainty that the emergence of the
                                      capitalist market in the
                                      North-Western part of Europe was
                                      only possible on the basis of
                                      preexisting family-based cultural
                                      tendencies that antedated the
                                      industrial revolution by centuries. A
                                      wealth of materials derived from
                                      detailed social-demographic and
                                      social-historical studies permit us to
                                      glean those factors productive of a
                                      modern manner of life that in one
                                      way or another can be linked to the
                                      region's highly dynamic and
                                      adaptable family system existing at
                                      the time. In the case of China, on
                                      the other hand, we also know that
                                      one of the major factors preventing
                                      this venerable and highly
                                      sophisticated civilization for very
                                      long to unleash potentials for the
                                      spontaneous development of a
                                      modern market economy must be
                                      sought in the apparent immutability
                                      of its all-pervasive kinship structure.
                                      Only today, when stifling controls
                                      by the state have been muted and
                                      the sib fetters of Chinese culture
                                      have grown thin in the overseas
                                      Chinese communities of Hong
                                      Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, has
                                      the Chinese family been able to
                                      develop an entrepreneurial familism
                                      productive of the capitalist market
                                      that is awesome to behold. It is,
                                      however, a question of considerable
                                      debate whether the newly created
                                      capitalist market economy will lead
                                      also to the creation of democracy
                                      and civic consciousness in that
                                      region of the world.

                      history shows that
                           the common
                         human pattern
                          that has ruled
                       human history for
                            millennia is
                      characterized by a
                         familism that is
                       preoccupied with
                      the well-being and
                        advancement of
                        the members of
                        one's immediate
                                      A similar argument can be made
                                      with regard to the emergence of
                                      liberal democracy, one of Western
                                      civilization's great achievements.
                                      History shows that the common
                                      human pattern that has ruled human
                                      history for millennia is characterized
                                      by a familism that is preoccupied
                                      with the well-being and advancement
                                      of the members of one's immediate
                                      family. This type of familism is still
                                      alive in many parts of the world
                                      today, just as it continues to exist
                                      alongside civil-society traditions in
                                      parts of the highly advanced
                                      industrial societies of the West. The
                                      old Arab proverb that says "Me and
                                      my brother against my cousins, me
                                      and my cousins against the world."
                                      still dominates the politics of many
                                      contemporary nations, and not only
                                      in the Arab world. To think
                                      politically in ways that transcend the
                                      interests of the immediate family, to
                                      act in ways that allow for the
                                      emergence of a civil society capable
                                      of incorporating non- family
                                      members, regardless of race,
                                      ethnicity, religion and social origin,
                                      into new political and economic
                                      networks, may appear to be
                                      unnatural from the point- of-view of
                                      the common human pattern that has
                                      ruled the world for millennia. Yet,
                                      the acceptance of such unnatural
                                      ways as the only legitimate way to
                                      conduct politics is precisely what
                                      happened in the rising democratic
                                      societies in the West. If one wants
                                      to uncover the reasons that
                                      motivated people to behave in such
                                      unnatural ways, I would propose
                                      that must look at the inner dynamics
                                      peculiar to the rising bourgeois or
                                      middle-class family.

                                      By the same token, it is also
                                      important to keep in mind that
                                      deeply ingrained cultural traditions
                                      can serve to subvert the family's
                                      dynamic potentials. A case in point
                                      are the polygamous societies of the
                                      Sub-Saharan African continent,
                                      whose cultures remain profoundly
                                      antithetical to the emergence of a
                                      genuinely modern market economy.
                                      Here, where all aspects of life are
                                      determined by factors of kinship,
                                      the family has failed to emerge as a
                                      modern economic unit, and politics
                                      to this day remains largely
                                      determined by family and tribal
                                      factors. To be sure, the recent
                                      migration of large numbers of
                                      people to the sprawling cities of the
                                      Sub-Saharan continent have
                                      weakened these powerful traditions.
                                      Yet, to this date there exists little
                                      evidence for the formation of a
                                      family system conducive to
                                      economic development, which is
                                      strong enough to withstand the dual
                                      pressures of dislocation and
                                      modernization. Marriage in the urban
                                      centers of Africa is an extremely
                                      fragile bond, with men, women, and
                                      children forever on the move,
                                      making and remaking in a single
                                      lifetime domestic forms which
                                      logically cannot be called either a
                                      household or a family. Small
                                      wonder then, that the eyes of the
                                      world are turned today on South
                                      Africa's Nelson Mandela who alone
                                      among African leaders appears to
                                      have found a magic formula to
                                      overcome Africa's tribal captivity.

                                      When making generalizations as
                                      broad as these, great care has to be
                                      taken not to assume that some
                                      civilizations are predestined to
                                      advance while others, like the
                                      just-cited polygamous societies of
                                      the African continent, are eternally
                                      condemned to lag behind. Under
                                      propitious circumstances cultures
                                      do not only have the capacity to
                                      change, they actually do change. But
                                      for such change to occur, it must
                                      include changes at the lived-reality
                                      of family and communal life, and
                                      cannot merely be dictated from the
                                      planning boards of distant agencies
                                      and governments.

                                      An example may illustrate what is at
                                      stake here: When one looks through
                                      the prism of the family at a growing
                                      set of data that traces the social
                                      consequences of the mass migration
                                      of often desperately poor people to
                                      the teeming cities of Latin America
                                      (in Brazil, Chile, and Peru, for
                                      instance)it does not take long to
                                      discover that traditional behavior
                                      patterns that for so long had
                                      subverted the emergence of a
                                      modern market economy are being
                                      transformed by these migratory
                                      processes. Here in the favelas and
                                      barrios of Latin American cities, at
                                      the bottom of society, unaided by
                                      their governments and largely
                                      unnoticed by researchers, a new
                                      manner of life is about to crystallize
                                      around new family- centered values
                                      and behavior patterns. In his
                                      path-breaking book Tongues of
                                      Fire, David Martin records how,
                                      under the influence of
                                      Pentecostalism, a new manner of life
                                      is emerging in Rio de Janeiro.

                        in the process of
                         adapting to the
                           demands of
                        industrial urban
                        life new patterns
                         conducive the
                        formation of civil
                           society and
                       progress emerge
                                      Since Martin, like other observers of
                                      this revolutionary phenomenon, is
                                      preoccupied with the description
                                      and analysis of the religious
                                      dimensions of conversion, he, like
                                      others, does not sufficiently
                                      acknowledge that sentiments of
                                      family are equally important factors
                                      in the conversion process. It is
                                      women, incidentally, who are
                                      playing a pivotal role here.
                                      Exhausted by their lonely,
                                      never-ending struggle for survival
                                      for themselves and their numerous
                                      children, women are turning to
                                      Pentecostalism for comfort and
                                      sustenance. Yet, Pentecostalism's
                                      stark commands also served to
                                      instill new behavior patterns just as it
                                      served to domesticate the macho,
                                      irresponsible, philandering, and
                                      boozing males of the Brazilian slum
                                      to a life of work, thrift, and
                                      abstinence. In sum, this particular
                                      religious ethos was instrumental in
                                      fusing men and women together into
                                      a family-centered way of life that
                                      provides deep preparations for
                                      future larger-scaled changes to
                                      occur. The example also shows
                                      how a new manner of life is created
                                      almost spontaneously at the
                                      intersection between family, work,
                                      and religious yearnings and
                                      practices that holds revolutionary
                                      potential for a whole continent. In
                                      the process of adapting to the
                                      demands of industrial urban life, old
                                      behavior patterns are weakened and,
                                      under propitious circumstances,
                                      new patterns conducive the
                                      formation of civil society and
                                      economic progress emerge almost

                                      By the same token, it is equally
                                      important to recognize that already
                                      highly industrialized liberal
                                      democracies, such as England and
                                      Japan, which may be said to have
                                      been modern from the beginning,
                                      could lose their comparative cultural
                                      advantages if their distinctive
                                      familistic ethos should lose its
                                      dynamic power. Economic
                                      stagnation and political
                                      transformation are sure to follow. At
                                      a recent workshop in Cambridge,
                                      British social scientists were in rare
                                      agreement when voicing their
                                      apprehensions about the future of
                                      England. They blamed the
                                      weakening of the British family for
                                      the British worker's loss of
                                      resilience and adaptability, a change
                                      in style of life which they were
                                      convinced could endanger Britain's

                        family served as
                        the link between
                       the feudal and the
                       modern industrial
                                      A formidable body of research
                                      available today definitively
                                      documents that what social
                                      demographers call the
                                      proto-industrial family served as the
                                      link between the feudal and the
                                      modern industrial world. Its
                                      existence long antedated the rise of
                                      the industrial order and, if the
                                      Cambridge social demographers
                                      around Peter Laslett and Alan
                                      Macfarlane are correct, it was the
                                      proto-industrial family that set the
                                      stage for industrialization as far back
                                      as the 13th century. In the course of
                                      a few centuries, but not later than
                                      the middle of the 19th century, the
                                      proto-industrial family household
                                      (now reinforced and given meaning
                                      by what Macfarlane calls the
                                      enabling force of the Protestant
                                      Ethic) had solidified into an ethos
                                      and new manner of life that to this
                                      day remains constitutive of industrial
                                      capitalism writ large.

                                      the bourgeois family and
                                      What made the proto-industrial, or
                                      proto-bourgeois, family so special?
                                      Among its outstanding structural
                                      features, three in particular deserve
                                      to be mentioned: the sanctity of
                                      private property and an inheritance
                                      system based on primogeniture; a
                                      marriage system dependent upon
                                      individual choice; and the
                                      requirement to establish and provide
                                      for one's own conjugal household.
                                      These characteristics, taken
                                      together, made for late marriage and
                                      responsible procreation, just as they
                                      encouraged individual responsibility,
                                      hard work, attention to training,
                                      parsimony, and the necessity to
                                      save; for without the wherewithal, it
                                      was impossible to establish one's
                                      own conjugal household. These
                                      habits and norms were galvanized
                                      by new forms of work that became
                                      available in the latter part of the 18th
                                      century in the putting out cottage
                                      work system typically connected to
                                      the emergent textile industry and the
                                      myriad of household-based small
                                      artisan enterprises that produced a
                                      great variety of objects for everyday

                                      Detailed studies–such as the one by
                                      the Swiss social demographer
                                      Rudolf Braun–show that the new
                                      ways to earn an independent living
                                      provided for the first time in history
                                      opportunities to large numbers of
                                      individuals to become autonomous,
                                      to marry, and to establish their own
                                      independent households. All that
                                      was needed was a good measure of
                                      self-reliance, persistence, planning,
                                      frugality, prudence, and the
                                      willingness to take rationally
                                      calculated risks. Since the creation
                                      of one's own little world was the
                                      desired way of life for most, and
                                      since the new patterns of behavior
                                      and work rendered tangible results
                                      fairly quickly, the new manner of life
                                      was emulated by many. Such
                                      family- engendered patterns of
                                      behavior that emphasized
                                      responsibility, individualism, and
                                      rationality were to be of far-reaching

                                      On the economic level, family
                                      sentiments played a pivotal role in
                                      the expansion of capitalist
                                      production as they not only
                                      unleashed new productive work
                                      patterns, but also created demands
                                      for consumer goods on a large
                                      scale. As Neil McKendrick recently
                                      put it: Who bought the cottons,
                                      woolens, linens, and silks of the
                                      burgeoning British textile industries?
                                      Who consumed the massive
                                      increases in beer production? Who
                                      bought the crockery which poured
                                      from the Staffordshire potteries?
                                      Who bought the buckles, the
                                      buttons, the pins, and all the minor
                                      metal-products on which
                                      Birmingham fortunes were built?
                                      Who bought the Sheffield cutlery,

                         "Home Sweet
                           Home," first
                           heard in the
                           1870s, had
                       become almost a
                       national anthem
                       by the turn of the
                                     In passing it may be worth noting
                                     that the widespread desire to build a
                                     home of one's own provides grist for
                                     the mills of those who argue that the
                                     market is driven just as much by
                                     factors of consumption as it is by
                                     those of production. It also lends
                                     added strength to the bottom-up
                                     perspective that informs the analysis
                                     presented here. On the political level,
                                     the egalitarian, individualistic, and
                                     achievement oriented behavioral rules
                                     that governed the inner life of the
                                     proto-bourgeois family were
                                     externalized to provide 19th century
                                     liberalism with its lasting political
                                     creed. Together with affections
                                     revolving around trust and
                                     confidence (all developed in the
                                     privacy of family life) they came to
                                     provide the stable foundations for
                                     what we call civil society today. The
                                     equality of individuals before the law,
                                     equal treatment by the state, and the
                                     notion of individual freedom, all
                                     those guiding principles of liberalism,
                                     can be shown to have their origin
                                     here. Parentage, religious background
                                     and, in subsequent periods, also
                                     factors of race and gender,
                                     decreased in importance and
                                     ultimately made for the breakdown of
                                     traditional economic and political
                                     barriers. Contrary to Marx's theory
                                     of class conflict that holds that
                                     capitalism would lead to the
                                     economic evisceration and political
                                     enslavement of the industrial worker
                                     (the proletariat in his terms) the
                                     expanding industrial capitalist system
                                     and the concomitant rise of political
                                     liberalism offered unmatched
                                     economic opportunities to the poor
                                     and set them politically free.

                                     It cannot be emphasized enough that
                                     sentiments revolving around family
                                     and home propelled ever larger
                                     numbers of people mired in the
                                     subsistence economy to adapt to the
                                     rigors of industrial life (which surely
                                     did not come easily and when they
                                     did, then came at a considerable
                                     price!). A new culture of domesticity
                                     spread like wildfire from one end of
                                     Victorian England to the other,
                                     engulfing even the child of the slums
                                     into its folds. As Edwin Shorter put
                                     it: Home however poor, was the
                                     focus of all his love and interests, a
                                     sure fortress against a hostile world.
                                     Songs about its beauties were ever
                                     on people's lips. "Home Sweet
                                     Home" first heard in the 1870s, had
                                     become almost a national anthem by
                                     the turn of the century.

                                     A perception, common among
                                     contemporary intellectuals, is that by
                                     the end of the 19th century, the cult
                                     of domesticity, promoted by the
                                     bourgeois family, heralded in not
                                     only the separation of social life into
                                     two separate spheres, the private and
                                     the public, but also promoted their
                                     increasing isolation and
                                     encapsulation. The names of Edward
                                     Shorter and Christopher Lasch come
                                     to mind in this connection, whose
                                     books gained much public attention
                                     and continue to influence public
                                     perception to this day. Despite
                                     considerable differences between the
                                     many contributors to this perception,
                                     most agree that there occurred a
                                     withdrawal of the family into the
                                     emotional fortress of the bourgeois
                                     home, not because the home became
                                     warmer and more attractive in the
                                     course of the nineteenth century, but
                                     because the outside world came to
                                     be seen as more forbidding and alien.
                                     This, I think, is a gross
                                     misunderstanding of the bourgeois
                                     family ethos. On the basis of a wealth
                                     of diaries and memoirs, a much
                                     better argument can be made that by
                                     the end of the 19th century, the
                                     bourgeois family saw itself as the
                                     launching pad for its individual
                                     members to participate in the
                                     changing world of work. Far from
                                     individuals retreating into a shrinking
                                     private world, we may observe that
                                     the private world had extended itself
                                     into that of the public, creating ever
                                     more structures in its progress. By
                                     the end of that century the intermesh
                                     between these two spheres was
                                     successfully completed.

                        the rise in social
                      ills has been fairly
                        consistent in all
                                     the Western family today
                                     Turning attention to the situation of
                                     the Western family today, one is
                                     compelled to observe that recent
                                     history has not been kind to the
                                     bourgeois family. The confluence of
                                     distinct sets of powerful social
                                     forces(demographic, economic,
                                     socio-cultural and moral) served to
                                     undermine both its structure and its
                                     legitimacy that have been taken for
                                     granted for so long. This is not the
                                     place to trace the history of these
                                     forces, nor is it the place to enter
                                     into a debate about the
                                     consequences of three decades of
                                     public efforts to shore up (and, at
                                     times, even to replace) a family
                                     system many argued to be no longer
                                     viable nor desirable. Suffice it to
                                     note that both bourgeois family and
                                     its correlative bourgeois ethos was
                                     heavily attacked during the 1960s
                                     cultural revolutions and has come
                                     into disrepute since then. Looking
                                     back at the war against the family,
                                     one cannot help but note that many,
                                     though not all, of the public efforts
                                     to supplement or to replace the
                                     functions of what came to be called
                                     the traditional family (a misnomer, if
                                     ever there was one) have not
                                     achieved a whole lot. A mass of
                                     depressing statistics attests to their
                                     failure to stem the rising tide of
                                     delinquency, crime, drug use,
                                     teenage pregnancy, and a growing
                                     welfare dependency. With the
                                     exception of Japan and, to a
                                     somewhat lesser degree, Korea and
                                     the overseas Chinese communities
                                     of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and
                                     Singapore, the rise in social ills has
                                     been fairly consistent in all industrial
                                     societies, with the United States and
                                     the countries of Northern Europe
                                     outdistancing, by a wide margin,
                                     countries such as France, Italy,
                                     Germany and the Czech Republic.

                                     A growing body of research reveals
                                     that public efforts frequently turned
                                     out to be not only wasteful of large
                                     sums of public moneys, but
                                     destructive of human lives as well.
                                     All too often they encouraged
                                     individuals to turn their backs on the
                                     traditional path of self-sufficiency
                                     and upward mobility that relies on
                                     the dynamic potential of families and
                                     the moral communities in which they
                                     are embedded–the churches,
                                     neighborhoods, self-help groups,
                                     and the many voluntary
                                     organizations that provide civil
                                     society with its dynamics and
                                     compass. If one views the politics of
                                     the past decades through the prism
                                     of the family, one cannot help but
                                     conclude that in turning away from
                                     the strong normative order of the
                                     middle-class family all those costly
                                     public efforts combined to
                                     undermine the social fabric of
                                     Western civilization. Although of late
                                     we can witness a public rediscovery
                                     of the salutary role of the nuclear
                                     family of father, mother, and their
                                     children living together and caring
                                     for their individual and collective
                                     progress, policy elites appear neither
                                     to have understood fully that public
                                     life lies at the mercy of private life,
                                     nor do they seem to have
                                     apprehended the degree to which the
                                     bourgeois virtues and bourgeois
                                     ethos continue to be indispensable
                                     for the maintenance of both the
                                     market economy and civil society.

                                     It may be difficult to entertain the
                                     hypothesis that events as long ago as
                                     the early modern period could still
                                     have profound effects upon the
                                     highly technologized, industrial
                                     societies of today. During the past
                                     century, the industrial system has
                                     undergone numerous economic
                                     permutations that exacted social
                                     adjustments in the ways we work,
                                     where we live, how we live, and what
                                     and how we consume. On the
                                     political level, we have witnessed the
                                     radicalization of the rational
                                     individualism and rational cognitive
                                     style distinctive of democratic
                                     capitalism. Under the banner of
                                     individual self-realization and a
                                     bewildering number of newly
                                     discovered rights, the contours of
                                     this unique system have been
                                     transformed, almost beyond
                                     recognition, in the short span of a
                                     few decades. And yet, the modern
                                     world with its awesome
                                     technological capacities and its
                                     sophisticated organizational
                                     structures, depends upon a large
                                     reservoir of people psychologically
                                     well-adjusted, educationally
                                     prepared, and socially competent to
                                     execute the kind of performances
                                     necessary to acquire and operate the
                                     instruments of the post-industrial
                                     system. Civil society, particularly in
                                     view of its ever-expanding desire to
                                     incorporate a new and untested
                                     democratic pluralism, is in equal
                                     measure dependent upon
                                     autonomous individuals who have
                                     the capacity to reason rationally and
                                     act responsibly, and perhaps also
                                     passionately, on the basis of
                                     principles of individual freedom,
                                     equality, and justice. Whatever the
                                     future will bring, one thing is for
                                     sure, it will be a system of life in
                                     which the principal unit of action is
                                     based on the motivation, the
                                     performance, and the responsibility
                                     of autonomous individuals. Where
                                     such self-reliant, highly motivated,
                                     and ethically responsible individuals
                                     are to come from is then a question
                                     that poses itself with great urgency

                                     Considerations of this kind bring
                                     once more into focus the earlier
                                     claim that there exists a peculiar
                                     cognitive fit between the
                                     requirements of liberal democracy
                                     organized around the economy of
                                     the market and the much maligned
                                     bourgeois family. It is a cognitive fit
                                     that fosters habits and sentiments
                                     which still today are conducive to
                                     economic progress, which promotes
                                     a commitment to civic responsibility,
                                     and which has the capacity to instill
                                     in its individual members a rational
                                     cognitive restlessness without which
                                     the future of the post-industrial
                                     world looks dim.

                      demonstrated that
                          there exists a
                           great deal of
                        evidence for the
                           existence of
                        experiences and
                      attitudes and adult
                          attitudes and
                                      The empirical evidence for the
                                      beneficence of the necessary linkage
                                      between the macro-world of public
                                      institutions and the micro-world of a
                                      particular kind of family is massive.
                                      It reveals itself most clearly in the
                                      area of socialization and education.
                                      For quite some time now social
                                      psychologists have demonstrated
                                      that there exists a great deal of
                                      evidence for the existence of
                                      continuity between childhood
                                      experiences and attitudes and adult
                                      attitudes and actions. The process is
                                      understood to proceed in a circular
                                      pattern whereby the values of the
                                      adult society are transmitted through
                                      child-rearing and other teaching
                                      practices to children, who, when
                                      they become adults, reinforce and
                                      help to maintain the culture in which
                                      they live. The social science
                                      literature comprising theorists as
                                      diverse as George Herbert Mead,
                                      Jean Jacques Piaget, Erik Erikson,
                                      Robert Sears, Samuel Eisenstadt
                                      and Jerome Bruner–and with them
                                      the legions of researchers who make
                                      use of their distinctive
                                      approaches–have established this,
                                      by now almost cliche-like linkage.
                                      Small wonder then that a wealth of
                                      data has accumulated over the past
                                      thirty years that indicates beyond
                                      any doubt that a nuclear family of
                                      father, mother, and their children,
                                      living together, mindful of each
                                      other and actively involved with
                                      each other, is still today a child's
                                      best guarantee for success in school
                                      and life beyond. The same data also
                                      show that an individual's progress in
                                      all walks of life depends largely
                                      upon the traditional virtues and
                                      practices of the bourgeois family,
                                      which critics have taken great joy to

                                      The old adage that it does not so
                                      much matter what cards life has
                                      dealt you, but how you play them, is
                                      still as true today as it was a
                                      hundred years ago. What is more,
                                      contrary to fashionable arguments,
                                      the evidence is in that the prudent
                                      use of traditional socialization
                                      practices may still be the best
                                      service parents can render their
                                      children, and the often contested
                                      commitment of the middle-class
                                      family to mold character traits of
                                      perseverance, self-reliance, effort,
                                      and trustworthiness still remain the
                                      very mechanisms best suited to
                                      fortify children against the odds of
                                      life ahead. By the same token, the
                                      massive data collected during the
                                      past thirty years also show that the
                                      absence of such a family resource
                                      makes it much harder for a child to
                                      achieve, compete and progress.
                                      Equally important, there exist some
                                      data as well that lead us to believe
                                      that the two-parent family is
                                      important for the development of a
                                      sense of civic responsibility in the
                                      growing child. Children raised in
                                      single-parent households showed a
                                      higher level of authoritarianism, were
                                      less politically interested, and less
                                      politically efficacious than their
                                      peers growing up in nuclear families.

                                      When one turns to the life of adults,
                                      large sets of data document as well
                                      that the institution of marriage,
                                      despite all its problems and tedium,
                                      is still the best thing around. Both
                                      men and women are healthier,
                                      happier, more productive, and live
                                      longer when married. The bad news
                                      is that many are not aware of this
                                      linkage, and there exists a
                                      widespread suspicion among all too
                                      many that the grass is greener on the
                                      other side of the fence. Yet,
                                      considerable apprehensions aside,
                                      marriage appears to continue to
                                      enjoy considerable popularity, and
                                      although middle-class couples have
                                      fewer children than before, they do
                                      have children nonetheless. Within
                                      the analytical paradigm proposed
                                      here, there are no reasons to doubt
                                      that this will not also continue in the
                                      future. What is more, the much
                                      ridiculed Victorian desire for an
                                      exclusive sexual relationship is as
                                      strong, if not stronger, today than it
                                      was a hundred years ago. And,
                                      judging by reports from far-flung
                                      corners of the world such as Japan,
                                      China and Africa, this desire
                                      appears to be spreading. If we are
                                      to trust the three researchers of the
                                      recent The Social Construction of
                                      Sexuality, there is much less
                                      philandering going on than
                                      sensationalist media reports have led
                                      us to believe.

                             family has
                            shifts in its
                        structure and its
                        function since it
                        first entered the
                         historical arena
                                      As pointed out earlier, the
                                      nuclear-bourgeois family has
                                      experienced considerable shifts in
                                      its structure and its function since it
                                      first entered the historical arena.
                                      Within the context of the argument
                                      developed here, however, it is of
                                      considerable importance to
                                      appreciate that the bourgeois family
                                      is a state of mind rather than a
                                      particular kind of structure and
                                      cannot merely be structurally
                                      defined as statisticians of the census
                                      are prone to do. What distinguishes
                                      it from other types of families still
                                      today is its ethos that, regardless of
                                      structure, places a premium on
                                      individual initiative and
                                      responsibility. No substitute for this
                                      type of family has emerged as the
                                      depressing record of the commune
                                      movement of the 1960s and 1970s
                                      and the growing number of
                                      single-headed households during the
                                      past three decades so blatantly

                                      More generally, there is the question
                                      of the moral foundation of any
                                      human society, and especially that
                                      of a democratic polity. Emile
                                      Durkheim, close to a hundred years
                                      ago, argued that at its core, every
                                      human society is a moral
                                      community; conversely, he tried to
                                      show that in the absence of shared
                                      moral values, a society must begin
                                      to disintegrate. This general
                                      sociological truth is doubly valid
                                      when a society organizes itself
                                      politically as a democracy. The
                                      reason for this is simple: in the
                                      absence of moral consensus,
                                      coercion remains the only
                                      instrument for the maintenance of
                                      even minimal social integration.
                                      Such coercion, however, cannot
                                      coexist with democracy. Although
                                      social thinkers since John Dewey
                                      strongly argued that education could
                                      perform this role, the recent record
                                      shows that the school as an
                                      institution appears to be quite
                                      ineffective in instilling basic moral
                                      values–unless they serve to
                                      reinforce values already instilled in
                                      the individual by his home life. Very
                                      much the same is true for the
                                      churches as well as the law. The
                                      family, today as always, remains the
                                      institution in which the very great
                                      majority of individuals learn
                                      whatever they will ever learn about
                                      morality. It is in this sense that the
                                      family has a political function of the
                                      greatest importance. This is
                                      especially true in a democracy
                                      where there exists an ongoing need
                                      for achieving a balance between the
                                      rights of individuals and the needs
                                      of society. The balancing act of
                                      democracy, in this sense, is the
                                      balancing act of the bourgeois
                                      family. Regardless of future
                                      permutations this linkage is likely to

                        bourgeois family
                       is essential for the
                       formation as well
                       as the survival of
                                      In concluding it has to be observed
                                      that while these findings imply that
                                      the bourgeois family is essential for
                                      the formation as well as the survival
                                      of democratic capitalism, it is also
                                      important to understand that this
                                      family and its peculiar ethos is not
                                      the exclusive property of the
                                      countries of the West. Regardless
                                      of origin and history, any family
                                      system (whether it now is Chinese,
                                      Japanese, German, Indian, Islamic,
                                      African, and so forth) can meet the
                                      challenges of the future, as long as it
                                      contains the core features
                                      constitutive of the family system
                                      that was instrumental in the creation
                                      of the modern world. A year or so
                                      ago, Samuel Huntington caused a
                                      considerable stir with his
                                      proposition that world politics is
                                      moving into a period of civilizational
                                      clash in which the primary
                                      identification of people around the
                                      world will not be ideological, as
                                      during the Cold war, but rather,
                                      cultural. Now that Western style
                                      capitalism and democracy have
                                      proven and remained triumphant,
                                      Huntington argued that conflict will
                                      arise not between fascism,
                                      socialism, and democracy, but
                                      between the world's major cultural
                                      groups, Western, Islamic,
                                      Confucian, Hindu and so on. While
                                      only time will tell whether and to
                                      what degree Huntington's
                                      predictions are accurate, his essay
                                      performs the crucial service of
                                      bringing into focus the role factors
                                      of culture play in the affairs of
                                      nations. In contrast to Huntington,
                                      however, the findings of this essay
                                      propel us to emphasize the singular
                                      importance of the family in the
                                      formation of civilizations. And this
                                      observation takes me back to where
                                      I began. If such a clash of
                                      civilizations should occur some time
                                      in the future, then this clash, at its
                                      roots, will be one between different
                                      family systems and the ways in
                                      which they are able to integrate the
                                      properties of human nature and
                                      human existence with the
                                      requirements of the post-modern
                                      world rushing towards us today.
                                      Any society that disregards this
                                      fundamental reality does so at its
                                      own peril.

                                      Brigitte Berger is professor emerita in the
                                      Department of Sociology of Boston
                                      University. A longer version of this article
                                      originally appeared in Society, March-April
                                      1998. (Reprinted by permission of
                                      Transaction Publishers. Copyright 1998; all
                                      rights reserved.)

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