Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Family Manifesto: Families of the World Unite!

THE COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE of the Church has a sort of social manifesto for the family. The political manifesto revolves around the notions of the "social subjectivity" and the "social priority" of the family. It suggests that the family as a institution has certain "family rights." It enjoins upon societies too often structured around false notions of individualism to re-think their basic premises, and to modify their economic, political, legal, and cultural institutions to accommodate the family.

The concept of "social subjectivity" is a concept that is intended to steer us in between two social errors: radical individualism or atomism, on the one hand, and socialism or collectivism, on the other. In the former, only the individual matters, the group does not. In the other, only the group matters, the individual does not. The notion of "social subjectivism" intends to place responsibilities on individuals and recognize their intrinsic dignity, but at the same time stress that whatever we do affects others. We necessarily exercise our subjectivity within society, hence the notion of "social subjectivity."

The notion of "social subjectivity" is a notion that includes not only individuals, but also families. Hence families are not separate cells unlinked with other families. There is, in fact "demonstrations of solidarity and sharing among families themselves," which ought to extend out into "various forms of participation in social and political life." (Compendium, No. 246) The notion "social subjectivity" understands that "people must not be considered only as individuals, but also in relation to the family nucleus to which they belong, the specific values and needs of which must be taken into due account." (Compendium, No. 254)

Una Familia by Fernando Botero

The concept of the "social priority" of the family is one where civil society recognizes the "priority and 'antecedence' of the family." The family ought to be the focus of all civil society, and it "should never fail in its fundamental task of respecting and fostering the family." (Compendium, No. 252) (quoting JP II, Familiaris consortio) Therefore, economic, social, political, legal, juridical, and cultural realms will focus on the family and recognize the priority of the family. This will call for a shifting of values in societies which have--for generations--structured their institutions with an eye toward individualism.

The notion "social priority" of the family means that the family ought to be understood to have preeminent rights to social recognition. The State and all society must recognize the family, must protect, appreciate, and promote the family, understood as the "natural society founded on marriage" between one man and one woman.

There ought to be no confusion between the family and those forms of cohabitation which mock it. The family, "understood correctly," is what is to receive social priority and which has family rights. This is not true for "all other forms of cohabitation which, by their very nature, deserve neither the name nor the status of family." (Compendium, No. 253)

A family is open to other families in solidarity, keeping in mind the common good:

This is a solidarity that can take on the features of service and attention to those who live in poverty and need, to orphans, the handicapped, the sick, the elderly, to those who are in mourning, to those with doubts, to those who live in loneliness or who have been abandoned. It is a solidarity that opens itself to acceptance, to guardianship, to adoption; it is able to bring every situation of distress to the attention of institutions so that, according to their specific competence, they can intervene.

(Compendium, No. 246)

The Church calls upon families to take an active, protagonistic role in forming society itself, in inculcating society and politics with its values. "Far from being only objects of political action," the Compendium states, "families can and must become active subjects." The Church asks families to unite, to work toward seeing that "the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defendant the rights and duties of the family." (Compendium, No. 247)

The Compendium issues forth a cri-de-coeur that there be a "family politics," one that is transformative of civil society, including its economic, social, juridical, and cultural aspects, so that civil society serves the family's needs. Civil society must recognize the "social priority" of the family. "To this end, family associations must be promoted and strengthened." (Compendium, No. 247) Families have the right to associate with other families and with institutions to better fulfill their purpose, to protect their rights, and to foster the goods and advance their interests.

There is a particularly significant link between family life and economic life. Indeed, in less-industrialized societies the home is the center of economic life. A vestige of this is indicated by the very word economy, which comes from the Greek oikonomia, meaning household management. Even when the household is no longer the center of economic activity, there remains a "very special relationship" between family life and work, one that ought not be give short shrift. (Compendium, No. 249)

The family is in fact a focus, "one of the most important terms of reference," when assessing economic institutions and their morality. Economic institutions that harm the family are immoral. The economy was made for the family, not the family for the economy.

In fact, the existence of the family is what justifies private property. The relationship between labor and the family "has its roots in the relation existing between the person and his right to possess the fruit of his labor." A man is due the fruits of his labor, and he uses these to support his family. By saving money and acquiring property, a family both assures its freedom and is able to insulate against need or future economic demands. Therefore, labor and property concerns "not only the individual as a singular person but also as a member of a family, understood as a 'domestic society.'" (Compendium, No. 249)

The family must not be forgotten in the economic life of a nation. Family life is not independent of economic life as if they operate in two different moral realms. True, economic life must take into account economic laws and the "broad networks of production and exchange of goods and services that involves families in continuously increasing measure." (Compendium, No. 248) But economic life cannot be limited to a one-dimensionality, to a "market mentality" alone. Rather, the economy must be "the logic of sharing and solidarity" not only among families, but also across generations. For this reason, the family "must rightfully be seen as an essential agent of economic life." (Compendium, No. 248)

Work is the engine that feeds the family: "Work is essential insofar as it represents the condition that makes it possible to establish a family, for the means by which the family is maintained are obtained through work." (Compendium, No. 249) Obviously, it is work that allows the family to supported and maintained, and this not only is a monetary sense, "since a family afflicted by unemployment runs the risk of not fully achieving its end." (Compendium, No. 249)

To nurture and protect the intrinsic relationship between work and family, the Church proposes the notion of a "family wage," which she defines as "a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently." (Compendium, No.250) Maintenance goes beyond subsistence, and includes a notion there ought to be an amount beyond mere subsistence so as to allow a frugal and responsible family to save money and acquire property. The ownership of property by families is a "guarantee of freedom." (Compendium, No. 250)

How the "family wage" is achieved is something open to prudential judgment. Obviously, in a healthy economy a "family wage" will be the result of private agreement between and employer and an employee. But where this is not occurring for a variety of reasons, the wage can be supplemented by subsidies, tax credits to the employee or employer which encourage higher effective wages, or other "forms of important social provisions to help bring it about." (Compendium, No. 250)

In modern industrialized societies, one confronts the problem of unremunerated work. There is work done within the family--"housekeeping" by both wives and husbands--whose worth goes unpaid and often unrecognized. One has to recognized the value of "housekeeping" as work that directly contributes to the common good because it is "a service directed and devoted to the quality of life, constitutes a type of activity that is eminently personal and personalizing." (Compendium, No. 251) This work ought to be "socially recognized and valued," and this in concrete terms, through some sort of "economic compensation in keeping with that of other types of work." (Compendium, No. 251) Again, how this is achieved is something relegated to prudential judgment.

There has to be a greater symbiosis between the economy and the family so that families do not feel that they have to avoid having children to assure economic survival. "[C]are must be taken to eliminate all obstacles that prevent a husband and wife from making free decisions concerning their procreative responsibilities and, in particular, those that do not allow women to carry out their maternal role fully." (Compendium, No. 251)

While the State and civil society have as responsibility to safeguard family values, to "promote the intimacy and harmony within families," to assure "respect for unborn life," and to provide for "the effective freedom of choice in educating children," one must also remember the principle of subsidiarity. "[N]either society nor the State may absorb, substitute, or reduce the social dimension of the family; rather, they must honor it, recognize it, respect it, and promote it according to the principle of subsidiarity." (Compendium, No. 251)

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