What is the proper role of the family? Dr. Lauren Hall, associate professor of political science at Rochester Institute of Technology, explored this question as part of the June 2020 IHS Summer Seminar.
For Dr. Hall, the family is not only crucial—it helps to moderate even the most extreme elements of civil society.
The family is the foundation of human society.-Dr. Lauren Hall
To illustrate this, her lecture focused on highlighting two types of extreme schools of thought on civil society, including ideas from collectivist thinkers and ideas from thinkers in the classical liberal tradition.
From the collectivist perspective, the idea of the family is seen as a danger to the communist society. For thinkers like Marx and Engles, the family unit was an impediment to radical, revolutionary change.
When you’re trying to get everyone to pull their resources and their labor and their affections into the collective, to care more about the group than they do about their individual self-interest, the family is a fracturing power.-Dr. Lauren Hall
As another example, Dr. Hall discusses the early ideas of the Kibbutzim and their initial practice of raising children collectively. With its initial, collectivist roots, children were raised in a group daycare rather than by their biological parents. When those children became adults and had children of their own, they began to phase out the collective childrearing experience.
What emerged in its place was a sort of capitalist farm share. As Dr. Hall describes it, “the family reemerged, it reinserted itself.” In doing so, the kibbutzim became more capitalist in principle, with the family driving the need for goods, services, and materials. In this way, the role of the family tempered and moderated the original collectivist approach to the initial kibbutzim society.
I think it indicates something really interesting about the family, which is that maybe it’s not just a social construct you can wipe away when it’s inconvenient… The family will moderate the most extreme versions of collectivism and start pulling people toward the middle.-Dr. Lauren Hall
Pulling from Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Dr. Hall examines Rand’s idea of reciprocity. She argues that Rand’s idea of reciprocity and consent isn’t one that fits cleanly into the role of the family. Rand wants to base love on rational, reciprocal trade, which isn’t how the family dynamic operates.
With these different extreme theories examined, Dr. Hall addresses why the role of family should be of importance to today’s scholars. She refers back to her earlier Summer Seminar lecture on Adam Smith, noting that sympathy and the impartial spectator factor into the family role.
The impartial spectator really starts at a very early age and it starts in families first and then moves outwards.-Dr. Lauren Hall
Children modulate their own reactions to the communities they find themselves in. In the best of circumstance, the family creates trusting individuals who are primed to cooperate with each other.
Dr. Hall recognizes that all families are different and not all are necessarily self-sustaining, supportive, or positive environments. Even so, the role of the family, regardless of type, helps to shape the individual.
You can watch this lecture and the rest of the IHS Summer Seminar on our YouTube channel. For more information on Summer Seminars, graduate and faculty programs, and funding opportunities, visit TheIHS.org.