The First Bond — the Family — Is Weak

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Without families, what stops babies from becoming barbarians? And what stops men from turning into burnouts?

Sometimes it’s worth taking stock of the basics. American conservatives sometimes call the family a “pre-political institution.” Usually they have in mind the idea of protecting the family from manipulation or intrusion by the state’s bureaucrats. But Cicero was more insightful when he observed that marriage and family are the foundation of political life: “The first bond of society is marriage; next, children; and then the family.”

The simplest things in life are actually profoundly important. The chaos of a family dinner table with young children, the cajoling, negotiating, and bartering — “One more bite, and you can be excused!” — are serious matters. They are social and political. It’s here that children learn to receive what others have done for them graciously. It’s here that parents learn patience and practice judgement. It’s here that we learn to build a common life together — of reciprocal duties, rights, and privileges. The young babe bangs his plate and throws his dinner to the dog. With years of practice, he learns enough to nuke the leftovers and set a table. With a few more years, he learns to be truly hospitable to others, even his own children.

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