October 1, 2022

Make room for men to become fathers

The following is adapted from remarks delivered at the Life in America After Roe conference, co-hosted by The American Conservative and Belmont Abbey College on September 20, 2022.

As we discuss family policy, and by that mean how we can support and promote family formation in the United States, it reminds me of what is supposed to be an old classified 19th century newspaper periodically shared on social media. It reads:

LUCK FOR A SPISTER. – A young man from Aristok County, Maine, who advertises for a wife, speaks of himself as follows: “I am eighteen years old, I have good teeth and I believe in Andy Johnson, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the 4th of July. I took possession of a lot in the State, cleared eighteen acres last year, and sowed ten. My buckwheat has looks top notch, and the oats and potatoes are intimidating I have nine sheep, a two year old bull and two heifers, plus a house and a barn I want to get married . I want to buy bread and butter, hoop skirts and stunts for a female person for life. That’s what’s wrong with me. But I don’t know how to do it.”

The ad is an endearing snapshot of a very different America, and the kind of sourceless internet trash one hopes is real in a concrete, historical way. But if we look at marriage rates today, it’s also a familiar cry for help. When it comes to building families, too many young Americans, and especially young American men, “don’t know how to go about it.”

This is troubling for Conservatives, and it should be. The family, as Aristotle told us, but also as almost all of human history has shown us, is the basic political unit of a stable society. Genesis, too, shows us the first family—a man, a woman, and their children—and with it the first civil war. It also tells us the story of a husband and wife becoming a nation. Abraham is called by God to become a patriarch, to go to the land that the Lord will show him, in order to be fruitful and to multiply, with Sarah, and to take dominion over it.

Efforts to dismantle the family, to claim that it is an arbitrary construct that obstructs rather than mediates the relationship between the human person and sovereign political power, are largely recent – though perhaps we should acknowledge Plato and some famous city in the speech here. And these efforts have, time and time again, and still today, dehumanized and degraded us, whether or not recognized as totalitarian.

Totalitarian is a neologism, and should generally be replaced by tyrannical, the oldest and best word. But it achieves a sense of claustrophobia relevant to discussions of family politics, so I use it here. If politics and civilization are fundamentally based on families, then families need space to grow, to become that foundation, and policy interventions should aim to give them that space. Thinking in terms of space, of open fields and fertile beds, of trellises and fences, also takes us away from what has been called the reign of quantity in modernity, and from conservatives resorting to monetary values ​​to measure everything. It helps us think more clearly about the natural family as it is – an organic and integral whole – and the human beings within it as they also are – animals, rational and political, created in the image of God .

And so, as I support direct economic support for families — the financial incentives, bonuses, and tax adjustments that make up much of the family policy discourse here and in DC — I want to remind ourselves to think about human animals. involved and especially to think about men without a college degree, and how we can help them, like the young farmer in the classified ad, to make marriage a cornerstone again rather than a cornerstone.

At this point, a warning is appropriate, or perhaps rather a clarification. Family formation still mostly works for men like me, or at least marriage works. I’ve only recently been engaged, so I don’t have direct experience with kids and buying a house yet. But I have peers, and they make it work. But we are not normal, even if we wish to be normative in some respects. I have a laptop job with a comfortable salary and prospects for advancement. I have a graduate degree in addition to my bachelor’s degree. I come from an intact middle-class family that attends church and attends services myself every week, and so does my fiancée. So from a policy-making point of view, I’m not the one who needs the most help, and I’m not the one who I hope will be helped first and foremost by creative policy thinking. family.

Pro-family policy must begin with pro-marriage policy. The young farmer in our ad has what so many American men today — about 16 million in 2015 and probably many more today — don’t have: namely, a job. More than a job, our homesteader has a job. He knows what his labor is for, for he cultivates, to grow buckwheat, oats and potatoes, and he can see the fruit of his labor with satisfaction. He also knows what his work is worth. This makes it marriageable.

Men without a university degree will not all be able to join the trades, nor become truck drivers, nor, under current conditions, be farmers. Interventions are needed, and we must learn to view pro-male employment interventions and anti-diploma-industrial complex interventions as pro-marriage interventions. Surely the greatest disqualifier for men seeking marriage in America today is not just the financial insecurity of underemployment in low-wage service work, setting aside complete unemployment for a moment. , but the discouragement of it all. The school results of men are equally discouraging. The pathologies plaguing Americans — from obesity, drug abuse and addiction, crime and incarceration, endless video games in proverbial and literal basements — stem in part from miserable work for a measly salary with no prospect of growth, no space to roam in American men have lost their mojo; they noticed, and the women too.

Our Maine homesteader has a space that has allowed him to become marriageable in a more literal sense as well. He owns property. Through a state program, he acquired 18 acres and cleared them, at age 18. He has a house and a barn. Do you have a house and a barn? I think you are very lucky if you do. I would like a house and a barn. But as you’ve probably noticed, there’s a disconnect in America between places where there are reasonably good jobs and places where there are 18 acres to fill with screaming kids. This region may be one of the lucky places, but nationally married American couples can hardly be expected to do their fair share of baby-making if they can only s wait for decades in a small apartment.

This is perhaps where I get more pro-monetary intervention and more interested in my family policy recommendations. We need to make home ownership affordable for young people, one way or another — better yet, real acreage. To come back to Genesis: for the human being, space to master and fruitful multiplication go hand in hand. But even as we talk about direct cash support or fear a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, let’s also consider the major distorting factors in the US housing market. That we are not building enough is a given. But Chinese nationals Bill Gates and BlackRock also own huge chunks of American farmland and American single-family homes. The feds still own much of the west, not all of the national parks or leased natural resources. A confident pro-family statesman can probably think of a few things to do about it.

Job and property conditions are a few material reasons why American men lack the space to become a husband. The farmer boy has it and men today don’t. But it’s also true that in all his wandering room our young farmer doesn’t have something they have: some kind of negative space, in the supposed freedoms of no-fault divorce. Statistics clearly show that the vast majority of divorces are initiated by women. Our homesteader is looking for a wife in a world where, not just culturally, but legally, there will be more ties that bind him to his fiancée. Like fish in the ocean, there is true freedom within boundaries and room to grow within the enclosure of a socially reinforced marriage. There is a trust there that it would be difficult for us to approach. Marriage is a bet on the future, and the odds are partly worse today because the rules are simply different in a very important way.

In the end, however, the farmer doesn’t know how to get married, so he asks the reporter for help. The material and legal conditions are not enough, even if they are not nothing. It takes a culture of marriage and a culture of children to make a culture of the family. And that requires hope, a real sense of hope for the future and gratitude for the present, a belief that the world is worth giving to another generation. The homesteader believes in “Andy Johnson, the Star-Spangled Banner and the 4th of July”; he wants to get married because of “bread and butter, hoop skirts and stunts” but also because he has confidence in his country.

America’s baby boom happened during two decades of American triumph and during the space race, the new frontier. I don’t think it was an accident. Cultural Christianity and old normative social expectations gave a script, but a confident optimism in the country’s ability to grow, in a sense of true open space, gave the American man, and the American woman with him – for the sexes rise and fall together – something to aspire to and the audacity to bring many children into the world. I don’t think Mars can be that frontier for us today; we’ve lost too much of the shared vision of engineering poetry we had in the space race for outer space today to capture the heart of the country. But in the hour of demographic contraction that we are entering, a real space here in North America, a real frontier, will once again open up to us, and it will be up to American men and their families to fill it.