Founding families (5)
By Mgr Henri Delassus | 19 April 2023
This is the thirteenth in a series of twenty articles drawn from Mgr Delassus’s two-volume work, The Problem of the Present Time: Antagonism of two civilisations (1905). The section of his work translated for this series considers the role of the family as the origin and model of society, the disastrous effects of human tampering and the necessity of the restoration of Christian society. This series began in April 2022 with “How states are formed“.
Is it now necessary to speak of the fateful consequences — from the moral as much as the national point of view — which have followed the law of equal shares? Families no longer have a future. “There is no European nation,” says Le Play, “which does not present the sad spectacle of the perpetual liquidation brought about by the forced equal share of inheritances.” No longer seeing the future before them, families now think only of enjoying the present.
On 21 January 1903, the court of Lisieux, having to judge a scandalous affair, declared the grounds of the case poorly founded.
“In the current state of our morals, the definition of marriage, such as given by Portalis, appears distant. In a great number of cases, the union of the man and the woman is no longer determined by this reciprocal affection that, in 1855, the counsellor Laborie proclaimed the essence of marriage. Man no longer seeks, in the woman whom he marries, the faithful and devoted companion of his existence, and woman, ceaselessly aspiring to more complete emancipation and tending to become, day by day, more equal to the man, no longer sees,in the spouse that she accepts, a protector, a natural support, the head of the family to found; preoccupations are very different, and many unions today are no longer based on interest. In a word, marriage has become an affair…”
It needs must come to this from the moment that spouses are uprooted, no longer having ancestors, and necessarily therefore, no longer having posterity.
It is not only spouses who has ceased to have reciprocal attachment, or respect, or affection, but paternal authority which has ceased to exist. The child knows early that his father is disarmed; that it is the law — the state — which gives him his share of the inheritance; that he can affranchise himself without risk from the paternal authority; that he can live only for himself, give himself to every disorder, dissipate his inheritance in advance and hand it over to usurers, who are easy to find because of the money he has in reserve.
It is a completely different story in England and America. In 1893, the Réforme sociale commented that the conditions of the will of a Mr Blaine, an illustrious American statesman, would be read in France with stupefaction. One clause of this document leaves 250 fr. to each one of his daughters and 125 fr. to each of his sons. The fortune of the departed totals 4 or 5 millions francs: it is the widow who receives the whole fortune.
As the initial astonishment passes, cannot one concede that it is interesting to see the children of a man so rich obliged to work to live and to make themselves a situation? Is it not a spectacle morally different to that presented by our young rich people, vowed to idleness in the assurance that the paternal succession will not escape them? Or again, that of our fortune-hunters for whom marriage is not at all the union of two matching hearts or the choice of the most morally and physically gifted wife, but uniquely the conquest of some belle, bursting with banknotes.
In North America, the daughters, having no dowry, are sought only for their qualities; and the sons work, not counting on their paternal fortune. Each generation must carry out its own business: such is the maxim put into practice in England as well as in America.
The French code cannot succeed in destroying the instinct for perpetuity which is at the root of human nature, whence the systematic sterilisation of marriages in order to be able to transmit the domain, the company, the factory, intact to a single heir. The place that the eldest held in the old society, in the new society, is taken by the only child. The desire to maintain the family’s goods has remained the same as under the old law; only different means of keeping it are different. But the means employed today are as disastrous as they are immoral. It is not long before the family is extinguished for lack of an heir coming of age, or more promptly still, by the misconduct of the young man, ruined from his childhood by the exaggerated solicitude of his parents, who dread losing him more than anything.
Paul Leroy-Beaulieu said:
“If some laws have the effect of pushing the greater part of the nation’s families to have only child, one must admit that these laws, for the sanctimonious people who maintain them, not only outrage morality but even conspire against the grandeur of the nation.”
While all other peoples grow rapidly — while England, for a century now, has gone from 18 to 40 million; while Germany, in 33 years, has gone from 38 to 57 million — we have remained almost invariably at 38 million. Also, England, despite its tight confines, has invaded the greater part of the world. The same with Germany. Their founding families produce innumerable branches which spread throughout all parts of the world, establishing everywhere the influence of the motherland, opening new markets to its commerce, favouring the development of its industry.
As for us, we have effaced ourselves by deteriorating at home. The effect was foreseen. In 1815, the Prussians found that allies gave the French too soft a deal. The English plenipotentiary, Lord Castlereagh, said:
“Rest assured, France has its inheritance system. It will defeat itself better we can.”
The prophecy is being realised. A deputy to the German Reichtag remarked on it in 1889. He affirmed that, in twenty years (five years from the present time)1, France by its inferior birthrate will find itself forever prevented from regaining its rank in the world.
This series will continue next month with “Traditional families (1)”.
1. Translator’s note: Writing in 1905.
2. During the nineteenth century, the population of Europe more than doubled, increasing by 118%. This progression can be represented thus:
In 1899 180,000,000
Around 1825 220,000,000
In 1850 270,000,000
Around 1875 320,000,000
In 1900 393,000,000
If one compares the increase of the population in the principal European states over one century, from 1801 to 1901, we find that England has gone from 15,700,000 inhabitants to 41,500,000 — that is to say that its population has almost tripled; Germany has gone from 24,000,000 (in 1815) to 56,300,000. Italy also has doubled — from 17,200,000 to 33 million; Spain has gone from 10,500,000 to 18,000,000 and Austria-Hungary from 30,000,000 (in 1836) to 45,300,000.
As for Russia, its first official census dates only from the middle of the last century. It supposes a population of 67,700,000. This population figures 115,500,000 today. And during the same period, France has increased by one third, from 26,300,000 to 38,961,942 (present figure [c. 1905]).
In the last 50 years, Russia has increased by 81%, Denmark by 79%, the Netherlands by 68%, Germany by 59%, Belgium by 56%, England by 52%, Austria by 49%, Italy by 36%, Spain by 21%. France comes in last place with only 14%.
The French population, which at the end of the reign of Louis XIV represented 33% of the total population of the three great European powers, represents only 13% of the population the six great continental powers today.
In France, the mean annual birthrate in the five-year period from 1896–1900 was 13 per 10,000 inhabitants. The birthrate increased to 108 in Sweden, 109 in Belgium, 110 in Italy, 115 in Hungary, 116 in Austria and Great Britain, 147 in Germany and 150 in Holland.
Also, in population, we only rank fifth among the nations of Europe.
A chart published by the Réforme sociale gives the number of children per French family. This chart notes that there are 2,638,752 French families which have only one child; that is to say 24.33% — a little less than a quarter of the total number of families.
We are perishing because of our laws, because of our morals, because of our government; we are perishing, one must say, because we have lost the true conditions of life, because we forsake the precepts and practices of religion more and more, because more and more we separate ourselves from God.
This series will continue next month with “Traditional Families (1)”.