The reform must begin with the reconstruction of the family (1)
By Mgr Henri Delassus | 26 October 2022
This is the seventh in a series of twenty-one articles, drawn from Mgr Delassus’s two-volume work, The Problem of the Present Time: Antagonism of two civilisations (1905), in which he examines the conditions for the restoration of Christian society and the return to social truth. The section of this work that is translated for this series considers the role of the family as the origin and model of all society and the disastrous effects of human tampering with this institution so manifestly wanted by God and nature.
The first part of this series, entitled “How states are formed”, appeared in the Digest in April 2022.
“It is neither the victories of men of war, nor the successes of diplomats, nor even the conceptions of statesmen which conserve the prosperity and grandeur of nations — and which, above all, can restore them when they are lost — it is the power of their moral virtues.”
This conviction, formed in the mind of Frantz Funck-Brentano by extensive study of various civilisations, is the conclusion of his book, La Civilisation et ses Lois.
It is a dangerous illusion to think that a man — even a man of genius — could, one day or the next, get us out of the situation in which we find ourselves and return France to its former grandeur; the fall is too great and goes back too far, beginning several centuries ago. Such a man could only bring us to our feet and put us back on the path; and there is no path to salvation other than the moral and social virtues that we see at the origin of all societies — which give birth to them and then make them prosper by concord and mutual help.
Again, it cannot suffice to obtain from individuals, as innumerable as they are, the practice of these virtues; it is necessary to incorporate them into institutions. Personal virtues end with the men who practice them. Nations are permanent beings. If they have the virtues as their support and foundation, they will be perpetual; and they can only find this perpetuity in stable institutions.
The first of these institutions — the most fundamental, which is of divine origin — is the family. The family, we have said, is the organic cell of the social body. It is in the family that the home of the moral and social virtues are found; it is from the family that we have seen everything radiate and penetrate all the social organs, and the state itself, with their power. It was just so among all the peoples who reached civilisation.
The family no longer exists in France. This affirmation might surprise, but only astonishes those who, seeing our country in its present state, have never had the idea of what it was before and of what it will be.
Previously, the French family, like the family of ancient society, constituted a dense and consistent whole, which governed itself with total independence in relation to the state, under the absolute authority of its natural head, the father, and by means of traditions and customs handed down by its ancestors.
Today, the family has reached the point of such dependence on the state that the father no longer has the liberty to raise his children as his conscience and the traditions of his family tell him. The state takes over, with the legally sanctioned will to make of his children a people without God and consequently without morals. And fathers of families have so lost the feeling of who they are that they let this happen!
This is because, in France, we no longer have the idea of family that we used to have — the idea that all peoples who lived and prospered have had. We now see it only in terms of the present generation; and in our thinking — and even in reality — this no longer forms a consistent and unified whole with preceding and subsequent generations, which once traversed the ages in its living unity.
In one of the conferences which he gave at the Oratory, Mgr Isoard spoke well when he said:
“The life of the individual is a whole, but analysis discovers to us three elements of it; the diverse forces of three distinct times. The man has already lived in other existences: he has the feeling of having lived in his grandfather and in his great grandfather. What they have thought, he finds again in himself. The lives of his ancestors are the beginning of his own. This is the first stage.
“The second — the present, individual life — is like a blossoming of the first: I continue the work of my great grandfather, I add to his thinking; I do what I desire to do, I prolong his action in this world. I will live long on this earth, where I have already spent so many years of childhood in my ancestors, of adolescence in my father, and of maturity in my own existence!
“But it is the third life which he loves, which he regards incessantly: he will live in his son, in his grandson, in his great grandson. His great grandfather perceived him from afar, in the mists, when he worked, conserved and stored up; and he looked ahead at him from there: he thought, desired and built for his great grandchild, for those who are the base, so far-off in the limits of the horizon.
“And in this way, every man living the spirit of tradition in a time or reign is a point between a number of generations. He lives in them. He has this feeling that he prepared his own life in those which preceded it, that he will continue to live a long time in those which will come after him.”
Then Mgr Isoard went on to relate a conversation which he had overheard the month before between a lordand his farmer, who said to him, “Last December, it was 347 years that we’ve been with your lordship” and the other responded “As for us, we were here before you. I don’t know how long precisely; I only know that it’s more than 600 years.” Mgr Isoard then remarked:
“Here are two men in whom one of the most profound and powerful sentiments of man has not yet been squeezed and distorted. It is this sentiment which makes up the spirit of tradition — the spirit which can be thwarted in its expansion, the effort of which one can break for a moment, but which is indestructible, because man is made for life.”
The state established by the Revolution, which has taken independence away from the French family, has also made laws to take away this cohesion and permanence.1
Among the numerous sophisms about the pretended native bounty of man, made by the doctor of the revolutionary state and evangelist of modern society, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, we find this:
“Children do not remain bound to their father any longer than they have need of him to keep themselves. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. Children are absolved of the obedience which they owe to their father; the father is absolved from the cares which he owes to his children; each are equally restored to their independence; if they continue to remain united, it is no longer natural but voluntary, and the family maintains itself only by convention.”2
These words relegate man to the level of animals. There, in effect, the bond is dissolved when there is no more need of it. The Revolution which, by its laws, wanted to bring in all the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, did not fail to take hold of this one and of the law of divorce. Though abolished in the Restoration, this anti-family law has been promulgated anew by the present Republic. It goes even further than that which laid down its principle in the eighteenth century, since, by it, family ties can be cut while the child is still at the breast.3
The Restoration, which delayed the law of divorce, only did half the job. It allowed the substitution of civil marriage — another revolutionary invention — of which the goal was to remove from marriage its divine sanction; in effect, to remove the cohesion given to the family by the bonds sealed by God Himself.
To achieve the disorganisation of the family, the civil code prescribed equal share among the children (including “natural children”) of movable and immovable property left by the father upon his death.4 Later, we will show the disastrous effects of this law, for the state as well as for the family; but we must first observe that, because of the conjunction of this law with those of divorce and civil marriage, the French family no longer has, nor can it have, the permanence which it once did through previous centuries. This permanence, however, enters so well into the order wanted by God that one finds it taught in the whole of the Bible.
This series will continue next month with “The reform must begin with the reconstruction of the family (2)”.
- Not only laws, but institutions seem made to contribute to the dislocation of the family! Let us take for example societies of mutual help, which are certainly worthy of encouragement and praise: they share out risk and economies in order to make the weight lighter and increase effectiveness by insurance. But it is individuality which serves as their base, they ignore the family. We have societies of men, societies of women, societies of children even — but the family is not seen as an indissoluble society, a compact whole. They break its cohesion.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The social contract (1762), ch 2.
- When Paul and Victor Margueritte, with their novel, Les deux vies, had just made themselves the apostles of the “expansion of divorce”, Paul Bourget wrote:
“The law of divorce has been made in the name of the rights of the individual against the bond of the family. It inevitably tends more and more to the loosening of this bond until it finishes by breaking it entirely. All the reasons which have been expedient to authorise divorce are just as expedient for its indefinite extension, and I confess that I have never understood what objection the partisans of the individualist principle, which the authors of Les deux vies speak of, have been able to make to the logic of this remarkable story.
“These novelists had the merit not only of incarnating their theories in a strong and moving fable but also of drawing singularly neat conclusions from it. I am persuaded that the essentials of their project will not delay in entering into the civil code and will then, after a very short time, be surpassed; and that this escalation of facility will get worse and worse until the day when the law of divorce will result in that which it truly carries within itself: the substitution of the family with cohabitation.”
4. The bonds of family, such as the code has let them be substituted, are still too close for democracy’s liking. M. Colin, a professor of law in a state university and the spokesman for the project of the law on the retirement of workers, thinks that the hour has come to give the constitution of the family another stroke of the axe, as he says in his report:
“As for the preoccupation of maintaining bonds within the family — a preoccupation which was dominant in our old law, and of which the redactors of the civil code have perhaps not been able to free themselves — it is evident that it can no longer have any weight in the legislation of a society in which the triumph of democratic ideas is no longer open to discussion …”
After considerations of the moral — or rather immoral — order, M. Colin comes to the practical conclusions of his project, which are:
“1. The suppression of collateral inheritance starting from the fourth degree.
“2. The reduction of rights of the surviving spouse to half the estate of the departed, the other half returning to the state.
“3. The prohibition of all devolution of the paternal to the maternal line and vice versa, in estates deferred to ascendants and collaterals …”
In this way, the civil code, which has already uprooted the French family, cannot accomplish its work of destruction quickly enough.