Praxis Circle interviews cover a wide variety of worldview topics, ranging from politics, philosophy, religion, and beyond. In under a few minutes, our Contributors will provide a balanced overview of the importance of the nuclear family to society using featured clips and corresponding transcripts below. As a disclaimer, these clips express the momentary thoughts of our Contributors only. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Praxis Circle, and they are intended merely to offer food for thought.


Why are nuclear families important? What role does the family play in society?



Michael Novak:


The family used to be called the health and humans … No, HEW, health, education, and welfare. If the family breaks down, you need lots of HEW. It needs to get bigger and bigger. And if the family is healthy, you don’t need much of it. It’s the only HEW that really works. And so the family is so crucial to hold a society together, to ennoble it with its own ideals, and to give people the moral capacities to execute the original covenant in the Constitution itself and the free society and the limited government. If you have children who have internal policemen in them, they don’t need a big government. So, the family is so vital and it’s a shame that we’ve lost all control of it and it’s disintegrating before our eyes, generation by generation, or worse.

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Deirdre McCloskey:


Well it’s the basis of every human society west, east, north, and south and to act as though love doesn’t figure in these mammals called human beings is crazy.


What’s unusual about mammals is they raise their young, as do birds by the way, the descendants of the dinosaurs, but reptiles and fish don’t. So, what’s strange about us is that. And then in humans it’s particularly elaborated and full and it can’t be that we can have an economics that works very well if we don’t acknowledge love. Yet most men, most male economists, and most economists are male, want to… Well, as a famous economist said once, “Economics is the theory that economizes on love,” that you don’t need love to make an economy work. Well, I don’t think that’s true. I think these virtues, love, and faith, and hope, justice, temperance, courage, and prudence all work together in an economy.

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Doug Monroe:


Is family a foundation of civilization, are there alternatives and the role of respecting your elders? Obviously you honor that. And I think it’s important personally.


Khizr Khan:


Yeah. For me, family is the foundation of every human being. We are born as humans. We are born to a family. It could be just the mother, a single mother gives birth to a child and the family is formed. So, to not have the utmost respect and dignity for the person that gave you birth, carried you for nine months prior to birth, is negation of the self. And that extends then to father and then extended family and all this. To me, it has been the foundation. And yes, you’re right, that we are youth-centric society. There’s nothing wrong with being youth-centric. It’s an acknowledgement of the vigor and it’s an acknowledgement of the forward block of this humanity moving in that direction because of the strength and the power of ideas, mind, and physical being. But I must share, I have observed very quietly the importance of the family during these difficult times of COVID-19. I have had the unfortunate occasion of seeing two close family friends pass away.


The very last moment, their desire and their wish and their utmost begging was, “Can I see my family?” It’s deep down in every person’s heart and soul to have that connection of family. Some of us are fortunate to have it realized. Some fail to understand in the last few moments of life, years, or months, or days or hours, we care. You must have seen in the media, you must have seen in the newspapers and television, when one member of the family is ill and sick on deathbed and is secluded, is extending the hand towards the family, that speaks volume of this human nature, human desire, human need for family. Extending the hand through the glass, cannot touch them, through the glass they’re touching one another. This defines the place of family. Family doesn’t mean like my extended family, family could be just the child and the parent, child or the mother, child or the father or siblings, whoever is part of that connection, human connection.


So it is human nature and youth-centric is wonderful. I always think of when we call ourselves youth-centric, that when the difficulty descends on us, we run to our parents and we seek shelter with them, or in their home, or with them. This is a very basic human need or human instinct to have family that has raised us, given us the strength when we could not help ourselves, and to be grateful for that moment of life.


Some of us are appreciative of that and some don’t much care for that. But it is human desire, human nature, and being attracted to youth is, again, it’s built in us. As every human being is more active, stronger, more beautiful during the youthful years. So there is nothing wrong with that being, but when you begin to be youth-centric at the cost of not being respectful to elders as well, they have done their part, they have moved on coming back to the same humanity moving forward. Some of us are ahead and some of us are following, but we all have same and equal dignity and we must keep that in mind, in family relation as well that elders have same dignity and same respect. And in fact, we should show our gratitude. If we do not have elders ourselves, to other elders, we show the gratitude for doing their part, for paving the path for us to move forward.

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Ross Mackenzie:


Well, it is the basis of civilization, no question. Where we are now in the growth of the welfare state… So, the family is built on the concept, one concept, of responsibility, taking care of yourself or yourselves, your family. As we grow older, we either continue to take care of ourself and our new families that we create as we go along, or we give up that responsibility. I think that what’s happened as we become less dependent on ourselves and more dependent on something else, being the government, I think we are losing a great deal.


Now, whether we’re going to ultimately come to the ultimate commune where the government oversees the entire population, that’s a different question. Where we are now is I think we’re seeing the destruction of the family. The removal of the father, so often from the family scene, tears up our children, tears up our families, it tears up our culture. I just think that it is a great indicator of change on the cultural landscape that is not beneficial to us as a country, us as a people, us as a culture itself.

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Why is it important to define “family”?



Doug Monroe:


I know it mattered to me. And we’ve interviewed a number of sociologists, religion people, people in the social sciences. There’s virtually no debate, although they would be a lot more libertarian in their views toward defining marriage, probably. There’s no debate that family is the center of civilization in virtually every civilization that has ever existed. And it always tends to center around a mom and a dad. Occasionally you’ll have polygamy. So if we go way down that road, whether you’re for or against it, it’s by definition a vast social experiment that has never been tried in the history of people, really. Maybe you’d go back to ancient times where anything was going. So what would you say, just staccato, are sort of the big picture trends concerning families in the US, Virginia since the ’90s, for those people that aren’t familiar with them?


Victoria Cobb:


Yeah. I mean, there’s a number of things going on, and I want to be clear that just because the ideal is the nuclear family, that’s not to say we stigmatize children who don’t have that advantage, right? So we want to be really upfront to say not everybody gets that experience. But what we’re doing right now, this grand social experiment, is that we’re saying, “Let’s intentionally create places where people are deprived of a mom or dad.” That’s very different than scenarios that we find ourselves in naturally. And so that’s the challenge that we’re in right now. And the trend is not just in that area, but also in the area of cohabitation. And this is very real. People don’t realize. So there are so many people now choosing to live together and then maybe even have children, but not make the permanent commitment of marriage, not make that statement of, “This is for the long haul. This is the commitment.”


And people might think, “Oh, this looks fundamentally similar.” That’s not what the outcomes are saying. Cohabitation by stats, but not by my opinion, is saying there is more likelihood for conflict, more likelihood for actual physical abuse, less likelihood that this is actually going to end in a permanent relationship, right? So it’s more likely to end than marriage. And so for children, that’s just not as stable of an environment, really, for women or children. This is something that is a trend that people don’t want to talk about. They don’t want to make it sound like there’s a problem with it, but the data is bearing out saying, “This is not the same as marriage. This is not functionally creating that foundational bedrock that society rests on.”


And why do we say society rests on it? Because we’re going to pay the cost of the fallout of someone not having a stable home environment growing up. We know that. We know that in our prison system. We know that over and over. Welfare. The likelihood someone will end in poverty, will live life in poverty is greatly affected by whether they experience that ability to have that nuclear family, including that lifetime commitment of marriage.


The other thing that’s very concerning that connects to this, that is a trend, is that we’re now sort of redefining parenting, and that has real impact. So the Virginia legislature this year changed who can become a parent. And they are probably not the only state. But now, if you have a legitimate interest in child, you are open to becoming a parent. Well, how is that different from before? Well, that’s not saying I want to adopt a child. So a single individual has a child and ends up in a marriage or has someone else, and that person adopts the child, makes that permanent legal commitment to that child. That’s not what that’s saying. That’s always been allowed. What it’s saying is we can have the live-in boyfriend and they can be considered a parent for custody and all sorts of other things down the road even though we haven’t gone through an adoption process.


The danger to children that exists in redefining parenthood is astronomical. And we have not yet even begun to experience… And of course, that comes into play in same-sex relationships, but it is not really a problem specific with same-sex relationships. It is this idea that we are not taking commitments seriously, and that is what harms children.

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Is marriage necessary in forming strong families?



Ashley McGuire:


Yeah. So marriage, I think even setting aside the debate about that we’re kind of still currently having in society about, is marriage even between one man and one woman? I think we have to go back even farther. And this again is where I appreciate what the consistency of Catholic church teaching on this is that it’s permanent, that it is a sacrament, covenantal sacrament, that two people willingly enter with each other, freely, with the understanding that it’s permanent and with the understanding that it’s open to life and just even those three pillars are sort of not understood by the culture and I’ve written about no-fault divorce, and the fact that it’s, in many cases, harder to get out of a cell phone contract than it is a marriage. The need to rethink marriage in the family too, in terms of the rights of children, I think that is essential work that needs to be done. And there’s just such a huge body of evidence that shows how important marriage and the family are to children and, well to society, but we just have to rethink all of this in terms of the family, not just the two people who enter it and this idea that it’s like a contract that you can just walk away from. Especially unilateral, no-fault divorce. I just think in what society is it right that somebody can just walk away and abandon a family that they help to create against their will.


So, I have sort of strong opinions about that because I think it’s a matter of justice. It’s a matter of justice for the other person in the marriage, but also for children. So I guess that’s a long winded way of saying that I think marriage, the family is the essential cell of society or the little platoon as Edminberg called it. And that strong marriages and strong families are what build up a strong culture. And if we want to understand what’s happening with our culture and Mary Eberstadt, I think has written about this in a more sort of coherent way than anybody I know of, then we have to go back and look at what’s happened to marriage in the family. And it started long before people started talking about marriage being between something other than a man and a woman.

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Mary Eberstadt:


Well, from the sixties onward, there’s been a lot of dumping on the idea of the traditional family, traditional religion, all of that. I mean, that’s no surprise. Poor Ozzie and Harriet have been knocked around the block so many times that they must be having concussions by now, but there’s a sad side to all of that, which is okay, go ahead and make fun of the together nuclear or extended family. Nowadays, there are millions of people who would give anything to be in one. Again, getting back to the idea that something about the way we live now puts the heaviest burden on the smallest shoulders. I think we see that all the time and sociologists who want to have non-traditional families, who are cheerleading for non-traditional families, for maximum freedom of family breakup, et cetera, those sociologists are not looking at the world from the point of view of a seven-year-old, who is being asked, “Is your daddy home?” It’s heart rendering, but it’s true. And in saying that nobody’s trying to guilt trip anybody, but the whole revisionist idea from the 1960s onward, that everything about the 1950s and traditional arrangements was somehow toxic does not hold up if you look at those arrangements from the point of view of the smallest and most vulnerable among us.

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For more Praxis Circle content on the importance of family:

Marxist Family Values

The Fury of the Fatherless

Patriarchy, It’s a Given?