The Family Is the Soul of Both Society and the State
Families in the past founded dynasties of jewellers, artisans, professors, magistrates, artists, intellectuals, etc that lasted for generations and even centuries. “Family Workshop”, J.B. Reiter (Private Collection)
Just as the family produces a profound interrelationship among souls that gives it a magnificent organicity, it also tends to overflow its own boundaries and project its influence onto several fields of human activity.
What fields of activity are these? It is normal for relatives to have affinities and, therefore, to have similar professions. This being the case, it is also normal for them to have mutual business deals. It is also normal that the family, in many cases, together become a unit of economic production within one or during several epochs.
As Frantz Funck-Brentano develops very well in his book The Old Regime in France, families in the past founded dynasties that lasted for generations and even centuries. Do not think I am talking about dynasties of kings, nobles, and ministers. I speak of dynasties of jewellers, artisans, professors, magistrates, artists, intellectuals, etc. These dynasties were a powerful aid in the development of European life before the French Revolution, and continued after the French Revolution in several areas. This family-oriented social fabric was a result of the personality of the family.
Funck-Brentano cites a very illustrative case of Maître Pinon, a woodcutter who lived during the reign of King Louis XIV of France (“Maître” was the title given to the elected head of an extended family community before the French Revolution).
The Pinon family had been woodcutters since the time of Charlemagne and they could prove it. So, when Maître Pinon had reached an advanced age, let us say 80 years old as I cannot remember the exact age, the king of France, through a special envoy, sent him some silver buckles, insignias, and a multi-coloured sash to be used on days of ceremony of the guild to which he belonged. The king also sent him an offer of the title of baron, as such a long and continuous fidelity to a trade had inspired the Sun King to elevate this man to the nobility.
Maître Pinon gave this most interesting response: “Tell His Majesty that I thank him from the bottom of my heart, but I prefer to be the first woodcutter of France than to be the last of its barons.”
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Similar family lineages also exit in Britain today. One such example is in Wiltshire, where a Maurice has been the local general practitioner since 1792, when Dr. Thelwall Maurice first set up practice in the market town of Marlborough. Succeeding generations of Maurices had cared for generations of the same families ever since—until the current Maurice, that is. Although recently qualified as a hospital doctor, he will not follow his father into the family practice. After 217 years, this will bring to an end Britain’s longest serving dynasty of GPs.
At the Town Level
Let us now go up one level to see how towns were formed. These towns very frequently would be expressed as groups of families linked to other groups of families that constituted a small town of families of families.
One could object: “Here you go again talking about small towns. Can nothing be done with large towns and cities?”
My answer is that I am middle-aged, but still knew the days when São Paulo was a big city and not the Babel it is today. The city was divided into spontaneous neighbourhoods that were organically structured. I consider this modern-day division of rich and poor neighbourhoods anti-natural. Everyone lived together fraternally.
For example, in my neighbourhood the upper class, middle class, and lower class had houses side by side. It formed a small town within the city. Great or small, all helped one another from family to family. There was such intimacy that one could as if say that the neighbourhood was a big family. It was a big family in a city that was already big.
It was very interesting to note how the force of attraction of the neighbourhood was so great that when people would go to the city centre, it was like a small expedition. Stores from the city centre would even offer to send samples of cloth, shoes, etc., to be shown at people’s homes so that they would not have to be torn from their neighbourhood.
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In Britain, “Often several families of Anglo-Saxons, related to each other or under the leadership of an adventurous chieftain, seem to have migrated to England and settled down in a village which they built for their clan or family. This explains how a great number of villages in England received their names.
“For instance, there are innumerable place-names which end with the syllable “-ham” which meant “home”. The suffix “-ing” meant “descendants from or dependants on” a certain man. Thus Birmingham is derived from the “home of Beorma’s people” so that this city of over one million people began as a small village built by Beorma’s family or some dependants who regarded him as their chieftain.” 7
Similarly in France, “The city of Paris was built up by the juxtaposition of a certain number of fortified residences, each one of which was the seat of a lord, and the latter issued from the family through the intermediary of the mesnie”.8
At the Regional Level
Going up another level, this family life that formed cities also formed regions. There are many places where this pyramid structure of families formed a region dominated by the influence of a certain family. A famous French sociologist, when asked what he thought a region was, responded, “The only possible definition of a region is a zone dominated by the influence of a great family.” Today a region is a train line or a bus route. In those days, a region was the cohesive strength of a great family.
“The Viennese Ball” (1904), Wilhelm Gause. Historischen Museum, Vienna
At the State Level
If a family can dominate a region, a town, and a profession, then no matter what the form of government may be, it will be influenced by families. This influence comes from below and moves upwards, penetrating in thousands of ways the organism of the State.
Having penetrated the organism of the State and instilling it with its vitality, it actually inspires the State. The family is vital force guiding the State. It is a vital force of convictions that limits the action of the State. Those directing the State are also part of families. They are part of this bubbling life, and they know they cannot change the direction of the State, because they are rooted in a society that is not a society of mere individuals—it is not a doxocratic society—but is a society with a defined life and tradition that function in the same way that the strong undercurrent of a river will certainly influence the course of the ship that navigates upon it.
Does the head of State actually set the course of a country? He certainly does, as he holds the reins of power, but he sets the course as does a captain of a ship who is navigating a winding river. He sets the course according to the currents and banks of the river. In this way, a State acquires stability, continuity, and coherence. In this way, the life of the family penetrates the State from top to bottom and gives it a solidity that is difficult for us to imagine, considering today’s anti-organic societies.
Of course, I need not say that family life conceived in this way has its inconveniences. Everything in this life has its inconveniences. To avoid the family life that I have described because of inconveniences, however, is more or less like a person reasoning as follows: “Many people have died from cancer of the arm, therefore we should cut off our arms so we do not get cancer.” This is nonsense. Since we need to live, we must see how to avoid the inconveniences.
So what are the inconveniences? The greatest, in my view, comes from the lack of a virtue called Love of God. When this virtue is lacking, aseity, instead of being a generous movement through which a person affirms himself and communicates something, rather becomes egotistical and invasive, as the person affirms himself in order to keep everything for himself.
I expand my personality at the expense of another who must be like me. If he is different, then I will smash him, because I want him only to be like me and to serve my interests. I will use my prestige, influence, tradition, dynamism, and especially my money to impose myself. Everyone will have to do what I want because that is what is best for me. What is best for me is to have as much as I can with as much power as possible. I want everyone to acknowledge the greatness of my person.
This may be more or less explicit, or to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the case, but gradually an erosion of the morals of a person or a family can take place. In this event, we will have a family that becomes an oligarchy. An oligarchic family is one that is closed to new values. It is a family that will never consent to another family, a newcomer, ignoring any justly earned merit and personal value, sitting next to it and participating in its influence and power.
It is a refusal of the idea that an exceptional individual, possibly from a lower class, could rise to the level of an individual of a higher class. This establishes a regime of castes such as in India, for example. It is something that is entirely closed and from which nothing enters or leaves and remains intact for centuries.
A family organisation, as I have described, could be compared to the waters of pool that are discreetly renewed so as to avoid stagnation. It is certainly not the revolted torrent of the nouveau riche, of the adventurers, or things done off the cuff. Nor am I speaking of a stagnation that refuses all new values. I am speaking of the family which, with all naturality and unabashedness, accepts new values without any fear because it is convinced that one of its greatest strengths is the strength of agglutination. That which does not have the strength of agglutination does not live.
A young man from a poor family triumphantly shows his diploma to his patroness. F. Georg Waldmüller (1861). Belvedere Art Collections, Vienna, Austria
Furthermore, this organisation of the family thus conceived evidently avoids certain types of families becoming like prisons to its members by not admitting exceptions. Any family that is a living organism easily deals with exceptions. It does not fear exceptions. If someone wants to follow another profession, if someone wants to emigrate from the family circle to another locality, he is free to do so and it is granted with goodwill. It will, however, be considered a somewhat rare exception, or even somewhat frequent, depending on those unforeseeable events that are part of everything that lives.
Such a family organisation, of course, fits with any form of government: monarchic, aristocratic, democratic, or even a mixture in varying degrees of these three forms of government. Reason tells us that the family is not incompatible with a form of government. Historical experience shows us, just to cite the Middle Ages as an example, how there were strong family-based cities living side by side that were democratic, aristocratic, and others yet with monarchic tendencies. Of course, there were the great monarchies based on the family. Therefore, this has nothing to do with forms of government.
In sum, we have seen what is a society with true life; what is a society based on families; what is this force flowing from the depths of the individual up through the high echelons of the State and even reaching the broad horizons of Public Opinion itself and that mould a type of society that we today find it difficult to imagine.
However, if we have a society without aseity or personality, without a warm and bubbling family life, we have, in fact, a society directed from without. In other words, we have a mass. Because the raw material of this society that is the family has been weakened, it will necessarily have to allow itself to be directed and have ever increasing recourse to the State, for only the State will have the strength and means to impose, direct, and guide.
What is the result? The State will become increasingly intrusive into private life as well as increasingly overbearing. The end of the process is totalitarianism.
7) Wilfred J. Moore, Britain in the Middle Ages, G. Bell and Sons, Ltd, London, 1954, p. 23.
8) Frantz Funck-Brentano, The Old Regime in France, translated by Herbert Wilson, Edward Arnold & Co., London, 1929, pp. 291-292.