Published Humanitas, Volume XXII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2009

In April 2009, Dr. James Dobson stepped down as head of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family with a pessimistic message about his years in the “culture wars.” “We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict,” he declared. “Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”1 Dobson’s words were widely taken as an admission of defeat. His statement highlighted a trend that now seems inexorable: In the Western World the traditional family continues to unravel, and its defenders are increasingly giving way to resignation and despair.

Yet an historical perspective reveals that the conflict over the family may only be beginning and that we may be on the verge of a wider confrontation that will decide not only the survival of the family but fundamental questions about the scope and nature of the modern state.

At first glance, it appears that history may not be on the side of the family. Today’s crisis originated well before the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s. A sobering perspective on how family decline undermines our civilization may be gained from realizing how limited awareness has been of the nature and dimensions of the decline over decades and even centuries and from realizing how today’s awakening—still partial at best—comes at the eleventh hour.

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