December 23, 2004

A few weeks ago, I started a new page on my web site titled "Using 'Family' as an Adjective." It's devoted to examining the arguments of those who claim to care more about the well-being of families than ordinary people and to place beliefs they call "family values" at the center of their existence.

I knew there were many organizations for promoting these sentiments, but since I started making them one of my daily interests, I've been astounded to discover how many there are. But, I've been equally surprised to find how little they have to say. They have a limited number of messages which they repeat over and over again. The quality and quantity of their analysis is sparse and it's always based on the proposition that regardless of the issue we face, the way to respond to it is to apply a simple and generally abstract principle.

With regard to American relations with the rest of the world, the operative principle is patriotism. If we will all be patriotic and support our country, everything will be okay. There seems to be no question about how we should support our country. Other people, like the president, who presumably have more complete knowledge than we do, will take care of that. We just need to get in line and be patriotic. That's the family values things to do.

The family values folk continually set themselves up as defenders of American tradition. But they appear to have slight knowledge of the history of the nation, and even less knowledge of the nature of the Constitution. In fact, constitutional principles don't often manifest themselves in the family values agenda. These promoters of patriotism are unaware that the men who gathered in Philadelphia over the summer of 1787 were wary of the dangers of unexamined nationalism and wanted to create a government that would protect individuals against nationalistic power. The so-called founding fathers were not worshippers of any nation, including their own. That's why they were careful to construct a political system to provide for checks on every center of governmental authority. It is inconceivable to imagine anyone from the Constitutional Convention posting a sign on his carriage which read, "Support Our Troops!" We can well imagine that James Madison, or Benjamin Franklin, upon seeing such a sign, would have immediately asked, "Support them to do what?"

The patriotism that the promoters of family values want us to honor is an unexamined loyalty to a tribal nationalism. It says only that we're right because we are who we are. All other people are inferior to us because they are not us. This is the ancient, bloody prejudice that has led to the slaughter of hundreds of millions of people down the ages. Why it's good for families to promote a system which provides for the ongoing mutilation of millions of children all round the world is a notion I can't get straight in my head.

©John R. Turner

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