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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


April 4th, 1999.

"The Family Unit & The Extended Order."

"To love the little platoon we belong to in society ... is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind ..." (Burke.)

"The path of duty lies in what is near, and man seeks for it in what is remote." (The Chinese sage, Mencius, 372-289 BC.)

We think of the term, family, as a blood related group, not too broad but possibly consisting of three generations: grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters and the children of them all. The image we have of a family is today but a shrunken group. In times past, and, not too long ago, it had a broader meaning, as the OED defines, "the servants of a house or establishment; the household. ... The body of persons who live in one house or under one head, including parents, children, servants, etc." In Roman antiquity family members, indeed, need not have been related by blood, at all; it was a troop or a school of gladiators.

The rights and attaching obligations of family members are set by the family structure, itself. They are determined by culture and learnt by tradition. The laws of ancients were founded upon certain of these principles and are ingrained in the law which guides us in the larger, impersonal structure made up of the personal family units of which the whole consists; these laws have been handed down to us pretty much in tact, though we have done much to wreck them in the last half of the 20th century.

It is within the family unit that we learn at a formative stage of our life the reasons for law and the importance that one must attach to its continuing support and respect. The family is the true palladium of civilization and it ought to be carefully preserved. As Jung has more fully developed in his Theory of Psychoanalysis: the little world of childhood with its familiar surroundings is a model of the greater world. The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more he or she will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life. Naturally this is not a conscious, intellectual process.

There are two basic elements in society, ancient or modern: one is the economic system, the other the family system. The natural rules in these two systems are different. The family system deals with the innate or instinctual feelings of the "micro-order." As I have already stated, it is not formal laws which govern those in a particular family system, but rather tradition, viz., evolved rules for living. Thus there is a difference between people who live in society and people who live in the family. The government of a family, in keeping with the criminal law of the country, is a self- or family-government. It is a system that is structured and maintained by the family which stands alone as a political unit. Beyond the family system, or "micro-order" there is a system governing larger sub-groups, a system extending to society as a whole, one of collaboration. As this "macro-order" evolved, so too did rules of conduct spontaneously evolve to assist in the formation of these self-organizing structures; rules as may be found in our "institutions, moral systems, and traditions." (For a development of the workings of this extended order I refer the reader to F. A. Hayek's, The Fatal Conceit.) "The extended order arises out of a competitive process in which success decides, not approval of a great mind, a committee, or a god, or conformity with some understood principle of individual merit." (P. 137.) These extended orders are "so extended as to transcend the comprehension and possible guidance of any single mind." In Mises's words, a plan to create such an extended structure would be "grandiose, ambitious, magnificent, daring", and, I might add, impossible. Man can no more create a workable economy then create a rose.

There is only one way by which we might extend human cooperation beyond the family system; it will not come about simply because we in "society" share the same purposes, - though unquestionably we do. (The word "society" gives one the impression of a large cooperative group; it presupposes or implies that the group is engaged in "a common pursuit of shared purposes that usually can be achieved only by conscious collaboration." The word is derived from the Latin societas, meaning an interconnection of one individual with another or others, it is where one personally knows another. Now the plain fact is, in this life, there is not too many other individuals that any one of us personally knows.) Is it possible to get people, beyond normal family relationships, to cooperate with one and another outside the workings of the market? It is not, - though, God knows, we have tried for generations to do so. Thankfully, though few, it seems, there are those who have come to the realization, we do not have to get people, - short of obeying the criminal law - to do anything. There is in place a natural engine which drives people to choose for themselves the exact nature and extent of their own contributions to the extended economic order, and to choose for themselves the exact nature and extent of their allocations from the extended economic order. This engine is egocentric; it drives each of us to cooperate with one other, for our own self-interest, and, as it happens, quite naturally, in the interests of the larger order of things.

"... it is one of the necessary conditions of the extension of human cooperation beyond the limits of individual awareness that the range of such pursuits be increasingly governed not by shared purposes but by abstract rules of conduct whose observance brings it about that we more and more serve the needs of people whom we do not know and find our own needs similarly satisfied by unknown persons. (Hayek, op. cit., p. 112.)

The fatal error that is embedded in the one way system by which any member of the state claims, by coercive legislation, a "right" to life's goods, without the necessity of anything to be returned in exchange, is, that it diminishes the sentiment that family members have for one and other which arises spontaneously and naturally because of the interdependence that family members have on one and other. When the citizens, the voters, look to the impersonal state for help, the centre of gravity in the moral world shifts from responsible family members to the collective, then, slowly but surely, what is undermined are the foundations of national life by the deterioration of the unit, we know as the family.

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Peter Landry

April, 1999 (2011)