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Family In Social Organization

( Originally Published 1915 )

INSTEAD of, continuing the study of social evolution in general it will be best now, before we take up some of the problems of modern society, to study the evolution of some important social institution, because in so doing we can see more clearly the working of the biological and psychological forces which have brought about the evolution of human institutions. An institution, as has already been said, is a sanctioned grouping or relation in society. Now, there can be scarcely any doubt that the two most important institutions of human society are the family and property. In Western civilization these take the form of the monogamic family and of private property. It is upon these two institutions that our civilization rests. The state is a third very important institution in society, but it exists largely for the sake of protecting the family and property.

Of the two institutions, the family and property, the family is without doubt prior in time and more fundamental, more important in human association. We shall, therefore, study very briefly the origin and development of the family as a human institution in order to illustrate some of the principles of social evolution in general. But before we can take up the question of the origin of the family it will be well for us to see just what the function of this institution is in the human society of the present, in order to justify the assertion just made that it is the most important and fundamental institution of humanity.

The Family the Primary Social Institution. Let us note first of all that in society, as it exists at present, the family is the simplest group capable of maintaining itself. It is, therefore, we may say, the primary social structure. Because it contains both sexes and all ages it is capable of reproducing itself, and so of reproducing society. For the same reason it contains practically all social relations in miniature. It has therefore often been called, and rightly, " the social microcosm". The relations of superiority, subordination, and equality, which enter so largely into the structure of all social institutions, are especially clearly illustrated in the family in the relations of parents to children, of children to parents, of parents to each other, and of children to one another. Comte, for this reason, claimed that the family was the unit of social organization, not the individual. However this may be, it is evident that families do enter, as units, very largely into our social and industrial life. While the tendency may be to make the individual the unit of modern society, it is nevertheless true that the family remains the simplest social structure in society, and from it, in some sense, all other social relations whatsoever are evolved.

The Family Differs from All Other Social Institutions, however, in two respects: First, its members have their places fixed in the family group by their organic natures, that is, the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, rest upon biological differences and relations, so that one may say that the family is almost as much a biological structure as it is a social structure. This is not, to any extent, true of other institutions. Secondly, the family is not a product, so far as we can see, of other forms of association, but rather it itself produces these other forms of association. The family, in other words, is not a result of social organization in general, but seems rather to antedate both historically and logically the forms of social life. It is not a product of society, but it itself produces society.

The Primary Function of the Family is continuing the life of the species; that is, the primary function of the family is reproduction in the sense of the birth and rearing of children. While other functions of the family have been delegated in a large measure to other social institutions, it is manifest that this function cannot be so delegated. At least we know of no human society in which the birth and rearing of children has not been the essential function of the family. From a sociological point of view the childless family is a failure. While the childless family may be of social utility to the individuals that form it, nevertheless from the point of view of society such a family has failed to perform its most important function and must be considered, therefore, socially a failure.

The Function of the Family in Conserving the Social Order. The family is still the chief institution in society for transmitting from one generation to another social possessions of all sorts. Property in the form of land or houses or personal property, society permits the family to pass along from generation to generation. Thus, also, the material equipment for industry, that is capital, is so transmitted. While it is obvious that the material goods of society are thus transmitted by the family from one generation to another, it is perhaps not quite so obvious, but equally true, that the spiritual possessions of the race are also thus transmitted. For example, language is very largely transmitted in the family, and students tell us that each family has its own peculiar dialect. Literature, ideas, beliefs on government, law, religion, moral standards, artistic tastes and appreciation all of these are still largely transmitted in society from one generation to another through the family. While public institutions, such as libraries, art galleries, universities, scientific museums, and the like, are often adopted to con-serve and transmit these spiritual possessions of the race, yet it is safe to say that if it were possible for society to depend upon these institutions to transmit knowledge, artistic standards, and moral ideals, there would be great discontinuity in social life. The family has been in the past, and is still, the great conserving agency in human society, preserving and transmitting from generation to generation both the material and spiritual possessions of the race.

The Function of the Family in Social "Progress. While the conservative function of the family is very obvious, its function in furthering social progress is perhaps not so obvious. Nevertheless, this is one of the greatest functions of the family life, because the family is the chief or almost sole generator of altruism in human society, and it is upon altruism that society depends for every upward advance in cooperation. It is in the family that children learn to love and obey, to be of service, and to respect one another's rights. The amount of altruism in a given group has a very close relation to the quality of its family life. If the family fails to teach the spirit of service and self-sacrifice to its members, it is hardly probable that they will get very much of that spirit from society at large. The ideal of a human brotherhood has no meaning unless family affection gives it meaning. If the family is the chief generator of altruism in human society and if society depends upon altruism for each forward step in moral progress, then the family is the chief source of social progress.

What we have said is a brief presentation of the claims of the family in modern society to count not only as the primary but also as the most important human institution. The family, it is evident, is charged by society with the most important task, not only of producing the new individuals in society, but of training each individual as he comes on the stage of life, adjusting him to society in all of its aspects, such as industry, government, and religion. If the family fails to perform these important functions the chances are that unsocialized individuals will take important places in society, and this means ultimately social anarchy.

The Family Life may be regarded as a School for Socializing the Individual. We need not trace in detail how the family does this for the child. It is evident that the rudiments of morality, of government, of religion, and even of industry and knowledge, must be learned by the child in the family group. If the child fails, for example, to learn morality, to get moral standards and ideals from his family life, he stands but poor chance of getting them later in society. Again, if the child fails to learn what law is and to get proper ideals of the relation of the citizen to the state in his family life, there are good prospects of his being numbered among the lawless elements of society later. In the family, we repeat, the child first experiences all the essential relations of society, learns the meaning of authority, obedience, loyalty, and all the human virtues. Moreover, the family life furnishes the moral and religious concepts which human society has set before it as its goal. The ideal of human brotherhood, for ex-ample, is manifestly derived from the family life; so also the religious idea of the Divine Fatherhood. If a nation's family life fails to illustrate these concepts, it is safe to say that they will not have great influence in society generally. The nation whose family life decays, therefore, rots at the core, dries up the springs of all social and civic virtues.

The Family and Industry. From what has been said in general terms it is evident that the family has a very important relation to the industrial activities of society, and industry a very important bearing upon the family. Primitively all industry centered in the family. Modern industry, as has been well said, is but an enormous expansion of primitive housekeeping; that is, the preparation of food and clothing and shelter by the primitive family group for its own existence is the germ out of which all modern industry has developed. The very word economics means the science or the art of the household.

In primitive communities and in newly settled districts the family often carries on all essential industrial activities. It produces all the raw material, manufactures the finished products, and consumes the same. But with the growth of complex societies there has come a great industrial division of labor, and the family has delegated industrial activity after activity to some other institution until at the present time the modern family performs scarcely any industrial activities, except the preparation of food for immediate consumption. Even this, however, in modern cities seems about to be delegated to some other institution.

All that need be said at present about the delegation of the industrial activities of the family to other industrial institutions is that the movement is not one which need cause any anxiety so long as it does not interfere with the essential function of the family, namely, the birth and rearing of children. Even though children can no longer learn the rudiments of industry in their home life, still it is possible through manual and industrial training in our public schools to teach all children this. And the removal of industries from the home, even such essential industries as the preparation of food, is to be regarded as a boon if it gives more time to the parents, especially to the mother, for the proper care and bringing up of their children.

But the removal of industries from the family group has not always had the beneficent effect of simply giving more time to the parents for the proper care of their children. On the contrary, the removal of these industries has often been followed by the removal of the parents themselves from the home and the practical disintegration of the family. This has been particularly the case where married women have gone into factories. Under such circumstances children have often been neglected, allowed to grow up on the streets, and to grow up as unsocialized individuals in general. It would seem that the labor of married women outside of the home should be forbidden by the state, except in certain instances, with a view to assuring to the state itself a better citizenship. The labor of children in factories and other industrial institutions has sprung very largely from the same general causes. While child labor may have the merit of giving the child some industrial training, still it has been shown that it dwarfs the child in body and mind, produces a one-sided development, fails to prepare for citizenship in the higher sense, and so must be regarded as altogether an evil. Even the labor of the young unmarried women in factories and shops, when they should be preparing for the duties of wifehood and motherhood, is to some extent an evil in society, though not by any means of the same proportions as the labor of married women.

The Subordination of Industry to the Family Life is necessary, therefore, from a social point of view. Industry, as we have seen, was primitively an adjunct of the family life, and all modern industry, if rightfully developed, should be but an adjunct to the family life. Industrial considerations must be, therefore, subordinate to domestic considerations, that is, to considerations of the welfare of parents and their children in the family group. One trouble with modern society is that industry has come to dominate as an independent interest that oftentimes does not recognize its reasonable and socially necessary subordination to the higher interests of society. There can be no sane and stable family life until we are willing to subordinate the requirements of industry, that is, of wealth-getting, to the requirements of the family for the good birth and proper rearing of children.

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