Family Matters

An Interview with Allan Carlson, President of the Howard Center

Don't be fooled by the Howard Center's name. This is no benign think tank or prosaic political organization. On the contrary, it just might be one of the more radical, dissident institutions in America today. Its primary aim? To protect the "natural family"—defined as "the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature and centered on the voluntary union of a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage"—from those seeking to destroy it via legislation or media influence. The Center's president is Allan Carlson, and he believes that civilization would collapse if the natural family ceased to exist due to governmental meddling and ideological coercion. Hence The Natural Family: A ManifestoCarlson's magnum opus—co-written with Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero—which declares in no uncertain terms what Americans must sacrifice in order to safeguard the natural family and thereby their own cherished freedoms. Here we talk with Carlson about his manifesto, as well as why its defense of the family is such a subversive cultural stance.

The language in The Natural Family is colored by phrases such as "we affirm" and "we will transform," but how can any of us defy the wishes and laws of the Leviathan in this area? Isn't what "Senators Kennedy and Biden affirm" most important?

We have to recognize that the family is something older, more natural, and more innate than government. Yes, the government can persecute and undermine the family in the short term, but in the long run, the family will triumph because it is the more enduring institution. In the manifesto, our assertions and arguments are defined within the context of human nature and our history. Governments come and go, as the Nazis did and as communism basically has, but the family will always be victorious. As G. K. Chesterton argued, the family is the one truly anarchical institution. He used this term in the positive sense: The family existed prior to the state and functions independently of it.

You argue that mass schooling led to a decline in fertility. But wasn't our public-school system put into place before the baby boom of the 1950s?

The assertion in the book comes from the work of demographer John C. Caldwell. Working in Australia, he came to the strong conclusion that mass schooling is one of the major forces behind a decline in societal fertility rates. The public schools separate children from their families, and they transfer moral authority from the family to the state. The state then becomes the architect of a child's future. The Caldwell thesis also shows a close correlation in the United States between public schooling and declining fertility. With the baby boom, there was a brief surge in the birthrate, but that was a product of both good social policy and the unique psychology of those people who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II. It was a unique phenomenon in American life and a fascinating era, but it didn't last. After the 1960s, our society resumed its previous course.

Why do you argue that no country holding individualism to be its strongest value can survive?

It ultimately relates to the fundamental unit in human society, which is the family. Individualism is an expression of the selfish ego, a reflection of the radically autonomous person that leaves no room for the family and the corresponding virtues of society. My coauthor and I disagree with the conclusion that self-interest has been the deciding force in human affairs. Rather, we believe that altruism and the willingness to create a family have been the deciding force. The family provides citizens with a commitment to the future. The society that celebrates the individual over the family is a society in decay; it is overwhelmed by aggressive selfishness.

In your manifesto, you restate part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence." Couldn't one make a convincing argument that the United States government currently interferes in our privacy to a massive degree (particularly with regard to marriage)?

I think the change in the laws over the course of the past few decades has been a negative development. It has paved the way for the government's invasion of the home. We have seen—particularly in domestic violence laws and child custody decisions—legislation that has harmed the family. Remember that fewer cases of abuse occur in married homes. If the government were really serious about helping its citizens, it would put all of its energy into strengthening the natural family. Due to the influence of feminism and socialism, however, the government has set up laws that view parents as being the problem. But this does not diminish the deeper truth that the family is a positive influence upon society.

An important question to ask here is why we have marriage in the first place. Why, of all possible relationships, is the heterosexual relationship between man and woman the only one that the state is interested in? Property concerns arise any time a child appears, and the state has a huge interest in the offspring of marriages. Children are the citizens of the future; they are the future. Without procreation, the state would not be involved at all. So yes, producing children is the most important purpose behind marriage. Even in our age, the child's greatest chance of being happy and healthy is to be raised by two natural parents; having a mother and a father increase dramatically the chances of a child's success. That's why the government should encourage reproduction. It's what a wise state would do, and such a government would be a limited one. The state must protect the home, because a healthy society is built upon healthy homes.

It seems that men face far more risks in marriage than women—a biased court system, legal concepts such as "equitable paternity" and marital rape, and severe punishments for divorce. Given the nature of our misandric society, why isn't cohabitation a better decision for men than marriage?

Well, it may have certain advantages, but I believe that cohabitation is a wrong and immoral choice. The key, though, is for us to change the laws to benefit marriage and the family. Men and women should be equal in the eyes of the law, but family autonomy must be taken into account. There are important differences between the sexes that have to be acknowledged in our law and public policy. People do things differently, and they do different things well. Unfortunately, the law has become corrupted, so we must restore its legitimacy.

You argue that socialism gains greatly from the denigration of the family. Do you find it ironic that so many women—even traditional women—vote for candidates who promise a bigger government despite the way in which it erodes the foundation of marriage?

Well, the socialist movement plays very effectively on a deep historical problem that many do not recognize. Changes brought about by the industrial revolution have forever complicated family life and the rearing of children. Before 1800, the majority of people worked and lived in the same place their whole lives. Now that's changed completely. Who will take care of the children is an important question of our time. Socialism promises a solution to the problem. It tells people that the state will ease their burden and take over childrearing, and this appeals to many women—and some men as well. Of course, the joke here—the supreme irony—is that in Scandinavia, feminism turned this into a very odd development. Women's work became socialized and transferred to the state. The government then took on the traditional function of the home and family with the state providing childcare. Then women, in turn, rejected the private sector and took jobs within the government. They continue to do what has traditionally been women's work, except now they provide childcare for other people's children. Their role has not changed, but now they're married to the state.

What is your position on evolutionary psychology? Is there a biological basis for human behavior?

Yes, I suppose there is. But what I find so fascinating is not the differences between the creationist and the social-biological views of behavior, but rather the similarities between them. What's so striking is the way in which they agree with one another. The biblical view can be found in Genesis, where the Bible states that man needs woman, a helpmate, and that together they should become fruitful, multiply, and inherit the earth. Astonishingly, the paleo-anthropologists tell the same story. C. Owen Lovejoy, writing in the journal Science, argues that from the very moment humans emerged on the African savannah, the pairing off of males and females emerged as a unique feature of the species and provided the basis for our success. What distinguishes humans from other creatures is our long-term monogamous relationships that focus upon childrearing. A commitment to this bond and marriage is what has given us an edge on the other species. It defines us. Both accounts—the creationist and the evolutionary—show that marriage is not an arbitrary construct, but instead our defining characteristic.

What is your position on "gay marriage"? What do you make of the theory that it will result in the decline of heterosexual marriage due to its alienation of straight men?

I think that is a probable consequence, but back up a little bit. The problem with marriage today isn't just "gay marriage." Rather, we face a revolution in marriage law that has been going on for three or four decades. Radicals want to deinstitutionalize marriage. They want to take the marriage contract and strip it of its contractual language. Marriage is far weaker today than any business contract, because one party can easily get out of it. Plus, there's no recourse for the party who wishes to maintain it. Look at illegitimacy, a term that used to be well known. Now, out-of-wedlock births are treated no differently than legitimate ones. This has been a revolution in the law. Gay marriage comes in at the end of this long process. Today, marriage has more penalties than obligations. There are a few benefits as well, such as health-care and social-security advantages that, understandably, are very attractive to gay couples. The thing is, though, if all we do is stop gay marriage, then we won't be doing very much to revitalize marriage and preserve it as the core unit of society.

You define androgyny as the negation of man and woman. How would you respond to those who claim that androgyny is actually the basis of equality?

Those people have grossly misunderstood the meaning of equality. The nature of equality is to set up a legal system allowing men to be men and women to be women. The sexes should be able to fulfill their biological destiny as a marital pair. It comes down to another saying of G. K. Chesterton's in which he describes a human being as a quadruped with four legs in two different bodies. This is based on the biblical message of two becoming one flesh. That's the nature of our species. Androgyny denies our complementary nature. Men and women differ biologically in matters of human reproduction, so the law must protect and cherish those differences. •

Bernard Chapin is a Chicago-based writer.

The Natural Family

A Manifesto

Allan Carlson and Paul Mero first published The Natural Family: A Manifesto in 2005 as a special issue of The Howard Center publication The Family in America. The idea was to elaborate upon a key phrase used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1948 document crafted by the General Assembly of the United Nations: "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society." Little did Carlson and Mero know that their work would generate such controversy. The non-profit group Unmarried Americans called the manifesto "un-American and abnormal," while gay activist Ann Spaulding argued that its authors have "an unhealthy fixation on procreation." And when the town council of Kanab, Utah, adopted a section of the document as a formal resolution, the travel editor of The New York Times urged Americans to boycott the small community.

So what does this contentious manuscript have to say? Well, in keeping with the manifesto genre, it is divided into three parts: an account of history, a statement of principles, and a program of action. But one need only read the principles to get an idea of the degree to which Carlson and Mero's proposal runs counter to so-called progressive notions of the family's role in society. Here they are in an abbreviated form:

We Affirm . . .

• that the natural family, not the individual, is the fundamental unit of society.

• the natural family to be the union of a man and a woman through marriage for the purpose of sharing love and joy [and] propagating children.

• that the natural family is a fixed aspect of the created order, one ingrained in human nature.

• that the natural family is the ideal, optimal, true family system.

• the marital union to be the authentic sexual bond, the only one open to the natural and responsible creation of new life.

• the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.

• that the natural family is prior to the state and that legitimate governments exist to shelter and encourage the natural family.

• that the world is abundant in resources . . . [and that] overpopulation [does not] account for poverty, starvation, and environmental decay.

• that human depopulation is the true demographic danger facing the earth in this new century.

• that women and men are equal in dignity and innate human rights, but different in function.

• that the complementarity of the sexes is a source of strength.

• that economic determinism is false. Ideas and religious faith can prevail over material forces.

• the "family wage" ideal of "equal pay for equal family responsibility."

• the necessary role of private property . . . as the foundation of familial independence and the guarantor of democracy.

• that lasting solutions to human problems rise out of families and small communities.

If you would like to read The Natural Family: A Manifesto in its entirety and/or publicly endorse it, please visit

From Salvo 6 (Autumn 2008)

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This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #6, Fall 2008 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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