Saturday, January 07, 2006

Scott Stapp engaged

I used to watch MTV’s “Behind the Music,” their biographical profile of bands and singers, fairly regularly. I had a rule, though: I would watch until the first divorce. The only show I ever made it to the end of, following that rule, was the profile of Creed lead singer and Christian pop star Scott Stapp. At the end of his profile he marries a spectacular blond. When the credits roll they are set to live happily ever after.

Today his engagement to a former Miss New York was announced.


Does anyone know of any prominent pop musicians who are enjoying a long, happy first marriage?

Friday, January 06, 2006

National Greatness and the Ecology of Families 5 - The Class of Great Families Rules a Great Nation

I had the privilege of studying with the late E. Digby Baltzell, the premier sociologist of the American ruling classes. Baltzell is best known for the idea of a WASP class, the class of White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants from which the ruling groups in the United States were long drawn. Baltzell thought that every society will have a ruling class, which is necessary to lead the principal institutions of society and to hold the whole together. Simple egalitarian leveling is not an option, and those who attempt it merely end up paving the way for tyranny.

Baltzell said that there is a crucial distinction between an elite and a ruling class. An elite is made up of individuals; a ruling class, of families. Elite individuals rise to the top of the various institutions and pyramids of power in society. A mere elite, though, cannot really run society. The interests of the elite individuals and the institutions that they run conflict with one another too much. Countries with only elites break down into corruption and chaos. A ruling class of families moderates the conflict of elites by binding the individuals together with ties that go beyond their institutional concerns and personal power. A ruling class has an interest in looking out for the stability of society as a whole, because the class itself – unlike the individuals within it – endures through the generations.

A ruling class of families, when it is working well, absorbs individuals who have risen into the elite. The traditional way of doing that is through ties of marriage. The ruling class in many societies, even in one as large and diverse as the United States, forms a “cousinage” of people connected by kin ties, often real, sometimes, of necessity, fictive. The core of a functioning national ruling class, though, will be an interconnected set of families which is continually replenished by absorbing rising individual members of the elite.

The obvious danger of a ruling class of families is that they will become a closed caste, excluding whole categories of elite individuals, and becoming content to marry one another. The opposite of a caste, Baltzell argued, is an aristocracy – which literally means “rule by the best” – which continually replenishes itself by absorbing elite individuals. Baltzell’s own work was about how some parts of the American ruling class excluded Jews in the middle of the 20th century. In the dynamic, competitive ecology of American society, they reaped their reward: the families, and the sectors of the ruling class, which excluded Jews tended to fall out of the national ruling class. That struggle is largely over, and the inclusive aristocracy of America is thoroughly shot through with Jews and the descendents of Jews, some religiously observant and some not.

The great and shaming example of caste in American history was the exclusion of African-Americans. We fought a great war in the 19th century, and then waged a great ethical struggle in the 20th century, to break the back of this caste idea. Anti-black racism is by no means dead in America, but it is clearly declining in significance. The ruling class is absorbing elite black individuals through many channels, including marriage. Our country is now enjoying another great wave of immigration which is bringing the most diverse collection of elite individuals into various halls of power. As I see it, the American ruling class has been very effective in absorbing these new elites.

The ethnicity and religion of the American ruling class has changed and is changing all the time. But the basic family dynamic remains the same: strong families rise, weak families fall. This includes families made by “new men” and “new women” from groups not previously included in the ruling class.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

National Greatness and the Ecology of Families 4 - What I Mean by National Greatness

My idea of national greatness has the strongest affinities with the vision of Theodore Roosevelt. I believe in busting trusts because it serves a free market, and requiring more of the rich because they owe more to a society that helped them get and keep their riches. I believe in using our national might to settle disputes abroad – TR won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in activating the International Court of Arbitration and in settling the Russo-Japanese War – and to build the global infrastructure, like the Panama Canal. Roosevelt himself made mistakes, as any leader does, and some of them were beauts. But, to my mind, Theodore Roosevelt best embodies the spirit of what I think of as National Greatness.

When I first registered to vote, I registered as a Republican, quite against my family’s tradition, because I was under the spell of that wonderful biography of the first president Roosevelt, Mornings On Horseback. I soon discovered, though, the same thing that many would-be followers of TR found: the Republican Party was no home for us. This is why Franklin Roosevelt, who took his famous relative as a model, became a Democrat. Since the 1970s, though, the Democratic Party has not been a home for those who believe in the national greatness of America.

Centrist movements within each party keep trying to make an institutional space for a Rooseveltian politics. David Brooks, who has done the most to promote the idea of a national greatness agenda, has said that he wishes there were a party led by John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Two blogs I read regularly, and are linked to this one, are New Donkey and the Bull Moose – that latter, obviously, an explicit attempt to promote a politics in the manner of Teddy Roosevelt.

You may be wondering why a blog about families is talking about national greatness – make that National Greatness. It is because I think that families, wonderful and important though they are, are not ends in themselves. In fact, I think that any life, and any institution, can only really be great if it serves an end greater than itself. This is the wisdom of the seemingly paradoxical idea of “servant leadership.” It is perfectly possible to have strong families which serve only themselves, undermining the other institutions of society, and ultimately undermining society itself. This is the conclusion of Edward Banfield’s classic The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.

The best kind of strong families serve to make the nation greater. And a great nation best serves the world.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

National Greatness and the Ecology of Families 3 - What are Strong Families?

I have been arguing that the social ecology favors strong families. So what do I mean by strong families? This is what I think:

• The normal form of a strong family is a married man and woman raising their own children.

• The normal functional system of a strong family has clear boundaries around the marriage, around the parent-child bond, and around the whole family. The parents are demanding of their children, and also responsive to them. The family has clear rules, but can be flexible in applying them without undermining the system. The children honor their parents, while maturing into independence from them.

• The normal division of labor of a strong family changes over the life course. When the children are small, the most likely arrangement is that the father works to support the family, and the mother takes primary care of the kids and the home.

This ideal type can be approximated successfully in a variety of ways. I believe, though, that this strong family form is rooted in human nature and biology. It does not change.

Social demography, though, does change. The proportion of families that approximate this ideal ebbs and flows. Strong societies can also tolerate a variety of other family forms, many of which can be good enough.

As I argued yesterday, social classes which want strong families and have a large proportion of them will rise in the ecology of society. Classes based on other family forms can get by, more or less, but they will be at a disadvantage in the medium run, and seriously handicapped in the long run.

The proportion of strong families varies in each class. The proportion of strong families in society as a whole also ebbs and flows. Some people argue that the picture of the strong family that I have outlined, which is a very traditional kind of family, is now a minority form in the United States. I dispute this contention.

Most people want to marry for life and raise their kids.

Most people get to marry for life and raise their kids.

The married couple with their own kids at home are now a minority of households. However, many of the other kinds of households are just nuclear families at a different stage of the life cycle. When you add up all the families with a strong form, you get to a majority.

It is impossible to say what proportion of all families have a strong form and a strong functional system and an effective and flexible division of labor. That ideal is, indeed, likely to be enjoyed only by a minority. But that happy minority will, I argue, be disproportionately found in the rising classes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

National Greatness and the Ecology of Families 2 - The Ecology of Families

The nation’s families don’t all follow one model, but follow different patterns in different subcultures. The subcultures are made, in large part, by their family pattern.

Groups of families which live in similar ways form what Max Weber called status groups. He was distinguishing status groups from economic classes in the strict sense -- layers in society which have nothing in common except their income. The distinction between status group and class is an important one in sociology. In normal American talk, though, when we say “class” we mean both a way of living and an income level, and probably put more emphasis on the status or way of life element. So “social class” will do for me.

A social ecology has a number of social classes, which are themselves composed of a huge variety of families and individuals. Some look at an ecology and are impressed with the diversity, with the multiple cultures found there. They are likely to use a static image, such as “mosaic” or “tapestry” to describe the whole society. Others look at an ecology and are impressed with the relentless competition of the classes, as well as of the families and even of the individuals, with one another. They are more likely to use a dynamic image, such “market” or “war” to describe the whole society. A social ecology is both of those things. It does contain a rich variety. It is in constant competition.

Social competition favors classes with strong families.

Families are the best institution for making the next generation, for raising them to be productive individuals, and forming children who will form effective families of their own. Families that break up, or people who have children without ever really forming families, tend to get poorer. They waste and lose and break the assets that had been accumulated by previous generations, and don’t create a structure capable of keeping anything whole for long.

A generation with lots of divorces and unwed mothers tends to fall out of the rising classes and into the falling ones. Families which stay together and build up find they have less and less in common with their relatives and old friends who are going the other way.

When entire classes or subcultures can successfully make strong families over time, they tend to rise. They rise not just in wealth and status, but also in power. They tend to produce the predominant groups in society, and may even form a ruling class.

Whatever virtues, wealth, status, or power, an individual might have, it can’t simply be kept, because no one lives forever. And virtues, or even assets, can’t simply be given away, because virtues need to be developed slowly, and assets without commensurate character to preserve them quickly get dissipated. Over time, the strongest and best need to make and leave strong families, or they are without posterity.

Monday, January 02, 2006

National Greatness and the Ecology of Families 1

My thesis this week, this year, and likely in the years ahead, is this:

In the great ecology of subcultures, status groups, and classes in America, the class with the strongest families enjoys an advantage. It is good for America that classes with strong families tend to predominate, if not rule. Strong family life is not the only element of greatness in a class, but I believe it is the single most important element.

In the great ecology of civilizations, states, and nations in the world, the nation with the strongest culture enjoys an advantage. It is good for the world that nations with strong cultures tend to predominate, if not rule. Strong cultural life is not the only element of greatness in a nation, but I believe it is the single most important element.

When the predominant class in America has a strong family life, American culture as a whole is greater.

When the predominant nation in the world has a strong cultural life, world culture as a whole is greater.

Strong family life in the American ruling class makes for national greatness.

National greatness in America, the world’s ruling nation, makes for a better world.