Welcome, as we return to study Cleon Skousen’s principles of liberty (Skousen, W. Cleon. The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Ideas That Changed the World. National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1981). This week, we are looking at Principle # 26. When Skousen completed this work in 1981, the 26th Principle of Liberty would not have been nearly as controversial as it might be in today’s culture. As you read this post, keep that in mind.
The following idea is a Principle of Liberty, not an indictment of your beliefs or way of life. It is this: “The core unit which determines the strength of any society is the family; therefore, the government should foster and protect its integrity. “Family,” in our author’s context, is traditional marriage and parenting roles. How you apply it is open to your interpretation.
Skousen begins by pointing out the differences in American and European cultures. “The family-centered culture which developed in America was not the austere pattern developed in England or the profligate pattern which characterized France. “ (Ibid., p 281). He then backs up his statement with one from Alexis de Tocqueville:
“There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America, or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe, almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life. To despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasure of home is to contract a taste for excesses, a restlessness of heart and fluctuating desires. Agitated by the tumultuous passions that frequently disturb his dwelling, the European is galled by the obedient whip the legislative powers of the state exact, But when the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace, There his pleasures are simple and natural, his joys are innocent and calm; and as he finds that an orderly life is the surest path to happiness, he accustoms himself easily to moderate his opinions as well as his tastes, While the European endeavors to forget his domestic trouble by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1:315 as cited in Skousen, pp. 181-182)
Benjamin Franklin, accused of being a profligate by many historians, had something interesting to say as well. Note that stories of Franklin having 13 illegitimate children have been proven only to be myths. He admits, however, running away from home, falling in with “the wrong crowd,” and having a son whom he named “William.” Given his experiences, this account of Franklin attempting to talk his friend out of taking a mistress is noteworthy. He said:
“Marriage is the proper remedy. It is the most natural state of man, and therefore the state in which you are most likely to find solid happiness. Your reasons against entering into it at present appear to me not well-founded. The circumstantial advantages you have in view by postponing it are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the man and woman united that make the complete human being. Separate, she wants his force of body and strength of reason; he, her softness, sensibility, and acute discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the world. A single man has not nearly the value would have in that state of union. He is an incomplete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors. If you get a prudent, healthy wife, your industry in your profession with her good economy will be a fortune sufficient.” (Adrienne Koch, The American Enlightenment, p. 70 as cited in Skousen, p. 285)
Skousen says so much more in this chapter to back up his claim that since family is the core unit of society, the government should foster and protect the family unit, not interfere with it. Skousen claims that government interference with the family structure becomes “a threat to the family involved… a menace to the very foundations of society itself.”
What do you think of De Tocqueville and Franklin’s words on marriage? More importantly, why do you think Cleon Skousen would list this as the 26th Principle of Liberty? ??