I received an email from a friend that questioned my formulation that the State is a perfect society and that families depend upon the State. He contended that the opposite is true: the State needs families and the adjective “perfect” can never be used when referring to the State.
Of course, the State does need the family. The family is the basic social unit of society. It is the building block from which the edifice of society is built. Without the building block of the family, there can be no State.
But a building block is just that: a block from which to build something. Families build society. Families build economies. Families build cultures. Families build States. However, a block all by itself cannot fulfill its constructive function. It needs social relationships and governing structures to allow it to be a “building” block and not an isolated piece of construction material.
It is true, as my correspondent later affirmed, there were historical circumstances when the family survived in a very isolated state with seemingly little need of higher structures. Families living on the frontier, for example, were very self-sufficient. However, even these families interacted with other families. Families needed other families to produce new families lest their genetic stock became too close. They gathered together in small settlements. Primitive governing structures always arose naturally to take care of problems of the common good, lest bandits or outlaws took control.
This happened because the State is a spontaneous and natural organism that springs up from the inherent needs of man’s social nature. It is not an artificial construct or a necessary evil but rather a social good. Its role must, of course, be very limited to the basic ordering and protection of the common good. It should then allow families, associations, parishes, and other groups to operate freely and amply. This is what constitutes the rich social life of a nation.
When this happens, the organic State is “perfect” in the sociological sense that it is complete. It is not the building block of anything else but contains all the means in itself to fulfill its limited functions in regard to the basic social units that compose it.
However, today one could say that the modern bureaucratic State is “imperfect” in the popular sense of the word meaning “flawed” or “full of defects.” In its present bloated condition, the modern State seems to destroy the very institutions it should defend. It absorbs the family and all intermediary institutions and takes over their functions. It suffocates a rich social life that allows men to prosper.
This highlights the need to return to an organic order in which that sociologically perfect State will be reduced to its limited role. There is a need to return to that rich social life that is the natural line of defense against the abuses of government. The family needs to become once again that ideal and essential building block.
Until then, as my correspondent noted, we are doomed to suffer the constant disorder of an “imperfect” State where the family must resist its many encroachments.
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