The Corner

Parents Matter — Period.

This, I hope, will be my last post on this subject in the Corner.

Charles’s post is interesting and edifying, and I’m really not trying to pick a fight with him. But there’s one point I made at the beginning of this whole controversy which I think has been somewhat lost.

As Derb largely conceded – if memory serves – the consensus among social scientists is that parents are the chief transmitters of political identification, religious adherence and cultural values. Politics (which necessarily includes economics), religion (which defines the transcendent) and culture (which includes everything from language, aesthetics, ethnic and social allegiance to sports and jokes) are not puny things. And together they describe how we define and structure our entire civilization. If parents are the primary influence on how children understand these spheres of life, then parents are really, really, really important. (Heck, if they only account for 10% of the equation they’re hugely important – more important than all the geneticists who will ever live squared).

When I raised this point before, I believe one of Derb’s responses  was something to the effect of, Sure parents transmit religion but the degree of religiosity is largely genetic. Let’s concede that point for the sake of argument. So what? That’s only significant if all religions are essentially equal. I don’t believe that is true (nor, I hope, does Derb). The same point holds for politics and culture.

That’s why I bristle at the impression Charles may be leaving for some readers when he writes:

But Jonah, none of the data about the _structure_ of the family bears on whether being a really good parent makes that much difference in producing really better children.

I know what Charles is saying here, but I find it  sorely wanting. To wit: It may be entirely accurate to say a “good” Nazi, Jihadi or Communist parent will be just as successful at raising a “good” kid as, say, a good liberal, Catholic or conservative parent. But it would be a scandal to allow a conservative discussion of the issue to end there. I don’t believe all political and economic systems are equal, I don’t believe all cultures are equal, I don’t believe all religions are equal, and I certainly don’t believe all civilizations are equal (In part because I read Human Accomplishment). Therefore I don’t think all “good” parents are necessarily equal.

Rather, I think Hanna Arendt was right when she said that Western Civilization is invaded every generation by barbarians – we call them children.  I would add that  parents are the first, best, line of defense against the invaders.

There are no citizen factories. The State cannot create citizens on a mass scale (history is full of bloody failed attempts to demonstrate otherwise). In a successful society, citizens must be made by small artisans working on a case-by-case basis. We call these artisans “parents.” I have no doubt that in a world of bad parents some children would still become good citizens. But not enough, not nearly enough.

A civilization that forgets this has signed its death warrant. Parents matter – a lot.

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