Natural law, family and society

In what natural law theory regards as a rightly ordered society, most people marry, and marriage typically results in children, and lots of them.  This in turn creates a large social network of people known personally to one – lots of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, and so on – on whom individuals can fall back in times of need.  Divorce is stigmatized, so that children generally have stable homes and discipline, and they and their mothers generally have a reliable provider.  Elder family members are looked after by the new generation, just as they looked after that generation when it was in its infancy.  Elder members also find ongoing purpose in helping to raise their grandchildren.  In general, the good of the family takes precedence over the desires of the individual member.  And this subordination of self-interest to the common good of the family makes people more sober and realistic in their expectations, less selfish, and better able to achieve a contentment that is deep and lasting even if not as titillating as running off to begin a second or third marriage.

Contrast that with the contemporary mentality, which regards sex and romance as primarily a matter of self-fulfillment, rather than having self-sacrifice for the sake of children and family as its natural end.  Whereas the traditional arrangements commended by natural law subordinated the short-term interests of the individual to the long-term health of the family, the modern mentality subordinates the long-term health of the family to the short-term interests of the individual.  Naturally, solidarity is weakened [and this weakened solidarity extends to the society as a whole].

Edward Feser, “Liberty, equality, fraternity?“, Edward Feser blog, October 10, 2017.

3 thoughts on “Natural law, family and society

  1. This reminds me of something I read by Wendell Berry in regard to marriage. While Mr. Berry is not Catholic, and as such does not view marriage as “Sacrament”…He writes:
    “Lovers must not, like usurers, live for themselves alone. They must finally turn their gaze at one another back toward the community. If they had only themselves to considers, lovers would not need to marry, but they must think of others and of other things. They say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and on its own. It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is. These lovers, pledging themselves to one another “until death,” are giving themselves away, and they are joined by this as no law or contract could ever join them. Lovers, then, “die” into their union with one another as a soul “dies” into its union with God. And so, here, at the very heart of community life, we find not something to sell as in the public market but this momentous giving. If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing—and our time is proving that this is so.”
    From his book of essays – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
    If you read into what he says, marriage is about the good of the community as well as the good of the couple. There are implied responsibilities of the couple to the community..and ultimately to God. There are implied responsibilities of the community to the couple.
    And there is the promise of God.


  2. “Dying into the union” certainly resonates with me. When you get married you shut the door on your old, individual life and leave it behind. It’s the only way to make marriage work. All the more so in raising children.


  3. Nail head, meet hammer. The world would be a far better place if this “modern mentality,” which is little more than collective ipsation, were replaced by good old-fashioned deontology. The Great Generation, thanks in no small part to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church, was dedicated to family values, and a sense of duty to contribute to the common good of society.

    Liked by 1 person

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