"It cannot be too often repeated that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism." G.K. Chesterton in "Three Foes of the Family" found in the collection of his essays The Well and the Shallows.

Conservatives in the United States tend to equate Capitalism with THE WAY GOD INTENDED THINGS TO BE, and think it A NECESSARY ECONOMIC EXPRESSION OF FREEDOM. Since Conservatives also tend to think that THE FAMILY IS THE BEDROCK OF SOCIETY, few conservatives see any necessary conflict between Capitalism and the Family. But, one of the great Conservatives of the Anglosphere--G.K. Chesterton--believed that Capitalism was doing the family to death in the modern age. We would do well to listen to him.

Since his thought will seem strange to contemporary American conservatives, I have taken small, slow steps toward Chesterton's quote given above. Previous posts in this series:

An Introduction to Chesterton, the British author, Roman Catholic, and curmudgeon.

An Introduction to Chesterton's economic thought: Distributism--placing and keeping ownership of the means of production in as many hands as possible; in effect, an economy of small farmers, shopkeepers, and artisans.

Chesterton's view that Market Capitalism estranged people from God's creation by turning everything into a commodity.

Brief historical overview of American evangelicals gradual embrace of capitalism.

Chesterton's economic beliefs are congruent with his Roman Catholicism, putting into print the ideas laid out in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor."

Now, let's turn to Chesterton's essay, "Three Foes of the Family."
(more below)

The "Three Foes" are Communism, Hitlerism, and Capitalism. Since only the latter was destroying the family in the West, particularly in Great Britain, Chesterton turned his attention to it. According to G.K., Capitalism has : (1) "forced a moral feud and a commercial competition between the sexes"; (2) "destroyed the influence of the parent in favour of the influence of the employer"; (3) "driven men from their homes to look for jobs"; (4) "forced [people] to live near their factories or their firms instead of near their families"; (5) "encouraged, for commercial reasons, a parade of publicity and garish novelty, which is in its nature the death of all that was called dignity and modesty".

Let's examine each claim.

#1. Pre-industrial Revolution most families farmed. In the British setting (and in the United States outside large slave-labor plantations), the labor of the farm was family labor, with an occasional hired help. Both husband and wife were necessary to the economy of the small farm. The man and sons generally tilled the fields, the wife and daughters the garden; the man and sons tended the larger animals such as cattle, horses, and hogs, the mother and daughters the smaller such as chickens and other fowl. The sexes then worked together for survival. In small shops a similar cooperation could be seen. Crafts were a bit different, but, while the craftman pursued his craft for the larger economy by making barrels or wagon wheels, the wives of all the above groups worked for the domestic economy making clothing, soap, and so on. There is no necessary competition between the sexes; cooperation is necessary. In the Industrial setting, on the contrary, when families were forced to leave their farms or shops, both husband and wife had to work outside the home in factory labor, or as clerks or laborers. In effect, they competed for employment, because many kinds of factories preferred to hire women for various reasons, including the fact of lower wages.

Chesterton has a point. In the contemporary American setting, men and women may approach one another romantically in off-hours, but as competitors during work hours. Within a marriage contemporary husbands and wives need one another economically only in the sense of pooling earnings. And, one or the other may decide they would be better off economically if divorced, especially men. Husbands and wives do not need one another for economic survival in the same sense as before.

(Future posts will explore his other points. I hope not to be as long in writing these. Christmas, illness, and a change in medications has lowered my productivity in recent weeks.)