In most political debates, only the smallest particles of historicalrntruth are allowed entrance—as much as will provide thernskeleton for one or another ideological myth, hi the debaternover family values, historical scholarship on the left and rightrnhas emphasized the uniqueness of the bourgeois family, and althoughrnI am doing violence to the differences among ideologicallyrndiverse social historians like Philippe Aries, LawrencernStone, Edward Shorter, and Lloyd de Manse, their impudentrncontempt for human experience, tendentious arguments, andrnhasty generalizations deserve no better treatment.rnThough leftists may deplore what conservatives laud, theirrnsocioeconomic premises are often Cjuite similar. The familyrnmay have always existed, so the assumption runs, but it tookrnbizarre forms, even in Europe, where several generations wererncrowded into one peasant cottage. Conjugal affection was difficult,rnif not impossible; chastity, an impossible ideal; andrnparental authorit)’, typically abusive. Leftists might denigraternthe bourgeois household as a hotbed of Freudian complexes,rnbut conservatives celebrate it as the seedbed of all virtues.rnLike the Marxists, conservatives link the development of thernfamily to a specific economic class structure; both see the familyrnas an essentially social invention; both look back to earlierrnages—classical antiquity, the Middle Ages—with somethingrnlike revulsion (admittedly for somewhat different reasons); andrnboth point their fingers at the dark ages past, when men abusedrntheir wives and children, whom they treated as chattel or objectsrnof sexual exploitation.rnCapitalists and Marxists disagree on the solution, but theyrnare remarkably close in their analysis—another example of thernleft’s increasingly complete triumph over the conservativernmind. The problem with this approach should be obvious. Ifrnthe family is a fragile historical construction, parents cannot berntrusted, and families must be propped up artificially by governmentrnagencies—the very agencies that have been underminingrnthe family for a hundred years. Even if the Marxist/capitalistrnmyth of family history were true, it would provide arndangerous incentive to erect a labyrinthine bureaucracy out ofrnthe ruins of the family authority usurped by socialist governments.rnBut it is not even partly correct; It is simply wrong.rnTo prove it is wrong, I might assemble a team of social historiansrnwho could muster the evidence that no one wouldrnever read. Instead, I shall briefly discuss one or two extremerncases, beginning with the Roman father’s celebrated patriarnpotestas (paternal authority), which included a life-long powerrnof life and death over his dependent children and, to some extent,rnover his wife. Yet even under these circumstances, concludesrnhistorian Susan Treggiari, Romans considered a “particularlyrnclose relationship between man and wife” as “normalrnand desirable.” Prof Treggiari did not limit herself to literaryevidencernbut also examined funerary inscriptions.rnSimilar studies of inscriptional and testamentar)- evidencernconfirm what we already knew from literature about Roman fathers.rnThe ideal of paternal authorit’ was described by Senecarnas “the most restrained . . . putting the child’s interests beforernhis own.” Once a Roman child was acknowledged, the fatherrncould take its life only under certain circumstances, e.g., if arndaughter were found guilt}’ of fornication or if a son committedrnacts of treason against the commonwealth or violence againstrntiie father or had sexual relations with his mother or stepmother.rnThese were all capital crimes, by tiie way, but Roman lawrn(in principle) assigned responsibilit)’ for punishment to the htherrn(who was supposed to consult a council of the family)rnrather than to the state. One father who flogged his son torndeath was torn to pieces by a mob; another, who summarily putrnhis son to death (for sleeping with his stepmother), was sent intornexile by the Emperor Valentinian.rnWe have to quit talking aboutrnwhat governments can do tornsave the family and concentrate onrnundoing all their massive efforts tornimpoverish families and underminerntheir autonomy.rnThe ideals of Italian family life have not changed enormouslyrnfrom the families described by Liy in the first centuryrnB.C. to Renaissance tracts written by Alberti and Tasso down tornthe current time, when Italian men who pretend to rule theirrnlittle world are in realit)’ nothing but mammoui—manva’s boys.rnObviously, there were bad husbands and bad fathers in ancientrn(and Renaissance) Italy, but the European ideal of man andrnwife as partners in life who dote on their children owes ratherrnmore to the Romans (and much less to the Bible) than is commonlyrnsupposed.rnThe ancients were ci’ilized people who might be expectedrnto lead quiet domestic lives, but our barbarian ancestors —Cermanic,rnCeltic, and Slavic —also lied in close-knit familiesrnbound by affection. Even the notoriously cold-blooded Englishrngive evidence in every age of conjugal affection, and BarbararnHanawalt’s careful examination of parish records in tiiernlater Middle ,’ges, while it turns up evidence of quarrels andrnabuse, reeals a set of marital norms tiiat bourgeois Protestantsrnwould be proud to claim. “The majority of marriages,” shernsays, “do not fit Shorter’s dismal picture of the ‘Bad Old Days’rnin which wives were dispensable or, at best, servants to theirrnhusbands. . . . Parhiership is the most appropriate term to describernnrarriage in medieval English peasant society.”rnHanawalt takes pains to point out the problems in these peasantrnmarriages, but quickly adds that we modems have no reasonrnfor smugness: “It is not necessary to paint a foul pictiire ofrntraditional peasant marriage in order to suggest that marriage isrnsomewhat different in the modern period. Certainly, our highrndivorce rate gives us no grounds to consider the modern modernof marriage superior.”rnIn diaries, letters, and documents, children, too, are spokenrnof in affectionate terms, and leftist historian John Demos hasrnsuggested that child abuse, so fiir from being a long-standingrnproblem that we are just beginning to address, is far morernprevalent today tiian it was in pre-modern England or colonialrnNew England.rnThere are differences, undoubtedly, between ancient andrnMAY 1999/11rnrnrn