Eminent Domain confiscations are a direct threat to private property but perhaps even more sinister are the flagrant violations of the 4th Amendment that Americans have grown to tolerate, much as the English learned to tolerate general writs. State troopers may routinely set up roadblocks, not to search for felons when a crime has been committed, but merely to check out identity documents—”May I see your license and registration?” In a free country, the answer should be, “What for?”
The police are far from being the leaders of the assault on the family castle. The charge has been led by progressive reformers, do-gooding therapists, professional child-savers, and social workers who prowl the world seeking the ruin of families. The first step is always to find some cause to demonize: wife-beating, alcoholism, drug trafficking, child abuse, assault rifles. In such cases, government agents proceed on the theory of guilty until proved innocent. Federal agents may search a home, an automobile, or boat on the slightest pretext, and the owner may lose his property, if the correct quantity of drugs is found—no matter if he can be implicated in the crime. In one California case government agents had already inventoried a millionaire’s property, before breaking in late at night to search the premises for evidence of his wife’s assumed drug use. They found nothing, but they did shoot and kill the householder.
The most serious attacks on American households have been directed against gun-owners. Once again, privacy is invaded and property is being seized on the claim that a regulation has been violated or that a form has not been filled out, a tax paid. Randy Weaver and David Koresh inspired little sympathy among ordinary Americans, but to those who followed the stories closely it was clear that the U.S. government had declared war on the American people.
What To Do
What political or legal reforms could be made to restore the home castle? The prospects for reforming Eminent Domain in the United States seem dim, but suppose we could start a political movement, what would our objectives be?
Firstly, we might take steps to privilege home property as opposed to properties that are primarily investment vehicles. This could be done by restricting tax deductions to homes owned for a determined period of years—and this deduction could be retroactive to the point of sale—or allow only a limited number of houses with mortgage deduction in a lifetime.
We also might consider tightening the mortgage market to reduce speculation and devise financial instruments that would encourage more rapid pay-off and over all lower total interest. As the system works now, it actually rewards speculation and encourages a frivolous view of the home.
We should also restore and strengthen laws that privilege home defense—as distinguished from “stand your ground” legislation—by a) stepping up penalties for crimes involving home invasion and b) loosening up restrictions on use of deadly force within the house or even on land outside house. Such a move would be in keeping with fine traditions going back to the Anglo-Saxons and even to the Greeks and Romans
Quite apart from any political or legal reforms which may or may not be feasible, there are important steps that ordinary people can take in their own lives. But, before considering any solutions, whether personal or political, let us recall the ideal of traditional Christian households: A stable marriage between one man and one woman, an autonomous self-governing family that provides for as much of its own needs, both material and cultural, as us feasible. (Obviously, most families would have to turn to outsiders for French or tennis lessons as much as for required foodstuffs.)
How is it possible to realize such an ideal under the terms of what some Marxists are calling “late capitalism,” when even the consumption functions of the household—eating, housecleaning, laundry—are routinely handled by outside providers, and when all the functions of intellectual instruction, moral guidance, and even such things as entertainment can be discharged by public officials and paid professionals?
It is still possible to educate one’s children at home or in private and religious schools. Such things are difficult and expensive, because families are required to pay taxes to support government schools; the choice is, however, open to most people, and in a period of marked decline in the quality of all schools, private as well as public, homeschooling becomes ever more attractive to more people. But even if good schools are available, parents must always remind themselves that the responsibility for educating their children lies in their own hands. Children will not learn to value learning, if their parents spend their evenings playing video games or watching David Letterman.
The same can be said of home production, which can include everything from part-time typing and maid services to large mail-order businesses. At the simplest level, it is the home vegetable garden. Where families work together, where the group’s economic success depends upon the contribution of all the members, a cohesion is achieved that is otherwise very difficult.
I think the beginning of our resistance to the erosion of the Family Castle begins with having a clear head. It is time to quit applying that much-abused word “individual” to members of families. The family is an organic unity, not a random collection of individuals, but too many parents today encourage each child is encouraged to discover—or rather invent—his own identity. The problem is now coming up in public schools, where elementary school pupils have been encouraged by parents change their gender identity and now want to use bathrooms reserved for the opposite sex.
I used to know an academic family in which each member had chosen, almost at random, a religious tradition: the son opted for Zen Buddhism, one daughter became a liberal rabbi, while the other became a staunch Episcopalian. It all seemed endearing to outsiders, but quite apart from the problem of sincerity—they picked their religion the way most people choose a brand of beer—the family could not worship together. They didn’t eat together either. At one Thanksgiving feast I attended, the father took his tray to the a chair in front of the television set in order to argue with the anchorman.
It is through the rituals of common meals, common worship and common work that a family and discovers its identity as a family. The pleasures and opportunities, no less than the pressures of modern existence threaten this identity. Children have their endless rounds of music and dance and tennis lessons, clubs and parties to attend, and school functions that sometimes seem to require whole weeks of afternoons for meetings and practice sessions. Parents also join clubs and attend classes and may only have the chance to greet their children as a group on the way out the door to school. In popular entertainment, these activities are conventionally portrayed as the fruits of success and popularity, the sometimes hectic rewards that await exuberant and talented individuals. What many of us sense, however, is the familiar story of the hare with many friends. The more activities we undertake, the less seriously we devote ourselves to any of them; the more friends we make, the less we value them–and they us; the more we spend time outside the home, the less capable we are of being at home at any time in our lives.
There is no single formula to fit all circumstances. Some people are more active, more demanding than others, and it would be wrong to stigmatize them as disloyal to their families. Of course, many enthusiasms can be shared by an entire household, even if all the members are not equally enthusiastic. Many families have passions for outdoor life–camping, hunting, fishing—on which they spend a great deal of time together. For others it may be music or tennis. Many might like the idea of teaching at home or running a family business, but either their circumstances or their lack of aptitude are an obstacle. What is important is not the details but the main objective, a family that sees itself as an indissoluble mystical entity like the trinity: multiple persons but fundamentally one.
Finally, if we wish to recover a sense of the family castle, we have to give the American obsession with making more money. How many times have you heard that the family home is an investment or listened to friends talk about trading up? House flipping used to be a lucrative business and it will be once again before too very long, but flipping is only the smallest part of the problem. Most Americans today look upon the family home with no greater loyalty than they do the family home—less so in fact, because men who go on for hours about a new car. Of course, the necessity of work or increase in family size makes it inevitable that we shall have to change houses from time to time, but we should view these changes not as economic opportunities but as tragic events, more like divorce than trading in a car. (I would say that we ought to value the home second only to marriage and look upon sale of the home much as we look upon divorce—but in these years of no-fault divorce and easy annulment, that would hardly be an improvement.)
In other words, even if all attempts at political or legal reform should fail, all is far from lost. Our lives are not yet entirely under the control either of government or of mass culture. We can always unplug the television and refuse to listen to NPR or commercial music or watch the mind-rotting junk coming out of Hollywood. Although I am ordinarily the last person in the world to quote the Voltaire, an anti-Christian immoralist, but, still, his most famous prescription is excellent: We must learn to forget about the evils we cannot change—Obamacare, mandatory seatbelts, and sex education–cultivate our own gardens, rear or own children, lead our own lives. And yes, a gun permit and a couple of shotguns for home defense are not a bad idea, either, remembering, in T.S. Eliot’s paraphrase
Remembering the words of Nehemiah the Prophet: “The trowel
in hand, and the gun rather loose in the holster.”