There is no alternative to existential reality, so you will have played the hand you were dealt by your parents, but the folks who were dealt the best hands, overall, grew up in a Testudo home: Dad was the unchallenged moral leader – and his leadership was exemplary. Mom and Dad both had high expectations for the children, and they lived up to them – not alone because their parents shielded them from any awareness of alternative paths. The ideal was self-responsibility, and the children, in the main, grew up to be self-responsible parents – though, alas, not always Testudo parents.
That configuration, The Clan Testudo, is the modern expression of the Greek Hoplite’s freehold: The a-man’s-home-is-his-castle idea that precedes all of Western law. It was the union of Hoplite freeholders that gave birth to democracy in the first place, and that union was secured by the freeholder’s guarantee of autonomy – his liberty of action to manage his own affairs.
What makes the West the West is not democracy – nor any more-evolved states of rapacious predatory rent-seeking – but that Hoplite freehold. That family is our moral ideal – the source of all peace, of every plenty and of generation-after-generation of remarkable children. And the West falters and founders now precisely because we have systematically undermined the father-led home.
We make it easy for fathers to ditch their obligations to their children, and we make it easy for mothers to ditch their children’s fathers. Our daughters grow – ever-outward but no longer upward – into ignorant sluts, while our sons master nothing but ever-more-self-destructive expressions of irresponsibility.
One kind of family – the Hoplite family, The Clan Testudo – leads to health, wealth and lifelong happiness. Every kind of family intentionally configured in spite of that ideal leads to continuous misery – sporadically punctuated by excruciating pain.
It were wise, in the midst of the chaotic news day – spree killings and campus riots and terrorist conflagrations – to ask which kind of family the West celebrates now? Could there be any dots to be connected from among those bleak headlines?
Can’t figure it out? Ask Carrie Bradshaw. She’s convinced millions of addle-pated middle-aged women to trade reliable-if-ordinary husbands for lifelong loneliness – wrecking their own children’s lives and future families at no extra charge.
For now at least, it is too much to expect for the West to stop celebrating the secondary consequences of our underfathered families. To be free is to be free to be outrageously and resoundingly wrong, after all. But we are free to be right, too, and that’s why I keep leaning on the idea of benedy in art: With the right arguments, enacted in plausible stories, we can begin to amend the deficit of fathering we all suffer from, in varying degrees. We can help children learn better values than they might pick up at home, and we can help adults get better at deploying those values.
But we need to do that everywhere, not just in art.
A freehold is a fortress – a granary and an arsenal, but also a redoubt. It is literally a castle, no matter how much it might look like a tent made of stones and timber. It is a place for cultivating values – plants and livestock and most especially children – but it is also a place for hiding and hoarding things. If we are much too public in our expressions of our underfathered vices, we are likewise much too private about our well-fathered virtues.
For the best benedy in the storied history of the West is that father-led family, that Hoplite freehold, that Clan Testudo. Millions of families are telling this story right now, but only within the walls of their own homes. Their own children benefit, and all of civil society benefits accordingly. But by keeping the secret of every happy family’s success, they yield the conversation of civilization to Carrie Bradshaw – or worse.
I would love it if wannabe benefactors like the Koch Brothers would put a ton of money behind ennobling art, but you should not hold your breath. Instead, you can do your part right now to share the life-loving ideas that make you and your family love life so much. You can be public about your virtues without being pushy, but – at an absolute minimum – you should not feel ashamed for having gotten life right!The Hoplite family is the ideal family. We are destroying human civilization simply by failing to defend it. Our way is better – obviously, dramatically, categorically better. We injure everyone generally – even as we visit particular injuries on the people we know – by not upholding the very ideals that make human civilization possible.
So what do I want for you to do? Do what you normally do – but take a companion along. The duty of every Hoplite – of every self-responsible adult – is to set a good example. So the next time you go to the firing range, take someone you think you might hope to know better. Pay his way and buy him a beer afterward, but just be yourself – just live up to your values, thereby illuminating why they work for you.
Take someone new along when you go to play golf, or when you have a spare ticket to a lecture or a play. You have no right to use your children as your missionaries, of course, but the chances are good that any kid your kids invite over will have an opportunity to see better ideas about how to live as a family. And just in your everyday life – at home, at work, in the whirlwind of strangers on the street – live up to your humanity.
You set an example in everything you do. Every work of the mind is poetry first, the expression of the ideal. If you hope to live among people who live up to your standards, cultivate them – by cultivating the best in your own behavior. It’s how you lead your family at home, and it is how you will lead your fellow men – if you do – toward the flourishing that so-often eludes them.
Whose fault is it that Western Civilization is collapsing? As much as it is anyone else’s, it’s your fault. If you won’t actively defend your values, Carrie Bradshaw will be happy to destroy them for you. But if you will dare to explicitly defend the good example you are already setting by your behavior, you can quite literally save the world – one family at a time.