If anyone believes that it is reactionary hysteria to claim the radical Left wishes to destroy the traditional family, then let Sophie Lewis’s 2022 book, Abolish the Family, allay such concerns. This “Manifesto for Care and Liberation” sets forth the why and the how of the erasure of traditional households.
As to the why, it won’t come as a surprise that the goal is to destroy the productivity and wealth that capitalism creates. Lewis cites others, like Pat Parker, who state definitively that the family must go, as it is “the basic unit of capitalism and in order for us to move to revolution it has to be destroyed.” Lewis further notes that the reason for abolishing marriage is deeply intertwined with abolishing private property, which would put an end to voluntary exchange.
It’s the “how” of family nihilism that Lewis presents that provides bizarre yet shockingly effective challenges to traditional family life. She recounts the various—and completely failed—attempts at socialist utopias. She hails Joseph Fourier’s phalanstery buildings (vast dormitories housing precisely sixteen hundred people assigned to live there), where “regular carefully curated sex parties are presided over by special ‘fairies.’” She continues, “The original feminism, then, is inseparable from family abolition, queer sex, and socialist utopianism. Good to know, right? Vive le phalanstère!”
Lewis doubles down on this statement in a section entitled “The Queer Indigenous and Maroon Nineteenth Century.” She claims that Native Americans exhibited superior ways of being and practiced “no forms of patriarchy; raising children collectively, honoring more than two genders, placing only loose social strictures on sexual pleasure, counting nonhuman relatives among their kin, and sometimes conceptualizing mothering-practices (such as breast-feeding) as gender-inclusive.”
For Lewis, all of these practices are to be lauded as grassroot forms of resistance to the nuclear family. The view that the normalization of such practices does indeed contribute to the dissolution of the traditional family is certainly agreeable to this author. One should not believe the practices Lewis hails merely represent a bacchanalian desire for bizarre sexual expression for its own sake. Rather, the author presents these practices as a deliberate methodology through which the traditional family may be annihilated.
Other attempts to destroy the family that Lewis seems to fancy include the “cooperative, group-marriage based model” of Robert Owen, a model that failed in spectacular fashion. Other alternative living arrangements include the machinations of comrade Alexandra Kollontai, who assured her followers that women and children would be better off because “communist society takes care of every child and guarantees both him and his mother material and moral support. Society will feed, bring up and educate the child.” Indeed, in this respect, we can agree at least in part with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, whose first footnote in The German Ideology stated unequivocally, “That the abolition of individual economy is inseparable from the abolition of the family, is self-evident.”
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Not to be outdone by these comrades and their dreams of the elimination of the family, Lewis directs us to a section on “Gay and Lesbian—and Children’s—Liberation.” Fifty years ago, activists made a list of demands to the Democratic National Convention in Miami, and the sixth part of their manifesto declared, “Rearing children should be the common responsibility of their whole community. Any legal rights parents have over ‘their’ children should be dissolved, and each child should be free to choose its own destiny. Free twenty-four hour child care centers should be established where faggots and lesbians can share the responsibility of child rearing.”
Not to be outdone by the gay activists of the ’70s, today’s comrades against kinship Michele Barrett and Mary McIntosh present a vision of complete nihilism. They boldly state, “We hope that by now it will be clear that we would put nothing in the place of the family.” The total absence of traditional family structures in practice is something that Lewis saw with her own eyes—and celebrated. She recounted a covid-policy-induced tent encampment in central Philadelphia where inhabitants had the socialist blessings of “an occupation, complete with a kitchen, distribution center, medical tent, substance use supply store, and even a jerry-rigged standing shower—a militant village led by unhoused Philadelphians and working-class rebels.” This apparently was a preferable form of living, as it was a “home—in a new, true, common sense of the word . . . a practice of planetary revolution.”
In a final rhetorical flourish, Lewis describes the goal of the final demolition of the family. She insists that
the state return especially dependent humans to the arms of the few caregivers it tends to recognize and insist on deprivatizing care, contesting “parental rights,” and imagining a world in which all people are cared for by many by default. What we are saying is that KEEPING FAMILIES TOGETHER and ENDING FAMILY SEPARATION are political imperatives. (emphasis in the original)
Put another way, this is the end of parents raising their own children and the end of free association, replaced by the state as parent and with centrally controlled living arrangements.
In light of the decay of the traditional family in the West, one might be tempted to think these changes are accidental. As Lewis’s work explains, they most assuredly are not. Ryan McMaken is right in saying that there are multiple causes for family decay and alienation. There are economic, political, and moral catalysts. But make no mistake, it is anything but accidental. Lewis and her comrades on the radical Left have stated their intentional attempts to destroy the family, and it behooves people of goodwill everywhere to take these threats to take possession of your children and property seriously by exposing the work of antifamily pseudointellectuals.
Jeffery Degner is assistant professor of economics in the Business Division at Cornerstone University.