What is the significance of marriage, and the institution of the family, for society? Much of the debate today focuses on marriage purely as a private civil right. Competing religious values tend to be highlighted as the bone of contention. The real issues go far deeper than the sound bite acrimony in the public square.
Two years ago, a collection of eleven essays was published called The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. The papers were presented at conference at Princeton University sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute. It is the best collection of essays I’ve seen in one book, addressing marriage and family from a number of different angles.
One essay traces the place of the family in Western political philosophy from the Greeks through the present. Another looks at how the institution of the family figured into the ideas of the framers of the U. S. Constitution. Another examines the role of family in economic freedom. Another examines the impact of court decisions and legal action has had on the institution of the family. Another looks at the social science literature on the impact the traditional family has on children and by extension society at large. Through all the essays the importance of the family as the pre-eminent social institution, existing prior to the state, composed of a husband and wife with children, comes sharply into focus.
I first become aware of this book almost a year ago when sociologist Beau Weston (and fellow PCUSA blogger at Gruntled Center) did some brief posts last March on the book. It took me almost a year to get to the book but I’m glad I did. I may do some blogging of my own on this book later in the spring. Anyway, if you want a great primer on the many implications of marriage and the family for society, this is the book!