This article was published in the Spring 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Bourgeois Families in a Free Nation
by Roy Halliday

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The Bourgeois Family Ideal
A Brief History of the Bourgeois Family
Families to Start a Free Nation
What Will Evolve in a Free Nation

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Despite the licentious connotations of the word libertarian, a free nation will not be characterized by widespread sexual experimentation and alternative life-styles. On the contrary, there are at least three reasons for believing that families in a free nation will be more traditional and less dysfunctional than modern American families:

(1) Those who choose to become the pioneers of the free nation will tend to be people who believe in relying on themselves and their families for support.

(2) Policies and programs of the governments in the USA and in other welfare states that undermine the traditional family will not exist in a free nation.

(3) The traditional bourgeois family works better than the alternative life-styles.

Before defending these propositions, let me describe the bourgeois family and give a brief history of it.

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The Bourgeois Family Ideal

The ideal bourgeois family (called middle class in the USA, Victorian in England, Biedermeier in Germany, and other names in other places) begins with the nuclear family: parents living together and sharing responsibility for their children and for each other. In addition to being a nuclear family, the bourgeois family has the following characteristics: an emphasis on high moral standards, especially in sexual matters; an enormous interest in the welfare of children, especially their proper education; the inculcation of values and attitudes conducive to economic success and personal responsibility; at least the appearance of religious faith; a devotion to the "finer things" in life, especially in the arts; a sense of obligation to redress or alleviate conditions perceived as morally offensive. [7]1

The ideal bourgeois father is a good provider for his family because he has the (historically, but not exclusively, Calvinist Protestant) virtues necessary for economic success in a free-market economy: frugality, enterprise, diligence, decency, common sense, abstinence, discipline, attention to detail, reliability, politeness, respect, and fairness. [107] The ideal bourgeois mother is free from drudgery and is willing to be the companion and helpmate to her husband, the supervisor and facilitator of her children's development and education, and the arbiter of taste, culture, and all the finer things in life for the family. [102]

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A Brief History of the Bourgeois Family

The industrial revolution increased per capita income and allowed families to afford new interests and luxuries. Their homes became more attractive, and bourgeois families could now afford a new tenderness toward children, a greater interest in their development, and a prolongation of the period before children would have to go to work. Childhood as we now understand it was a luxury invented by the rising bourgeoisie of Europe. [92] The mortality rate for children fell dramatically from what was normal for most of human history and from what it is in underdeveloped countries today. [113] The adolescent was also invented as a social type in the industrial societies of the West in the 19th century.

Bourgeois women took on a new role. They became the primary builders of bourgeois civilization. Bourgeois women, not their spouses, were the standard-bearers of the new consciousness, first of all within the home (where they were in charge), but then more and more in the public arena as well. Bourgeois women in England and America were the leaders and the foot soldiers of the various movements (for example, the Temperance movement) that sought to evangelize other classes with the blessings of the middle-class family. The Protestant clergy were an important ally in this mission. Families whose values and practices deviated from the bourgeois norms were seen as families with problems. [7] The origins of both social work and the welfare state lie in the missionary efforts by which the bourgeoisie sought to propagate its family ethos among the lower classes. [5] The bourgeoisie overstepped their legitimate boundaries by using the state to impose their values on others, for example, by establishing the public school system, by censorship of pornography, and by outlawing intoxicating liquors.

Modernization put strains on the bourgeois family in the 20th century as more people moved to urban areas away from their old communities. Modern life became more mobile, city life became more anonymous and less constrained by what the neighbors might think, and relationships became subject to revision. [11] World War I, the Great Depression, and then World War II increased the size of government bureaucracies. Professional educators and experts in the new sciences of sociology and psychology began to take over more and more of the bourgeois mother's role in educating and socializing children.

The rise of the suburbs in America in the 1950s marked a brief family renascence. [14] Adolescence became more prolonged as bourgeois parents overindulged their teenagers and failed to discipline them. Juvenile delinquency became a big social problem. Then the cultural movements of the 1960s brought new attacks on the bourgeois family. The feminist movement and other movements for equal opportunity and sexual liberation such as the gay and lesbian movements, the various cults of sensitivity and personal liberation (the "California syndrome"), the New Left (revised and rejuvenated Marxism), and the new counterculture (comprising psychedelic drugs, free love, and communes) all rejected and mocked the bourgeois values. [16] Meanwhile, the welfare state continued to grow and to take over more and more of the functions of the bourgeois family. In the USA, following the dictates of the Supreme Court, the government at all levels began to secularize public life at the same time as it was expanding the public domain and crowding out the private sphere. Regardless of the wishes of parents, moral relativism became the new dogma, and public school teachers began to preach to children that all life-styles and forms of cohabitation are equal. The public school system, which was originally designed to impose bourgeois values on the lower classes is now, ironically, being used to undermine those same values. The cultural elite has changed its mind about religious and family values, but it has not lost its missionary zeal to impose its values on the benighted lower classes. In another irony, it is now the moderate to low-income working class that has the strongest belief in the bourgeois family ideal.

As the various uplift programs wrought havoc on society, new programs were devised to deal with the unintended consequences of the previous programs. The financial costs of the welfare state, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War grew, and taxes were raised higher and higher. By the 1970s, the average wage earner could no longer afford to support a family at the old 1950s standard of living. More women, even mothers of small children, began to join the work force to pay the taxes so their families could maintain their middle-class standard of living.

In 1973, the Supreme Court barred states from prohibiting abortions in the first trimester of a pregnancy. A bloodbath of abortions followed, more than a million by 1975. This sparked a pro-life backlash, and, eventually, led to a more general pro-family movement. The predictable failures of the alternative life-styles and government programs became apparent as society suffered from rising divorce rates, single-parent households, working mothers with young children, illegitimacy, runaway children, teen-age pregnancy, teen-age drinking and drug addiction, teen-age crime and suicide, child abuse and spouse battering, learning disabilities, and old people living alone. [33] By the late 1970s, the pro-family forces were organized, and they began to mount a counterattack against the feminists, homosexuals, Marxists, pornographers, abortionists, and the so-called experts in the education and "helping" professions. This cultural war is still going on today, and people are still dividing into pro-traditional and pro-non-traditional camps. It even goes on within the libertarian movement as we divide into bourgeois paleolibertarians and anti-bourgeois neolibertarians.

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Families to Start a Free Nation

Will the free nation be settled initially by traditional-style families or by free spirits? It is likely that the original pioneers of the free nation, like the pioneers in the American west, will include a high percentage of single men. As these men begin to prosper, the free nation will become a rich hunting ground for gold diggers and women seeking husbands until the ratio of men to women becomes more even. Although the free nation will initially be more accessible to childless adults than to families, it will be more accessible to traditional families than to single-parent families, and it will appeal to people with pro-capitalist values rather than to communists or bohemians.


Immigrants to a free nation will probably be similar to immigrants in the rest of the world: they will have strong family values and pro-work ethics. A free nation will attract hard-working, ambitious people who want to create a better life for themselves and their families. Immigrants like these are more desirable than the cultural elite.

"If one is concerned for the future of America, one might willingly exchange the entire membership of the American Sociological Association (or, for that matter, the combined faculties of all the Ivy League Universities) for the people who cross the Rio Grande in any given year. A parallel argument may be made about the 'guest workers' of Western Europe (though the decadence of the latter region may have reached a point where even the Turks and the Algerians will not be able to reverse the trend)." [136] This self-selection process will result in a population in the free nation that has stronger family bonds and better work habits than the cultural elite that is ruining America.

Anti-Family Policies That Won't Exist

In the welfare states, social workers hired at taxpayer expense have taken over some of the functions traditionally carried out by the family, especially those related to education of children, care of the sick and handicapped, and care of the aged. In a free nation, the state will not perform these services, so other institutions will have to provide them. The bourgeois family is the prime candidate.

A free nation will not have laws and "social" programs that harm families. A free nation will not provide housing and financial support to replace fathers, and it will not provide free day-care facilities and public schools to replace mothers. Since there will be no welfare programs, there will be no anti-family welfare regulations to deter single mothers from marrying employed men. Women won't stand to lose their welfare checks by getting married, because they will have no welfare checks to lose. Having children out of wedlock will quickly go out of fashion. The family will once again be responsible for taking care of young, old, sick, and handicapped people.

High taxes have made it more difficult for one wage-earner to support a family. More women have had to enter the work force. This puts strains on marriages and families. But in a free nation, there will be no taxes, and a family will again be able to live on one income. This might reduce the divorce rate even though divorces will be easier to obtain.

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What Will Evolve in a Free Nation

As time goes by, the family structure in a free nation will evolve into whatever is most natural and satisfying, because there will be no unnatural impediments. In a free nation, abortion will be legal, adoption will be easier, prostitution will be legal, and people will be free to try all voluntary alternatives to traditional marriage including same-sex marriage and polygamy. These options will tend to undermine traditional marriage, but I believe the bourgeois family will survive, because it is the fittest arrangement for raising children and caring for the aged and the handicapped.


Since 1972, there have been more than 28,000,000 abortions in the USA. Almost 25% of all pregnancies end in abortion.2 Abortion today is primarily used for family planning (that is, to kill a baby that the mother doesn't want to be bothered with). Only 7% of all abortions are due to threatened life of the mother, health of the child, rape, or incest.3

Abortions will continue to be legal in a free nation. Whether more or fewer women will choose to have abortions, I cannot say. They will have to consider the medical costs of an abortion, because no tax money will be available. But they will also have to consider the medical costs of carrying a child through the full term and the cost of delivery, as well as the costs of supporting a child. This will tend to encourage abortion or marriage and to discourage sex out of wedlock. However, in a free nation, adoption will be a more attractive option than it is now.


The natural right to care for a child belongs to the mother. She earns it by carrying it in her womb for nine months and giving birth through her labor. No one else has a comparable claim to or vested interest in her baby. If she is unable or unwilling to care for her baby, she can lease, sell, or give away her right. If the baby is healthy, the mother should have no trouble finding someone to care for it.

In a free nation with a substantial population, adoption agencies will be profitable businesses that will act as brokers between mothers who want to be free from childcare and people who want the opportunity to raise a family. The relative ease of adoption in a free nation will tend to ease the burden of pregnancy for unwed mothers and might even make it financially rewarding, which will tend to reduce their incentive to have abortions or to marry. On the other hand, easy adoption will allow infertile married couples who want to raise children to realize their dream, which will improve their chances of staying happily married.

Legal Prostitution

A free nation will allow open competition, advertising, and consumer-group rating of brothels. This in turn will lead to greater safety and customer satisfaction. The easy availability of this service will help prevent men from negotiating poor marriage contracts out of desperation. Men will be able to approach marriage with almost as much cool deliberation as women.

Prostitution tends to discourage marriage, which is why "good" bourgeois women hate it so. However, prostitutes can provide an outlet for husbands who are not sexually satisfied with their wives, but who do not want to leave their families. Safe, legal prostitution allows husbands to realize the male fantasy of having sex with many different women without having to go through elaborate courtship rituals and without having to make long-term commitments. Using the services of professional women could become more socially acceptable than having affairs, because professional women are less of a threat to established families than women who are looking for a personal relationship.

Alternative Family Structures

In a free nation, people will not have to get a license to have sexual relations, but they will be free to make contracts concerning sexual relations or living arrangements if they so choose. They will be free to try all sorts of voluntary alternatives to the traditional family. Two homosexuals could agree to form a partnership like a husband and wife. Two or more men could share the same wife, or two or more women could share the same husband. These and other experiments have been tried since the 1960s. Based on results achieved so far, the counterculture, the Israeli kibbutz, radical feminism, homosexuality, the youth culture, and professional childcare are poor substitutes for the bourgeois family.


The counterculture of the 1960s never went very far. It remained parasitical on the modern technological society and, at best, was successful in revolutionizing the private lives of a relatively small number of people. The data collected about children who were raised on American communes in the counterculture is overwhelmingly negative: they were subjected to bizarre and frequently damaging experimentation, neglect, and instability in all the relationships significant to the child. They suffer from all sorts of physical and emotional deprivations. [158]


Children raised in an Israeli kibbutz grow up to be very sociable and conformist and well-adapted to communal living, but they find it hard to exist in any less-collectivistic situation such as the rest of Israeli society, outside of the kibbutz. [158] In contrast, children raised in bourgeois families "have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, do better in school, have higher rates of achievement, and move more easily from dependence to autonomy." [162]


Feminists are opposed to the bourgeois family because it assigns different roles to men and women and it places more responsibility for childcare on mothers than fathers. Radical feminists sometimes seem hostile to motherhood in general and to children in particular. They show more enthusiasm for abortions and for day-care centers than they do for childbirth and motherhood. Their agenda emphasizes preventing children from being born and, failing that, dumping children on day-care centers so that mothers can pursue their selfish programs of self-realization. [27]

The theory of justice that underlies libertarianism is fundamentally at odds with the theory of equal opportunity that underlies feminism. As Susan Moller Okin points out in her book on justice, equal opportunity requires massive state intervention for "a high and uniform standard of education and the provision of equal social services including health care, employment training, job opportunities, drug rehabilitation, and decent housing for all who need them. In addition to redistributive taxation, only massive reallocations of resources from military to social services could make these things possible."4 In her philosophy, the unequal division of labor between married couples in the bourgeois family is unjust. To libertarians, the idea of a voluntary division of labor being unjust is self-contradictory. Okin specifically attacks libertarianism and says, quite correctly, that it is "completely demolished" by the demand for equality.5 Her argument is that we must eliminate the idea of gender, because it prevents women from having equal access to all of life's opportunities. This is true, but what about other sources of unequal opportunity such as ethnicity? Children raised by parents from different ethnic and religious traditions cannot have equal opportunities in life. So, logically, Okin should seek to abolish ethnicity and religion as well as gender. The problems posed by the goal of equal opportunity can only be solved by a totalitarian state that equalizes opportunity downward, restricting it to the lowest common level. Anyone who supports the idea of a free nation must first abandon all hope of equal opportunity, and anyone who believes in equal opportunity would not be attracted to a free nation. There will be so few anti-gender feminists in a free nation that they could not pose a serious threat to the bourgeois family.


Homosexuality is generally a condition rather than a choice. It is not an option for the majority of people who are naturally attracted to the opposite sex. In any case, it does not result in offspring, and it is not a threat to the bourgeois family.

Youth Culture

Youth culture and gangs have risen in America (and to a lesser extent in other societies that imitate American culture) to try to fill the void where there is no bourgeois family structure.

"The youth culture has institutionalized a number of anti-bourgeois attitudes and values: rebelliousness, hedonism, a fixation on the here and now, and all this in a strongly collectivistic/conformist mold (peers at this age level are, perhaps instinctively, a horde)."

"The empirical consequences of this are not difficult to discover: juvenile delinquency and (increasingly) serious crime, drugs and alcoholism, suicide, a frenetic preoccupation with sexuality, mental disorders, and the appeal of fanatical cults." [160]

"The much-heralded youth culture did not produce the new, liberated individual but, rather, a multitude of new pathologies and anxieties." [161]

In a free nation, laws historically passed by the bourgeoisie to protect women and children by treating them differently from men in the job market will not exist. There will be no truancy laws, minimum-wage laws, or child-labor laws to prevent children who are uninterested in formal education from working for wages and achieving independence. Parents, on the other hand, will have the authority to tell their children to obey the rules of the house or get out. The bourgeois family in a free nation will be more truly voluntary and will rely more on bonds of love and kinship than on laws. This will tend to reduce the acrimony between generations.

Professional Childcare

The problem with the experts in the "helping" professions has been their lack of common sense. However, there is hope for them. Experts can learn, it just takes them longer.

"And perhaps surprisingly, our rational and experimentally inclined science of child psychology has rediscovered what human beings have taken for granted for many thousands of years: the overriding importance of love for the healthy development and even the sheer survival of children." [150]

"It seems that without the presence of caring adults an infant is much less likely even to physically survive, let alone develop emotionally." [152]

"The infant is 'bonded' with individual adults, in small numbers, and not with a large, anonymous collectivity." [153]

"By far, in most societies, it is parents who are in charge of the infant's care and socialization." [152]

"Parents are usually the best judges of what their child needs; only they, in most cases know the child fully and can appreciate the individualized needs of the child; by contrast, the knowledge of outsiders tends to be partial (derived, for instance, only from the child's behavior in school or in a psychologist's office) and abstract ('this type of child'...)." [156]

"The child must be able to trust the love of adults who care for him and he must also trust in the fact that they will continue to be around in the future. None of the available alternatives to the bourgeois family provide a basis for either kind of trust; for that reason alone, they are not viable alternatives." [153-154]

Professionally conducted childcare facilities commonly supply neither love nor stability. [153] A persistent feature of all such facilities is high personnel turnover. "The necessary emotional bonding with one or two adults is either impossible (there simply isn't time for it) or (even worse emotionally) each attachment is soon followed by a painful loss." [155]     (to outline)  (to top of page)


The evangelical aspect of the bourgeois family is its least attractive characteristic, and it is a primary reason for opposition to the bourgeois ideal. The busy-body attitude of bourgeois women and Protestant ministers eventually led them to use the political means to intervene in other people's lives. However, in a free nation, this unfortunate aspect of bourgeois culture will not be so much of a problem, because you will be able to tell meddlers to mind their own business, and they will not have recourse to the political means to impose their values on you. In a free nation, cultural conservatives cannot use law to impose their essentially provincial morality on the entire society. Similarly, the left-liberal elite cannot use law to impose their secularism and egalitarianism on society, and radical feminists will not be able to force other people to pay for their abortions or to provide free day care to subsidize their career plans.

The bourgeois lifestyle will be modified somewhat by the voluntary nature of relationships in the free nation. The bourgeoisie will be more tolerant in that they will have to abstain from violent methods of promoting their values. They will have to accommodate freedom of speech, freedom of choice, and self-ownership. So they could rail against pornography, but they could not censor it, except in their own homes. They could shun or denounce those who live deviant life-styles, but they could not physically restrain those whose deviance is nonaggressive. And they could denounce abortionists, prostitutes, and drug addicts, but they could not physically stop them from exercising ownership of their own bodies.

In a free nation, those of us with bourgeois family values will have to resist the urge to prevent child abuse by parents who are alcoholics, drug addicts, bohemians, Moslems, Christian Scientists, homosexuals, pornographers, communists, or any other nonbourgeois category. Unfortunately, some children will be abused, but in the long run there will be less child abuse than there is now.

In a free nation, we do not have to worry that child rearing by lesbians or pairs of homosexual maternal uncles will become the norm. As long as coercion is not used to favor one life-style over another, the bourgeois family structure will win out over all its competitors. Most people who are interested in raising children will choose the bourgeois life-style as their ideal. All we have to do is allow them the freedom to choose. The available evidence shows that, even in our decadent society, most people still believe in the bourgeois family ideal:

"Of adult Americans, 92 percent rate the family as their most important personal value (followed, in descending order by friendship, work, patriotism, and religion); 83 percent would welcome more emphasis on traditional family ties; 33 percent said they place more emphasis on family togetherness than their parents did, 55 percent the same amount, and only 12 percent less; 78 percent said they consider the family to be the most meaningful part of their life (as against only 9 percent making this claim for work). Also, while these data show the great majority of the individuals surveyed following very traditional patterns, both as an ideal and in actual practice, they were quite tolerant of others following different patterns. This is an important finding, because it indicates that one should not interpret tolerance of deviant life-styles as a preference for them." [164]

"People continue to marry as frequently as they used to, and there has been no lessening of marriage by the divorced (giving continued credence to Dr. Johnson's famous dictum about marriage as the triumph of hope over experience)."

"Married people are much more likely to say that they are happy than single people."

"Women, contrary to feminist assumptions, are even happier than men when married .... in higher age brackets, married women stay about as happy as when they were younger, but single women express much less happiness, and single women over forty appear to be the least-happy group in the population. Curiously, it is marriage rather than parenthood that seems to be the crucial factor here: Married couples with children are not happier than those without." [163]

"... we would contend, the high divorce rates indicate the opposite of what conventional wisdom holds: People divorce in such numbers not because they are turned off marriage but, rather, because their expectations of marriage are so high that they will not settle for unsatisfactory approximations." [166]

The bourgeois family will survive in a free nation even though prostitution and other alternatives will be permitted, because, as much as men enjoy sex for its own sake and appreciate the skills of a professional, they also appreciate women who reserve themselves for love. Men as well as women want to experience a special intimacy, which they romantically think will last forever. And men as well as women can enjoy raising children. Women will continue to exploit these facts to their advantage no matter how unnatural monogamy may be for men and no matter how great the opportunities and inducements in the opposite direction become, because: "...there is no viable alternative to the bourgeois family for the raising of children who will have a good chance of becoming responsible and autonomous individuals, nor do we see alternative arrangements by which adults, from youth to old age, will be given a stable context for the affirmation of themselves and their values. The defense of the bourgeois family, therefore, is not an exercise in romantic nostalgia. It is something to be undertaken in defense of human happiness and human dignity in a difficult time." [167] In summary, bourgeois families will thrive in a free nation because: (1) people with bourgeois values will migrate to a free nation in greater numbers than people with nonbourgeois values, (2) a free nation will not have government laws and programs that undermine the bourgeois family and subsidize alternatives, and (3) in open competition, people raised in bourgeois families will be happier and more successful than people raised by alternative institutions. D

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1 The War over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground by Brigitte Berger and Peter Berger describes the ideal of the bourgeois family, the objections raised by critics of it, the alternatives to it, and, finally, why it will outlive all of its competitors. The subtitle refers to the fact that the authors defend a position somewhere to the right of the intellectual elite and the counterculture and somewhere to the left of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. (The numbers enclosed in brackets refer to pages in this book where I either copied their words verbatim and used quotation marks, or I changed some of their words, but not their meaning, and did not use quotation marks.)

2 William Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, p. 68.

3 Aida Torres and Jacqueline Darroch Forrest, "Why Do Women Have Abortions?" Family Planning Perspectives, July/August 1988.

4 Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family, p.16.

5 Ibid., p. 23.

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