Empower America, an organization co-directed by William J. Bennett and Jack Kemp, has just released The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators 2001, an update of the cultural barometer initiated in 1990. In an interview coinciding with the release, Bennett noted that, although some of the indicators have shown improvement, the trends involving the continuing breakdown of the family have not. I believe that this is the leading indicator of cultural decline, because the family, as we have known it, is the central economic, educational, and value transmission unit of society. Of course, many forces have been at work over the past several decades, some intentionally, to destroy the traditional family, and, as Bennett notes, even among those who regret the destruction, there are many who are uncomfortable taking the steps necessary to fight the causes. He calls it a soft relativism, primarily based on the fact that matters of sex have become judgment-free.
Much of this relativism, I believe, is the evolutionary perversion of the “harm principle” espoused by John S. Mill in the mid-19th century, whereby the individual was to be free of all state or societal coercion of behavior in the absence of harm to others. This ultimately became the creed of the libertine and we are reaping the harvest in births out of wedlock, teenage pregnancy, divorce, cohabitation, the re-defining of “marriage”, and all the resulting dysfunction and pathological behavior.
Research conducted in the early 1990’s by Stephen Klineberg of Rice University identified five revolutionary trends that he believes will be particularly important in defining the policy agenda for the future for both the public and private sector. One of these is the transformation of American family life, which he says must be accommodated by policy. To some extent maybe, but we will not reverse the dysfunctional trends through accommodation (and validation) of family structures and behavior that are counter to the most important truths about human nature. Unless we are willing to be much more judgmental about marriage and family life, recent trends in this leading cultural indicator will continue.