‘The family is the origin of self-respect’

I’ve been rereading Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism lately, and want to share a small bit of that today. (I’ll also be sharing two more bits next week.) I’ve written about Scruton before. He wrote this book in the late 1970s, and while much of his perspective draws on British life, it’s very much a book about authentic conservatism of spirit rather than the cheap conservatism of merely politics.

This bit on family life really calls out for appreciation:

The family is the origin of self-respect, being the first institution through which the social world is perceived. It is also autonomous: a form of life which has no aim besides itself. What is achieved through family union could not be achieved in some other way. The family is therefore instilled with concrete values, providing each of its participants with an unending source of rational objectives, which cannot be specified in advance but which arise from the realities of family life. …

I have previously taken the family as the clearest example of an institution based in a transcendent bond. It is a clear example because it is an extreme one. Almost nothing about the family union rests in contract or consent, and none of the values which spring from it can be understood except in terms of the peculiar lastingness with which it is endowed. While a football team has an identity which can outlast the contributions of particular members, it is not for its lastingness that is is valued. (Although it would be of less worth were it to be constantly formed and re-formed without some trappings of continuity.) In the case of the family, however, the experience of continuity is immediate and dominant. Parents play with their children and so re-enact childhood. They also educate them, preoccupied by the future character and happiness of their offspring. This motive reaches forward beyond death, and also backward, to a sense of former dependency and a remembrance of the parents who protected it. In the commerce between parent and child, past and future are made present, and therein lies the immediate and perceivable reality of the transcendent bond which unites them.