Book Write-Up: The Betrayers, Who Killed the American Family (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. The Betrayers. Pere Marquette, 1968.

Phyllis Schlafly. Who Killed the American Family? WND, 2016.

Some items:

A. The Betrayers was written in 1968 and endorsed Richard Nixon for President. The best part of the book is the last chapter, where Schlafly and Ward survey the political scene. Should conservatives vote for George Wallace? Schlafly and Ward advise against that because third parties never do well. Should they vote for the Republican or the Democratic Party, or, as Wallace said, is there not a dime’s worth of difference between the two? Schlafly and Ward argue that the Republican Party is better. Republican Presidents from the 1920’s to 1968 had lower deficits, more balanced budgets, and more tax reductions than Democratic Presidents. Schlafly and Ward also take on Christians who would rather retreat from politics and focus on praying for the nation. That did not help Poland and Hungary, where people are devoutly religious yet fell to Communism.

B. The book is called The Betrayers. The implication seems to be that the Democrats pursuing the policies that Schlafly and Ward criticize—-weakness against the global and internal Communist threat and nuclear disarmament—-are not merely uninformed but are actively and consciously betraying the nation. If they were merely stupid, James Forrestral reportedly told Joe McCarthy, they would occasionally make decisions that would favor the U.S., but they do not, so something more sinister must be going on. Schlafly and Ward argue that there are still Alger Hiss types and security risks in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. At the same time, they fall short of actually calling Robert MacNamara, Paul Nitze, and LBJ Communists. As far as Schlafly and Ward are concerned, they have other motivations. They would prefer to be red rather than dead from nuclear war, they trust that the Communists can be appeased through negotiation, or they figure that the Soviets are mellowing. Schlafly and Ward waffle between depicting them as dupes and regarding them as conscious and deliberate betrayers.

C. Who Killed the American Family? laments the decline of the nuclear family in the United States. Most homes are raised by single parents or unmarried couples, and the government is treated as a replacement for the father as provider. The tax and welfare systems penalize marriage. UN treaties, which, fortunately, the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify, would threaten the American family if they were to be ratified: the UN Treaty on the Child, for example, undermines parental authority in the name of children’s “rights.” Legislation and family courts diminish and persecute the father. The Violence Against Women Act is nebulous enough that husbands can be imprisoned for belittling their wives. Family courts occur in secrecy and, using a vague standard of what is in the “best interests of the child,” they render the father absent from his children’s lives and impose on him merciless child support payments, under penalty of prison. The mother can use those payments for something other than the children, and the obligation on the fathers takes little account of the fathers’ current income or even bankruptcy. School curricula, with court backing, alienate children from their parents and the values they are taught in the home. Schlafly is also critical of therapy, seeing it as professional intrusion into the home, and she argues that there is no evidence that it works. Schlafly’s conclusions are controversial—-some of them would even be considered abhorrent—-but she supports her points with anecdotes, statistics, and arguments. Her point about therapy would have been stronger had she addressed what families with relational problems should do instead. Lean on religion? Her point about child support and custody is ironic because, in arguing against the ERA, she stated that ERA would eliminate the system’s preference for the mother in custody cases. In Who Killed the American Family?, however, she laments that the mother is preferred, to the detriment of the father. She has criticized feminism for seeking to eliminate gender distinctions from the law, yet she also sees feminism as an anti-man movement, which would coincide with an anti-husband, anti-father approach on its part.

D. If Schlafly believes that the nuclear family is a divinely-ordained institution, she does not say so, at least in this book. She acknowledges that there are historical and current cultures that have families that are more extended than nuclear. She thinks that a nuclear family is better for a democratic nation, however. At the same time, she does, in a sense, treat the nuclear family as natural. She disputes Margaret Mead’s conclusion that there were societies in which group sex was rampant and the community raised the child; she observes that Mead herself acknowledged that, in tribal societies, the man was the leader. While Africa indeed values extended families, it also has nuclear families, and African children raised in nuclear families do better emotionally than those relying more on extended families.

E. What is so great about the nuclear family, according to Schlafly? The nuclear family is a refuge of safety amidst a harsh world. Fathers, far from being superfluous, are important in that they challenge their children, while still extending their love. Children raised in single-parent homes, on average, do worse financially, academically, and socially than children raised in nuclear families. Nuclear families are where children, in an atmosphere of love, are trained to enter society as responsible adults. There is also a political motivation behind Schlafly’s preference for nuclear families: married couples tend to vote Republican rather than Democrat.

F. Schlafly includes an interesting quote by David Brooks, who observes that the current economy caters to feminine qualities rather than male. Women have empathy and an appreciation for context, something that men stink at. Whether Schlafly agrees with that is a good question. She does not explicitly dispute it. Yet, she laments society’s preference for feminine values such as empathy over male values like rationality.

G. Why do people want to kill the American family? Feminism, with its anti-male attitude, is one culprit, as far as Schlafly is concerned. Schlafly also talks about how Communism sought to undermine the nuclear family when it was attempting to take over a society. Alienating people from their attachments, and the traditions that the families passed on, would make them easier prey for domination by the state. Schlafly acknowledges that Communism ultimately found this path to be unsustainable, which is why the Soviet Union affirmed the traditional family when the Communists came into power. In seeking to destabilize a society, however, Communism attacks the family. Whether Schlafly believes that is still a problem, long after the end of the Cold War, is a good question. She may think that all we have now is the societal disaster that has accompanied the dissolution of the American family; the disaster is not leading to Communism, per se, but it is still detrimental to American society.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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