Revisiting The Fatherhood Crisis Of Our Civilization


Stephen Baskerville Professor, Patrick Henry College
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Fatherlessness is again in the news.  This is all to the good, even if it took the Nicholas Cruz shootings, to wake us up.  If we want to make a difference this time around, it will require facing some hard truths and showing the leadership that we previously lacked.

For we have been through this before, and our previous mistakes are now instructive.  Fatherhood was the rage during the 1990s. Spearheaded by Al Gore, the Clinton Administration started all kinds of programs to “promote fatherhood”.  Scholars like David Blankenhorn and David Popenoe published influential books claiming a fatherhood crisis. The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) and similar groups were founded here, as well as in Canada, Britain, and elsewhere.  But it all achieved little and in some ways may have made the problem worse.

For there was a dark side to it all.  Rather than face the problem honestly, we took the easy way out by simply blaming the crisis on fathers themselves.  Blankenhorn and Popenoe cheapened their books by claiming (without a shred of evidence) that fathers were abandoning their children in droves.  While Gore was promoting fatherhood, his boss, Bill Clinton, was attacking fathers and having them plundered and arrested:  “We will find you!” he intoned. “We will make you pay!” Meanwhile, NFI became a clearinghouse for both important facts and pointless platitudes.  And a national witch hunt (remarkably similar to those we now see over “campus rape” and “sexual harassment” and promoted largely by the same people) began for “deadbeat dads.”  Like campus rape today, it all turned out to be a hoax.  Yet even more than today’s witch hunts, the hoax was vicious, which exacerbated the problem and left many innocent men incarcerated with little concern for due process of law.

With the Bush administration the tone softened, and fatherhood promotion programs were relabeled with the broader goal of “marriage promotion.”  But these too were ineffectual in alleviating the epidemic of single-parent homes that was wreaking havoc in the inner cities and – rapidly spreading to the middle class – everywhere else.  Government largesse that had been paid to liberal client groups now went to conservative client groups, but no one ever really answered the basic question of how a government agency could “promote” either fatherhood or marriage.  We were spending money to create the appearance of action and to avoid facing the problem and its causes squarely.

Meanwhile, the norm of the married, two-parent family was degenerating so seriously that marriage began to be seen as a political prize by homosexual militants, who shifted the discussion to same-sex marriage.  This rendered anything masculine even more “toxic” and untouchable (a process that has accelerated in recent months), and everyone on both the left and right seemed relieved at being allowed to forget about fatherhood.

But of course the problem did not go away; it worsened.  Indeed, fatherlessness is at the heart of our current crisis of masculinity and led to all the rest, which it dwarfs in importance:  same-sex marriage and parenting, transgender bathrooms, women and homosexuals in the military.  As we learned in the 1990s, it is the single most important cause of every social pathology: violent crime, substance abuse, truancy, unwed pregnancy in the next generation.  And all these ills cost us financially, making fatherlessness the major driver of most domestic government spending, including budgets for law enforcement, education, and health.  With fatherless ghettoes in Europe becoming the breeding grounds for terrorism, we can add some of the security budget too.

Indeed, it is still more serious than that.  Critically for today’s headlines, we can now see in retrospect that campaigns against fathers, with dishonest hunts for “deadbeat dads” and flagrantly trumped-up accusations of “child abuse” and “domestic violence” used to win custody of children, provided the model for today’s witch hunts over “campus rape,” “sexual harassment” and the rest.  Emboldened by their unopposed success in the divorce courts, sexual radicals have applied the political modus operandi of quasi-criminal accusations to intimidate opposition to their goal of a utopia of sexual freedom, without the annoying voices of men, heterosexuals, religious believers, and other dissenters.

So how do we address fatherlessness honestly and effectively?  No expensive government programs or psychotherapeutic gimmicks are necessary.  It requires simply that we enforce the Constitution, which has been all-but-discarded by all this.  Shared parenting laws would help in the short run, but more is needed. We must enforce the fundamental right of all parents to the “care, custody, and companionship” of their children, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, unless they have been found guilty of some legal transgression by due process of law.  We must recognize that “no-fault” justice – in divorce or elsewhere – is an oxymoron (and clear violation of the Contract Clause) that debases legal justice and threatens a free society. We must again require that knowingly false criminal accusations are themselves a crime that must be punished. And yes, we must directly confront the political power of the massive army of judicial functionaries whose collusion has brought all this to the crisis point and who fought reform tooth-and-nail the first time:  judges, lawyers, social workers, forensic psychotherapists, the radical feminists who pressure them, and others with a vested interest in taking control of other people’s children and using them as weapons to augment their earnings and power.  This is the vanguard of judicial activism or what the late Robert Bork called, “the worldwide rule of judges.”

I have laid a lot at the door of fatherlessness: degeneration of our social order, financial solvency, and judicial integrity.  But it is precisely because so much is at stake that our would-be reformers have lost their nerve when they realize the herculean task they face.  We will need leaders of courage and strength – not only politicians but journalists, scholars, clergy, and above all the ordinary householders who are not only the basic strength of a democracy but who are also themselves, in this case, the main targets under attack.

Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007).  His most recent book is The New Politics of Sex (Angelico, 2017).

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.