"We that are Christians believe that the family has a divine sanction. But any reasonable pagan, if he will work it out, will discover that the family existed before the State and has prior rights; that the State only exists as a collection of families, and that its sole function is to safeguard the rights of each and all of them." - G. K. Chesterton, G. K.'s Weekly, Jan 3, 1935 (quoted in Joseph Pearce, Race with the Devil, p. 160)
It is said that we Christians must work to evangelize modern pagans, much like the early Christians evangelized the pagans of the Roman Empire. In a sense this is true, but it is an error to conflate the modern secularist with the ancient pagan. As Chesterton's quote demonstrates, there are things so obvious that only a thorough modern education could remove knowledge of them.
The family existed before the State. It will exist after the State (in its present form) has withered away. The family, like the State, is one of those permanent things that civilization must possess to some degree if it is to retain that distinction. Even as we evolve beyond the nuclear family, its absence has already devastated aspects of our society, from the ghettos of Baltimore to the hills of Appalachia.
But Chesterton's quote is insightful for another reason. In a healthy society, the State works with the family; in an unhealthy one, it turns against it. Once the State has ceased to be the safeguard of the family, the State begins to claim the family's rights and responsibilities for itself.
The State does not safeguard the rights of parents to educate their children. It begrudgingly permits it in some cases, but in the vast majority, the State reserves this right to itself. And this vital process must be started ever earlier, until, perhaps, on some great day, the new born baby will be whisked from the delivery room into the loving arms of a schoolmaster as in Plato's dystopia.
The State does not seek to ensure that at least one parent can stay at home with the children. It prefers that both parents serve corporate masters while the children are taken care of by someone else. One could as easily provide tax credits for stay at home mothers as for day care, but while the latter is politically practicable, the former is not.
Even when it comes to providing food and shelter, the State steps in when one parent is lacking. It does not seek to provide compensation for a working parent; instead, it offers handouts. Through this simple gesture, the State has ensured spectacular rates of illegitimacy among the underclass.
The State has not attempted to do something about our high divorce rate. In fact, its family courts have contributed to it. The State would never dream of using its authority to compel a husband and wife to take their vows seriously. Instead, it deprives the children of one parent, and generously insists that the deprived parent pays dearly.
These examples could be multiplied, for the logic is always the same. When the family is struggling, the State does not try to build up that fledgling building block of civilization. The State does not let a crisis go to waste and uses the opportunity to increase its power.
At first, the State provides education to orphans; a short time later, it provides education to everyone. Perversely, those who insist on educating their own children are the weird ones. The exception becomes the rule.
In many ways, the State is now the enemy of the family.