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HomePolicy Articles Article Summary

The Role of the Family in Democracy: Obstacle or Necessity?

Discussion Paper by David Brown

Recently, the terms “family” and “family values” have become the focus of great concern on the political stage. However, David Brown says the debate about family is always important. Further, a tension has now arisen between the family and democracy, which Brown attributes to a change in how we think about democracy. Individual autonomy, the author contends, now has greater importance than the notion of “common good.”

In his paper Brown highlights three areas where this tension has emerged: the definition of family, the education of the young, and the scope of parental authority. The author argues that it is precisely because the family is a non-democratic institution that it is required for democracy to function properly. As Brown points out, the debate about family has been ongoing in Canada’s courts. In many instances, the courts have placed individual autonomy above the family. The author highlights several decisions that have impacted the notion of family, and outlines several grounds on which it could be argued that the family can obstruct the efficient and effective functioning of democratic processes. While the family may be an obstacle in some respects, Brown reiterates that family is necessary for democracy.

Brown presents several reasons for affirming the pertinence of family to democracy: 1) it is a social institution that ensures the propagation of the species and the continuation of democracy; 2) it teaches children about the proper limits of human conduct; and 3) it is the most effective teacher of virtues, precisely because it is not a democratic institution. The author concludes by stating that we cannot “underestimate the critical support which the family provides to our democracy.” Each time the law severs another tie in the private realm of the family, it cuts a tie that holds public institutions together and undermines democracy.

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Policy Publication Details

Author(s): David Brown;
Publisher: Centre for Cultural Renewal [ Visit Website ]
Year Published: 2006; Publisher Type: Research Institute
Publicly Available: Yes Research Focus: National;
Registration Required: No Language: English
Payment Required: No Publication Format: Adobe PDF, Hard Copy

Subjects / Categories:

Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / Legislation
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / The Courts
Policy Articles / International Law & Politics / Canadian Law
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice
Policy Articles / International Law & Politics
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / Legislation / 2006
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / The Courts / 2006
Policy Articles / International Law & Politics / Canadian Law / 2006

Keywords / Tags:

family; family values; family-democracy tension; individual autonomy; scope of parental authority; definition of family; education of the young; family as non-democratic instituion; Canadian courts;