WASHINGTON, June 3, 2014 — This past Saturday my mother’s family had a reunion in Raleigh, North Carolina. The last one we had was in 2001. This one was a large affair, with kin coming from several states. All are descendants of my grandparents, Henry Clay Johnson Perry (1877-1962) and Susan Rebecca Emily King Perry (1882-1973).
In the lead-up to yesterday, various cousins prepared materials on the family to be distributed to members. A number of my family are accomplished researchers and authors. Several finished doctorates and teach or have taught at various colleges and universities. It fell to me to write a brief family history.
As I researched the materials that my very talented mother (who had an MA in English and who taught for years) had collected over the years, I was impressed by the leadership roles members of the family have taken in the history of North Carolina, but what impressed me even more was that the family remains generally traditional, attached to most of the same principles that guided our ancestors even in the 17th century.
Saturday’s reunion indicated that the significance of family remains supremely important, with many representatives of four newer generations making the effort to be there.
I felt truly humbled, especially as I began to think of so many friends whose family structure has crumbled or disappeared in recent decades. Once, when I was growing up, what I saw and experienced Saturday was commonplace, certainly in North Carolina and in the South. But such vibrant familial relations and unity have given way in large part, to be replaced by an atomistic isolation and social and familial despair. Very little remains, no intermediary institutions between the individual and an increasingly all-powerful government and faceless bureaucracy that has in large part taken over the role formerly occupied by the family — and by the local community and the church — that is, a government that is now the “nanny state.”
The advocates of social and cultural liberalism in their wildly successful transformation of American society have not only “liberated” those they call the “oppressed,” but in the process they have largely destroyed the natural and organic institutions — the family, the community, the church — that once flourished and gave life and sustenance and definition to individuals born and raised within them.
I reflected on this process last evening when I returned home; a century ago, various prescient critics understood where liberalism, and then Marxism, would lead, what results these “isms” would have, if unchecked and not halted. The desert-like, barren wasteland of our modern American and European society provides ample evidence for just how correct those traditionalist and conservative social and cultural observers really were.
The prophetic post-War Between the States social and political writer, Robert Lewis Dabney, surveying the “age of the Robber Barons” and the socially-dissolving characteristic of industrial monopoly capitalism and what it was doing to his beloved Southland, exclaimed in 1894: “I am the Cassandra of Yankeedom, predestined to prophesy truth and never to be believed until too late.” Although largely concerned with what was occurring in the post-War South, Dabney’s warning and the dire predictions of other contemporary social critics were not just shrill jeremiads of scorned prophets; if anything, their words of warning and alarm were too mild.
Yesterday, I gave thanks for my extended family, with its organic integrity, for the legacy that surrounds me and has helped form me. I take pride in my ancestors, one of whom participated in the North Carolina Provincial Congress (April 1776) that actually proclaimed the real independence of my home state from Great Britain, and did so three months before the Founders did likewise in Philadelphia. I honor the various great- and great-great-grandfathers who left home to fight for their native state and for their families in 1861. I remember with deep appreciation the mothers and great-grandmothers who, without all the modern conveniences we take for granted, raised Christian families and imparted moral values and tested wisdom in both their daughters and their sons.
That pride, that appreciation for who we are and what we have inherited, has not vanished in my family. But the fact that my grandparents’ family continues to survive in such a richly organic fashion only heightens my sadness when I survey much of contemporary American society.
As I thought about this last night, I wondered if there were enough seeds left, in my family and in others, to produce a rebirth, or if, indeed, what I witnessed yesterday was just an increasingly rare efflorescence — a reminder of what once had been very common, but no longer is — in our dying society. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know what my obligation is, and that is to support and cherish the family that gave me life, my inheritance and legacy. And that is something worth fighting for.