Defending Man and the Family


In UNCHS (The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements),

June 2001, Vol. 7, N°2


As can be seen from many recent documents from UN agencies like UNFPA, there is a trend for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be supplanted by documents such as the Earth Charter. Man is considered to be the result of the evolution of matter, and he must agree to submit himself to the Great Whole. This, we are told, is the price to pay for "sustainable development". This view of Mother Earth denies man the central place in the world that was assigned to him in the 1948 Declaration. We must return to this anthropocentrism and this universalism, which was inspired by the Roman, Jewish and Christian traditions and was brilliantly reaffirmed by the Renaissance, if we wish to save and protect human capital. The quintessential value is man and not the environment. Without men properly prepared to become responsible managers of Nature, Nature itself cannot but deteriorate and man cannot but vanish. This view of man and his relationship with nature necessitates a fully humanistic conception of development. This conception prompts us to revisit current educational, health and food policies. It also prompts us to reconsider policies relating to women and families.


The family and freedom


The family is the place par excellence where man is born in freedom. Too many UN agencies, turning their backs on the 1948 Declaration, articles 12, 16, 23 and 25 of which recognize and protect the family, are currently striving to secure the acceptance of so-called "new models of the family" - single-parent or homosexual families, for example. All such proposals are intended to destroy the family, which is heterosexual and monogamous in nature.

Gary Becker was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1992 for showing the cardinal role of the family and education in society.[1] The family is the principal location for the formation of "human capital", ultimately the only capital of importance, but one threatened with a shortfall. The personality of the child is formed in the family. It is there that the child learns a sense of initiative, responsibility, solidarity, etc. - all qualities that are highly valued in society.

The decisive role of the family is continued in specialized educational networks. In this regard, Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate for economics in 1998, builds on the conclusions that we have just summarized when he notes that, without education, men are not capable of criticizing those who govern them, in other words, that education is an initiation in freedom; its spread is one of the conditions for democracy.[2] The primary purpose of development is not to increase wealth; its purpose is to provide access to the exercise of freedom.[3]


The home and the family


In this context, it is easier to understand the place and the role of the home in development. The meanings of the word "home" burst out in three directions: house, family, temple. The home is therefore a building in which man is at home; it is the shelter against bad weather, against intrusions, against indiscretions. It is the demarcated edifice in which man finds his wife, meets her and finds his happiness in her. It is the place where the children are conceived and born, where they grow before starting a new home in their turn.

The home is therefore inseparable from the family; indeed, poets often compare it to a nest. But man's home is net just any nest. It is a typically human place where the memory of generations is transmitted, a place where man and woman, brothers and sisters are welcomed, acknowledged and nurtured in their individuality. It is a place of culture and creativity, where human and religious values are gathered and transmitted, where they are honoured. Hence it is not surprising that the home has been acknowledged to have a religious dimension, and that the Church itself perceives in it an ecc1esiola, a Church in miniature and one which is growing.


The family and human settlements


Man must be at the centre of attention of rulers at all levels because he is born to be free and because development must be viewed as a set of conditions offered to enable men and societies to realize their aspirations freely.

Although UNCHS (Habitat) is in no way free of the pressures which other UN agencies do not fail to exert against it, the Commission on Human Settlements gives clear signs of its resolve to take the family into account first and foremost in settling issues relating to housing and physical planning. This option in favour of what John Paul II has called the "culture of life" and "human ecology" needs to be supported by the entire international community. It will enable us to contemplate the future free of the terrifying fantasies spread by the "culture of death". The forthcoming international meetings will enable us to check whether the hope that we have expressed here is confirmed by the new options to be defined by the international community.


[1] See Gary Becker, A Treatise on the Family, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1994.

[2] Concerning the relations between upbringing, freedom and democracy, see the works of Paulo Freire, L'éducation: pratique de la liberté, Paris, Éd. du Cerf, 1971.

[3] See in particular Amartya Se, Un nouveau modèle économique. Développement, justice, liberté, Paris, Éd. Odile Jacob, 2000.