Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Amid lockdowns and “shelter-in-place” orders and social distancing from strangers and even friends, the coronavirus pandemic has been a time, for many of us, of reaffirming the centrality of family in our lives. For utopians of the radical left, though, the pandemic is an opportunity to deconstruct flawed, traditional familial bonds and remake the world along the lines of new-and-improved, collectivist possibilities. As author Sophie Lewis (pictured above) puts it bluntly in a recent opinion piece at Open Democracy: “We deserve better than the family. And the time of corona is an excellent time to practice abolishing it.”
The author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, Sophie Lewis’ academic work “focuses on eugenic, bioconservative and imperial feminism, queer and trans social reproduction, Black feminist family abolitionism, hydrofeminism, postgenomics, and Marxist-feminist accounts of care,” which seems like a lot to fit on a business card.
Writing in her article titled, “The coronavirus crisis shows it’s time to abolish the family,” Lewis addresses what she calls “the unspoken and mostly unquestioned crux of the prescribed response to the pandemic: private homes.” She criticizes the assumption that we should all “stay at home” to contain the spread of the virus, arguing that 1) not everybody has a home, and 2) private property is already a “fundamentally unsafe space.”
“How can a zone defined by the power asymmetries of housework (reproductive labor being so gendered), of renting and mortgage debt, land and deed ownership, of patriarchal parenting and (often) the institution of marriage, benefit health?” she asks. “Such standard homes are where, after all, everyone secretly knows the majority of earthly violence goes down… A quarantine is, in effect, an abuser’s dream – a situation that hands near-infinite power to those with the upper hand over a home.”
Lewis approvingly quotes feminist Madeline Lane-McKinley, who had this to say in a tweet about the shelter-in-place imperative: “Households are capitalism’s pressure cookers. This crisis will see a surge in housework – cleaning, cooking, caretaking, but also child abuse, molestation, intimate partner rape, psychological torture, and more.”
Imagine the warped mind that equates the family home with “a pressure cooker” of child abuse, rape, and psychological torture. Do such things happen in some homes? Tragically, yes; of course they do. But family abolitionists see these horrors as inherent in the ideologically “coercive” institution of the nuclear family. They pay lip service to acknowledging that families can be a source of love, comfort, and safety, and they claim that their goal “is not the destruction of kinship ties” but an “expansion of that protection into broader communities of struggle,” as ME O’Brien writes at Pinko (which describes itself as “a collective for thinking gay communism”). And yet they relentlessly denigrate the nuclear family as an institution poisoned by what O’Brien calls “compulsory heterosexuality, misogynistic subjugation and familial violence.” They sneer at “family householders” as “white property owners, abusive patriarchs, homophobes and others most invested in the normative family” (O’Brien again).
But the domestic violence aspect is just the tip of the iceberg. The family is also apparently a capitalist plot for churning out – gasp – productive individuals. In an interview last year with the far-left The Nation titled “Want to Dismantle Capitalism? Abolish the Family,” Lewis stated, “We know that the nuclear private household is where the overwhelming majority of abuse can happen. And then there’s the whole question of what it is for: training us up to be workers, training us to be inhabitants of a binary-gendered and racially stratified system, training us not to be queer.” In her Open Democracy article, Lewis adds that “even when the private nuclear household poses no direct physical or mental threat to one’s person – no spouse-battering, no child rape, and no queer-bashing – the private family qua mode of social reproduction still, frankly, sucks. It genders, nationalizes and races us. It norms us for productive work. It makes us believe we are ‘individuals.’”
The vision of anti-family theorists like Lewis is to replace the ideological straightjacket of the family with a world of communes of “collective social reproduction,” in which the entire community cares for children and rescues them from “abusive parental relationships.” Apparently communes will be free of spouse beating, child abuse, and all the other dark shadows of human nature. Oh, and no compulsory heterosexuality.
They will also supposedly be free of homelessness. Calling comfortable housing “a basic human birthright,” Lewis recommends that we “open all the hotels and private palaces” for “housing for all,” “[f]ree all prisoners and detainees now, remake the care facilities as spacious self-led villages, and dismiss all the workers with full pay so they can leave their bunks forever, move in with their friends, and pursue laziness for at least the next decade.”
One would be forgiven for thinking that this kind of talk is Swiftian satire, but sadly, Lewis and her ilk are deadly serious – and brutally honest about it. Last year, for example, Lewis dispensed with the left’s usual tortured justifications for abortion and expressed her view that taking the life of the unborn is indeed killing, but “a form of killing that we need to be able to defend. I am not interested in where a human life starts to exist.”
So for Lewis, the current pandemic is not a time “to acquiesce to ‘family values’ ideology”; on the contrary, it’s “an acutely important time to provision, evacuate and generally empower survivors of – and refugees from – the nuclear household.” In addition to hoping “to wrench something better than capitalism from the wreckage of this Plague and the coming Depression,” she looks forward to this crisis ratcheting up “the dialectic of families against the family, of real homes against the home.”
The nuclear family is the most elemental relationship building block of civilization (of course, civilization as we know it is precisely what the left wants to dismantle.) It is a refuge, a source of strength and support, of identity and history, of love and forgiveness. It is home. Husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister — the bonds these incredibly evocative words imply would not be expanded under the system Lewis is proposing; they would be dissolved. Are families perfect? Of course not. None of them is, because human beings aren’t perfect and never can be. We are fallen beings in a fallen world – this is the reality that the far left refuses to accept. There is no insanely totalitarian, collectivist nightmare that the left will not pursue with an evangelical passion to achieve their dream of the perfectibility of mankind, of paradise on earth. But that dream, as has been demonstrated in all places and in all times where it has been put into practice, is a mass-murdering lie.
And yet as extreme as Sophie Lewis’ anti-family, anti-capitalist animus sounds, everything she proposes is simply the end game of mainstream Progressivism: the abolition of capitalism; the abolition of private property; the abolition of traditional kinship; the abolition of literally every single tradition and institution of Western civilization, to be replaced by the enlightened, peaceful, self-regulated structures of communism – just as Karl Marx envisioned. Family abolitionists like Lewis are mainstream Progressives; what makes them seem extreme is simply their unabashed openness about their aims.