Note – This piece is meant to be read alongside Allan Carlson’s article on the decline of the natural family. We are using Carlson’s writing to make some quick conclusions about the unstable nature of social activism throughout American history.
Public opinion is a squirrely guide. With respect to the sentiments of Isaac Newton, “standing on the shoulders of giants” may help us to innovate and achieve, but it also helps us see the fickle and transitory nature of public consensus on ethical and moral issues. Great reversals within a few generations are not uncommon, and the memories of activism in the opposite direction are often either forgotten or glossed over with a brush of condescending words like “old-fashioned” or “stagnant.” Through the language of liberation, safety, and health, America has changed its mind on slavery, same-sex orientation, same-sex marriage, women in the workforce, women voting, and immigration, to name a few.
The question at hand is this: can public opinion be trusted for the long haul? For one case study, let’s look together at a piece by Allan Carlson, a historian and Catholic apologist who teaches at Cornell University. In it, he tracks the changes in the American concept of the family unit and its relation to economic and social shifts.
Finished? Let’s move forward together.