“The family is a sanctuary not only religiously, but also socially and politically: for the possibility of all organic structuring of bourgeois society is given in nuclear form in the family, just as the oak is in the acorn.” With this central statement, W. H. Riehl developed the idea of the family nearly a hundred years ago in his marvelously vivid book. What the family meant in earlier times still appears to us today in the homey-tranquil paintings of Runge, Ludwig, Richter, or Knaus – it is really worthwhile to immerse ourselves in them during a quiet evening hour. We can also learn something from the numerous youthful accounts of German poets and writers, from Goethe to Kügelgen and Storm and Keller.
Since the days of Riehl, the economic and generative conditions of the family – and with them, the family’s shaping power as well – have changed fundamentally. Sombart, Weber, and Fischer have described this developmental process in their works. Older people are familiar with this loosening of the pedagogical role of the family from personal experience. Now, the Nazi regime, the Hitler war, and the collapse have inflicted deep and painful wounds on the family. No illusory pictures help here; what is called for is a firm look into the eye of gray reality. We must constantly remind ourselves: they celebrated Mother’s Days and took children out of the family through their forced integration into the [military] formations; they distributed Mother’s Crosses and trained young people systematically for war; they arranged mass baptisms and late baptisms and systematically loosened all religious ties. Führer speeches sang the praises of the family: Führer orders chased away and scattered family members to the winds. The warm coziness of the family was replaced by the cold discipline of the barracks. The blood sacrifice of the war was trivialized by propaganda into the procreation of war children. And now there is no family in Germany without sacrifice and loss. Millions of families are shrunken, mutilated, broken. Millions of German children are growing up without father and mother. The effects of attempts at political numbing and Nazi mass suggestion are still reverberating harshly and severely today; a weakened morality and a lax conscience are causing dissipation and criminality to rise steadily.
What is to be done? Studies of whether this is a transitory illness or a lasting injury offer no help here. What is needed is to do everything possible to give the family a piece of its educational power back. No matter how tight the living space, the house remains the natural community of the child and the place where it is raised. Even in the maelstrom of the present, the family is the biologically given unit and has the power of instinctive education. In daily coexistence every family member experiences integration, accommodation, and subordination.
The undermining forces would like to continue hollowing out our families, also in the present. Threats come from the specters of deracination, the dissolution of all bonds, the lack of reverence. The terrible loss of men threatens the institution of monogamous marriage. And yet, alongside this shadow there is also light and brightness. See how the returning soldiers are awaited and greeted by mothers and children. Hear the pleas and prayers that rise to heaven from women and young people for those who are still far away. External and internal family care have helped and provided strength in countless dire cases. Anyone who knows how to observe young people also sees, alongside those who are struggling, alongside those who daily circumvent the law, the great majority of others who are still within the firm discipline of their families. The life and work community of the family proves itself in the mutual care of family members for one another. And this family life is at the same time the self-educating growth of the parents.