Earlier this year we were sent a review copy of his newest release, The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays. This book continues Dr. Carlson’s project of stimulating social critique and imaginative constructive proposals, illustrating and explaining the family-centered socio-economic policy. In what follows, we will summarize The Natural Family Where It Belongs, highlight some of its more salient observations and criticisms of modern liberal capitalism, and raise a few questions that need still to be addressed as well as some important concerns.
The book asserts “the remarkable thesis that agrarianism is alive in twenty-first century America and—if not exactly well—showing clear and enticing prospects for the future” (ix). But, and this is a point we will return to towards the end, it isn’t clear that Dr. Carlson’s central proposal is necessarily agrarianism, though that is certainly a feature, nor is it clear that The Natural Family Where It Belongs is really a book about agrarianism, despite the subtitle. Instead, it seems that the main argument is for “household” economies and “household” politics. Indeed, as we will see, this book begins by laying out a basic theory of what politics is and how it ought to work, then it explains the modern “fall” away from household-centric life, lists noteworthy critics of this fall, and then concludes with specific policy proposals for restoring the household to its place of central importance. The household obtains such necessary importance because it is the one domain where “the ‘sexual and the economic’ are merged” (ix) and the natural family (a husband and wife pairing in which children are normative) can flourish. And so, as foreword goes on to state, “the common thesis is that family renewal will only occur as these bonds and goals are recreated and strengthened in the years and decades ahead” (x). In short, this is a book about family renewal and its relation to the rest of public policy and political theory.