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Author Topic: A Must Read: Stephen Baskerville  (Read 824 times)


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A Must Read: Stephen Baskerville
« on: Sep 03, 2004, 12:33:53 PM »
The article below is published today on LewRockwell.com
( http://www.lewrockwell.com/ ). The readership of this site is enormous,
some 24 million hits per month.

David Blankenhorn and the Institute for American Values seem to specialize
in personal smears.  Blankenhorn's published work is largely an attack on
American fathers who have no similar platform to defend themselves.  More
recently, he has taken to launching ad hominem attacks on anyone who
questions his unsubstantiated allegations.  At the same time, he refuses to
engage the substance of arguments that challenge his own.  I have been
looking for an opportunity to confront Mr. Blankenhorn's falsehood directly,
and now he has provided it.

Feedback can be sent to: lew@lewrockwell.com.

Special thanks to Ed Truncellito for his assistance.

Stephen Baskerville

September 3, 2004


The Failure of Fatherhood Policy
by Stephen Baskerville

David Blankenhorn is considered by many to be the leading intellectual
authority on the crisis of fatherless children. His book Fatherless America
is justly acknowledged as an authoritative statement of "the most harmful
demographic trend of this generation." Its influence on government policy
has been immeasurable through the "responsible fatherhood" programs of the
Clinton administration and many state and local governments during the
1990's. It continues to influence the marriage promotion schemes now being
advocated by the Bush administration.

So it is worth listening when Mr. Blankenhorn laments that "everywhere one
looks today for political and social commentary, seriousness is on the wane,
intemperance is the favored style, and the barking dogs have taken over the
conversation." Yet Mr. Blankenhorn himself may not be immune from his own
strictures concerning civil public debate.

In his web log ( http://familyscholars.org/archives/2004_06_27_archive.html ),
Blankenhorn launches an attack, not on the substance of any published facts
or arguments but on an organization that supports scholarly research with which
he disagrees, the respected Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society.
Blankenhorn seems to believe the Howard Center is answerable to him for
the scholars they support (in this case the scholar is me) and calls them on
the carpet accordingly. While I hesitate to be drawn into discussions of other
people's motives, I believe I know the reason for this behavior.

At the outset of his otherwise admirable book, Blankenhorn makes a vitally
important but unsubstantiated assertion that lies at the heart of his claim
to be an authority on the fatherhood crisis. "Never before in this country
have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers," he
writes (p. 1). "Today, the principal cause of fatherlessness is paternal
choice...the rising rate of paternal abandonment" (pp. 22-23).

Blankenhorn cites no source and evinces no evidence for these assertions.
Aside from the question of how he can be privy to the volition of other
people, this statement represents an odd abdication of the scholar's
critical function. He seems to take it at face value that because children
do not live with their fathers, therefore their fathers have abandoned them.
Yet this does not necessarily follow.

In fact, Blankenhorn's statements have been called into serious question by
in-depth investigations on precisely this subject. Research published in
refereed journals by respected scholars like Sanford Braver, Margaret
Brinig, Douglas Allen, Ilene Wolcott, Jody Hughes, Judith Wallerstein, and
Sandra Blakeslee, and corroborated by the professional experience of authors
as ideologically diverse as Constance Ahrons, Shere Hite, David Chambers,
Robert Seidenberg, and Rosalind Miles, indicates that paternal abandonment
cannot account for widespread fatherlessness.

After years of defamation, the very parents Mr. Blankenhorn excoriates for
abandoning their children are protesting that they have done no such thing.
Their protestations are now being heard in reputable current affairs
publications and even peer-reviewed academic journals. The last issue of the
refereed Independent Review, asks "Is There Really a Fatherhood Crisis?"
( http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=13&articleID=35 )
To  my knowledge, Mr. Blankenhorn has not responded.

The stakes here are not trivial. Blankenhorn's error goes to the core of our
understanding of the fatherlessness phenomenon and by extension of the
larger family crisis whose manifestations now appear on the front pages.
It is difficult to exaggerate the impact of this misconception in justifying a
host of ineffective and counterproductive policies during the last two
presidential administrations and by numerous local governments. His
undocumented allegation has misled the uninformed and armed the unscrupulous
with a weapon to garner political capital by whipping up hysteria against
innocent parents, in the process exacerbating the plight of fatherless children.

The untruth that widespread fatherlessness is caused primarily by paternal
abandonment disguises the uncontested truth that millions of innocent
children are kept in forced separation from legally unimpeachable fathers by
court orders that their fathers may breach only on pain of incarceration.
The misconception has also has been used to justify ever-more repressive
police measures and violations of constitutional rights against ever-greater
numbers of law-abiding citizens under the guise of collecting child support.
Worse, these measures actually contribute to fatherless homes by serving as
a subsidy on divorce and by incarcerating parents for circumstances that are
beyond their control.

If Blankenhorn is correct about paternal abandonment, then we indeed have a
law enforcement problem of massive proportions, against which we must commit
vastly more resources for police, courts, prosecutors, and prisons, since
the huge expansion of the penal apparatus already implemented over the last
decade in response to alleged paternal abandonment has made almost no dent
in the problem. On the other hand, if the scholars cited above are correct,
then such an expansion of police power will achieve nothing but to increase
still further the number of fatherless children. For it is precisely this
expansion of government power which is largely responsible for the problem
in the first place.

It is no exaggeration to say that this question could determine the future
of family policy in America. Indeed, it may not be far-fetched to suggest
that this question carries implications far beyond family policy, since -
and it is Blankenhorn's own achievement to have established this -
fatherlessness is at the root of most larger social pathologies, including
poverty, violent crime, substance abuse, and truancy.

The societal ills Blankenhorn links to fatherlessness have driven the
government-growth policies of both the left and the right. They have
justified the exponential expansion of both the welfare state and the penal

If these problems stem from a spontaneous social phenomenon - fathers
abandoning their children - then it is difficult to challenge the need for
programs to combat them. If, by contrast, the option becomes available that
we might control most of our social problems by curtailing the power of
government to separate children from their fathers, then most programs
expanding government power become superfluous. Anti-poverty programs,
expanding law-enforcement powers, the war on drugs, federal education
programs - all are rationalized by "crises" whose roots lay in broken homes
and exiled fathers.

It hardly need be added that armies of scholars who dedicate their careers
and justify their funding by studying ever-more arcane aspects of these
phenomena also become largely unnecessary.

After more than a decade of government programs predicated on this fallacy,
the fatherhood crisis continues to grow progressively worse. Rather than
continuing to heap blame for our public policy failures on the backs of
scapegoats, it may be time to re-evaluate the central misconception upon
which they are based.

I challenge Mr. Blankenhorn to confront and refute the facts published by
any writer who has questioned his assertion rather than trying to silence
others by undercutting the platform from which they speak. If he can show us
where we are wrong, then perhaps we can begin to work together to confront
the problem, and he will have earned a place as a leader in this vexing

On the other hand, if Mr. Blankenhorn cannot make good his assertion, then
it is time for him to acknowledge his error and retract it.
                                                                       September 3, 2004

Stephen Baskerville [send him mail] is a political scientist at
Howard University and president of the American Coalition
for Fathers and Children. .

Copyright © 2004 Stephen Baskerville

LewRockwell.com Home:  http://www.lewrockwell.com/

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