The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

March 20, 2019

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Communities and Character in an Age of Globalization: The Family Option
Matthew Adeiza - 04/28/10

Earlier this month ISI hosted a reception announcing the Templeton Enterprise Awards for best student essays on the topic “Can Character and Communities Survive in an Age of Globalization?” Throughout April, First Principles is proud to publish the winning essays.

This piece, which earned second place, was written by Matthew Adeiza, a student at the the University of Jos in Nigeria.



Globalization is not a new phenomenon, though it may have assumed new dimensions towards the end of the last century with the invention of new technologies, which have recreated a world where “shrinking space, shrinking time and disappearing borders are linking people’s lives more deeply, more intensely, more immediately than ever before.”[1] Today, with breathtaking developments in communication and transportation technologies, the world has become “a global village” where our daily lives are significantly influenced by products, services, and images originating from other countries and other cultures.

However, as interdependence increases, some cultural values are increasingly dominating others, and local cultures and communities are under a serious threat of disintegration, such that character is now largely determined by what is acceptance and “marketable” in the global marketplace. This essay aims to explore the relationship between family institution and character formation in individuals as well as show how this impacts on the life and sustenance of local communities in a globalized world. My conclusion is that communities and character can survive in the global village only if the family institution is intact, because of its central role in any community.

Community and Family Interchanges

A community can be described as “a collectivity of families sharing a limited territorial area as a base for carrying out many of the activities of family members.”[2] That is, a group of people living together in a defined locale with unique communal practices or beliefs. One thing that is common to almost all communities is that there is a commonly shared culture or identity that gives members a psychological sense of belonging and that is probably peculiar to the community alone.

The survival of a community is to a large extent dependent on the strength of relationships between its members. A source of such relationships are usually children whose “friendships [are] translated into mothers’ friendships, and these, in turn, into family friendships.”[3] Family members visit each other and participate in social activities organized in the community.

These social activities are gradually being eroded by globalization. In most cases, neighbors may not see each other for months as they are probably away in their workplaces, and only return late in the evenings. With the advent of globalization that glorifies high mobility, the survival and stability of communities and character are seriously threatened.

The interchange between the family and the community is very crucial for the survival of both. The family, through its procreation and socialization functions, ensures continuity of life as well as serves as the custodian and first transmitter of community values to children. The community, on the other hand, protects the family by rejecting values that could jeopardize it.

However, in a situation where a community is increasingly being integrated into the global village and values are being lost, a family can still preserve the character of its members by the process of “isolation.” This is a “method by which ‘successful’ and ‘good’ families maintain themselves and their integrity in unfavourable community settings”[4]; it is done when a family “closes out the community and allows only the interchanges that it wants.”[5]

An example of this is the Rechabite family in Jeremiah 35, who, despite living in an increasingly globalized and idolatrous Israel, kept to their ancestors’ instruction not to worship Baal and the luxury associated with it. In their case, the majority of Israelites abandoned their nation’s religious and cultural practices but a family kept its members true to them in their strictest forms.[6]

Family as the Foundation of Society

The family is conceived and practiced in different ways in various societies across the world. The World Congress of Families describes the natural family as “the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centred on the voluntary union of a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.”[7] Such unions may engage in procreation or decide to adopt children. In some cultures, like in Africa, the nuclear family lives with other kinsmen under the same authority usually of the oldest kinsman; this is called extended family. The natural family remains the most basic unit across all cultures and so shall be the focus of our analysis and discussion. In short, it is the first “community of persons.”[8].

Pope John Paul II, undoubtedly one of the strongest advocates of the traditional family in recent times, in his encyclical Familiaris Consortio of 1981 noted that the family is the “first and vital cell of society” that “has vital and organic links with society since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life.”[9] It also serves as “the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself.”[10] It is the foundation on which other institutions are built, such that the quality and strength of the foundation ultimately determines the stability of the other institutions—economy, politics, education, law and order, and religion, among others. This is because “the family informs the human person’s original attitude toward fundamental matters as identity, security, responsibility, love, morality and religion.”[11]

The family performs four basic functions to any community, which are procreation, socialization, emotional support, and economic function.

The only legally recognized institution entrusted with ensuring continuity of life in any society is the family. Through its function of procreation, the family ensures that life is perpetuated through all generations. It is from the family that people come to life, and since human society depends on the renewal of its population for continuation, procreation is a vital service to it. In the story of creation as recounted in Genesis 1:26–28, after God created man, the first thing he said to him was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”[12] Thus, God in creating man commissioned him to be a co-creator with him, principally through the union of a man and a woman who leave their parents to “become one flesh.”[13]

Besides procreation, the family is also very actively involved in developing the character of a person through the process of socialization. Character is described by the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary as “the set of qualities that make somebody or something distinctive, especially somebody’s qualities of mind and feeling.”[14] Underlying such personal character traits is a set of usually distinctive community ideals an individual is expected to pursue and incorporate into his personality. The most popular ideal promoted across civilized cultures is the “Golden Rule” as captured by Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:12—“Do to others what you want them do to you.”[15]

The community no doubt influences character by emphasizing the development of these ideals and socially sanctioning those who fail to adhere to them. These serve as social restraints and help to keep communities together as well as give them a distinctive identity. The family, as the first “community of persons,” serves as the first social unit where these ideals and values are learned. In this unit, parents are “the first and foremost educators of their children,”[16] though in African societies other community members are expected to be closely involved in the upbringing of children. Parents teach their children not only through words but also through their actions, which are closely monitored and copied by their children. Besides, parents can also influence the kind of peers their children associate with by determining the schools they attend.

Children learn to adopt certain community values and norms through family motivation. For a child to develop a balanced personality and participate in pursuing community goals, then he must be motivated to learn necessary tasks, to adapt to the outside world, to integrate his personality and his social roles, and to express himself in ways that are not destructive of himself or of his community. To achieve this, “the family acts as a cultural agent transmitting to the young child ideas, beliefs, values, and norms, inducting him into a symbolic world that hopefully will give meaning to his life.”[17] Even when a person grows up and leaves home, “the family becomes incorporated within the personality of the individual as his character-structure is formed through example, training, and precept. When a person is socialized into a way of life it is not correct to say that a role is something he has or plays; it is something that he is.”[18]

No wonder, then, in many families certain gifts and aptitudes tend to run through many generations. This accounts for why it is believed in many cultures that the family is the unit of society responsible for developing values, initiative, self-discipline, and a sense of commitment to community values in children. The nature and quality of family socialization a person undergoes can significantly affect the development of his potentials and character.

Another important function of the family is the provision of invaluable emotional support to its members in a way that can never be done by any other institution or agency in society. For Pope John Paul II, this “very experience of communion and sharing that should characterize the family’s daily life represents its first and fundamental contribution to society” and provides the “most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society.”[19]

This is crucial in a world that is increasingly becoming “depersonalized” and individualistic, where the value of a person is in his economic worth and the dignity of human life is threatened by the pursuit of more profits. In a global village where the stress of work and separation of community members is almost inevitable and extreme individualism threatens relationships, “the family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his autonomity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and unrepeatability, within the fabric of society.”[20]

A recent report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) indicated that most countries around the world—developed and developing—spend nearly 2 percent of their annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on treating depression, a condition of serious emotional stress. This, according to the report, is a combination of the pressures of economic downturn and a feeling of loneliness and helplessness.[21] At such moments of emotional upheaval, the family can provide solidarity and emotional support for those who are hard hit, which can help reduce incidents of suicide.

Besides these, the family performs some economic functions for its community. First, the members of the family may engage in productive activities, but they cannot produce all they need and so have to buy goods and services to satisfy their needs. They need clothing, food, and shelter, as may decide to acquire luxuries to make their lives more comfortable. The family is one of the major consuming units in all societies, and if it does not spend, the economy will stagnate. In trying to satisfy its members, the family becomes “the first and most fundamental place where production and spending acquire their meaning.”[22]

In addition, the family, through its socialization function, prepares individuals to be good citizens, diligent and honest workers, competitive and cooperative managers and businessmen, truthful and responsible politicians, which combine to create a suitable atmosphere for the economy to thrive. So we can say with Pope John Paul II that family is the “beginning and basis of human society.”[23]

The Nature of Globalization

Globalization refers to the process “whereby political, social, economic and cultural relations increasingly take on a global scale and which has profound consequences for individuals’ local experiences and everyday lives.”[24] It operates simultaneously and interrelatedly in the economic, educational, technological cum communicational, political, and cultural spheres of human life. It is, however, seen in the developing world as a “cultural Tsunami” spearheaded by “planet Hollywood,” multinational corporations and international media that encourage a culture of consumerism, extreme individualism, pleasure, imprudence, violence, etc.

Advocates of globalization say it enhances free flow of information, ideas, capital, goods, and services, and thus broadens people’s choices. The United Nations Development Programme argues that “increased trade, new technologies, foreign investments, expanding media and internet connections are fuelling economic growth and human advance. And global markets, global technology, global ideas and global solidarity can enrich the lives of people everywhere, greatly expanding their choices.”[25]

Globalization should be differentiated from modernity, which is “the abstraction of social and cultural practices from contexts of local particularity, and their institutionalization and regulation across time and space.”[26] Such abstractions include liberalism, secularism, possessive individualism, capitalist consumerism, among others. Modernity is the substance while globalization is the process that spreads it.

Imagine, for example, a young African girl who lives in Lagos, Nigeria. She is growing up with the cultural belief that good girls marry as virgins, but the satellite television stations available in her room repeatedly rebuke her for being “outdated and unfashionable,” and encourage her to move with the times and “open up.” She, therefore, battles daily within herself to decide which is better—her character or modernity.

Globalization, by its nature, tends to oppose and neutralize local cultures in favor of a more appealing modern way of life. In encourages people to abandon the restrictions of locality-defined customs and adopt the modern standard global culture that ensures their freedom and promises a better life.

Opponents of globalization argue that it has “swept like a flood tide through the world’s diverse cultures, destroying stable localities, displacing peoples, bringing a market-driven ‘branded’ homogenization of cultural experiences, thus obliterating the differences between locality-defined cultures which had constituted our identities.”[27] Today’s globalization, they say, is “being driven by market expansion—opening national borders to trade, capital, and information”[28] in an “incessant pursuit of profits.”[29] It encourages quick money, quick food, quick fix solutions, quick sex, ad nauseam. People seek shortcuts and circumvent laws in order to get ahead.

Adam Smith

The recent global financial crisis quickly comes to mind. The capitalist economic principles formulated by the acclaimed father of capitalism, Adam Smith, in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations failed because no law can operate independent of the people who operate it.[30] The borrowers of subprime mortgages greedily lied about their assets, and lenders were either too lazy or too negligent to verify facts presented to them. They lacked character.

Smith, in an earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759),[31] had proposed a capitalist system based on the virtues of justice, fairness, and honesty. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) warned in 1985 that the decline of these virtues can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.[32]

As Jeff Skoll, a pioneer of the online auction site eBay, noted in a BBC interview, the relationship between people in the global village is largely based on trust.[33] For example, people buy over the internet because they trust the integrity of the seller and they are ready to fulfil their part of the bargain.

The only institution that can effectively supply these “socialized and disciplined” citizens is the family.[34] Unfortunately, the family is one of the worst hit by the forces of globalization that are threatening to disintegrate and “monetize” it.

Today, family relationships are defined in monetary terms; upbringing of children is left to day care centers and schools, since parents are too busy pursuing “more profits.” Single parenthood has become the norm rather than the exception; divorce is at an alarming rate of almost 50 percent in most developed countries; abortion is seen as normal; etc.

Children trained in day care centers, for example, have only their physical needs met but do not usually receive sufficient emotional care needed for proper and balanced development, because the day care proprietors are also more interested in their profits than the children. So there abound in society individuals with psychological and emotional problems, who do not feel loved and so do not care about, or show loyalty to, their communities, which have not shown them love. Or how does one explain the high level of violent crimes in major cities across the world?

John Howard provided the explanation in 2002 when he asserted that “the child living in a home with both father and mother is far more likely than children living in other circumstances to succeed in school, in a job, and in a marriage, and far less likely to use illegal drugs, commit a crime, run away from home, have emotional problems, become an alcoholic, or commit suicide.”[35]

Some analysts argue that religion is the most effective way of developing character and securing communities against the debilitating forces of globalization. But experiences in various parts of the world have proved otherwise. With the proliferation of denominations and sects with diverse doctrines in almost all religions, it may not be possible to have a generally accepted version of a religion that appeals to and binds communities together. It is safer to argue that communities and character are better preserved when religion is anchored on a strong and stable family institution.

It is, therefore, time to go back to the natural family.


Yes, character and communities can survive in this age of globalization if the family is prioritized, nurtured, and protected. There is no alternative to the role of the natural family comprising father, mother, and children in preserving the culture of a community and the character of its members. Even when community members migrate to other places, they carry with them the values of their original community and continue to mentally identify with it.

A community with good and close-knit families also has a higher chance of retaining its values and uniqueness no matter the level of net migration taking place. If a community has a strong values system, immigrants can easily be socialized and absorbed into the system. The family continues to provide an irreplaceable platform for producing cultured, responsible, and self-disciplined citizens needed for a habitable community, and so should be protected if communities and character must survive.

  1. UNDP, Human Development Report (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1.
  2. Floyd Madison, Family in Society (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company Inc., 1970), 183.
  3. Ibid., 184.
  4. Ibid., 198.
  5. Ibid., 197.
  6. Jeremiah 35, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (India: Theological Publications, 2007).
  7. World Congress of Families II, “The 1999 Geneva Declaration”; (Accessed November 26, 2008).
  8. Pope John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio,” an encyclical on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, 1981, No. 18; . . . /hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris- consortio_en.html (Accessed July 22, 2009).
  9. Ibid., No. 42.
  10. Ibid., No. 42.
  11. World Congress of Families II, “The 1999 Geneva Declaration”; (Accessed November 26, 2008).
  12. New Revised Standard Version (India: Theological Publications, 2007).
  13. Ibid., Genesis 2:24.
  14. Microsoft® Encarta® 2009, © 1993–2008 Microsoft Corporation.
  15. NRSV.
  16. Pope John Paul II, No. 36.
  17. Floyd Madison, 146.
  18. Ibid., 148
  19. Pope John Paul II, No. 43.
  20. Ibid., N0.43.
  21. BBC, “Depression Looms as Global Crisis”; (Accessed December 2009).
  22. Jean Bethke Elshtain, “What’s at Stake in the Family Debate? Family Autonomy and the Civil Good,” Remarks to the World Congress of Families II, Geneva 1999; (Accessed June 10, 2009).
  23. Pope John Paul II, No. 42.
  24. UNDP, 1.
  25. UNDP, 1.
  26. John Tomlinson, “Globalization and Cultural Identity”; http:// (Accessed October 2009).
  27. Ibid.
  28. UNDP, 2.
  29. Cecilia von Feilitzen and Ulla Carlsson, eds., Children, Young People, and Media Globalization (Göteborg: The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media), 44.
  30. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations; (Accessed December 2009).
  31. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments; (Accessed December 2009).
  32. Joseph Ratzinger, “Market Economy and Ethics,” a speech presented at a symposium on “Church and Economy in Dialogue” in Rome, 1985, and translated by Stephen Wentworth Arndt; occasionalpapers/publicat_occasional papers_ratzinger.php (Accessed October 2008).
  33. BBC, “The Interview,” a podcast from (Downloaded May 2009)
  34. Floyd Madison, 111.
  35. John Howard, “The Family: America’s Hope,” a paper presented to a James Madison Center Symposium at Princeton University, October 9, 2002; (Access October 2008).

To learn more about the culture of enterprise, visit the ISI short course on Free Markets and Civil Society.

To learn more about ISI’s Templeton-sponsored Culture of Enterprise initiative—including how to enter the next essay contest—visit the Culture of Enterprise website.

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