Harvard Prophet

Carle C. Zimmerman (1897 – 1983), an eminent Harvard sociologist of the last century, concluded that the family is the most fundamental of all social institutions. He described three broad types of families—two strengthen society and one, called atomistic, leads to a society’s downfall. Focusing on the decline of the Greek and Roman civilizations, he listed 11 behaviors that indicate a culture is entering the destructive atomistic category. Though his prose is academic, his words, written in 1947, are prophetic.

1. Increased and rapid easy “causeless” divorce.

2. Decreased number of children, population decay, and increased public disrespect for parents and parenthood.

3. Elimination of the real meaning of the marriage ceremony.

4. Popularity of pessimistic doctrines about the early heroes.

5. Rise of theories that companionate marriage or a permissible looser family form would solve the problem.

6. The refusal of many other people married under the older family form to maintain their traditions while other people escape these obligations.

7. The spread of the antifamilism of the urbane and pseudointellectual classes to the very outer limits of the civilization.

8. Breaking down of most inhibitions against adultery.

9. Revolts of youth against parents so that parenthood became more and more difficult for those who did try to raise children.

10. Rapid rise and spread of juvenile delinquency.

11. Common acceptance of all forms of sex perversions.1


1 Carle C. Zimmerman, Family and Civilization (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947), 776-777.

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