Chapter One (3/10)

The ruin of the family

"According to the teachings of physiology, the great struggle between life and death is settled in the narrow limits of each one of the cells that make up the human body, and in the same way, the choice between civilization and barbarism is made around this small social institution we call the family" (SS, II, 61).

In this social cell, the life of society is at stake in both senses: in the immediate and natural sense, the procreation of life, and in the cultural sense, the life of great values. The family is "the first school where we learn to think, and the first temple where we are taught to pray" (Ib. 58, 61).

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Rights and responsibilities of parents

The first right and obligation of parents consists of knowing and practicing their dignity and authority. "A parent is a monarch by natural right," writes Arizmendiarrieta (Ib. 48). But this dignity and authority is not recognized, either by parents themselves, or by the context (especially by the State). Hence, "one of the deepest evils that afflict mankind today, the loss of the principle of authority (while this may seem absurd, it is not authority, but rather brute strength that reigns in the world), has its origin in this surrender of parental authority," (Ib.) which is followed by the universal surrender of the principle of authority, "as our dearly departed Cardinal Gomá says very well." (Ib.) "Civilization is in danger because the family is in crisis." (Ib. 57)

The family, therefore, participates in the current universal crisis; it seems to even be in its origin. But in fact, what has stripped value from the family, according to the young Arizmendiarrieta, is absorbent statism, which ignores and infringes on "the primordial right (of the family) to educate and form with absolute priority over the State" (Ib. 48).

Parents are gravely obliged to have knowledge of their rights, which is to say, to the formation of their consciences regarding their rights and duties, regarding their responsibilities (Ib. 50). Secondly, parents are obliged to form associations, since they cannot effectively defend their rights, nor fulfill, or see to the fulfillment of, their obligations in isolation (Ib. 51). Parents—monarchs and sovereigns—lose all authority as they cross the threshold of their houses: it is not recognized either by society or by the State. "The democratic constitutions of States infringed on their rights by recognizing the same value in the suffrage of the parent, who, as we have said, is a sovereign by right in that first society of the family, and that of any other individual for the mere fact of being an individual. And no less than democratic constitutions, the constitutions of totalitarian States also violate rights of parents, arrogating the right to educate and form children, independent of consent of the parent, to whom this right pertains" (Ib. 52-53).

The rights and obligations of parents as educators and caretakers of children cannot be limited to their own home. They are extended to the street, the plaza, the cinema, the theater. Parents have the inalienable right to the position of being legislators and rectors of everything that has to do with the cultural and social training of children, and should act as such, moralizing, for example, shows, setting schedules for evening shows, etc. (Ib. 54). These are rights and duties which can be acted on only if parents associate.

The best service which parents can provide to mankind is good education of children. "Education is the key to the destiny and future of our youth, and of our society itself" (Ib. 95). Only evil comes spontaneously from inside people, good demands intense work. The resource that makes noble feelings and good ideas bloom in people is education. The moral character of the people of tomorrow depends on this: "man is man more because of education than birth" (Ib.). Arizmendiarrieta thinks that the reason for marriage to exist is more education than procreation itself.

The home should be the last bulwark of spiritual values, of the highest essences of our civilization (Ib. 98). And parents should strive to transmit those values to their children, ideas and feelings with which and because of which mankind feels itself to be such, sacrificing life itself for them, if necessary. "Do you yourselves not love your ideas and your feelings more than your material goods? Are there not many among you that have preferred to lose them before renouncing certain ideas and certain feelings?" (Ib. 96). You can hear the post-war echo in Arizmendiarrieta’s words.

Arizmendiarrieta laments the ease with which boys and girls stop attending school. He laments it, first, because without culture, there is no freedom: an uneducated people will have to remain perpetually as minors, unable to administer itself, dependent on those who can, even if it is in the name of the people. Secondly, because he considers "if it is meritorious work to make of any corner of land more productive and beautiful, then it is greatly advantageous to make a human heart richer in feelings and more elevated and noble in its aspirations and desires" (Ib. 100).

The individual is made more by education than birth. The parents, who have procreated the child, must act decisively in education, which cannot be limited to imparting technical knowledge and enough external forms of courtesy to function comfortably in the world. "If man is what he eats, his education is a problem of food; but if we’re convinced that man is what he knows and loves, what he wishes and pursues, then his education is a problem of food for the soul; that is, a delicate, internal, constant operation, the molding of his soul, for which all of that well of patience, selflessness, zeal, and insight God has placed in the heart of parents is needed " (Ib. 101).

The family, source of life

The life of man is ephemeral, but God wanted it to fill centuries in history, perhaps centuries upon centuries (Ib. 61). And the source of life, the legitimate source, is the family. "Why can human life not sprout from another source other than the family?" Arizmendiarrieta is as clear and accurate as he is brief: "Because God did not want it" (Ib. 62). He goes no further on the topic.

On abortion, he states that, fortunately, "the majority of our faithful still have enough moral sensitivity to understand the horror of these practices which, on the other hand, wreak such havoc that they only are comparable with the victims produced by modern wars and, in the judgment of competent researchers, exceed the number from wars" (Ib. 78). He condemns contraceptives and the sterilization laws of Nazi Germany (13 June, 1933), "that country which has presented itself to the eyes of our Christians as a model of social life" (Ib. 80). If there were some in Spain who knew "how to ponder and exalt" Nazi Germany, which presented itself as the most advanced country in Europe, as a social model, etc., Arizmendiarrieta was certainly not among them.

The family deserves more interest as the source of moral and cultural life. "Man is not born good, despite Rousseauian utopias, but rather, profoundly altered in the very constituent principles of his moral being. He is born ignorant, and with a tendency to evil. A small child, who was just born, carries the germ of those tremendous antagonisms between the spirit and the flesh of which Saint Paul speaks. This phenomenon is unique among living beings. Every being has a purpose and a tendency that carries it towards it. Following the causeway indicated or imposed by instinct, they arrive at their purpose; they arrive at full development in all areas. They need nothing more. In contrast, man, without the education of his intellectual and moral faculties, cannot become, by his own strength, what we call man. He will have all the essential constituents of his nature, but will not talk, will not know what is good and evil. He will not be suitable for society and, if God does not grant him extraordinary grace, he would not arrive at his purpose. Education is indispensable, and education is the function of the family" (Ib. 63).

If human nature is not cultivated with the greatest care, people end up being wolves to their peers. In fact, it is not the inclemency of weather, inevitable blows like disease, or the capriciousness of luck that cause us to suffer the most. "The greatest part of our suffering is caused by the lack of will, of attention, of love, and of tolerance that we have for each other" (Ib. 89). Without a careful education, human energy is either wasted or is employed for evil. "In the wild forest, the strength and the vigor of the land is squandered, both on the sap that fertilizes the fruit tree which gives delicious fruit and on that which fertilizes the thorn or briar" (Ib. 89). It is in the family where people can learn to develop human sensibility, noble ideas, feelings of selflessness, detachment, service, love for their peers. "The social training of man starts and is nearly finished in the family" (Ib.).

"We are men," concludes Arizmendiarrieta, "to the extent that we have participated in the human feelings and ideals which we were taught in the family" (Ib. 88).

Basis of society

Destroying the family not only dries up the current of life at its source, but even if the causeway of life continued to be full, "it would no longer be men who fill the face of the land, they would be monsters" (Ib. 63) and social life would run to its ruin.

Indeed, Arizmendiarrieta believes that it is a clear lesson of history—he likes to argue on the basis of history, "that no people, no civilization, no Empire was capable of surviving the ruin of the family" (Ib.). For example, Rome, etc.

On the other hand, "there is one people in history, a people that has survived all disasters, all misfortunes… which have been many in its life… the Hebrew people, the Israelite people; and part of the explanation of that people with their spirit, with their idiosyncrasy, is rooted in family life" (Ib.).

"The family, in addition to being the office of life, in addition to being the workshop where the best works are embodied, is the vehicle of tradition, is the bond of union between the past and the future. It is what gives stability to mankind" (Ib. 64).

Marriage

"It is immoral with an intrinsic evil to seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake." (Ib. 74). With this terrible phrase, a whole chapter of matrimonial life may close. Arizmendiarrieta is emphatic: selfishness requires this impassable moral barrier. To accept pleasure for itself would be to accept selfishness as good. Whoever wants to combat selfishness cannot accept pleasure for its own sake. It is a matter of logic and consequence, and man "has to recognize the primacy of reason over instinct" (Ib. 70).

On the other hand, "one has the right to pleasure to the extent that he is ready to do what nature demands," and, by the same token, "pleasure must be inseparable from the function to which it must be oriented, to the very purpose of the act" (Ib. 73). People "have to recognize the existence of a natural law which binds all nature, and them, as part of it" (Ib. 70).

The doctrine spelled out in the opening phrase, which Arizmendiarrieta explains as a doctrine that the Church has always supported, does nothing but sanction a law and a standard already imprinted on nature itself, and taught by reason. "Christianity is the antithesis of selfishness, and as a supernatural doctrine and a supernatural religion, there is no philosophical or ethical system that vindicates the rights of nature with such logic, with such exactness, as Christianity" (Ib. 72).

Recently ordained as a priest, Arizmendiarrieta reached Mondragon in February of 1941. Just eight months later, he started to give talks on the family, whose notes are preserved, and we have been able to use them here. This was long before the days in which Arizmendiarrieta, the great reflector of experience, would discover the positive aspects of instinct, of selfishness… which he would accept, directed and domesticated, as positive factors for the building of the cooperative community, which he himself will frequently compare with the family.

The same arguments on natural law and reason will be made to defend indissolubility of the matrimonial bond. Those who, not only by sacrament, but by the very impulse of nature, have devoted themselves mutually, cannot be dissolved (Ib. 67-68): it would be against natural law and against reason, "that reason, that light which is able to foresee everything and required to provide what it has seen" (Ib. 68).

Concerned about the crisis society was suffering, Arizmendiarrieta believed, in these years, that he was able to contribute to the reconstruction of society, renewing family life on solid bases and reinforcing its presence in public life. Society cannot be renewed without first renewing the family, and the family cannot be renewed without defending and protecting marriage, "the cornerstone on which the family must sustain itself, and, what’s more, the heart from which the family must receive its life" (Ib. 65). The strength of family life depends on the solidity of marriage, and the future of mankind depends on the strength of family life.

It will be precisely in the virtues on which Arizmendiarrieta works to consolidate marriage, where, beyond the changes his thought will go through over time, continuity can be observed most clearly. The virtues identified as the fundamentals of marriage are, in fact, tolerance, on which he insists (Ib. 83, 84), detachment, selflessness, the spirit of sacrifice, generosity, mutual support, love, fidelity, constance ("marriage is not the tomb of love, but rather of passion" Ib. 82)… A mirror of morality, which will fundamentally be the same one found again, with variations required by the situation, as the basis of the cooperative family.

The problem of housing

But, together with the frame of ethical values, the reality of the physical setting also contributes to configuring the character of intrafamily relationships. That is why Arizmendiarrieta provided express attention to the topic of housing as a minimum necessary spatial enclave to attain a dignified family coexistence.

We will briefly review the problem of housing, "the most elemental of needs" (PR, II, 40; cf. PR, I, 179-181), for the significance it has in relation to the family, even though in Arizmendiarrieta’s writings, the topic is dealt with nearly exclusively on practical aspects. Among the problems in the home, Arizmendiarrieta has no doubt that not having a home is the gravest of all (PR, I, 217; cf. PR, II, 22, 26, 40). These are the early postwar years.

Two theses which may seem familiar to us, to begin: first, our society cannot be healthy while its first cell, the family, lacks for adequate living space. Second: The family or marriage must have an independent home to function in life as corresponds to its nature (PR, II, 6). Family life is not only threatened by the corrosive ideas of liberalism, later inherited by socialism (PR, II, 1), but also by the lack of hygienic conditions and of the minimum necessary comfort in housing. In Mondragon, "a very healthy people regarding ideas" (Ib. 2) this constitutes a much graver danger for the family than liberal or socialist influence: in Mondragon, family life is reduced to a minimum expression, which is how certain attitudes and social convulsions that were seen can be explained. The people of Mondragon live in the tavern, in the street, and are formed by the general environment more than by the family. There is nothing strange about the way various social tendencies are propagated rapidly, when they are the ones that predominate on the street. The general environment is always the most capricious, most fickle, least stable, least moderate. This is how to explain that the people of Mondragon at times appear to be easily infected by the general environment, lacking moderation and stability, at the mercy of the wind that blows (Ib. 3).

And the people of Mondragon—we are reading texts from 1941—cannot satisfy their demands for a certain convenience and comfort at home. They take refuge in the tavern. On the other hand, the people of Mondragon do not lack for a sense of social justice, and can do no less than rebel, seeing that industrial development is due to their work, and being unable to then participate, in proportion to their contribution, in the material well-being they themselves created.

As in other times, they have raised their voice against the existing hygienic conditions in the factories, and have been able, with their struggle, to win the exemplary working conditions they have today; at that time, they rebelled because they lacked those conditions in their own homes. "It is not enough for us to sing the excellence of family life with eloquent phrases, we will move no one with the beautiful idyllics we could write concerning the home, while the listener or reader has to function in darkness or discomfort of a hole in the wall or a small room. It is not enough to lift up our voice against alcoholism, while the tavern is the only comfortable and decent place the worker finds. The family needs its space or independence—this is precisely what is attractive about the home—and with that independence, privacy and mutual trust between its members is possible. And that independence and that space are lacking when several families are grouped into the small frame of a house. As can be seen in the statistics (…), in Mondragon, those cases are more common than what may be believed" (Ib. 4).

For more than ten years, we will see Arizmendiarrieta demand joint action between the authorities and citizens with the purpose of resolving this problem. We see that ultimately, a construction charity ("Mondragon Home Association") is founded in August of 1953.

Years later, in 1967, Arizmendiarrieta again begins to work on the topic of housing, this time, to criticize two excesses which could be an index of the change brought about over those years. He first criticizes the widespread desire, which is not at all reasonable, for each and every person to have a privately-owned house, since the situation of being a tenant lacks social prestige. Secondly, the psychosis of housing, which makes us think that a new house necessarily requires new furniture, new household goods, new everything, leading to such family indebtedness that it can barely be overcome over a long series of years (FC, III, 42-45). In this respect, he criticises the housing policy.

During the last years of his life, with Arizmendiarrieta very concerned about the fate of old people, the topic of housing again emerges, this time from the particular perspective of the needs of this social group: "Provisions must be made so that our men and women in the last stage of their lives have a full urban context, with services and attention in accordance with their particular conditions, when, because of the evolution of the habits of social life, they find themselves more or less alone: this is when it could be most justified to provide apartments with all the necessary community services, affordable to all, at their own discretion. But this assumes a full conception and projection of residences for them" (CLP, II, 112). But this topic remains inconclusive.1

Family and the social question

All people, says Arizmendiarrieta, aware of the decadence of mankind that we suffer from, and interested in saving it from the current crisis, agree on the urgency of saving family life (Ib. 59). But the family is being destroyed by proletarianization and standardization, which is the ruin of man and the end of the family (Ib. 60).

Arizmendiarrieta demands, as a minimum of social justice, that women not be forced to leave the home to look for work; that children not have to start to work before an appropriate age; and, above all, the family salary (CAS, 183), which are all demands, he says, that are clearly expressed in papal encyclicals. After praising the new State legislation that establishes the family salary, he continues: "Anyone who reads this quote will believe with true simplicity that it is fulfilled, if not in all, at least in almost all companies, and I think I can assert that not only is it not in all, but rather is in none, where this Pontifical rule [the sufficient family salary] is fulfilled" (Ib.). He gives the example of a company with more than a thousand workers (Ib. 184) and which he considers a better case than most businesses: "I understand, then, and I want to reach my first conclusion, which I offer to all employers that boast of being Catholic: analyze the economic situation of the workers’ families to be able to aspire to comply with the demands of the living salary demanded by Pontifical doctrine in the name of natural right in the recent social encyclicals" (Ib.).

"The first social duty of a businessperson is to organize himself and work so that his employees can earn a salary sufficient to cover the elemental needs of life. And as long this objective has not been achieved, no one has the right to be called a Christian businessperson. I do not know how any benefit can be ascribed to the business that does not reach this goal, nor even how someone who does not feel capable of that can justifiably continue using the title and authority of businessperson" (Ib. 182).

Unjust economic conditions are undoing family life with the misery in which it is forced to exist (SS, II, 58). If is argued that the country is poor, or that the momentary economic situation does not allow real salary raises, Arizmendiarrieta, apart from other observations of the strictly economic kind, replies with the moral argument that is always possible to distribute poverty more equitably (CAS, 185). "One of the things that never ceases to draw attention of foreigners who have visited Spain is the difference in the standard of living that exists in our homeland between the wealthy and the proletarian classes. However natural inequalities may be, when they are disproportionate to the degree of general prosperity of a country, they are unsustainable, and even more so when it is a country that prides itself on following the doctrine of the Gospel" (Ib.).

In line with a future tradition

The doctrine we just discussed on the family shows us the line that Arizmendiarrieta’s thought takes and which he fundamentally will follow until the end. We can highlight two sources, or foundations, of this thought: one is the Church’s social doctrine; the other, really the same, but historically implemented in certain social groups that directly influenced Arizmendiarrieta: the tradition of the Basque union and social movement prior to the war of ’36.

The fundamental value that Christian social doctrine sees in the family is well known.2 Additionally, this importance increased as the family was seriously affected by forms of totalitarianism and by the war.3 As for the Spanish Church, Rodríguez de Coro observed that while the Spanish ecclesiastical hierarchy did not show itself to generally be very sensitive to social problems in the postwar years, the problem of homelessness was energetically addressed by Ecclesia from the very beginning (January 1941). The ruins of the war and the rural immigration to big cities (which, in Euskadi, will start later than Madrid or Barcelona) doubtlessly forced this.4

According to the same author, the defense of the family as a fundamental value, prior to the State, of its sacred right and duty of the education of children, etc., after the Spanish war, would have a particular and political reason for being. It would shape a decisive chapter in the bitter power struggle between Catholic traditionalists and Falangists, who were partisans of a totalitarian State, which was solely responsible for education.5

On the importance given to the family by the prewar Basque social movement, a single text will suffice. In 1932, in full statutory euphoria, the PNV started to develop social norms, with the aim of organizing a social Congress which create guidelines for the social structuring of Euskadi, which was believed to be autonomously feasible in a short time. A document drafted for this purpose by "distinguished persons, in solidarity and with recognized competence," according to Policarpo de Larrañaga, refers in its first paragraph (after the introduction) to the family, beginning in the following terms: "The family is the cell of society, and on it rests, as on a granite foundation, all the meaning of the social life of communities. It is the first school, the first temple, the source of life…"6 Arizmendiarrieta would not express himself any other way.


  1. The Caja Popular wanted continue in the line of Arizmendiarrieta’s reflection after his death, cf. Aguirre, I., Ocio activo y tercera edad, Caja Popular, 1981

  2. The treatise Códigos Malinas opens, after an introduction, dedicating the first chapter to the family. It is worth reproducing the first article here, which was quoted by Arizmendiarrieta on several occasions (cf. SS, II, 58): "The family being the source whence we received life, the first school where we learn to think, and the first temple where we learn to pray, it is necessary to combat everything that destroys it or breaks it, and to praise and stimulate everything that favors its unity, its stability, its fertility and its prosperity." Códigos Malinas, Sal Terrae, Santander 1962, 58.

  3. Calvez, J.I. and Perrin, J., Iglesia y Sociedad económica, Mensajero, Bilbao 1965, 129-133.

  4. Rodriguez de Coro, F., Colonización política del catolicismo, CAP, Saint Sebastian 1979, 200-210. It is necessary to also remember the problem of the insufficient condition of existing housing. According to the United Statistics Service, El Bienestar en España. Un índice de evolución del nivel de vida para el período 1950-75, an index of the evolution of the standard of living for the period 1950-75, Madrid 1977, in 1950, only 51% of existing housing had a toilet; 33.7%, running water, and no more than 9% had a bath or shower. To get an idea of the gravity of the problem of homelessness with which Arizmendiarrieta was confronted, it is enough to say that in Mondragon, according to the SIADECO study Industry herri baten azterketa, Arrasate eta bere etorkizuna, Etor, Bilbao 1972, 49, 74.7% of the current houses (1972, in other words, three out of four) was constructed after 1950.

  5. Rodriguez de Coro, F., Op. cit., 329, 381-383.

  6. Larrañaga, P., Contribución a la historia obrera de Euskalerria, Auñamendi, Donostia/Saint Sebastian 1977, vol. II, 153. He wrote that, in the judgment of P. Larrañaga, "collects Catholic social doctrine and abounds in the social thought of Solidarity" (ELA/STV) (p. 152), rigorously follows the Códigos Malinas, both in form and content.

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