Culture: Introduction

Culture and the Challenge of Self-Government

[Liberty] denotes not merely liberty of bodily restraint, but also the right of the individual to contract, or engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy these privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.[3]

Pierce follows Meyer in providing a constitutional ground for the practice of parental rights:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not a mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.[4]

Individual choices about whom to marry, whether to marry, whether to stay married, whether to have children, how many children to have, and when, how to raise them, and other questions are largely beyond the legitimate scope of modern liberal governments.

Next Up in the Culture Section:

Marriage Rate


  1. John Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. James H. Tully (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983) pages 26–27.
  2. John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Of the Conduct of the Understanding, ed. and intro. Ruth W. Grant and Nathan Tarcov (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1996).
  3. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923).
  4. Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925).
  5. Consider David P. Goldman, How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) (Washington: Regnery, 2011); Jonathan V. Last, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster (New York: Encounter Books, 2013); and Phillip Longman, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It (New York: Basic Books, 2004).
  6. John Adams, June 2, 1778, in The Adams Papers: Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), Vol. 4, p. 123.
  7. Abraham Lincoln, “House Divided Speech,” Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858, (accessed May 12, 2016). Emphasis in original.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Heritage Foundation

A think tank devoted to the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.