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Harvard Latino Law Review





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Exploration of destructive developments in American law and society show that family law is completely askew. Although family law deals with the most intimate and basic personal relationships, it applies a legal process based on autonomous individual public and private economic rights to those intimate relational realities. It is a hallowed expression of male virtues and a paradigmatic example of the use of the law to protect vested interests and shape society, rather than a reflection of reality.

The split between the private/family/female and the public/business/male spheres of the nineteenth century created the separation of competitive attributes, virtues, and vices from cooperative attributes, virtues, and vices. This split has had a profound and negative effect on American society. While public law and the public realm are congruent, the relationship between private law and the private realm is much less direct. The interplay between these spheres and the bodies of law that govern them, together with the legitimization of male virtues through the ascendancy of law, has had deleterious societal effects. It has helped weaken cooperative virtues, dilute differing cultural practices, change the perception of male and female roles, and establish the hegemony of consumerism.

A society with a strong commitment to the preservation of the family cannot be modeled solely on the economic household of traditional history, or on a model that protects family by devaluing women. Still, although most societies are male-dominated, there are numerous systems that value family structure, the nurturing of the young, and respect for elders, and that incorporate female virtues as important societal traits. As a society, Americans can look to the strengths of our multiple cultural traditions and develop a balance that values the support and nurturing of individuals in all stages of development and through all stages of life.

Recommended Citation

Ana M. Novoa, The Diminishing Sphere of the Cooperative Virtues in American Law and Society, 3 Harv. Latino L. Rev. 49 (1999).

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