Israel functioned as a federation of tribes, clans, and households in early centuries but with the rise of the monarchy (c. 1000 B.C.E.) the family and household came under increasing pressure. The centralized monarchy sought to have ever more control over every aspect of life. Leo Perdue writes in his essay The Israelite and the Early Jewish Family (in Families in Ancient Israel):
Royal exploitation of farm families led to the steady decline of the traditional household and undercut its system of economics, education, care, law, and protection, as well as the religious rituals and traditions that strengthened and legitimated its identity and solidarity (see the warning in 1 Sam. 8:10-18). A royal treasury, supported by military, booty, taxation, and offerings to the temple, and royal control of markets were strategic elements of a new economic system that provided the monarchy with enormous wealth and power. Royal “wisdom schools” undoubtedly emerged to educate scribes who could administer the kingdom, assume posts in the royal bureaucracy, and create new traditions that would authenticate religiously the ruler’s authority and power. The royal distribution of charity was designed to transfer the loyalty of the underclass and perpetual poor to kings and away from the households. The monarch as supreme judge and national benefactor established courts to administer the king’s justice in the royal state (2 Sam. 12:1-6; 1 Kings 3:16-28; Psalm 72), thus rivaling the system of justice carried out by households, clans, and tribes. Royal courts to enforce and carry out the governmental system led to the increasing confiscation of household estates and the ignoring of the rights of the poor (Isa. 10:1-4; cf. 5:8; Micah 2:2) Blood vengeance was circumscribed by more formal means of justice in royal and temple courts.(209-210)
Perdue goes on to note the replacement of the tribal militias with conscripted standing armies. The pressures of taxation to support the burgeoning state forced many smaller households to sell off members and assets, and ultimately land, to wealthy landowners. Deceit and disregard for property rights were common. (See the story of Naboth’s vineyard, 1 Kings 21.) [Paragraph here removed to comments]
Perdue goes on to make this interesting observation:
…before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. families and villages had largely come under the expanding and controlling orbit of towns, cities, royal districts, the kingdom, and ultimately the king himself. Without the abrupt end of the monarchy in the Babylonian conquest, the family household in its described form likely would not have survived. (211-212)
If you have read my blog for very long, you have no doubt read about subsidiarity. This is the idea that “…matters ought to be handled by the smallest (or the lowest) competent authority.” (Wikipedia) Each subsequent higher level of authority and power exists only to do that which more localized levels are not able to do for themselves or to intervene to restore health to more localized levels when problems arise. The family is the central institution; with ever widening circles of voluntary associations and government functioning in support. It is a key piece of Roman Catholic social teaching articulated by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum in 1891.
The danger is that two things will happen when more centralized forms of authority begin to take on roles of more localized institutions. First, the centralized authority will tend to execute the role with decreased effectiveness and sensitivity. Second, the capabilities and capacities of the more localized institution whose role has been usurped will atrophy, requiring more intervention by centralized authorities. God had established the nation of Israel to be a people with a decentralized subsidiarity form of governance. The monarchy all but destroyed it.