Children Under Anarchy.

Children Under Anarchy.

[Liberty, September 3, 1892.]

Nearly the whole of this issue of Liberty is devoted to the important question of the status of the child under Anarchy. The long article by Clara Dixon Davidson has been in my desk, unopened, for several months. On examining it the other day, I was surprised and delighted to find that a woman had written such a bold, unprejudiced, unsentimental, and altogether rational essay on a subject which women are especially prone to treat emotionally. I am even shamed a little by the unhesitating way in which she eliminates from the problem the fancied right of the child to life. My own difficulties, I fear, have been largely due to a lingering trace of this superstition. The fact is that the child, like the adult, has no right to life at all. Under equal freedom, as it develops individuality and independence, it is entitled to immunity from assault or invasion, and that is all. If the parent neglects to support it, he does not thereby oblige any one else to support it. If others give it support, they do so voluntarily, as they might give support to a neglected animal; there is no more obligation in the one case than in the other.(43 ¶ 1)

I also welcome as important Comrade Bailie’s contribution to the discussion. In one view the question of the status of the child under Anarchy is a trivial one,—trivial because the bugbears that surround it are hypothetical monsters, and because such ugly realities as do actually confront it are put to rout by the new social conditions which Anarchy induces. Even at present comparatively few parents are disposed to abuse or neglect their children, and in the absence of poverty and false notions of virtue their number will be infinitesimal and may be safely neglected. The question is one that vanishes as we approach it.(43 ¶ 2)

The chief value of its discussion is found in the light which it throws on the matter of equal freedom. Hence I am glad that it was brought forward by my friend the school-teacher, whose questions I answered in No. 232, and who now rejoins with the following letter:(43 ¶ 3)

To the Editor of Liberty:(43 ¶ 4)

I gather from your editorial that it is Anarchistic policy for neighbors to interfere if a parent is about to chisel off the third finger of its child’s left hand, even if he proposes to secure a well-healed stump. I think I know you well enough to say that it is not Anarchistic policy for neighbors to interfere if the parent, otherwise sane, proposes to treat his own finger so. Now, where is the criterion of these two cases? Why should the child’s physical integrity be of more importance to neighbors than the father’s? Do we not recognize some substitute for or remnant of the law of equal freedom, restraining the parent’s absolute control over the mind, body, and life of his child? Not for the child’s sake, primarily, because all sane altruism is rooted in egoism: but it is Anarchistic policy to recognize and defend the child’s right to physical integrity, in extreme cases.(43 ¶ 5)

Again, the reason why we draw the line of Anarchistic policy at interference with any but physical maltreatment is, if I am correct, that interference will result in disaster, too grievous to be borne, which will be an invasion of the equal freedom of adult neighbors,—all this only in the case of physical maltreatment. On this ground is laid down the general rule that mental and moral maltreatment of children by parents should not be met by neighbors with physical force. It seems obvious to me that this rule cannot be thus justified in considering the case of physical maltreatment instanced above, and the following case of mental-and-moral maltreatment: A parent, with the intention of ruining his child’s future, surrounds it with temptations to debauchery such as will assuredly render it imbecile, if it survives to the normal age of maturity.—This seems to me more harmful to adult neighbors than even such mutilation as an eye put out.(43 ¶ 6)

To put my thesis most directly, I claim (I) to state the law of equal freedom as follows:(43 ¶ 7)

Every individual has a right to and must expect the results of his own nature.(43 ¶ 8)

Cor. 1. Every individual must refrain from invading his neighbor’s rights.(43 ¶ 9)

Cor. 2. Every child has a right to such sacrifice on the part of its parent as will enable it to arrive at maturity.(43 ¶ 10)

And I claim (II) that it is Anarchistic policy to use physical force to prevent transgressions of either corollary of this law, where such transgressions are clear and unmistakable. The Egoistic basis of enforcing Cor. 2 is, as your editorial implies, the fact that its violation will result in shouldering off upon others some unwelcome consequence of the parents’ (propagative) conduct.(43 ¶ 11)

It is not always possible to apply the theoretical deductions of science; but they need not deter her devotees from trying to state and prove, as completely as possible, the results of science. Here we are, confronted by the Cimmerian darkness of one of the most important problems in social ethics. If the statement of Cor. 2 above is not accurate, I ask you, as my first instructor in this subject, to tell me where it is inaccurate, and why: if it is accurate, it furnishes a basis for the relation between Family and Society as firm and clear as the Law of Equal Freedom does for Society alone. And we can set ourselves calmly to write down the particular equations that represent the several phases of child-guardianship.(43 ¶ 12)

G. W. E.

My friend misapprehends me. When the interference of third parties is justifiable, it is not so because of the superior importance of the child’s physical integrity as compared with that of the parent who mutilates himself, but because the child is potentially an individual sovereign. The man who mutilates himself does not impair equal freedom in the slightest, but the parent who mutilates his child assaults a being which, though still limited in its freedom by its dependence, is daily growing into an independence which will establish its freedom on an equality with that of others. In this doubtful stage the advisability of interference is to be decided by necessity, since, so far as we can see at present, it cannot be decided by principle. It is necessary to stop the parent from cutting off his child’s finger, because the danger is immediate and the evil certain and irremediable. It is not necessary to prescribe the conditions of virtue with which a parent shall surround the child, because the danger is remote (it being possible perhaps in time to induce the parent to change his course), the evil is uncertain (the child often proving sufficiently strong in character to rise above its conditions), and the results are not necessarily permanent (as later conditions may largely, if not entirely, counteract them). In the former case, physical force must be met with physical force. In the latter case, it is safer and better to meet moral (or immoral) force with moral force. I am afraid that my friend is not yet a sufficiently good Anarchist to appreciate the full significance of Proudhon’s declaration that Liberty is the Mother of Order, and the importance of securing education through liberty wherever practicable instead of through compulsion.(43 ¶ 13)

I do not think that my friend’s formulas are capable of scientific treatment. When he tells me that every individual has a right to and must expect the results of his own nature, he lays down a proposition too vague for the purposes of science. I do not know what the words mean, and in any case I deny the alleged right. An individual has a right to the results of his own nature if he can get them; otherwise, not. Apart from this right of might, no individual has a right to anything, except as he creates his right by contract with his neighbor.(43 ¶ 14)