Not a Decree, but a Prophecy.

Not a Decree, but a Prophecy.

[Liberty, April 28, 1888.]

Have I made a mistake in my Anarchism, or has the editor of Liberty himself tripped? At any rate, I must challenge the Anarchism of one sentence in his otherwise masterful paper upon State Socialism and Anarchism. If I am wrong, I stand open to conviction. It is this: They [Anarchists] look forward to a time … when the children born of these relations shall belong exclusively to the mothers until old enough to belong to themselves.(44 ¶ 1)

Now, that looks to me like an authoritarian statement that is in opposition to theoretical Anarchy, and also to nature. What is the matter with leaving the question of the control of those children to their two parents, to be settled between them,—allowing them to decide whether both, or only one, and which one, shall have control?(44 ¶ 2)

I may be wrong, but it seems to me extremely un-Anarchistic to thus bring up an extraneous, authoritarian, moral obligation, and use it to stifle an instinct which nature is doing her best to develop.(44 ¶ 3)

I would like to know whether the editor of Liberty momentarily forgot his creed that we must follow our natural desires, or if I have misunderstood his statement, or misapplied my own Anarchy.(44 ¶ 4)

Paternal love of offspring is, with a few exceptions, a comparatively late development in the evolution of the animal world, so late that there are tribes of the order of man, and individuals even among civilized nations, in whom it is not found. But the fact that it is a late development shows that it is going to develop still more. And under the eased economical conditions which Anarchy hopes to bring about, it would burst forth with still greater power. Is it wise to attempt to stifle that feeling—as it would be stifled—by the sweeping statement that its object should belong to some one else? Maternal love of offspring beautifies the woman’s character, broadens and enriches her intellect. And as far as I have observed, paternal feeling, if it is listened to, indulged, and developed, has an equally good, though not just the same, effect upon the man’s mind. Should he be deprived of all this good by having swept out of his hands all care for his children, and out of his heart all feeling that they are his, by being made to feel that they belong exclusively to the mother? It seems to me much more reasonable, much more natural, and very much more Anarchistic, to say that the child of Anarchistic parents belongs to both of them, if they both wish to have united control of it, and, if they don’t wish this, that they can settle between themselves as to which one should have it. The question is one, I think, that could usually be settled amicably. But if some unusual occasion were to arise when all efforts to settle it amicably were to fail, when both parents would strongly desire the child and be equally competent to rear it, then, possibly, the fact that the mother has suffered the pain of child-birth might give her a little the stronger right. But I do not feel perfectly sure that that principle is right and just.(44 ¶ 5)

I would like to know if Mr. Tucker, upon further consideration, does not agree with me.(44 ¶ 6)

F. F. K.

I accept F. F. K.’s challenge, and, in defence of the Anarchism of the sentence objected to, I offer to submit the language in which it is phrased to any generally recognized authority in English, for the discovery of any authoritarian meaning possibly therein contained. F. F. K. seems to misunderstand the use of the word shall. Now, it may be ascertained from any decent dictionary or grammar that this auxiliary is employed, not alone in the language of command, but also in the language of prophecy. Suppose I had said that the Anarchists look forward to a time when all men shall be honest. Would F. F. K. have suspected me of desiring or predicting a decree to that effect? I hardly think so. The conclusion would simply have been that I regarded honesty as destined to be accepted by mankind, at some future period, in the shaping of their lives. Why, then, should it be inferred from similar phraseology in regard to the control of children that I anticipate anything more than a general recognition, in the absence of contract, of the mother’s superior claim, and a refusal on the part of defensive associations to protect any other claim than hers in cases of dispute not guarded against by specific contract? That is all that I meant, and that is all that my language implies. The language of prophecy doubtless has its source in authority, but to-day the idea of authority is so far disconnected from the prophetic form that philosophers and scientists who, reasoning from accepted data, use this form in mapping out for a space the course of evolution are not therefore accused of designs to impose their sovereign wills upon the human race. The editor of Liberty respectfully submits that he, too, may sometimes resort to the oracular style which the best English writers not infrequently employ in speaking of futurity, without having it imputed to him on that account that he professes to speak either from a throne or from a tripod.(44 ¶ 7)

As to the charge of departure from the Anarchistic principle, it may be preferred, I think, against F. F. K. with much more reason than against me. To vest the control of anything indivisible in more than one person seems to me decidedly communistic. I perfectly agree that parents must be allowed to decide whether both, or only one, and which one, shall have control. But if they are foolish enough to decide that both shall control, the affair is sure to end in government. Contract as they may in advance that both shall control, really no question of control arises until they disagree, and then it is a logical impossibility for both to control. One of the two will then control; or else there will be a compromise, in which case each will be controlled, just as the king who makes concessions governs and is governed, and as the members of a democracy govern and are governed. Liberty and individualism are lost sight of entirely.(44 ¶ 8)

I rejoice to know that the tendency of evolution is towards the increase of paternal love, it being no part of my intention to abolish, stifle, or ignore that highly commendable emotion. I expect its influence in the future upon both child and parent to be far greater and better than it ever has been in the past. Upon the love of both father and mother for their offspring I chiefly rely for that harmonious co-operation in the guidance of their children’s lives which is so much to be desired. But the important question, so far as Anarchy is concerned, is to whom this guidance properly belongs when such co-operation has proved impossible. If that question is not settled in advance by contract, it will have to be settled by arbitration, and the board of arbitration will be expected to decide in accordance with some principle. In my judgment it will be recognized that the control of children is a species of property, and that the superior labor title of the mother will secure her right to the guardianship of her children unless she freely signs it away. With my present light, if I were on such a board of arbitration, my vote would be for the mother every time.(44 ¶ 9)

For this declaration many of the friends of woman’s emancipation (F. F. K., however, not among them) are ready to abuse me roundly. I had expected their approval rather. For years in their conventions I have seen this crowning outrage, that woman is denied the control and keeping of her children, reserved by them to be brought forward as a coup de grâce for the annihilation of some especially obstinate opponent. Now this control and keeping I grant her unreservedly, and lo! I am a cursed thing!(44 ¶ 10)