Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 15

Chapter 15 (pages 204-220): “The Family and the State”

The state, which gives legal imprimatur to marriage, has begun to interfere in family life to serve the perceived interest of kids, through such measures as limitations on child labor, compulsory schooling, and protection against abuse by parents. “One of the few rights remaining to parents in the wage-earning class is that of having their children taught any brand of superstition that may be shared by a large number of parents in the same neighborhood [p. 206].”

As fathers used to have pay for their kids’ education, the increased role of the state has replaced fathers more than mothers, among the working class. We can expect that the state will continue to take on more functions of fathers within the poorer classes, undermining the rationale for fathers. So richer people will preserve the traditional family, while fathers become irrelevant among the poor. [Russell notes that Russia is trying to undo the family, but this reform is unlikely to have much traction among the rural dwellers (poor peasants). As a result, the class divide will be opposite there: the rich urbanites will see a diminution in the traditional family, but it will be preserved among the rural poor.]

Married women currently are not (socially) eligible for most employments in England, out of “a masculine desire to preserve economic power over them [p. 211].” But this will not last, and married women will either work – and their kids will go to nursery schools, lessening maternal influence on a child’s psychology – or the state will pay women to stay at home to provide child care for young kids. Russell anticipates such child-rearing subsidies, with payments made to mothers alone, not to both parents. But the effects of the law will lie in the details: will payments be available to unmarried moms, or to mothers who engage in adultery? The requisite policing of any moral component would be so draconian as eventually to result in an unconditional payment to mothers. This would undermine the economic role of the father, who would assume a role like that of fathers within the worlds of cats and dogs.

Russell thinks most moms would prefer to be able to continue working outside the home, however. In any event, feminist advances will eliminate the role of one or “both parents from the care of the young in the wage-earning class [p. 214].” While women have the right to vote, we still do not know the long-run implications of their ongoing social emancipation; they might have desires quite at variance from what they have said in the past when it was necessary for them to be pleasing to their masters. Their maternal interests, in particular, might not be as significant as previously thought. (“Until very recently, all decent women were supposed to desire children, but to hate sex [p. 215].”) In any case, feminism is likely to play a significant role in undermining the patriarchal family.

The state’s taking over the role of the father is basically a desirable development, improving health and education, while decreasing cruelty towards kids. But the state bureaucracy is likely to try to mold kids into one acceptable pattern, which will repress the most gifted and make the others intolerant of new ideas. Furthermore, “the substitution of public bodies for parents in education means an intensification of what is called patriotism, i.e., a willingness to indulge in mutual extermination without a moment’s hesitation, whenever the governments feel so inclined [p. 218].” And as this “patriotism” is the gravest threat to humanity, this effect is dire, and outweighs any advantages of a larger state role in education.

But if an international government would arise that could preclude the teaching of nationalism, “the danger of promoting war would be eliminated [p. 219]” – although the tendency towards uniformity would still exist.

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