« AnteriorContinuar »
PUBLIC REGULATION OF PRIVATE MORALS Ought the state to concern itself with private morals? That the state, which is but the aggregate of all the people in it, is deeply interested in the morals of every private person in it is clear, but that the public can interfere with the conduct of a person which concerns him alone with advantage either to him or to the state is not so evident. The Greeks deemed the culture of physical strength and beauty of form a matter of public concern as well as mental and moral training. The code of Manu deals minutely with many habits of body and mind and private acts affecting the soul, and prescribes penances and expiations for infractions of its rules. It seeks to direct the soul in its struggle to gain mastery over the body and all evil propensities of body and mind. Religion and education are the forces employed to guard against all secret violations of its commands. From early youth the people are taught that the law is self-enforcing and that every infraction of it is followed by certain and adequate punishment. In China mourning for the dead is deemed a matter of prime importance, and is enforced in the prescribed form under severe penalties. While the Book of Rites deals mainly with forms of intercourse between different persons, it also enjoins many observances affecting the individual alone. Mohammed strictly commanded ablutions, the morning and evening prayer, and other personal observances tending to cleanliness and health as well as requiring the observance of religious forms. · The Church of Rome also takes cognizance of private morals and requires confession of secret sins and imposes penances for the expiation of them. Other Christian churches also deal with secret acts affecting the actor alone.
The prevailing doctrine in America and the more advanced states of Europe is that the citizen is accountable to himself and the Supreme Being only for his private morals and care of his personal welfare. This doctrine is adopted both on the ground of rightful liberty and of the inexpediency of state regulation of purely personal concerns. It must not be inferred however that this non-interference by the government indicates indifference on the subject, or an entire lack of public influence in the direction of the best private morality. Through the public schools educational influences, potent and far-reaching, are brought to bear. By encouragement to acquire knowledge, to love truth and form and follow high ideals, the state leads rather than drives to purity of private morals.
PUBLIC REGULATION OF THE FAMILY Should the state undertake to regulate and improve the relation of members of the family to each other? That these are of the highest interest to the public does not admit of doubt. The citizens constituting the state are reared in the homes and started in life with such opinions, habits and purposes as home influences have produced. Vicious and immoral parents usually rear children with similar character. On the other hand lofty purposes and upright conduct are best promoted by the lessons of the domestic fireside. From the home atmosphere of love, devotion to the welfare of each other and kindness toward all mankind radiate those warm and vitalizing influences that stimulate the growth of all that is good on earth. Viewing the importance of preventing the propagation of evil and of encouraging the growth of virtue, may the state safely leave the homes to be ruled as the members of the household deem best? This presents the practical question, where can better influences be found than those which spring spontaneously from matrimonial unions. The state concerns itself with the foundation of the household by marriage. Only in the lowest and most degraded tribes is promiscuous sexual intercourse tolerated. Though polygamy is lawful among more than two-thirds of the people of the earth, there can be no doubt of the superior morality of the union of the single pair. This is indicated by the near approximation in the numbers of each sex born into the world and is recognized even in the countries where polygamy is allowed, for in them monogamy is the rule and polygamy the exception. A few tribes allow plurality of husbands, but this system is regarded with almost universal disfavor.
There is great diversity in marriage ceremonies, but these are of relatively small concern. It is far more important to determine who may intermarry. Restrictions preventing the lower classes from intermarrying with the higher are most marked in India, and are common with the princely houses of Europe. These are designed to prevent the upper from being contaminated with the lower orders.
The family being established by lawful marriage its government is usually left almost entirely to its own members. The theory of domestic rulership varies from the patria potestas of the Romans, with power of life and death over all members of the household, including adult children and their wives and their offspring, to that of equal rights of father and mother over minor children and complete emancipation of the children at the legal age of majority. The right to punish children is universally conceded to parents, subject in advanced states to the limitation that the punishment must not be cruel or excessive. When it is considered that the citizens constituting the state are born and reared in these households, the vast importance of domestic morals is apparent. If the state can improve them by regulation it is desirable to do so, but before the attempt is made it must be found that the moral purposes of the state, as an organized acting force, are better than those generally dominating in the homes. It seems clear that this cannot be safely asserted, even in the best governed states, but that the reverse is generally true, and that the impulses which advance public standards originate in the homes. This of course is most apparent in democracies and republics, but domestic morals exert a profound influence, even under the most despotic governments. In this connection it must be noticed that there is as wide a difference in the character of households as of persons. Virtue and all noble impulses germinate in the homes, but so also does much vice. Moral as well as physical qualities usually, though not universally pass by inheritance from parent to child. The ancient Spartans encouraged propagation by the strongest and most perfect physical specimens, and exposed the defective infants. They however grossly underrated the factor of love and devotion of husband and wife to each other, so absolutely essential to the highest development of the moral character of the offspring. Where husband and wife are normally healthy physically and morally there is little or no need of state interference with their domestic affairs, but may not society interfere and protect itself from the consequences of those unions that are productive of vicious and defective children? Ought the criminal, the insane and the imbecile to be allowed to marry and multiply their kind ? No intelligent stock-raiser allows the propagation of defectives among his flocks and herds. He takes the utmost care to eliminate them, and understands quite well how to improve the breeds of horses, cattle, hogs and fowl. The wise farmer carefully selects the seed for his fields, excluding every defective kernel as far as practicable. Neither among domestic animals nor field crops does he hope for good results from bad seed. Why may not society exercise the same care and intelligence with reference to the propagation of the human race that it does over the lower animals ? To answer this question we have first to determine whether it is morally right to protect future generations from criminals and defectives by preventing their propagation; second, whether it is expedient to do so, and third, what system can be adopted and what are the limitations of the rightful exercise of the power.
In a household which starts from a well mated, healthy and congenial pair, perfect liberty to live lives of devotion to each other and to their children is recognized as of the highest value. So sensitive and delicate are the adjustments of the affections that no one without the circle can fully appreciate or understand them. All such pairs realize their responsibility for their own welfare and shrink from all outside interference. The state generally recognizes its inability to add to domestic happiness, and interferes only in those cases where one or both parents have been grossly derelict in duty or children are incorrigible. The moral right to domestic privacy and freedom is generally conceded, and the inexpediency of state interference with domestic relations under normal conditions is recognized.
In the treatment of children parents act according to their own dispositions and capacities and those of their children. The uplifting force is love and devotion to their welfare. The happiest homes are doubtless those where the parents are able to lead their children in the right paths by reason; where all good impulses are sympathetically encouraged and the capacity for self-restraint developed as early in life and as rapidly as possible. Where force is resorted to it should always be as a temporary expedient to overcome resistance of authority. Its educational value can be no more than to inculcate the lesson that resistance is futile, and it is therefore necessary to make its use accomplish the desired result. It may well be doubted whether beating, scolding or restraint of liberty, inflicted merely as punishment for disregard of duty, ever accomplishes a beneficial result. The problem is to arouse the impulses that lead to right conduct. Blows excite a spirit of resentment and angry words responding anger. The spirit manifested by the parent arouses its counterpart in the child. Fear of punishment tends to cowardice, resort to falsehood and deception to avoid the punishment, rather than to stimulate a wish to do the things the parent will approve. The legitimate object of correction is improvement in the child, and this can only come by stimulating good impulses, convincing its reason, or awakening its perceptions of the moral quality of the act or duty involved, or leading it to see advantage or superior enjoyment in good conduct. It is often assumed that very young children can be ruled only by force. Adults are led by suggestion. The force of suggestion is most potent to the infant. The incapacity of the parents to lead by suggestion induces resort to force to drive the child in the desired direction or punishment after the act for misconduct. The primary need is that the parent be instructed in the art of governing children.
On no subject is the law more divergent than that of divorce. Even among the states of the American Union there is nothing like uniformity of rule on the subject. Theories vary all the way from allowing divorce at the pleasure of either party to denying it altogether, and the practices pre