Father to the man

The wealth and poverty of nations hinges as much on child-raising as on economic policies.  I once lived for two years in a Latin American country, and was struck by the way little boys there were indulged in their every wish.  Many of these boys grew up to be child-men:  unable to plan for the long term, unwilling to resist temptation, and justifying anything that suited the satisfaction of desire, such as leaving one’s wife for a younger woman or stealing from one’s company.  For the best of intentions, parents — rich and poor alike — corrupted their children.

Childhood there was paradise, for males particularly.  Adult life, public and private, was a Darwinian contest for power, money, and the pleasures of the flesh.

Traditionally, American child-rearing has been strong on self-discipline.  In the nineteenth century, Emerson could write a highly popular essay titled “Self-Reliance.”  We don’t think about it much — but as a nation we owe much of our wealth and power to the virtues that arise from such restraint.

Now, though, according to this Tony Woodlief piece in the online WSJ, there is a competing “unconstrained vision” — Thomas Sowell’s phrase — teaching “that traditions and customs are to be distrusted as holdovers from benighted generations. . .”

Advocates of the unconstrained vision follow Russeau.  They believe in the perfect virtue of little children, before they are tainted by civilization — that is, by discipline and morality.  Woodlief, crusty father of four sons, demurs:  “Nobody who’s stood between a toddler and the last cookie,” he writes, “should still harbor a belief in the inherent virtue of mankind.”  He continues:

Many parents in the unconstrained camp adhere to Rousseau’s sentiment: “Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.” They not only fail to punish bad behavior but snarl at anyone who rebukes their precious darlings. In our house we have reversed Rousseau’s theory: You are born in bondage and should be darn grateful for the free room and board. Besides, if you want to talk about restrictions on liberty you can take it up with your mother, who hasn’t had an uninterrupted trip to the bathroom since 2001.

My favorite bit is a quote from Sowell quoting Burke on what tradition delivers:  “wisdom without reflection.”  But read the whole thing.  (Via Instapundit.)

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