We have already said, that in certain respects a parent is the master of his child, and in others the guardian.
In the character of a master, he will possess the right of imposing labour upon his children, and of employing their labour for his own advantage, until the age at which the law establishes their independence. This, right which is given to parents, is an indemnity for the trouble and expense of the education of their children. It is desirable that parents should possess an interest, and take pleasure in the education of their children; whilst this advantage which they may find in rearing them, is not less a benefit for the one than the other.
In the character of guardian, a parent possesses all the rights and all the obligations of which mention has been made under that head.
Under the first relation, the advantage of the parent is considered; under the second, that of the child is considered. These two, characters are easily reconciled in the hands of a parent, in consequence of the natural affection which leads him rather to make sacrifices for his children, than to make use of his rights for his own advantage.
It would seem at the first glance, that the legislator need not interfere between parents and children, and that he might rely upon the tenderness of the one, and the gratitude of the others. But this superficial view would be deceptive. It is absolutely necessary, on one side, to limit the parental power, and on the other, to support filial respect by the laws.
General Rule. It is not proper to give any power, from the exercise of which the child may lose more than the father would gain.
When in Prussia, the right was given to the father, in imitation of the Romans, of preventing his son from marrying without limitation of age, this rule was not observed.
Political writers have fallen into opposite excesses with respect to the parental authority. Some have sought to render it despotic, as among the Romans; others have sought to annihilate it. Some philosophers have thought that children ought not to be subject to the caprice and ignorance of parents; that the state ought to educate them in common. The systems of Sparta, Crete, and the ancient Persians, are cited in support of this plan. It is forgotten that this public education was only provided for a small class of the citizens; because the mass of the people was composed of slaves.
In this artificial arrangement, beside the difficulty of apportioning the expense, and the evil of making those parents support the burthen who no longer stand in need of the service, and who would no longer be actuated by a feeling of tenderness for their children, who would have become almost strangers to them, there would also arise a greater inconvenience to the pupils: they would not be early prepared for the diversity of conditions which they would be called to occupy. The choice even of a profession or business depends upon so many circumstances, upon which parents alone can determine, that no one else can judge of what is suitable for them, nor of the expectations nor of the talents and inclinations of these young pupils. Besides, this plan, in which the reciprocal affection between parents and children is reckoned as nothing, would be productive of the worst effects; by destroying family feeling---by weakening the conjugal union---by depriving the fathers and mothers of those pleasures which they derive from beholding this new generation which springs up around them. They would not seek the future welfare of children, who would no longer be their property, with the same zeal. They would not feel towards them a regard which they could not hope to inspire. Industry, no longer excited by paternal affection, would not possess the same activity. Domestic enjoyments would take a course less advantageous to general prosperity.
As a last reason, it may be added, that the natural arrangement, leaving the choice, the manner, and the expense of education to the parents, may be compared to a series of experiments, having for their object the perfection of the general system. Every thing is advanced and developed by this emulation of individuals; by the difference of views and thoughts---in a word, by the variety of particular impulses. But if every thing were cast in the same mould, if instruction every where partook of the character of legal authority, errors would be perpetuated, and there would be no improvement.
This, perhaps, may be considered too long a dissertation respecting a chimera: but this Platonic notion has in our days led certain celebrated authors astray; and an error which has entangled Rousseau and Helvetius, may easily find other defenders.[Back to:]