Taking Children Seriously

“Natural Authority”?

Posted by Sarah Fitz-Claridge
on the TCS List
on Wed, 1 Nov., 1995, at 22:45:44 +0000

There is, in our culture, a strong taboo against so-called “impoliteness” and against criticising ideas about parenting. This taboo is harmful because it prevents criticism and is associated with psychological strategies for self-exculpation which are integral to most patterns of coercion of children. When we go along with this self-exculpation, we become implicated ourselves.

It has been suggested to me that I am wrong to say that there is a taboo against crossing parents, and that there is a good reason for thinking it wrong to criticise parents. The idea is apparently that parents have a natural right of authority over their children, and thus undermining parental authority is bad in itself.

Suppose it is true. How far does that natural right of authority extend? Why does that override other moral considerations which in any other context we would think very important? What is it about this right of authority which justifies behaviours we would in other circumstances regard as barbaric, immoral, or at the very least unpleasant? What is it about this natural right of authority that is so important as to override our wider values? Why do considerations of this natural parental right outweigh objective harm done to children by their parents?

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