Childrearing Reforms: The Seeds of Democracy and Human Rights

By Grille, Robin | The Journal of Psychohistory, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Childrearing Reforms: The Seeds of Democracy and Human Rights


Grille, Robin, The Journal of Psychohistory


If abusive and authoritarian upbringing leads to war and political tyranny, what kinds of social change are brought about when a large enough proportion of any population shifts to more supportive and empathie parenting? In this chapter we will look at the growth of democracy and social justice in nations such as France, the USA and Sweden, and how these developments have closely followed child rearing reforms.

Further on, we will look at some of the remarkable social changes brought about by the advent of modern child rearing (deMause's Socializing Mode) in the 20th century. Even more exciting improvements in social harmony and sustainability will be possible as 'Helping Mode' or natural parenting styles begin to germinate. Whenever I look at this historical and sociological data I'm reassured that prioritizing support for families and child rearing will produce inestimable social rewards. I have found this discovery extremely encouraging-a sense I wish to share through this essay.

EARLY FRENCH FLIRTATIONS WITH DEMOCRACY

One of the most significant turning points in history, a cataclysmic moment which marked the birth of modern nation-state democracy, was the French Revolution of 1789. Though French democracy was to falter and stumble many times, with governments often reverting to tyranny, terror and military rule, the remarkable events of 1789 and the years that followed shunted the world toward democracy beyond the point of no return. Some of the more momentous products of the French Revolution included the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the abolition of feudal power, of church power, and aristocratic privilege. For the first time a nation upheld that its citizens (though at first only males)-rather than individuals claiming the fatuous doctrine of 'Divine right'-are the only legitimate source of civic power. Certainly, the ideals of liberty, fraternity, and equality remain incompletely manifest in modern democracies, but it is clear that they germinated in the collective imagination of the French middle class toward the end of the 18th century. For the first time, masses of ordinary people stood up to oppressive authority, and demanded more freedom, equality and respect for human rights than had ever been available in any nation.

Undoubtedly, there are many factors which helped to precipitate the birth of French democracy. But what was it that enabled the psychological shift in the minds of the many who came to be convinced that a freer society was possible? What made the emergence of democratic thinking, and the progressive ideas that were expounded in the French Revolution, possible in the minds of so many French citizens? It is no accident that this maturation in French society followed a transformation in parent-child relations that had begun one generation earlier.

The ideas of 'family love' and 'mother love' first appeared in French literature in the middle of the 18th century. For the first time publications dealing with parenting issues began to emphasize parents' obligations to their children, rather than the reverse. If the concept of 'mother love' as depicted in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's highly influential Emile seems unremarkable now, it was a revolutionary idea in 1762, the year of publication. The French Revolution, a fulcrum in the history of democracy, came twenty-seven years (one generation) later.

During the 176Os in France, a flurry of publications urging mothers to keep their own babies at home and to breastfeed them appeared. Although still rife in 1780, the routine practice of wet-nursing had begun to decline in 1770. The horrendous statistics relating to its incidence in 1780 indicated that authorities had begun to take an interest in measuring, then curbing, this disastrous practice. Though it took decades for wet-nursing to disappear, increasing numbers of French babies were remaining near their mothers through the 176Os. These developments in child rearing, first affecting the French middle class, were sufficient to sow the seeds of a more liberal society. …

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