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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

The Catholic Social Theory a Relic of Barbarism

The Catholic Social Theory a Relic of Barbarism.

Remembering clearly the chief features of the Catholic social theory which lies at the bottom of the so-called "Parental Prerogative,"—namely, that the social unit is the family, not the individual, and that all powers and rights touching the education of children are vested in the father, as the head of the family,—you will gain a clearer insight into the truth of this matter, if, instead of giving you any reflections of my own, I read to you some pretty copious extracts from a book which every well-read person will recognize at once as one which enjoys a world-wide reputation of the highest possible character. I refer to the treatise of Sir Henry Sumner Maine on Ancient Law, a work which by common consent ranks among the ablest and most valuable productions of the century. What he has to say on this subject will hardly be gainsaid by any but the uninformed; and I prefer to give his views in his own language without attempting to translate it into my own. Sir Henry Maine says:— page 79

"The effect of the evidence derived from comparative jurisprudence is to establish that view of the primeval condition of the human race which is known as the Patriarchal Theory. . . . The difficulty, at the present stage of the inquiry, is to know where to stop—to say of what races of men it is not allowable to lay down that the society in which they are united was originally organized on the patriarchal model. . . . The points which lie on the surface of the history are these. The eldest male parent, the eldest ascendant, is absolutely supreme in his household. His dominion extends to life and death, and is as unqualified over his children and their houses as over his slaves; indeed, the relations of son- ship and serfdom appear to differ in little beyond the higher capacity which the child in blood possesses of becoming one day the head of a family himself. . . . If I were attempting to express compendiously the characteristics of the situation in which mankind disclose themselves at the dawn of history, I should be satisfied to quote a few verses from the Odyssey of Homer : ' They have neither assemblies for consultation nor themistes, but every one exercises jurisdiction over his wives and children, and they pay no regard to one another.' . . [Archaic law] is full, in all its provinces, of the clearest indications that society in primitive times was not what it is assumed to be at present, a collection of individuals. In fact, and in the view of the men who composed it, it was an aggregation of families. The contrast may be most forcibly expressed by saying that the unit of an ancient society was the Family,—of a modern society the Individual. . . . In most of the Greek states and in Rome there long remained the vestiges of an ascending series of groups out of which the State was at first constituted. The Family, House, and Tribe of the Romans may be taken as the type of them, and they are so described to us that we can scarcely help conceiving them as a system of concentric circles which have gradually expanded from the same point. The elementary group is the Family, connected by common subjection to the highest male ascendant. The aggregation of Families forms the Gens or House. The aggregation of Houses makes the Tribe. The aggregation of Tribes constitutes the Commonwealth. . . . No doubt, page 80 when with our modern ideas we contemplate the union of independent communities, we can suggest a hundred modes of carrying it out, the simplest of all being that the individuals comprised in the coalescing groups shall vote or act according to local propinquity; but the idea that a number of persons should exercise political rights in common simply because they happened to live within the same topographical limits was utterly strange and monstrous to primitive antiquity. . . . This was the principle of local contiguity, now recognized everywhere as the condition of community in political functions."

We thus see clearly that the Roman Catholic social theory, according to which (in the very phrase of Father M#x00FC;ller himself) the "social unit is the family, not the individual," appears to be a mere relic of primeval barbarism, the survival of an antiquated and fossilized conception utterly out of harmony with the pervading spirit of modern society.