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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

The American Social Theory

The American Social Theory.

No—it is high time for all who would enjoy liberty to understand the conditions of liberty. While the Church is built on the social theory which makes the family, not the individual, the social unit; while it binds the parent both to be a true and obedient Catholic himself, and to make his children also true and obedient Catholics; and while it teaches the doctrine of "parental prerogative" in this, and no other sense,—the free State is built on a social theory exactly the reverse of this. It recognizes the individual, and not the family, as the true social unit, the ultimate atom of human society; and it exists solely to guarantee and to protect the equal natural rights of all individuals. This is the distinctly avowed basis of the page 89 American Republic. The Declaration of Independence proclaims, as the first great principle of our national existence, that "all men are created equal; "all men, all individuals, not all families or all parents. The preamble of the United States Constitution, ordaining and establishing the fundamental law of the land, does so in the name of—"We the people :" that is, we, the aggregated individuals who compose the people, and not we the families, or we the parents. In accordance with this initial recognition of individuality and the rights of individuality as the prime fact of human society, all our institutions are framed. Our national life consists in a fuller and higher realization of this supreme principle. While the Church binds women and children to domestic servitude under man, as the Divinely appointed head of the family, the State is coming more and more to restrict this irrational and oppressive supremacy of man. It is coming to recognize woman as man's equal before the law; it has long regarded marriage as a civil contract only, and this is leading to the gradual establishment of woman's equal civil and political rights. That is the deeper meaning of the woman movement, which aims to establish and protect woman's right to the enjoyment of her own free individuality. So also the movement for a better and more strictly universal education, the movement to extend and improve the public school system, is at bottom nothing but the State's growing consciousness that children are also individuals, with all the rights of individuality,—not, as the Church makes them, the personal property of the father, but really wards entrusted to his fostering care during the period of their immaturity. Just as the movement for female suffrage is a growing recognition of the rights of women as individuals, so is the movement for better public schools a growing recognition of the rights of children as individuals. Whoever would con page 90 sent to the abolition of State schools, which are necessarily imbued with this principle of the individual rights of children, consents to the substitution in their place of the inevitable Church schools, which are all more or less imbued with the principle of the Christianized Patria Potestas.

Alas for the radicalism which, through jealousy of the State, would thus unwittingly hand over the education of children to the Church! The abolition of State schools means the inevitable establishment of denominational or Church schools. But the social theory and tendency of the State is the development of free individuality, while that of the Church is the development of ecclesiastical despotism. Which has the better claim to be the educator of those on whose shoulders must rest the responsibility of handing down free institutions to posterity? Vicar-General Wendischmann, of Munich, who clearly saw that the control of the future belongs to those who educate the children of the present, and who uttered the profound conviction and fixed purpose of the consolidated Roman hierarchy, did not exaggerate the importance of the school question, when he exclaimed: "The struggle for the school has the same importance in the nineteenth century that the struggle for the occupancy of the bishoprics had in the eleventh." It is indeed so. There are but two contestants in this great controversy—the despotic and remorseless Church of Rome, the democratic and humane Republic of America; and that one of the two which shall control the education of the common people will be lord of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.