The Affections As Sources Of Happiness
( Originally Published 1914 )
I. However dispossessed our life may be, there are always a few sweet bonds which unite us to our environment, bonds which are unforgettable and inestimable. They enlarge our "ego." They relate it to the existence of others and prompt it to share their joys and sorrows. Family life doubt-less creates, with its joys, certain duties. The source of varied delights, it is often a source of annoyances, disappointments, sorrows. But when we compare what we owe to it, and what it has cost us, we readily understand that it is one of the greatest trumps in the struggle for happiness.
It shields us with its benevolent protection, when, very young, we enter life defenceless. It rouses our courage in the struggle for existence. It sustains us in our misfortunes, and facilitates the accomplishment of our duty in living. The family also furnishes the first lesson in solidarity and sociability. The affection and indulgence which serve as its foundations transform and maintain our "ego" in the world of men, that enlargement of the family group.
To family joys are opposed the fetters that weigh down existence. A family, it is said, is often only a group of members whose interests are frequently opposed. Escape, always difficult, often becomes even impossible. The obstacles to divorce bind the wife to the husband for life. The privileges granted even to unworthy parents often prevent their children from emancipating themselves from their guardianship before attaining majority. The father often finds himself compelled to toil for a bad wife. He must support children who bring him sorrow. Fathers suffer through their sons ; daughters suffer through their mothers. These examples might be multiplied. We linger to look at these shadows, but suddenly a ray of sunshine from the paradise of family life makes them vanish. Nothing under the sun is perfect. In deeds of goodness we find traces of evil, as in a soul succumbing to sins we discover some misunderstood virtues. But the abode of the just remains good, in spite of the weaknesses displayed. The same is true of family life. By the side of its victims, humanity in the mass seeks and finds in it treasures of felicity.
And precisely because humanity grasps more and more the beneficent virtues of family life, it is striving to perfect the family. Under every latitude the same cry is heard : let us improve the family organisation.
Marriage is being reformed. We are endeavouring to perfect the relations between parents and children, and to establish ever stronger fraternal bonds between all the members of the family by introducing equality and liberty. Where poverty might have destroyed family affection, the government intervenes. It takes the sick and the aged under its charge; it comes to the aid of large families, and extends its protection to over-numerous children. No matter how opposite the various systems of government may be, monarchies, autocracies, and democracies rival one another in zeal when the object in view is to create, funds for old age, sickness, or free education.
II. When mutual sympathy and love have replaced money and social advantages as the principal foundations of the marriage institution, when parents profit by the conquests of child-psychology, when the little ones are reared in the sanctuary of love that the family of the future will become, the vexations incidental to the family will diminish. For, in family life, as well as in so many of the domains of our social activity, men are making the greatest efforts to have the right to misfortune. For instance, we feed children for years on falsehoods, and then require them to be upright men.
How charming is the exclamation of Montaigne: "There is nothing so sweet as little French children; but they usually disappoint our hopes." And the great moralist, having raised the question, answers it with delicious ingenuity : " I have heard people of good judgment say that the schools to which they are sent, which are numerous, exert this brutalising influence." Already ! Yet we are understanding more and more that children have the same right to truth that their fathers have to liberty and equality. The joys which children obtain at the fireside we are striving to turn to the advantage of all the social structure. For the child is the incarnation of happiness. It proclaims and bestows this gift. "It is joy wandering among us," as Victor Hugo says. A child is the augmentation of the life of the parents. It enlarges our present and extends our future.
Children, in addition to being the happiness of their parents, also constitute the power of the State. Many nations have perished through the diminution of the birth-rate. The active competition of modern governments, and especially their exaggerated militarism, render this problem more serious than ever to all peoples concerned for the future. Yet it has been noted that the birth-rate is in inverse proportion to culture. Within the frontiers of a country, the most ignorant and the poorest inhabitants, especially those who are affected by alcohol, multiply most rapidly. The intellectual citizens, on the other hand, have few children. These are undoubtedly carefully observed facts, but they are not inevitable laws. Science has not proved that intellectual, sober, or provident persons possess an inferior reproductive power. On the other hand, when we consider the reproductive force of man, who could give life to ten thousand individuals, while he is asked to offer the community only three or four, we perceive that the diminution of the birth-rate is intentional. A normal woman can give birth to from twelve to fifteen children without impairing her health. We should not forget, moreover, that "the sane and normal energy of women aspires to people the earth, " according to the picturesque statement of Ellen Key. Then what is the cause or what are the causes of the diminution of the birth-rate, so much to be regretted from the standpoint of the happiness of the family and of the prosperity of the State?
Sometimes the man, sometimes the woman, sometimes both, refuse to perform this duty on which their happiness frequently depends. The motives are various. In making laws for the woman and the child, the modern government has forgotten the fate of the parents. The child and the woman were formerly sources of income to the father of the family. Now, thanks to the laws limiting and regulating their labour, they are often a burden upon him. No doubt the child and the woman will never be sufficiently protected, but we must also think of the man who bears the expenses of these beneficent laws. A series of laws are imposed in favour of fathers of large families. Reduction of taxes, freedom from military service, pecuniary assistance, free schools and clothing, pensions granted to mothers in proportion to the number of their children, and a thousand other means must, and doubtless will, be utilised in order to create a premium on large families.
Mothers fulfil a social function more advantageous than that of many officials. The rewards and encouragements which should be lavished upon them should be regarded only as acts of justice and honesty toward beings whose burdens enable the State to realise its objects. An opposite policy should be applied to the rich. Taxes on inheritance should remove all sorts of privileges from an only child. The government will be able to take as an average the family of four children, and levy the same tax of succession on all families.
These measures are conceivable only in countries like France, where the diminution of the population threatens to extinguish the vital forces of the nation.
Reformed fiscal policy will thus allow the amelioration of family life.
III. From the top to the bottom of the social scale, there is to-day an outcry in which all join: let us make family life happier. The progress of ideas and of family life has doubtless made many of its foundations unstable. In our desire to perfect and improve everything, we have broken some of the over-rusty springs. But, while discarding the principles that would have destroyed family life, we have not yet introduced all those which will make it live. Yet a scrutiny of the social horizon enables one to perceive messengers who are the bearers of good news. Never, in any period, has so much solicitude been shown for the future of the family. From every direction comes the appeal for union and happiness through this source. Even those who are accused of wishing to destroy it, are really only supporting another way of salvation. They would like to replace the autocracy of the father, based upon the respect imposed, by a union based upon love. They desire to have taken into the account respect for the human personality of all the members of the family group.
How numerous are the opposing interests! But let us hope that they may be reconciled. A day will come when the contradictions which exist between the interests of the family and those of the government will be allayed by the ennoblement of character. The crisis through which family life is passing does not render its destruction inevitable. Quite the contrary. It is the best proof of the extreme interest which modern society attaches to the smallest details of this complex and vital problem.
No, the family is not dying, but developing. In a forest, at the time when trees are pruned, the branches which lie on the ground give us the impression of endless disorder. But when the dead branches have been picked up, we see after a little these trees resuming their life with fresh youth and vigour.