Jamie Cumming at his daughter's first holy communionApparently there’s a man in Britain who has fathered 15
children to 13 different women. The article
about 34-year-old Jamie Cumming hardly needs commentary. But what caught my
attention was a line near the bottom: “Other relatives have pleaded with him to
stop fathering children but they believe he is addicted.”

Well, that’s it then, isn’t it? The
poor fellow can’t help himself.

I wanted to write a piece about
our ever-expanding concept of addiction and the winnowing away of individual
responsibility that it seems to entail. But other events in the British Isles
have made this story relevant in a different way.

As commentators focus on the
social causes of the English riots, the decline of the family has come to the
fore as one of the key conservative rationales for the sudden descent into
violent anarchy. For progressives, ascribing blame to the fatherlessness of
English youth is a rather tiresome resort to a typical conservative hobby-horse:
“family values” with a healthy serve of “welfare mentality”. Progressives have
their own favourite whipping-boys in the form of government spending cuts, and the ever
increasing gap between rich and poor.

These are the only boys we are
likely to see whipped, despite the calls for public flogging of looters. Perhaps
the British government could expand its reverse-colonial recruitment of the Los
Angeles “Supercop” William
Bratton
, and pick up a couple of Malaysian and Singaporean Judicial Caning professionals while they’re at it. Britain’s own proud history of birching law-breakers on the bare bum extended up until 1948, though the Isle
of Man kept the practice going until 1976. It may not solve the problem, but I
defy anyone to watch videos of looters gloating
that
“Christmas came early” and not feel the slightest
temptation to hand them over to this
happy fellow
.

However, corporal punishment or public
humiliation will not fix the underlying problems in British society. Besides
the immediate desire to see wanton acts of violence and theft meet with
appropriate punishment, surely we can only feel pity for the sorry state in
which the English underclass subsists? Pity is also an appropriate response to
the 15 children of “Britain’s most feckless father”, whose unfortunate
circumstances offer a depressing insight into the unforeseen consequences of
our radically destabilised social order.

The key to social order is the family. Chinese
philosophers have long argued that the kingdom is merely the family on a grand
scale. As the great German Sinologist Richard Wilhelm wrote:

“The family is society in embryo;
it is the native soil on which performance of moral duty is made easy through
natural affection, so that within a small circle a basis of moral practice is
created, and this is later widened to include human relationships in general.”  

The point is not that our
relationship with the state must necessarily mirror our relationship with our
parents, but rather that a healthy family life will lay a strong foundation for
a healthy relationship with society at large.

“If the father is really a father
and the son a son, if the elder brother fulfils his position, and the younger fulfils
his, if the husband is really a husband and the wife a wife, then the family is
in order. When the family is in order, all the social relationships of mankind
will be in order.”

Wilhelm, inspired by his Chinese sages, even foreshadows the
underlying causes of Britain’s current crisis:

“The family must form a well-defined
unit within which each member knows his place. From the beginning each child
must be accustomed to firmly established rules of order, before ever its will
is directed to other things. If we begin too late to enforce order, when the
will of the child has already been overindulged, the whims and passions, grown
stronger with the years, offer resistance and give cause for remorse. If we
insist on order from the outset, occasions for remorse may arise–in general
social life these are unavoidable–but the remorse always disappears again, and
everything rights itself. For there is nothing more easily avoided and more
difficult to carry through than ‘breaking a child’s will’.”

The state is not capable or suitable for imposing order on
its citizens from such a young age. Self-restraint and order must be ingrained
in daily life, and this is a task to which only the family is suited. Social
order cannot be expected unless this family order is first imposed. If we leave
the problem unchecked, we will face the far more painful task of breaking the
child’s will, or in the present circumstances, punishing teenaged looters.

The prospect of restoring social order brings us to a
similar quandary. No one can deny that marriage has suffered in the past few
decades thanks to no-fault divorce and the recognition of de facto
relationships. Yet public sympathy is firmly on the side of those who appear to
have made good or at least necessary use of such provisions. Most people would
agree with measures that make it easier to dissolve a bad marriage. But
marriage statistics demonstrate that the definition of a “bad marriage” is
extremely flexible and subjective. In the end, some degree of legal and social
coercion is required to keep marriages together for the sake of social order. As
terrifying as such coercion might seem to generations raised on the prospect of
unlimited freedom, the alternative is to let social order slowly dissolve for
as long as the state can endure it. Britain’s most feckless father would not
have achieved such notoriety in a society that did not allow him the
opportunity. As one of his victims explained:

“She had no idea he was with other women at
the same time and only knew about two of his children. When she fell pregnant
five months into the relationship other people told her how many children he
had.”

Such deception would not be possible in a culture where family is
valued, and where marriage is viewed as the proper avenue for sexual
relationships. But casual sexual relationships are the natural correlate of our
present social disorder. The question is whether the present society is willing
to endure a return to more disciplined and family-oriented way of life, and
whether the state has the authority to impose it.

Wilhelm suggests a careful balance between discipline and freedom;
allowing individual freedom within strict boundaries:

“In the family the proper mean
between severity and indulgence ought to prevail. Too great severity toward
one’s own flesh and blood leads to remorse. The wise thing is to build strong
dikes within which complete freedom of movement is allowed each individual. But
in doubtful instances too great severity, despite occasional mistakes, is
preferable, because it preserves discipline in the family, whereas too great
weakness leads to disgrace.”

We are currently enduring a stage in which “too great
weakness leads to disgrace”. Our collective disgrace may have to multiply
before we are willing to discipline ourselves and restrict our own freedom.


Zac Alstin works at the Southern Cross
Bioethics Institute
 in
Adelaide, South Australia.

Zac Alstin is a writer, editor and stay-at-home dad to three marvellous children, in Adelaide, South Australia. His hobbies include martial arts, making things at home, and contemplating the underlying...