How can children grow up to love liberty if all they witness is authoritarianism and provision?
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”―Ronald Reagan
In the US in the 1830s many utopian communities arose around Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. They believed in an ideal of equal sharing of everything, i.e., tools, labor, the fruit of their labor, etc. These communities would be considered socialist by today’s definition. Very few of these communities survived more than a generation. The apparent reason for this attrition was that the adults of that time agreed on a set of values for sharing for the community and chose voluntarily to join together. However, their children and grandchildren did not participate voluntarily in those decisions. Most were born into it and seeing its inequities, questioned the absence of fairness. Some people worked harder than others yet received the same benefit as those who worked less. There was an equal sharing of the fruit of labor while the labor was unequal.
The challenge for these communities and for communities and nations based on liberty is that these values must be taught often and consistently to each generation if they are to carry those values into their adult life. The history of humanity reveals a tragic flaw. All humans have a need to control their environment and circumstances for their own survival and comfort. This too often extends to attempts to control other people. We all witness the authoritarianism of our parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, etc. as we start our lives and progress toward adulthood. Often these people also provide provisions to us like food, shelter, clothing, education, training, and more. If these relationships are generally positive most people reaching adulthood view that authoritarian experience either as a positive necessity or, at a minimum as a necessary annoyance. These feelings are often transferred to government authorities who similarly set boundaries and sometimes provide resources.
Children from birth need adult oversight and provision. Safety and nourishment and nurture are critical to the viability of human children. Most parents are naturally disposed for this role. Necessary to this role is an exercise of authority to set boundaries for the children for their safety. Often repetitive instruction and discipline is required until the child can make good decisions for their own safety and provision.
What is too often lacking in the raising of children is the teaching of independence and personal responsibility. Many parents define love as saving their children from the difficulties of life that can arise from poor decisions. They may seek to spare their children from the pain that they may have experienced earlier in their life arising from bad decisions. They may even go so far as to protect their children of the criminal consequences of harming others, i.e. theft, assault, and murder. However, experiences of trial and error, even painful experiences, are great teachers. Personal experience is far more vivid and memorable than instruction from others.
Helicopter Parents vs Free Range Parenting
Late in the 20th century we began to hear expressions like “Helicopter Parent” and “Free Range Parent”. Helicopter parents are seen as those who hover over their children’s’ every moment and experience of life, controlling, limiting, far beyond the cradle and even into adulthood. Some are motivated by fear that their child may be harmed which would be natural at the early stages of development. However, this is not natural later as the child ages into their desire to make their own decisions and accept more risk. The helicopter parent often sees those who do not share their sense of risk as child abusers. Their fear deepens their need to control others including other parents who raise their children with more liberty.
The parent raising their child with a philosophy of “free range parenting” understands the risks in life but allows their children to experience increasing areas of freedom with more diverse experiences.
"Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong?"1 – Jordan B. Peterson
A safe environment where security and provision are always at hand makes humans weak and soft. It is in striving, even painful striving with risk of failure that grows strength. What will children do when they shed their parent’s security and provision? Adopt the government as nanny? In their weakness they will seek out new authoritarians and offer their submission and obedience in exchange for the comfort of that safety and provision.
Weakness cultivates slavery. Strength and independence cultivate liberty. Are you weak or strong? Are you cultivating strength in your children?
1 Peterson, Jordan B. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 63).