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The Adolescent Society Seizing the Moral High Ground for Reform

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Scarred for Life

by Christopher Chantrill
April 30, 2007 at 6:21 am


ALEC BALDWIN’S 11-year-old daughter may be scarred for life by his much publicized telephone rage, many commentators agree. At least he has apologized.

But perhaps Baldwin is the one who will be scarred for life—from his divorce from actress Kim Basinger. After all who are more easily scarred: Pampered celebrities or pampered celebrity children?

One thing is for sure. Many people in our modern world believe that children and teenagers are more than usually fragile. Presumably that’s why we protect and control them with a forest of laws and custodial measures like compulsory education.

Back in 1800, observes Richard Epstein in The Case Against Adolescence, there were almost no laws directed at children. But starting in 1850 we started to write laws to restrict the behavior of children under eighteen, about one law every two years.

Since 1960 the lid has blown off. In the past half century over 100 laws have been written in the United States to restrict the behavior or the rights of teenagers.

It’s become so bad that a recent poll found that adults in the United States now think that adulthood begins at the age of twenty-six.

According to Epstein, studies show that young people are not as helpless as the law presumes. They capable thinkers, tough and resilient, creative, and even capable of adult love. Young people want to grow up but, more and more, society tells them to wait.

There was a time, Epstein observes, when we judged blacks and women as helpless children, inferior beings unable to make informed decisions about their lives. The civil rights revolution put a stop to that.

Ten years ago the nation pulled off another rights revolution. We told welfare mothers that we would help them with cash assistance only for a limited time. It was their responsibility to use that time to become independent. The result was unequivocal. Welfare mothers went out and got jobs.

Conservatives believe in responsibility. We think that people should be responsible for their own lives and we believe that the modern welfare state and its presumption of helplessness is harmful to humans and other living things.

But what about teenagers? Should they be allowed to work? Should they be allowed to own businesses? Should they be allowed to have sex? What about abortions without parental consent?

Today, Epstein asserts, the only way we allow teenagers to assert their adultness is by getting drunk, getting pregnant, or committing a crime. Teenagers are so disadvantaged by the law that they have fewer rights than convicts and soldiers.

Epstein wants to reverse the infantilizing of teens by a system of “emancipation.” If a teen can pass an appropriate competency test then he or she ought to be emancipated to live life as an adult with adult rights and responsibilities.

Of course, there are a host of special interests that would oppose the emancipation of teenagers. Governments want to regulate young people; unions want to restrict the competition from young people; the mental health system wants to treat them; the schools want to warehouse them.

Then there are parents, you and I, that are afraid to let our children out into the cold, hard world.

The Big Idea of The Case Against Adolescence, the emancipation of teenagers, is what Al Gore would call “a risky scheme.” Maybe teenagers can’t be trusted. Maybe they really are irresponsible and unable to make good decisions. Maybe if we emancipated teenagers millions of Democratic voting educationists and mental health professionals and juvenile justice professionals would be out of a job.

But if conservatives won’t stand up for the principle of responsibility, who will? When it comes to nannying and regulating and baby-sitting our liberal friends do a much better job than we do.

To drown out the background noise of liberal nannying and regulating we need a Big Idea.

That’s what we had back in the 1970s in the conservative flood tide that brought Ronald Reagan to power in 1980. We preached the Big Idea of an adult America, self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility. Ronald Reagan said it best: America is a magnet “for all who must have freedom.”

The conservative flood tide of that time took America from inflation and decline to a 30 year economic boom and victory in the Cold War.

In the next conservative flood tide we will be called once again to revive an America poisoned by the paralyzing venom of the liberal welfare state with its presumption of helplessness and its addictive drug of government programs and patronage.

Here is a Big Idea. In America we believe in responsibility for all. Even for teenagers. Especially for teenagers.

Because the best way to stop Alec Baldwin’s daughter from being scarred for life is to get her out from under her squabbling adolescent parents.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing

Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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