The passion to punish

But thus I counsel you, my friends: Mistrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful. They are people of a low sort and stock; the hangman and the bloodhound look out of their faces. Mistrust all who talk much of their justice! Verily, their souls lack more than honey. And when they call themselves the good and the just, do not forget that they would be pharisees, if only they had — power.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 2, “On the Tarantulas”

To kill a book

I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse.

John Milton, Areopagitica

The Failure of Reconstruction

Some have adopted extreme views of Reconstruction, even during Reconstruction itself, which have painted it as a vengeful punishment which the North inflicted on the South following the Civil War or, on the other hand, as a noble, even if perhaps misguided and obviously failed, attempt to reform the South along more egalitarian or even industrial lines. Others have conceded that Reconstruction is not accurately described by either of these extremes but was the best that could be done given the circumstances the nation found itself in. On the contrary, however, Reconstruction, when viewed in its totality, instead seems to be, like much else that results from the unique politics of the United States, a sort of compromise situation which satisfied almost nobody and disappointed nearly everybody. As a result, the legacy of Reconstruction is, like Reconstruction itself, a haphazard mix of positive and negative.

Although Southerners tended to view Reconstruction as an exercise in revenge on the part of the North, the reality is that there were very few punishments put on even the highest levels of Confederate leadership. For instance, although some Confederate leaders, such as Jefferson Davis, were jailed for a short period, none of the highest ranking or most important Confederate leaders nor average soldiers of the Confederate military were tried, convicted, or punished for treason, although there were voices in the North that wanted them to be. The worst punishment against those who had supported and worked within the Confederacy was to be barred from voting, but even this punishment was removed after only a few years.

Similarly, although many Northerners and some Southerners, especially the carpetbaggers who moved from the North and the scalawags, viewed Reconstruction as an attempt to reform the South along industrial and egalitarian lines, and although some historians have also painted Reconstruction this way, this is hardly an accurate portrayal of the full width and depth of Reconstruction. Rather than any attempt to fundamentally alter the Southern way of life, the larger part of Reconstruction was an attempt to reattach the South to the Union in as expeditious as a manner as possible. Particularly under President Johnson, this often meant conceding to Southern demands even against the interests of the greatest defenders of the Union, members of the Republican Party, and the newly freed blacks of the South.

Because of the haphazard nature of Reconstruction, in which concessions rather than the real interests of either side generally predominated and in which the interests of the weaker and less respected members of society, especially blacks, were often forgotten and rolled over, the legacy of Reconstruction is in large part one of division and necessary reform deferred. While the Union had the ability to integrate freed slaves and other blacks more fully into American society, giving them a place in the political, economic, and social fabric of the country, prejudices and personal political concerns prevented this from happening. Similarly, the Union could have sent a much stronger message to Southerners through adequately punishing former Confederate leadership and those who violated the civil rights of blacks following the war. Had the government done this and enforced the law properly, the entire era of Jim Crow laws, lynching, and segregation could have been prevented, as could many of the socio-economic ramifications of this era that continue to this day in the United States.

The Reconstruction failed to meet the needs of the nation at one of its most important junctures. In short, like much in American politics, the Reconstruction was largely a series of concessions and attempts at middle ground that in trying to please everyone satisfied no one. Had a stronger leader taken charge after the death of Abraham Lincoln and carried out a process of Reconstruction that met the needs of the United States at that time, many more years of hardship and conflict in the United States could have been prevented.

Medieval advice on childrearing

No criticism of the abuses affecting children in monasteries is more revealing and significant than St. Anselm [of Canterbury]’s admonition to a certain abbot who had complained to him of his difficulties in controlling the obstreperous boys in his charge, declaring that “we never give over beating them day and night, and they only get worse and worse.” Even the barest summary of Anselm’s remarkable answer may convey the import of an argument that not only underscores the weaknesses of a system, but offers an impressively positive statement of a new and more sympathetic approach to the rearing of children. Pointing to the destructive effects of the use of force and “injudicious oppression” upon the personalities of their young victims, Anselm declared that “feeling no love or pity, good-will or tenderness in your attitude towards them, they have in future no faith in your goodness but believe that all your actions proceed from hatred and malice against them; they have been brought up in no true charity towards anyone, so they regard everyone with suspicion and jealousy.” Then he demanded, urging his benighted colleague to greater empathy, “Are they not human? Are they not flesh and blood like you? Would you like to have been treated as you treat them, and to have become what they are now?” Finally, stressing, as did Peter Damian and others, the importance of firm but gentle molding and shaping in the rearing of the young, he insisted that they must have “the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness” and that teaching and discipline should be adapted to the temperaments and capacities of individuals. …

Concern for the physical care and training of young children becomes more articulate and specific in a growing number of didactic works of the thirteenth century; such treatises, displaying often also some sense of the needs of children at different stages of development, point to ways in which, with increasing literacy among laymen, more favorable values and attitudes, as well as useful pediatric information, may have become more widely diffused, at least among the more prosperous classes. Despite the obvious limitations of these writings as mirrors of childhood realities, their popularity suggests a felt need for works offering guidance for parents, and while some of them reflect the clerical perspectives which have dominated this study, in others, more novel, parental views are directly stated.

Representing the churchman’s approach, Bartholomew of England provides, in one of the earliest and most influential of popular encyclopedias, a precise description of the physical constitution, emotional qualities and habits of children, and conveys as well a now more articulate sense of early childhood as a carefree and playful stage of life. Little boys (pueri), he tells us, echoing a common thought by no means universal opinion, are so called because of their “purity,” since as this age the insufficient development of their organs makes them incapable of sexual activity and they are not ashamed of their nakedness. Despite their innocence, however, they are capable of guile and deceit, and so in need of discipline and teaching. Painting what will seem to many a fairly lifelike picture of small boys, he describes them as “living without thought or care, loving only to play, fearing no danger more than being beaten with a rod, always hungry and hence always disposed to various infirmities from being overfed, wanting everything they see, quick to laughter and as quick to tears, resisting their mothers’ efforts to wash and comb them, and no sooner clean but dirty again.” Little girls, in Bartholomew’s hardly original view, are better disciplined, more careful, more modest and timid, and more graceful; because of the likeness of sex they are also, he thought, dearer to their mothers than boys.

Strongly urging the careful education of girls in reading and writing, Vincent of Beauvais maintained that these pursuits would keep them busy and thus distracted from “harmful and idle thoughts.” They shoul, in his view, be trained in the “womanly arts” as well as in letters, and both boys and girls should be carefully instructed in the duties and responsibilities of marriage. As a theorist of education and an adviser in the rearing of the young, this most zealous of medieval encyclopedists was not particularly original, but he drew on traditional and contemporary learning in the development of ideas that display a genuine concern for the actual needs and capacities of children at different stages of early life. Like his contemporary, Master Aldobrandino of Sina, Vincent repeats with slight variations the Soranian precepts concerning the physical care of children, ideas now readily accessible in learned circles. In a suggested regime for for the young child, he provides for frequent baths, at least two daily, careful feeding and ample playtime; to similar recommendations Aldobrandino adds the advice that the child should be given what he asks for and relieved of what displeases him. When at six the child begins school, he should be taught slowly and without forcing, being allows plenty of time for sleep and diversion. With others among his fellow-clerics, Vincent of Beauvais advocates a moderation in instruction and discipline in which we may perceive the significant assimilation and diffusion of ideas expressed by St. Anselm and his contemporaries a century and a half earlier. Teaching without beating is the ideal commonly stated, although Vincent suggests that in the matter of discipline distinctions should be made between those children for whom physical coercion is unnecessary and disastrous and others whose temperaments seem to require it; even in this case discipline should never be sudden and unpremeditated but should spring from motives of love and foresight rather than a mistaken sense of kindness. It is this attitude and this conception of the child’s sensitive nature that were poetically summed up, around 1200, but Walther von der Vogelweide:

“Children won’t do what they ought
If you beat them with a rod.
Children thrive, children grow
When taught by words, and not a blow. …
Evil words, words unkind
Will do harm to a child’s mind.”

In some ways less enlightened are several works representing a paternal view of child-rearing, which may in their stress on the importance of discipline and correction provide a closer reflection of the actual practice of parents. For the elderly Philip of Novara, the infant and small child possesses three great gifts: he loves and recognizes the person who nurses him, he expresses pleasure and affection for those who play with him, and he inspires a natural love and sympathy in those who rear him. Like the great Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, in the preceding century, this father believed that parental love increases as children grow older, but he cautioned strongly against the excessive and indulgent display of affection, which may encourage children to be bolder in their naughtiness. They should not be permitted to do everything they wish, but should be firmly corrected while they are young, first with words, then if necessary, by beating, and as a last resort by “imprisonment.” Parents and their surrogates should, he advised, be especially watchful for early signs of tendencies to such vices as theft, violence and blasphemy which may lead the child to a bad end. …

Mary Martin McLaughlin, “Survivors and Surrogates: Children and Parents from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Centuries,” in L. deMause, The History of Childhood