Britain's deadbeatest Dad

Zac Alstin
19 August 2011
Reproduced with Permission

Apparently 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.