Corporal Punishment and a Society of Laws: Why Spanking is Wrong

Plato claims no man exercises true justice in the harming of another sentient being, and I am prone to agree with him. The effects of corporal punishment on children have been documented for quite some time—low self-esteem, decreased empathy to others, violent behavior and even recently, scientific studies that show beating children actually lowers their IQ. Opponents of anti-spanking legislation argue that corporal punishment is simply an example of “loving” parenting, and beyond the jurisdiction of government legislation. Those raised in earlier generations, when corporal punishment was the rule and not the exception, may cite their own well-adjusted natures as proof of its innocuousness, if not efficacy.  But the use of corporal punishment has much farther-reaching implications than just the multitude of adverse effects on individuals—the underlying question here is whether we want to live in a society of laws, or a society of virtue. If we choose to employ corporal punishment in the discipline of children, we are teaching them to become citizens of, and proponents for, a society of laws—which runs the risk of turning our world into one that forgets the value of justice, virtue and freedom.

A society of laws is one characteristically based on conformity, fear of failure, shortsightedness, and absolute control based on fear and retribution. Disobedience poses a serious threat to this system, and therefore is dealt with swiftly and forcefully, with no thought to the future consequences of that action. It operates under the gross misconception that punishment is an adequate deterrent to immoral behavior, but people motivated by avoidance of punishment will still act unjustly when there is no threat of being caught. Therefore the severity of control and punishment must continually increase under a system of laws in order to maintain its rule. This kind of system, where motivation to act justly is through fear of punishment, rather than upholding of virtue, can only lead to the eventual reduction of a democratic and free society into despotism and tyranny.

Furthermore, I posit that children raised in a conformist society of laws pose a greater risk to all than those raised in a culture of virtue. Forced obedience to laws will result in citizens unable, and perhaps even unwilling, to think for themselves. This lack of both an individual and cultural moral compass is what makes horrific tragedies like Nazi Germany and its practices of mass genocide possible.

Conversely, in a virtue-based society the focus is on the long-term higher outcomes for all; failure is viewed as a natural and necessary consequence of progress, and therefore, disobedience is not seen as a threat to the security of its rule. Freedom of choice is present for those living in a society of virtue, and the naturally discovered consequences of acting without virtue are an effective deterrent in themselves. The power in this system lies in the compelling force of virtue as it acts within each citizen individually, and is manifested in the fabric of society at large.

In light of this argument, I would ask you—do you want a society where children are raised to become citizens who mindlessly follow rules or who act according to higher forms of virtue? I think that the answer to this question lies in the acknowledgement of a collective desired outcome. If we wish to live in a truly free and just society, we must act in accordance with the principles of virtue, and this action must begin with the means by which we educate and discipline our children. Spanking is wrong, not only because it harms children, but because of its destructive implications for the future of democratic society.

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3 Responses to “Corporal Punishment and a Society of Laws: Why Spanking is Wrong”

  1. The Center Square Says:

    The list of parental actions that harm children is LOOOOONG. If this rises to the level of federal activism, then so too should smoking, drinking, lying, obscenities, passing along racist, sexist and homophobic views, and preaching intolerance and religious myopia. I take the conservative view on this one: Don’t look to the government to tackle this problem.

  2. wow. your fatalism is depressing. and completely off the mark.
    i think you’ve missed the point here- I’m not arguing for or against legislation. i’m arguing for radical reformation of our system of governance in which there would be no need for it. people shouldn’t beat their children because it is injustice. if people were raised in a system that valued virtue over law then everyone would know this. problem solved.

  3. Excellent point about valuing virtue over law and the need for governing reform, Bex (Apology of Socrates has a very profound moment stating this). TCS, taking a conservative view is almost precisely what this requires. If citizens governed themselves correctly there would be no need for legislation to do so.

    I find that our current laws and constitutions are based on a deontological ethical system, or at least mimics it in many ways. While this ethical framework can produce good results in many senses, I find it inefficient in many others. As you point out Bex, consequences and intentions do matter…

    This is why virtue ethics seems so ideal to me.

    Anyways, excellent post.

    I am so happy I found your blog, I was not aware you had one.

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