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Fathering, Authority and Masculinity VICTOR J SEIDLER Fathering and AlItlwri('V The visions of authority which we inherit within Western culture are tied up with conceptions of the father. Both Judaism and Christianity have learnt to think in terms of God The Father, though they have different conceptions of this relationship. Within a more secular culture the way that these visions continue to order our conceptions of identity, power and experience can be harder to grasp. Since the Enlightenment in the 17th century we have been encouraged to believe that all forms of authority can be legitimated in terms of reason alone. Within a patriarchal society our understanding of the nature of political authority has been tied up with our sense of the position of the father within the family. But the Enlightenment has proyided an ambiyalent1 inheritance . Reason as an independent and autonomous faculty replaced traditional religious authority, while at the same time being identified with a transformed sense of masculinity. Morality was henceforth to find its source in reason alone. Liberal conceptions of freedom and equality were to be based on a conception of the person as a rational agent, which helped to create the conditions for a liberal conception of citizenship defined in terms of uniyersallegal and political rights. For Kant freedom and reason are interdependent, so he is able to declare in his famous essay 'What is Enlightenment?', 'For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed is Freedom. And the 272 Fathering, Authority and Masculinity 273 freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all freedom to make public use of one's reasun in all matters'.2 It is the strength of Kant's vision of freedom that it cannot simply be handed to people on a plate as a set of discrete rights but also involves a process of individual change and transformation. But this insight was part of the early challenge of Kant's formulation of a liberal moral theory. It has been lost as the bourgeoisie has consolidated its power. Freedom was no longer conceived as a process of individual and collective transformation but increasingly, within liberal theory, as a set of legal and political rights that could be guaranteed to people regardless of their position within the social relations of power and subordination. This renders invisible Kant's insight that 'it is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding because he was never allowed to make the attempt'.3 In this essay at least Kant was prepared to acknowledge that the Guardians who have taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it 'that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous'.4 This carries its own resonance in Thatcher's Britain where the Guardians have assumed a new confidence, having been allowed to appropriate the language of freedom as if it were their own. Kant's ethical theory has embodied the authority of reason within liberal moral culture. For Kant it was because reason was to be uniquely identified with masculinity that men were to have authority in relation to women and children. It was only in association with men that women who would otherwise be governed by emotions, feelings and desires - gathered together by Kant as 'inclinations' - can learn to order their behaviour by reason. So it was that men, as fathers, were to have authority in relation to their children, and it was only in relation to men that women and children were to enjoy 274 Male Order freedom. This can help us illuminate particular flaws in the liberal conception of freedom. It reveals the shallowness of its claims to universality.::> This was also part of a feminist challenge as women came to recognise that if freedom and equality were to be understood solely in terms of rights it meant accepting the terms already established by men. Women sought the freedom to define their own reality, whether this was a matter of work, domestic life or sexuality. Within an Enlightenment tradition reason is set in fundamental opposition to nature - our emotions, feelings and desires. In the family the father is to be the source of reason. He is also to...


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