In Book V of The Republic, Plato outlines a utopian vision for raising children. They will be taken from their mothers and raised communally by “Guardians” so that they never get to know their parents.
It’s an idea that never really dies, as illustrated by two recent provocative articles.
In the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, Connor Kianpour, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, argues from a libertarian perspective that parents have no natural right to raise their children. Parents should prove their fitness for parenting by obtaining a licence. His article is headlined: “The Kids Aren’t Alright: Expanding the Role of the State in Parenting”. The extensive bibliography for the article is evidence that this is an idea which already has a lot of traction, at least in academia.
One of the main requirements for obtaining this licence would be to prove that mum or dad is not homophobic, racist or sexist. “Parental licensing, unlike public parenting support and parental monitoring, can insulate children from being raised by those who are objectionably intolerant, such as racists, sexists, and homophobes.”
In fact, “strongly homophobic” biological parents are unfit to rear children, in his opinion.
“…they would be unlikely to provide affective care to gay children, and there is a nontrivial chance that a homophobe’s child could be gay. If homophobes are contemptuous of gay people, they are not in a position to manifest love to their gay children or to be moved by the distinctive threats to well-being that gay children face. Indeed, many gay children with homophobic parents do not complete high school, end up homeless, develop substance abuse problems, and take their own lives precisely because their homophobic parents are inadequate affective caregivers.”
While this might seem radical, it is an idea which is spreading in child protection bureaucracies. Couples are not being allowed to adopt or foster children because of their views on LGBTQI+ issues.
In a similar vein, Ming-Jui Yeh, of National Taiwan University, contends in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics that unwanted children should be raised in a “a National Rearing Institute”.
His arguments are largely utilitarian. Children may be unwanted by their mothers, but in an age of demographic decline, society needs them. He explains his idea as follows: “I propose that governments should grant pregnant women and mothers an irreversible and unconditional one-time chance to relinquish all their legal rights and obligations associated with each of their children under a specific age to a National Rearing Institute that adopts the children and rears them to the age when they can fully exercise their rights as adult citizens. I call this set of policy arrangements ‘Project New Republicans’.”
In a phrase redolent of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, Yeh says that “the project is reasonable, plausible, and ethically preferable to the status quo.”
In each family unit, they will relate to each other as siblings. They will not know of their own biological origins. The living conditions in the Institute will be arranged in a manner that each child can identify a particular adult Institute staff member as their primary caregiver, functioning as the child’s practical parent so that the stable emotional attachment necessary for the child’s development and mental well-being will be established. Nevertheless, the children’s legal “parents” are an abstraction of the Republic. Raised by the Republic, these children are to be called New Republicans.
What about the psychological effects of being reared by the contemporary counterpart of Plato’s Guardians? Yeh acknowledges that this system is far from ideal, but an institution would provide a better environment than a dysfunctional home.
The Institute would also become a recruiting ground for public service and the military. And the staff of the Institute should eventually be selected from children who were raised by it. “This arrangement would provide a sense of belonging and satisfy the personal emotional needs of the New Republicans.”
An uncertain future for rapidly ageing societies like Taiwan is anotehr motive for these orphanages. As many unwanted children as possible should be saved so that “any potential influx to the population from procreation can be maximally preserved.” If children were saved from abortion, the birth rate might even double. Teh observes:
Considering the global number of legal and illegal abortions, the project would bring phenomenal results. For instance, according to the Health Promotion Administration (HPA) of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, it is estimated that there are around 220 to 240 thousand abortions per year in Taiwan. If 80% of these aborted fetuses could be born and adopted by the Institute, then it roughly equals the number of childbirths, which was 165 thousand in 2020.