Weakened Father, Society in Danger: The Spread of a Discourse in Early 19th-Century France

By Éric Pierre

In early nineteenth-century monarchical France, discourses concerning the weakening of paternal authority flourished. The father was presented as deprived of the means to make himself obeyed, and as increasingly challenged by his children. At fault was the French Revolution, which had inserted the principles of equality and freedom into the very heart of family relations, thus undermining one of the most solid institutions of the Ancien Régime. Also to blame were the authors of the Civil Code who had failed to restore authority to the father; younger generations who had refused paternal law; as well as new social and economical conditions. If these ideas were the province of a small group of conservative thinkers and jurists under the Restoration, they subsequently gained currency and range. The unjust exercise of paternal authority was criticized in the case of both a father’s excessive weakness towards his children and his abuse of authority. These accusations against the weakness of paternal authority were intimately linked to a larger denunciation of French society generally as suffering from a loss of political and moral authority.


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