The nature and purpose of parental authority is to direct and instruct towards achieving a good, as many philosophers will agree on. However, there are certain philosophers that differ on the rational use of parental authority. Some will adhere to the notion that parental authority must be bounded to moral law, whereas others believe in the divine nature of parental authority. Nevertheless, most philosophers will agree that the correct use of parental authority for any family will dictate the success or failure in achieving the truest good for themselves.
Both Allan Bloom’s “The Clean Slate” and Rabbi Normal Lamm’s “Traditional Jewish Family Values” offer insight to the use, nature, and purpose of parental authority in the family’s achievement of goodness. Rabbi Norman Lamm presents a model for parental authority in the traditional Jewish family. The father of a Jewish family is typically the source of authority for the family, but is not considered the absolute authority. The use of the father’s authority is exercised as the absolute source, meaning there is no democratic debate between each member of the family to come to a decision.
As Lamm notes, the degeneration of the contemporary Jewish family stems from authority figures not exercising proper discipline, letting the family slip into this “liberal posture” (726). The nature and purpose of parental authority is ultimately meant to direct the child to his or her truest good. However, it is false to believe that the father of this idealized family is acting alone in instructing children. The father, as Lamm writes, is “not only the visible and present focus of authority…but he is also a symbol, the representative and refractor of a Higher Authority” (728).
There is, in this statement, a direct implication that the father is only the focus to an authority that is greater than himself, and in working with that divine authority will direct the child to his or her good. In order for the family to achieve its fundamental goodness, the father must express his authority in relation with that which is greater than the family itself. The family, therefore, must be grounded and mutually committed to the authority bestowed upon them by parents and divine power.
Lamm paints a picture that parental authority is given to parents through the transcendent, and parents must bestow this awareness of authority upon their children as a way to develop them towards achieving good, thus starting a cycle in which these children will pass the same traditions of authority to their children. In conclusion, Lamm explains that achieving fundamental happiness for the family only comes through an awareness of the transcendent and adhering to that in the exercise of parental authority. Allan Bloom, in “The Clean Slate”, comments on the state of moral education in the past and how it has evolved in the modern day.
The use of parental authority is essential to the moral development of adolescents and young adults, according to Bloom. The family is meant to provide, above all else, a deep and enriching moral education, one that promotes and cultivates rational thinking in the service of a moral education. However, the achievement of this moral education draws similarities to the argument of Lamm, in that it is dependent upon a spiritual commitment to ritual and tradition, while upholding and communicating the knowledge of great literary writings.
An important distinction here is to note the importance Bloom places upon great books. He notes that the family must read these as they are a pathway to a timeless truth. These great books bestow upon the family something that modern media and culture cannot, a true vision of the order of the whole of things as well as a sense of wisdom of the true nature of things. He writes, “The family requires a certain authority and wisdom about the ways of the heavens and of men” (57). Every member of the family, as a way to achieve a fundamental goodness, must be well versed in timeless teachings, rituals, and ceremonies.
Bloom does point to several issues in our history as a nation that are having a direct impact on the nature and use of parental authority. If parental authority is meant to give children a deepening moral education and bring about goodness, how is it supposed to be that we can still achieve this with many technological distractions and a shift away from writings of revelation and truth? He comments that many parents in modern American families are moving away from the higher and more independent family life of their ancestors that provided a true moral education.
Bloom believes that in order to restore what the family has lost, it must start with providing a firm exercise of parental authority through the use of great literature, ritual and traditional, to achieve a sacred unity. The fundamental goodness of a family exists when it is cultivating an environment that presents to the young “…a vision of a moral cosmos and of the rewards and punishment of good and evil…”, otherwise the world remains disenchanted with no fundamental truths. A disenchanted life awaits all that do not participate in the great revelations and epics that point us to the true natural vision of life, according to Bloom.
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