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The Century of the Child

The Century of the Child
Author: Key Ellen
Title: The Century of the Child
Release Date: 2018-06-06
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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From a photograph

title page

Century of the Child


Ellen Key

G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press

Copyright, 1909
Published, February, 1909
Reprinted, December, 1909
The Knickerbocker Press, New York


The present translation is from the German version of Frances Maro,which was revised by the author herself.


I.   The Right of the Child to Choose His Parents 1
II.   The Unborn Race and Woman's Work 63
III.   Education 106
IV.   Homelessness 191
V.   Soul Murder in the Schools 203
VI.   The School of the Future 233
VII.   Religious Instruction 284
VIII.   Child Labour and the Crimes of Children 316

[Pg 1]

The Century of the Child


Filled with sad memories or eager hopes, people waited for the turn ofthe century, and as the clock struck twelve, felt innumerable undefinedforebodings. They felt that the new century would certainly give themonly one thing, peace. They felt that those who are labouring to-daywould witness no new development in that process of change to which theyhad consciously or unconsciously contributed their quota.

The events at the turn of the century caused the new century to berepresented as a small naked child, descending upon the earth, butdrawing himself back in terror at the sight of a world bristling withweapons, a world in which for the opening century there was not[Pg 2] an inchof free ground to set one's foot upon. Many people thought over thesignificance of this picture; they thought how in economic and in actualwarfare all the lower passions of man were still aroused; how despiteall the tremendous development of civilisation in the century justpassed, man had not yet succeeded in giving to the struggle forexistence nobler forms. Certainly to the question why this still is so,very different answers were given. Some contented themselves withdeclaring, after consideration, that things must remain just as theyare, since human nature remains the same; that hunger, the propagationof the race, the desire for gold and power, will always control thecourse of the world. Others again were convinced that if the teachingwhich has tried in vain for nineteen hundred years to transform thecourse of the world could one day become a living reality in the soulsof men, swords would be turned into pruning hooks.

My conviction is just the opposite. It is that nothing will be differentin the mass except in so far as human nature itself is transformed, andthat this transformation will take place, not when the whole of humanitybecomes Christian, but when the whole of hu[Pg 3]manity awakens to theconsciousness of the "holiness of generation." This consciousness willmake the central work of society the new race, its origin, itsmanagement, and its education; about these all morals, all laws, allsocial arrangements will be grouped. This will form the point of viewfrom which all other questions will be judged, all other regulationsmade. Up to now we have only heard in academic speeches and inpedagogical essays that the training of youth is the highest function ofa nation. In reality, in the family, in the school, and in the state,quite other standards are put in the foreground.

The new view of the "holiness of generation" will not be held by mankinduntil it has seriously abandoned the Christian point of view and takenthe view, born thousands of years ago, whose victory has been firstforeshadowed in the century just completed.

The thought of development not only throws light on the course of theworld that lies behind us, continued through millions of years, with itsfinal and highest point in man; it throws light, too, on the way we haveto travel over; it shows us that we physically and psychically are everin the process of becoming. While earlier days regarded man as a[Pg 4] fixedphenomenon, in his physical and psychical relations, with qualities thatmight be perfected but could not be transformed, it is now known that hecan re-create himself. Instead of a fallen man, we see an incompletedman, out of whom, by infinite modifications in an infinite space oftime, a new being can come into existence. Almost every day brings newinformation about hitherto unsuspected possibilities; tells us of powerextended physically or psychically. We hear of a closer reciprocalaction between the external and internal world; of the mastery overdisease, of the prolongation of life and youth; of increased insightinto the laws of physical and psychical origins. People even speak ofgiving incurable blind men a new kind of capacity of sight, of beingable to call back to life the dead; all this and much else which it mustbe allowed still belongs simply to the region of hypothesis, to whatpsychical and physical investigators reckon among possibilities. Butthere are enough great results analysed already to show that thetransformations made by man before he became a human being are far frombeing the last word of his genesis. He who declares to-day that humannature always remains the same, that is, remains just as it did[Pg 5] inthose petty thousands of years in which our race became conscious ofitself, shows in making this statement that he stands on the same levelof reflection as an ichthyosaurus of the Jura period, that apparentlyhad not even an intimation of man as a possibility of the future.

But he who knows that man has become what he now is under constanttransformations, recognises the possibility of so influencing his futuredevelopment that a higher type of man will be produced. The human willis found to be a decisive factor in the production of the higher typesin the world of animal and plant life. With what concerns our own race,the improvement of the type of man, the ennobling of the human race, theaccidental still prevails in both exalted and lower forms. Butcivilisation should make man conscious of an end and responsible in allthese spheres where up to the present he has acted only by impulse,without responsibility. In no respect has culture remained more backwardthan in those things which are decisive for the formation of a new andhigher race of mankind.

It will take the thorough influence of the scientific view of humanityto restore the full naïve conviction, belonging to the ancient[Pg 6] world,of the significance of the body. In the later period of antiquity, inSocrates and Plato, the soul began to look down upon the body. TheRenaissance tried to reconcile the two but the effort was unfortunatelynot serious enough. Boldness it did not lack, but its effort was notsuccessful in carrying out a task which Goethe himself said must beapproached both with boldness and with serious purpose. Only now that weknow how soul and body together build up or undermine one another,people are beginning to demand again a second higher innocence inrelation to the holiness and the rights of the body.

A Danish writer has shown how the Mosaic Seventh Commandment sinks backinto nothing, as soon as one sees that marriage is only an accidentalsocial form for the living together of two people, while the ethicallydecisive factor is the way they live together. In morality there istaking place a general displacement from objective laws of direction andcompulsion to the subjective basis from which actions proceed. Ethicsbecome an ethic of character, a matter dealing with the constitution ofthe temperament. We demand, we forgive, or we judge according to theinner constitution of the individual; we do not readily call an action[Pg 7]immoral which only in an external point of view does not harmonise withthe law or is opposed to the law. In each particular case we decideaccording to the inner circumstances of the individual. Applying thispoint of view to marriage, we find in the first place that this formoffers no guarantee that the proper disposition towards the relation ofthe two sexes is present. This can exist as well outside of as withinmarriage. Many noble and earnest human beings prefer for their relationthe freer form as the more moral one. But as the result of this, thesignificance of the Seventh Commandment is altered, that statesexplicitly that every relationship of sex outside of marriage isimmoral. People have commenced already to experiment with unions outsideof marriage. People are looking for new forms for the common lifebetween man and woman. The whole problem is being made the subject ofdebate.

In this respect humanity occupies a field of discovery. People areseeing more and more what a complicated subject the whole relation ofsex is, how full it is of dangers to the happiness of man. Newobservations are being constantly made both in regard to thesignificance of this relation for individuals and for[Pg 8] posterity. Tobring light gradually into this chaos is supremely important forhumanity, and literature should therefore have the greatest possiblefreedom in this sphere,—just the opposite to the tendencies of thepresent day that would limit this freedom. While I fully agree with whathas been said I should like to state that the greatest obstacle to thefree discussion of this theme is still the Christian way of looking atthe origin and nature of man. His only possible escape from the resultsof the fall is made to consist in his belief in Christ; for with thispoint of view, there came into Western Europe, by means of Christianity,the opinion that everything concerning the continuation of the race wasimpure; to be suppressed if possible, and if this could not be done,that it must at least be veiled in silence and obscurity. ForChristianity, eternal life, not life in the world, is ever thesignificant factor. The dualism of existence it tries in the first placeto remove by asceticism, not by attempting to ennoble the life of humanimpulses. This standpoint still continues to be popular in our days, asis shown in its victories through legislation directed against the nudein art and in literature.

The Christian way of looking at the relation[Pg 9] of the sexes as somethingignoble, alone capable of being made holy by indissoluble marriage, hashad great direct influence on man's development during a certain periodof time. It has caused progress in self-mastery, which has elevated thelife of the soul. Modesty, domesticity, sincerity, have been promoted byit; these along with innumerable other influences have developed theimpulse to love. If these emotions disappeared from love, it would notbe human, but only animal.

But allowing that the individual love between every new pair of humanbeings always requires seclusion and reserve; allowing too that personalmodesty always remains an achievement wrought by mankind,differentiating man from the animal world, it is still true that thiskind of spirituality, which passes over in silence and shame all theserious questions connected with this subject, or treats them asoccasions for ambiguities calling forth joking and blushes, must berooted out.

Each one from earliest childhood should on every question asked aboutthis subject receive honest answers, suitable for the especial stage ofhis development. One should be in this way completely enlightened about[Pg 10]one's own nature as man or woman, and so acquire a deep feeling ofresponsibility in

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