A 9-year-old boy lobbied successfully to get his town’s ban on snowball fights overturned.
Reminded me again of some comments by Goethe, circa 1828, which were the subject of a post here several years ago. He observed that when Englishmen came to town, they were invariably a hit with the local women. Indeed, when one of them came to visit, Goethe found it necessary to brace himself for the inevitable female tears upon the visitor’s departure. His friend Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people.”
“The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend,” returned Goethe. ““Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”
Goethe goes on to contrast the upbringing of English boys with that typical in his own country:
“In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.
It’s not obvious to me why Goethe didn’t take up this issue of excessive policing with his very good friend Karl August, who as Grand Duke was pretty much the absolute ruler of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Still, an interesting remark, given the increasing constraints on childhood in our own present culture.
What is also very interesting is that almost a century later, former Kaiser Wilhelm II made some rather similar observations in his memoirs:
Another thing that struck me, in addition to the one-sidedness of the education in the schools, was the tendency, among youths planning their careers in those days, to turn their attention to becoming Government officials, and always consider the profession of lawyer or judge the most worthy goal…As long as the state consisted, so to speak, of government and administration, this tendency among German youths in the shaping of their lives was understandable and justified; since we were living in a country of officials, the right road for a young man to select was the service of the state. British youths of that time, self-reliant and made robust by sports, were already talking, to be sure, of colonial conquests, of expeditions to explore new regions of the earth, of extending British commerce; and they were trying, in the guise of pioneers of their country, to make Great Britain still stronger and greater, by practical, free action, not as paid hirelings of the state.
To be sure, there were even then enterprising men in Germany—brilliant names can be cited among them—but the conception of serving the fatherland, not by traveling along a definite, officially certified road, but by independent competition, had not yet become sufficiently generalized. Therefore I held up the English as an example, for it seems to me better to take the good where one finds it, without prejudice, than to go through the world wearing blinkers.
And skipping forward almost another century and moving westward to the United States: the suppression of youthful high spirits, which Goethe observed, is sadly too often observable here, as is the pressure to travel along a “definite, officially certified road” which the Wilhelm observed and (somewhat surprisingly) deprecated.
See also this piece at Quillette, which talks about the moral culture of “safetyism” and the factors that have brought it about…including that loss of play in childhood and the effects of overprotection and social media.
There are good comment threads at both the earlier posts about Goethe’s observations and those of the ex-Kaiser. Goethe fans may also enjoy Goethe, the Original Gretchen, and the Hackers of 1764.
(also posted at Ricochet, but thus far it’s just in the members-only section)