Discussion Group Summary: Ariès and Hobsbawm

In understanding the world of the nineteenth century, it is necessary to comprehend social as well as economic and political realities. Both Hobsbawm's discussion in "The Bourgeois World" and Philippe Ariès' Centuries of Childhood document the rise of a new society, one in which the older institutions had been replaced. The creation of a new set of mores and the emergence of the bourgeois family ideal mark a new social order in which communal ties are eliminated while family ties are strengthened. The transformation in opinions about family and society demonstrate how monumentally society had changed since the days of the old regime.

In Centuries of Childhood, Ariès contrasts modern society with the society of the old regime. During his discussion, Ariès evokes a world in which life was lived as a community. Through his examples, we are given a picture of a communal society in which the family had not yet retreated and where social or interpersonal needs were expected to be fulfilled by larger social groups. In addition, the family of the old regime functioned as a part of the community and served many ends that the modern family doesn't. The contrast between this world and the one that came after it demonstrates the telling changes in society and its mores.

Moral treatises such as Castiglone's Book of the Courtier and Galatée demonstrate the virtues of this society. In contrast to modern society, honor and reputation, rather than material gain, is the primary ambition. To those who stressed civility, gaining a good reputation and forming a network of personal relationships were the ways to get ahead. In these texts, mastery of social conventions and the forming of social relationships are of paramount importance and intellectual competence was ignored. In this society, communal ties take precedence over individual interests.

Another example of communal life was the big house, which is notable for its combination of functions as well as its lack of privacy. The big house served many functions. Like the café of later times, it acted as a gathering place for both social and buisiness meetings. The social functions of the big house entailed a lack of privacy. As visitors were allowed to come at any time, the family of the big house was not separate from the outside community. Space was public, and rooms were not specialized. Instead of private bedrooms, there were general-purpose rooms, where groups of people slept, danced, and ate. The family of the big house provides an interesting contrast to the isolated bourgeois family. This family is seen "not as refuges from the invasion of the world, but as the centres of a populous society" (395). The duties of family and community in this old regime social structure were still intertwined.

The child didn't exist as a separate entity; an individual was practically an adult once infancy ended. The child played an integral role in the society, taking part in the community's traditional ceremonies. The role of the child in these festivities was important, and everyone except the infants played a part in the community's activities. In addition, the same games were played by people of all ages and classes, demonstrating the unity of the community. As children were not separated, they were not seen as special innocent beings who needed protection, and adults did not feel compelled to act differently in order to protect children. The child did not take a separate place in the consciousness of the community.

Family attitudes towards children also differed from those of the modern world. The family "was a moral and social, rather than sentimental, reality" (368), and their sentimental role was thus less important than their community role. This can be seen in the predominance of the apprenticeship. In the apprenticeship, the child's education and professional life were tied up with private life and emotional ties between servant and master. The idea of apprenticeship as opposed to a more impersonal education was seized upon by the critics of the schools, who thought that the individual "need[ed] to learn early in life how to behave in society as well as in the study, and he cannot learn that in a place where people think more of living with the dead than with the living" (378).

However, during the rise of the bourgeoisie, these ideals are replaced with the ideals of a separate, sentimental family that takes on the emotional role. There is an increasing polarization between the family and society, with "the cold of the outside world, the warmth of the family circle within, and the contrast between the two" (Hobsbawm 231). Central to this emerging ideal was the new role of the child as a separate being, an ideal that was shaped by the growing institute of the school. In addition, a polarization of social groups occurred at the same time as that of the family.

As modern society emerged, "the concept of family feeling took the place of the other concepts of loyalty and service and became predominant or even exclusive" (375). As societal relationships declined, the importance of civility declined as well, and, while manners were still of importance, they were no longer virtuous. Instead, education had become the primary virtue.

In addition, the family no longer was the center of community gatherings; that role was relegated to the pub or caf¾. Instead, there was a greater privatization and a retreat into an emotional family life. Visitors were not welcome at all times, plus the rooms were now specialized and private. The family also became more sentimental. Unlike the practical family of the past, the ideal bourgeois family thought of children in increasingly emotional terms. Primogeniture, justifiable in a "moral and social" society, was criticized, as it treated children unequally. In addition, children became irreplaceable, and concerns about children's health rose. Children were also sentimentalized as innocent creatures, and this ideal was expressed throughout the culture. References to Christ and children gained importance, and the 'cult' of the guardian angel appeared. Children were seen as innocent and necessary of protection.

The role of the school played an important role in the development of the idea of the child. During the course of time, the student was transformed from the weapon-carrying vagabond adult to the well-bred schoolboy. In addition, school became an ideal that adults wanted their children to achieve, and a way to pass on an 'inheritance' in a world that depended less and less on landed wealth. The increasing importance of school led to the lengthening of childhood to include time spent at school.

The separation of the family from the rest of society ran parallel to the separation of the bourgeoisie from other classes. The ideals and habits of the middle class often served to separate them from society at large. For example, games and activities that were once common among the middle classes soon became relegated to children and the lower classes. More important, however, was the separation due to the new bourgeois ethos and the bourgeois family ideal. The bourgeoisie soon saw themselves as separate from the masses. To justify their power in a supposedly egalitarian society, the bourgeoisie began to formulate theories explaining their dominance as a class. They began to see their adherence to bourgeois mores such as abstinence and moderation as evidence of their superiority; lower classes were seen as animalistic in their neglect of 'proper' morality. First among their values was that of the family, with the mother as empress of the home and the father as the pater familias with the ability to exercise authority. The proletariat or peasant family, who couldn't support such a lifestyle and who needed their children to work after infancy, was thereby denigraded.

The retreat into a closed family life is telling, especially in contrast to the communally based lifestyle of the past. The fact that the death of communal life was accompanied by a greater stress on emotional family ties demonstrates the universal need for individuals to root themselves in an emotional life based on interpersonal relationships. Though individualism and the family might seem incompatible, each system is actually dependent on the other to continue functioning.

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