Alec Baldwin and Parens Patriae


Actor Alec Baldwin has been raked over the coals for a phone call he made to his daughter. It was not a very nice phone call, but then most of us can recall unpleasant conversations with family members. How many of us are called on the carpet by the national media, forced to explain our private behavior, subject to a public debate over whether we should be permitted to keep our children, and then summoned to court?

Actually quite a few, or at least we might be better off if there were such a debate. The government appropriation of children is now so out-of-control that parents routinely lose their children for less than what Baldwin did, and with neither public debate nor trial by jury. While it may be true that Baldwin is being publicly pilloried because he is a celebrity, the invasion of his privacy is far from unique.

Since when did every parent in America become answerable to the media and the government for what they say to their children? As several commentators noted, if every parent were to lose their children every time they lose their temper, all the children in America would be parentless.

Which is more or less where we are headed. Whether through involuntary divorce, trumped-up abuse accusations, or the myriad methods exercised by the public education system, the government now has so many ways to seize control of your children – without ever proving that you have done anything wrong – that it is hardly an exaggeration to say that we have already embarked on a system of communal child-rearing.

The circumstances leading Baldwin to lose his composure were created entirely by the fact that he was forcibly separated from his daughter by state officials (in legal terminology, he lost "custody"). What he vented was the frustration of a parent prevented from exercising normal parental authority, whose child has been turned against him with the backing of the state, and who was reduced to parenting through an answering machine.

His intemperance opened the gates for swarms of psychologists, prosecutors, and other "experts" to opine on a private family matter of which they know nothing. The fact that Fox News brought in a "former sex crimes prosecutor" to offer her two-cents worth on Baldwin's "abuse" is a fairly clear indication that the same prosecutorial culture recently seen in the Duke "rape" case was licking its chops here.

Some pronounced on the "irrevocable damage" done to the child's psyche by his outburst. Yet few mentioned the damage we know results to millions of children like his daughter by keeping them forcibly separated from their parents and systematically instructing them to hate their parents. On the contrary, these "experts" depend for their livelihood on such damaged children and on the government that creates them.

Contrary to the voyeuristic media, a custody battle today is seldom just a dispute between two parents; it is a confrontation between the state and private life. Most often, the state assumes the role of surrogate father, the protector and provider for women and children. And the state does not like rivals.

The problem Baldwin says he will write a book about – "parental alienation" – is a far nastier matter than has been brought out in this debate. At its worst, it amounts to the active indoctrination of children against their parents – a familiar enough practice of ideological regimes in recent history. Though it is usually perpetrated by the custodial parent, she only wields that power because the state stands behind her.

Though children of broken families may be placed in the "custody" of the mother (a term suggesting incarceration), it is more accurate to say that they become wards of the state, which establishes what amounts to a puppet government within the family. It is even reasonable to see the custodial parent as functionally a government official. She is paid to care for her children with money that comes directly from the state (often after being confiscated from the non-custodial parent). The jargon now used by courts and feminists indicates that what we once called a "mother" has been replaced by a gender-neutral government-appointed and government-funded "primary caretaker."

Pop psychologists have speculated that Baldwin directed at his daughter anger that he really felt toward her mother, Kim Basinger. But it is probably more accurate to regard his explosion as frustration at seeing his daughter adopt the state as her effective father. For the separated child, whether actively "alienated" or not, inevitably shifts her loyalty to the agent she perceives as effectively protecting and providing for her, and that agent is the state. (Some compare parental alienation to Stockholm Syndrome, the process by which captives, especially children, form a bond with their captors.) The father does not lose the child to the mother, after all; most men have children fully intending to share them with their mothers. The interloper is the state. Even children who are not actively programmed against one parent are still effectively raised by the principle that the state, not the parent, is head of the household.

Whatever his imperfections as a parent, Baldwin showed his daughter he cares enough about her to want to see her and to be concerned about her. For children, such actions speak louder than words, even shouted words. If that caused permanent psychological damage, it is damage we all carry as part of the human condition, and we have tested mechanisms for dealing with it. "When we screw up, we have an opportunity to teach our children that humans make mistakes," writes Martha Brockenbrough, author of The Mommy Chronicles. "We can ask for forgiveness. We can do better in the future and hope that, when our children become parents themselves, they will have learned that we don’t have to be perfect to be lovable and that forgiveness is a gift that heals."

Forgiveness is a principle that operates in the family, in religion, and in other personal relationships. The state does not forgive. The state only punishes. And the state is raising the next generation of citizens.

May 8, 2007