I have decided to publish my translation of de Singly’s preface to Verdrager’s book – L’Enfant Interdit.
Despite the hostile conclusions of de Singly’s preface, I think it contains enough that is interesting, challenging, and useful to the ‘thinking paedophile’ that, given that it is roughly blog-length, and that it requires little extra work on my part to make it ‘blog ready’, it would be perverse, if not downright ‘perverted’ of me, to withhold it from this blog’s readers, who, I’m sure, will be able to critique it with as much enthusiasm as (and probably more insight than) I did in my previous post.
When I decided to write a response to this preface, it seemed the best way of ensuring that I properly understood the points de Singly was making would be to translate it. The translation was ‘for my eyes only’ and was consequently rough and literal. I have since revisited the translation and tried to fix its worst errors, ambiguities and infelicities. However, I don’t doubt that it still bears scars from the rough and literal spirit in which I initially approached the task.
When translating the preface and whilst working on the previous essay, I made copious marginal notes. I have preserved some of these since they touch on criticisms that I don’t address in the previous essay. I have also appended de Singly’s bibliography.
To write a book on paedophilia is to risk being suspected of having oneself a predilection for this type of behaviour. There are subjects which adhere to you, in the eyes of others, as if to your very skin. Consequently, the first question asked of Muriel Darmon when she was investigating anorexia concerned with her own past, and probable, alimentary problems! Such suspicion is all the greater when the sociologist attempts to remain neutral by refusing to condemn the advocates of certain behaviours, and instead seeks to reconstitute their justifications and logic. At the start of ‘The Forbidden Child’, Pierre Verdrager feels himself obliged to make clear that he is not a paedophile. He takes the further risk of antagonising those who prefer ignorance. Today, paedophilia is felt to be so offensive to public opinion and feeling that one struggles to imagine that a few decades ago it could be promoted by respectable people and groups. Everyone, or nearly everyone, has an interest in sweeping this fact under the carpet: those who defended paedophilia wish that part of their history to remain forgotten , and those who hate paedophilia fear that historical relativism could undermine one of the great taboos of contemporary society.
On the social construction of reality.
One of the concerns of this book is the issue of the application of moral relativism, associated with the social construction of reality, to ‘paedophilia’ (the first book to be published in France to include the word ‘paedophile’ in its title dates from 1980; 1988 for the word ‘paedophilia’). One of the arguments most frequently used in the symbolic battles follows the same constructivist line that employed in the debates concerning gender and in queer theory (1). The differences between the sexes are interpreted according to the context of their culture and epoch, are socially variable, and enter into the framework of ‘gender’. Those who adopt the queer perspective claim that this is proof that no trait depends on the biological facts of sex. These partisans therefore consider that gender is, to a very great extent, a social construction. It is therefore possible to question these stereotypes, these prejudices, these naturalistic and moralising illusions. One could list examples where this argumentation has led to a certain relativism. An example is how, in ‘La Reproduction’ by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, the authors’ declarations on ‘the arbitrariness’ of what makes up academic culture had the effect of establishing the belief that the value of this culture was strictly independent of its content, and reflected nothing more than a certain power struggle between the classes, and imposed on an entire society an acknowledgment that the culture of those in power was superior.
In ‘L’Enfant Interdit’, Pierre Verdrager takes pleasure in showing that, contrary to what we believe, the arguments of social construction, in tandem with relativism, has no intrinsic power! In effect, those advocating paedophilia sought to show that it had been valued and appreciated at certain historical periods and in certain cultures, and that therefore its condemnation was up for question. But by a neat turn-around, Pierre Verdrager, by meticulously reconstituting, chronologically, the arguments put forwards in the valorisation of paedophilia between 1960 and 1970, observes that this kind of relativism can only occur under certain social and cultural conditions. Relativism, since it is dependent on particular social conditions, is itself relative (2)! In a debate, Relativism can not therefore prevail over the opposing position, that of the intrinsic power of the Forbidden (3). In the case of paedophilia Relativism stands defeated. This observation, an important one, allows us to sketch out the social conditions under which relativist positions are accepted.
The death of childhood – the mirror-image of the death of the family
Through an impressive use of archives Pierre Verdrager proposes several explanations for the failure of paedophilia to build itself into “a political cause’. One of these is the increasing number of institutions concerned with the protection of children. More generally, the transformation of the status of the child during the years 1960 – 2000 allow one to understand what has happened in the peculiar, but nonetheless very significant, field of paedophilia. ‘L’Enfant Interdit’ furnishes a complementary and indispensable chapter to the history and sociology of childhood in the 20th century. From this perspective I propose the following interpretative framework.
The years after 1968 correspond to a phase during which intellectuals considered the child “as an adult”, and therefore saw no reason why they should not be “treated as adults” (4). To argue the contrary, most notably in defense of an elevated age of consent, was therefore judged as repressive. It was evidence that parents sought to maintain their dominant position and that adults were colonisers of childhood. The child is sexual (5), we have known this since at least Freud, and it is high time to liberate it from the yoke of morality. The child can therefore express his sexuality for the same reasons as can adults, without repression. “The death of family”, so desired by David Cooper, paradoxically entails “the death of the child”. The two are connected since the child must be liberated from the Gulag of the family and thus work towards the abolition of the institution in which the child is imprisoned. To consider the child as a minor (un être petit?) (6) who needs protection, is an invention by which the agents of repression (initially the parents) impose their power. Pierre Verdrager calls this movement “making the child and the adult mirror images of one another” (7). This attempt to impose an equivalent treatment between the two categories constituted, back then, a plausible and admissible narrative by which the hoped-for change in the status of the Child, a change that would lead to its near-disappearance, could be brought about.
The refusal to consider the dual identity of the child
Contrary to the hopes of these militants, this version of the equivalence between the Child and the Adult was rejected during the second phase, that occurred in the 1980s (we can take as a milestone “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child” in 1989 (8)). Let’s try to grasp this new version which gradually establishing itself. To consider the child as an adult becomes a grave error which imperils the child itself. But does the child revert to his prior condition (9)? Some authors, such as Aldo Naouri, wished this. They appraised the child as being nothing but a minor (? petit), and that there was no point in explaining to it the reasoning behind those things adults asked of it. However, it’s another solution which came to be accepted (10), a solution that was a compromise, a solution which endowed the child with a very specific social identity. He is not merely a minor (? petit) but is also major (? grand). This assumes that an acknowledgment of the rights of the child (“as a person”) remain distinct from the child’s equivalence to the adult (“as an adult”), as do the defenders of an education in conformity with the traditional conception of childhood. If, effectively the child has the rights of a full person, these rights are nevertheless rewritten to take into account the child’s status as a minor (? petit), otherwise there would not have been a need for a Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Convention on the rights of the child changed between 1924 and 1989 in order that these rights not be limited to the need for protection. In this new text it is, in a sense, recognised that the Child has a dual status: at the same time fragile like a vulnerable, lesser being (petit) but at the same time worthy of respect, like all human beings. As a result, there exists a permanent tension between ‘protection’ and ‘freedom’. It would be absurd, stresses Alain Renaut, that “the judicial stance towards childhood, simply because the societies in which it has emerged are structured upon principles of equality, end up identifying the recognition of rights, whilst at the same time ignoring the aspect of ‘the Child’ that is also inescapably other and irreducible”. It would be equally absurd, in the name of the specificity of the ‘little man’ to “challenge the theme of children’s rights” (ibid). This complexity in the status of the Child is reflected in the text of the Convention, which admits of two dimensions between which there is much friction: because it is a child, the child has the right to be protected; because it is a person, the child has the right to be considered as a person.
This permanent oscillation between these two definitions which constitute the whole of childhood clearly rejects a total symmetry between the status of the child and the status of the adult. The Child has henceforth the right to, on the one hand, its own world, without having, because of this, complete power or ownership over itself. It lives therefore in a world peculiar to its generation, socially constructed as different from the adult world and, most notably, that of its parents. It can be at the same time “petit” – someone’s child, or living in its parents’ home – and at the same time have a certain freedom of expression which results in the child’s right to have its own culture.
The affirmation of the child’s capacity to consent.
The steady increase in the Child’s autonomy has limits which are imposed by society. The domain of paedophilia offers an ideal viewpoint from which to observe how “the liberation of the child” is limited by the fact of their dual identity. The child, the minor, does not dispose of the power to say ‘yes’ in all and any circumstances or conditions. Even adults, who have experienced an increase in autonomy (the 2002 legislation on the rights of the infirm furnish a significant proof of this) submit to social limitations in the exercise of their power. Hence, within a business, in an unequal liaison between a high status person and someone of a lower status, the latter is considered as not having power over herself, even is she declares that she consented. Her declaration does not in any way exclude the occurrence of sexual harassment. The capacity to give consent is subject to strict conditions. Likewise a young girl who has the power to say ‘yes’ to a sexual relationship with a man or girl who are of the same age as her, loses this capacity if her partner is an adult, and all the more so if this adult is an authority figure.
When one reads the texts quoted by Pierre Verdrager, one finds that a version of unchecked power was being promoted by the supporters of the paedophile cause. First of all, they demanded that the age of sexual maturity (i.e.the age of consent) be reduced. Of course, the fact of endowing the child or adolescent with this power entailed an equal diminution of the power of the parents. They sought the elimination of these thresholds: “the idea of a sexual coming-of-age is idiotic”. This stance appears paradoxical, or at least it seems so today: if parents and adults impose upon the children by privilege of their dominance, how then justify the fact that other adults can be their liberators, without this also being an imposition (11)? Secondly, at a more theoretical level, they assert that children have as much of a capacity to say ‘yes’ as do adults in the context of a sexual relationship. In 1978, in a dialogue that was eventually published under the title “the law of modesty” Michel Foucault utters this sentence: “To assume that a child is incapable of explaining what happened and was incapable of giving his consent are two abuses that are intolerable, quite unacceptable.” (12).
The battles associated with the issue of paedophilia have therefore centered around the question of what power the child has over itself, as recognised by society, and of that power’s limits. These battles took place in parallel with those engaged in during 1992, this time concerning adults, when the concept of ‘sexual harassment’ was introduced into the French penal code (defined back then as “the fact of harassing someone by using orders, menaces or constraints, with the goal of obtaining favours of a sexual nature, by someone abusing the authority conferred by their office”). (13)
What is striking when reading the documents republished in ‘l’Enfant Interdit”, is the refusal, or so it seems to me, on the part of the partisans of paedophilia to take into account the fact that in all of society there are power imbalances, and therefore ‘liberation’ does not suffice to guarantee the condition of free expression (14). Even when these partisans turned to history for their arguments, they underestimated this fact, one which is central to all sociology. We can ask ourselves if there isn’t some resemblance between their pleas and those who advocate economic liberalism, similarly unrestrained i.e. without the state intervention. If the state is a central figure of repression it is also an instrument that can serve to regulate freedom in order that those endowed with the most power don’t abuse it in interactions across social class and age.
The construction of the category ‘paedophilia’ – and of its effects, most notably in law – can be perceived as a wall on the inside of which children today dispose of a little more power. This place of play, of self-fulfillment, has undoubtedly expanded, but on the one condition that children play amongst themselves, and that adults have the role of ‘arbiters’, not of ‘players’ like the others (15). The partisans of the paedophile cause have not wished to acknowledge that the history of emancipation in the West rests on the intervention of “separations” – secularism, with its separation of church and state, is an example. The philosopher Michaël Walser asserts that each wall “gives birth to a new freedom”. It is for this reason that partisans of the paedophile cause are mistaken: the protection of the child that is written into the limitations of his/her capacity to consent do not reflect, above all, parental oppression. These rules have as their function the guarantee that personal expression, including that of sexuality, will not be hijacked to the benefit of adults who could profit from their position.
(1) If constructivism and relativism give valid perspectives in support of queer theory then why not for paedophilia?
(2) Yes, but how does that put into question their stance? Couldn’t it be said that Science is dependent on social construction? There are societies where science hasn’t flourished and is unlikely to flourish. Does that invalidate Science?
(3) How does this work with gay liberation? How did that go from having the ‘intrinsic power of the forbidden’ to being perceived as relative?
(4) Is this a straw man? This concept of childhood was never in practice, or at least not during the 20th century.
(5) Is De Singly ventriloquising here? Is he disputing this proposition or agreeing with it? Is he using ‘refutation through the sneering quotation’ – “oh, so you think children can be sexual then!?”
(6) de Singly uses the word ‘petit’ frequently in this preface, and much (possibly everything) depends on what exactly he means by it. Unfortunately he nowhere gives any definition of his use, or any clues. It clearly does not mean ‘small’ – the literal meaning of ‘petit’. I suspect that it means something like ‘lesser being’, ‘minor’, ‘dependent’, ‘vulnerable person’… I have contacted de Singly asking him to clarify his use of this word, but, unsurprisingly, he has not replied to my inquiry.
Wherever he uses this word I have tried to give it my best translation, but followed it with the word ‘petit’ in brackets in order to alert the reader to the issues concerning this word.
(7) This is the core of ethical paedophilia. I would argue that it is possible and desirable, but not with all adults. I agree with de Singly that certain adults need to maintain authority over children (or a child) and in those cases equality (as he defines it) is not desirable. But ALL adults!? I know of children who have flourished from having equal relationships with adults.
(9) What exactly is this previous condition? Did the one de Singly imagines ever really exist?
(10) How? Why? How contingent and relative is this acceptance?
(11) So, if this is the case, by what other means could a child achieve a liberation that de Singly would accept? Or any improvement in its condition vis-a-vis liberty? How does this accord with other liberations? Of slaves in the USA?
Is an increase in freedom really an imposition if as part of the freedom the freed individual still has the right to not exercise that freedom?
(12) http://foucault1978.blogspot.fr/ . De Singly seems here to offer no refutation or counter-argument to this assertion – he feels that it requires no refutation.
(13) But what if the ‘subordinate’ wanted, or initiated the relationship?
(14) True, but in the case of society as it stands the capacity of a child to freely express their sexuality has been entirely sacrificed – does it have to be ‘all or nothing’?
(15) the loss of free unstructured interactions between adults in children’s lives is an impoverishment for both, and contributes to the loss of freedom that children are experiencing rather than detracts from is, as de Singly seems to suggest. And contemporary culture is starting to realise this (see http://www.freerangekids.com/). Children don’t need independence from adults but access to interactions with adults that are not based on authority.
David Cooper, ‘Mort de la famille’ (1972)
Muriel Darmon, ‘Devenir Anorexique’, (2003)
Aldo Naouri, ‘Les Pères et les Mères’ (2004) and ‘Eduquer ses enfants’ (2008)
Alain Renaut, “La Liberation des enfants, Contribution philosophique à une historoire de l’enfance” (2002)
Michaël Walzer, “Liberalism and the art of separation”, Politicial Theory (1984