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It is not easy in our day to appreciate the strength of the prejudice that many people harboured against abandoned babies, typically babies born out of wedlock. This age-old prejudice hung on well into the twentieth century, and it is hard to say whether our current state of enlightenment was mainly brought about by the attack on the institution of marriage, the sexual revolution, the deluge of unwed mothers, or other more subtle factors. However, once a society has corrected some particular form of injustice, it is very easy for subsequent generations to forget how stubbornly resistant to change the feelings and attitudes had been. Perhaps the following episode from Monsieur Vincent, an award winning film from 1947, can help us understand what we are up against when we try to enlighten other people and societies on issues ranging from female circumcision to the system of tribute known as fractional reserve banking.

In 17th century France social services were inadequate, to say the least. A priest from the provinces, Vincent de Paul (15811660), decided it was his vocation to improve them. To help him carry out this mission he founded the Daughters of Charity and recruited women from every strata of French society. But they had their limits. From aristocrats, dressed to the nines in the fashions of their day, down to the those of the lowest station these women were united in their opposition to one of the saint’s crazier projects; and in this film clip they make it clear to their equally stubborn leader that there are some things which they are not prepared to do. No amount of argument or anger on his part can budge them. As George Bernard Shaw said in another connection: “It would have made a saint swear!”

Video clip from 1947 film, Monsieur Vincent

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