Living in France, particularly in the south, has tended to reinforce the impression that smacking is not an old-fashioned and unenlightened activity at all. Indeed a number of mythologies one absorbed in New Zealand have dissolved. The French are not arrogant, they are not bad drivers and the children are not cheeky.
Nevertheless, it was surprising to discover from a visiting Paris journalist that a significant majority of French adolescents valued obedience to parents above independence in a recent European survey. I have also discovered that 70 per cent of French children think that la fessee (French for a smack on the bottom) is fine.
And smacking young children in France doesn't seem to be a generational thing either. Ten years ago 85 per cent of parents thought smacking normal but a more recent survey put the figure at 87 per cent.
For European anti-smackers all this is something of an enigma. France, the country that gave us the Enlightenment, they argue, is being regressive. It is quite simply old-fashioned.
But the facts do not bear this out; children, one could reasonably argue, are treated better in France than any other European nation. France at 2.1 has the highest fertility rate of all the West European countries; only Sweden equals that.
And then there are the government incentives; Three year paid parental leave with guaranteed job protection. Subsidised day care for the first two years of a child's life.
Universal full-time preschool at age 3. Monthly child-care allowance which increases with the birth of each child plus a grant for a third child of $2000. Subsidised nanny care.
France spends about 15 per cent of its total budget on family and child services.
French women are not only more productive than their European counterparts but they also have higher rates of employment than most other European countries. Seventy-four per cent of women between 25 and 54 with one child are in fulltime employment. It drops to 58 per cent with two children. Whatever one might think of that, the accusation "old-fashioned" is hardly appropriate.
The French seem to have adopted a quality of life that encourages French women to feel legitimised when they enter the workforce. It might be that this has something to do simply with the way the French live. They certainly have a shorter working week than New Zealanders. Five or six weeks annual leave also helps.
France remains a country where family life is valued. In every village and small town, especially in the south, most shops close for a two-hour lunch; sometimes longer. Even in large cities like Toulouse, many shops close for an extended lunch hour.
Although this extended lunch hour is eroding, families still tend to come together during the lunch hour and again in the evening when very young children participate in family activities. The civilised custom of an aperitif with friends before the evening meal, and which can go on until quite late, will nearly always have children present.
It is this mix of ritual and child friendliness which gives French life much of its appeal. It tends to encourage a certain expectation of trust which just might, for example, be evident in the remaining frequent use of cheques in supermarkets although the severe punishment for fraud could be a deterrent.
The French are not old-fashioned at all but they are suspicious of the government when it tells parents how to treat their children. And it is this fear of unwarranted intrusion that I suspect is driving Bob McCoskrie and Family First. He would get considerable support in France.
The use of smacking as a disciplinary tool for young children is not old-fashioned at all. It is not an exercise in violence or an indicator of a lack of love. Indeed I suspect most French parents would claim the opposite.
To smack or not to smack is not the kind of non-issue that the Herald editorial seems to be claiming. Loving children and caring for them demands discipline and the smacking of young children must be something that parents are able to do without government manipulated guilt.
The loving and disciplining of children lies at the heart of a culture and reflects a complexity of issues. It is far too complex an issue to be monitored by a poorly designed law.
* Bruce Logan, a former teacher, is a conservative Christian who founded the Maxim Institute for social research.