The Grayness of Children’s Rights

September 11th, 2012   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

Children’s rights confuse me. But, then, children’s rights and the issues that surround them, such as parental responsibility, have confounded a great many otherwise clear minded theorists.

Some libertarians reach definitive conclusions that directly contradict each other. For example, in an article entitled “Taking Children Seriously & the Future of Liberty,” Sarah Fitz-Claridge wrote, “I certainly do not think that children should be controlled by the state instead of parents. I think that they should control their own lives, just as adults do. Indeed, TCS [her children’s rights organization] advocates raising children not just without beating them but without doing anything to them against their will.” Meanwhile, the 19th century individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker believed parents owned their children and could kill them at will. On this sliding scale of opinion, I am in the unfamiliar position of being a moderate.

My purpose here is to state what I believe is true about children’s rights and to present some points with which I am decidedly  uncomfortable. The latter have kept me from addressing this subject for years. I think other theorists have been similarly discouraged, which may account for the relative  dearth of writing on children’s rights.

Beginning with the obvious: an infant is an autonomous individual with the same rights against aggression as an adult possesses. Killing an infant is murder in precisely the same moral and legal sense as killing an adult. In short, infants have what libertarianism calls “negative rights” which impose a duty upon others to not aggress.

But do infants have “positive rights” which impose obligations for assistance upon others? The question springs from the helplessness of an infant for whom negative rights are not sufficient to sustain its life. It cannot cultivate a field to grow food or drive to a grocery store. An infant is utterly dependent upon others for sustenance and protection. Someone must exercise protective  control in order to ensure the infant’s survival.

But who? The question moves us temporarily from children’s rights to parental ones. It is commonsense that parents should have a presumptive right of guardianship over an infant they created. And, generally speaking, no one else has as much incentive to provide the necessary care.

When the parents contest each other for guardianship, however, it is not obvious which one has the primary claim. Nineteenth century libertarians viewed the status of children as “a woman’s question” because the mother was deemed to be the primary guardian. Father’s rights advocates today make compelling arguments for “the presumption of shared custody.” But the person lost in both claims is the child itself. Neither parent has a property claim in the child; that would be slavery. And, so, once it is past infancy, the definitive answer should be — “whomever the child prefers is the proper guardian.”

The implementation or content of a guardianship should consist of “anything that is peaceful,” In the “Kid’s Lib” chapter of Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, Murray Rothbard explained when the child can properly rebel against a guardian’s peaceful rules.  “The answer is: when he leaves his parents’ household. When he gets out of his parents’ property, he then removes himself from his parents’ property jurisdiction. But this means that the child must always have, regardless of age, the absolute freedom to run away, to get out from under. It is grotesque to think that the parents can actually own the child’s body as well as physical property; it is advocating slavery and denying the fundamental right of self-ownership to permit such ownership of others, regardless of age. Therefore, the child must always be free to run away; he then becomes a self-owner whenever he chooses to exercise his right to run-away freedom.”

Rothbard’s answer is a cold one. It misses the love and nurturing, the tenderness and unbreakable bond that most parents feel when holding their child. But it is a sound political analysis. If a child cannot tolerate the household rules, then it is free to seek another willing guardian as soon as it can. And at that point, the parent has no right to take the child back because the act would be kidnapping and a violation of the child’s self-ownership.

If those are the basics of parental rights, what are parental responsibilities? Morally speaking, the answer is simple. To care for the infant or child to the best of their ability.  Neglect and cruelty are morally intolerable and should be discouraged by every possible peaceful  sanction, such as peer pressure, shunning  and shaming.

As a legal matter, neglect and cruelty present a problem. Common decency rebels against abusing an infant, even non-violently. But the fact remains that the bad treatment is non-violent. If a parent does violently aggress against a child, then it is criminal matter and a 3rd party has the same right to intervene on the child’s behalf as on the behalf of someone being mugged in an alley.

The uncomfortable fact, however, is that libertarianism does not recognize positive legal obligations except as established by agreement. That is to say, there is no positive obligation that legally forces  a parent to provide sustenance or shelter. Only if the parent has entered into an agreement with the infant can such positive obligations be enforced. But, clearly, until the infant reaches the age of consent, an agreement with it is not possible. Positive obligations cannot be enforce. The best that can be done is for someone willing to assume guardianship to rescue the infant. I am not fond of this conclusion but I see no way around it within libertarian theory.

Rothbard observed, “[S]uppose some parents do not perform such moral obligations? Can we say that the law — that outside enforcement agencies — have the right to step in and force the parents to raise their children properly? The answer must be no. For the libertarian, the law can only be negative, can only prohibit aggressive and criminal acts by one person upon another. It cannot compel positive acts, regardless of how praiseworthy or even necessary such actions may be.”

The burning question becomes, “what will become of abandoned or abused children?”

First of all, a libertarian society would have far fewer such children. Single women would not be given welfare based on the number of offspring they had; they would support their own children themselves. In other words, the current financial cost-benefit of having a baby would be reversed. The financial incentive to be a single mother as opposed to marrying would also be eliminated, and the more stable the home, the less likely abuse. As long as birth control and abortion were readily accessible, women would be able to have only the children they wanted, only the ones they could afford.

One obvious solution to the unwanted children who occur is adoption. In libertarianism, adoption is a personal matter with the only restriction being the same one placed upon natural parents – no injury to the child can be  inflicted. Payment for adoption would make the option attractive to natural parents who were inclined toward neglect, abuse or abandonment. Rothbard explained, “parents who now neglect or dislike their children would be able to sell their offspring to those parents who would desire and care for them properly. Every party involved would gain by the actions of such a market: the child would be shifted from cruel or neglectful parents to those who would desire and care for it.”

I am describing an imperfect system that could be manipulated for bad purposes  but the same could be said of any system under any ideology. Libertarianism will not bring utopia; it merely solves social problems better than its competition.  Of one thing I am certain. The libertarian system of children’s and parental rights  is infinitely preferable to the current one that encourages irresponsible parenthood through welfare, that rigidly and unreasonably restricts adoption, that prohibits profit from adoption, that denies ‘children’ individual rights until the age of 18, and allows Child Protective Services almost unlimited power to place children into monstrous state institutions. Nothing is so important to children rights as removing the state from their lives.

Nevertheless, it is uncomfortable to think of even one child slipping through the cracks of a libertarian system into the personal hell of abuse. That discomfort is yet another protection extended to children. It causes people to donate money, to volunteer time and to build the private charities that have traditionally cared for abandoned or orphaned children. Charities that depend on donations are more likely to be humane than state institutions that receive tax money no matter how they perform.

One last question remains: what is the age of consent for a child at which it becomes able to exercise full individual rights?

I don’t know. I do know that the age of consent at which a ‘child’ can enter into a contract is lower than the state-established 18-years-old. Perhaps it is much lower. Frankly, I suspect the age of consent varies from child to child and should not be judged by an arbitrary number. It should be judged by the actions of individual children themselves; there should be a litmus test that is not bound to age. Rothbard believed the age of consent was when the child was no longer under “the property jurisdiction” of the parent. In this scenario, the child is akin to a a ‘guest’ in the parent’s home and, so, subject to household rules until it leaves.

I prefer the approach of the 19th century individual anarchist Josiah Warren who was, by all accounts, a loving and kind father. He advocated making children both responsible for their own needs and capable of satisfying them at the earliest possible age. And he used the ability of a child to contract as the litmus test of individual rights. For example, Warren contracted with his children to exchange their labor in return for food and the other necessities with which he provided them. It was not hard labor but chores like washing dishes. Through these contracts, his children learned independence, self-respect, and the value of money and labor. It was part of their education for life. It was part of his love for them.

Too many parents neither love nor like their children. This is a brutal, merciless fact of life and it will not change under libertarianism. I do not like dealing with this issue because I recoil from cruelty toward children and have a deep, almost instinctive desire to lash out at callous parents. But, as long as those parents fall short of committing violence against children, libertarianism offers no solution under law. It offers only active alternatives such as adoption or the child seeking out a new guardian. It offers moral suasion and other effective social pressures.

The bottom line, however: Rothbard proclaimed, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly that there is a host of moral rights and duties which are properly beyond the province of the law.”

I can only hope that a libertarian society would share my deep moral and emotional discomfort at neglectful or cruel parents and, so, use every private alternative (including new ones) to protect children.

114 Responses to “The Grayness of Children’s Rights”

  1. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    A thought provoking article. I have met Sarah Fitz-Claridge. As for a child deciding which parent to be his guardian, a young child is not nrcessarily capable of making the choice or the “right” choice. i.e. Suppose one parent is addicted to mind altering drugs and is struggling to take care of himself or herself, clearly that parent should not be the guardian for te child’s wellbeing. Also there are children who will never be able to function as adults because they are mentally handicapped.


    • Hey there H.R.: I was hoping you’d drop by. You raise a combination of two points. 1) Is the child at the age of reason and consent? That cannot be ascertained by an arbitrary number (age) but by a competency test. I suspect I was able to make reasoned decisions at about 10 years old. Not to be overly personal but my father died when I was 10 and I virtually took care of myself from that age onward. Our society infantilizes children so that they are deemed incompetent in life well into their teens. Other societies and traditions are far more realistic in my opinion. For example, within Judiasm, a boy is considered a man at 13. This, too, may be an arbitrary number but it seems to me to be a far more realistic one.

      2) Given the child is at an age of reason and consent…what if he prefers a drug addicted parent? What if he does? He could always change his mind. Moreover, it is not properly the business of 3rd parties to judge the wisdom of the decisions other people make with their own bodies. So, yes, the age-of-consent child might be making a mistake but it is reversible one and his mistake to make.

      • RagnarNo Gravatar says:

        So, of your twelve year old daughter decides to move in with her thirty-five year old “boyfriend”. Or wants to be independent badly enough to support herself in the one and only way twelve-year old girls always can, world over, you’re saying that you, as her mother, have no say in that? I’m sorry, but I disagree. While I certainly believed I was an adult at fifteen, I was wrong. I’m sure I could have passed any test passable by the majority of voters in this country, but I was not competent to run my own life, make decisions about drugs, or sex, or a host of other issues.

  2. Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

    One of the things that is often lost in the “libertarian / authoritarian” debate is that we live in a society. We do, in fact, have “social standards” by which much of the gray area issues are mediated by simple consent.

    For example, some people will trespass upon the property of another to rescue animals that they thing are being neglected or abused, and then must stand up in court and explain themselves. Demonstrating that their belief of abuse was true, by the social standards around them, absolves them of their “crime” of trespassing and theft, and can bring social sanction down on the head of the previous owner for their demonstrated abuse.

    This same social standard applies to children. There have been times, places, and cultures, where killing one’s own children was considered a right. They were considered “property” in the extreme sense. But not in society here, now.

    Taking the view that human children are individuals, and their care is a voluntary obligation, offers some level of solution for all this. The stigma against adoption, the legal hurdles involved, all make the problems worse. So for a moment and the sake of argument, let’s say there are no legal barriers to voluntary agreements.

    A 2-year-old denied a new toy may very well scream and cry about how they are being abused and they don’t want to live with the awful parents anymore. Our shared experiences, our social standard, recognizes that this is a tantrum, not a valid termination of contract, because the individual (child) is not recognized as a self-determining individual yet.

    At 16 it is assumed that if a child wishes to “run away” and thereby divorce themselves from their parents, they are sufficiently self-determined to do so.

    But let’s say an 8 year old, whose parents divorced, runs away from the parent who was given custody to be with the other parent. What does our social standard say about that? I know what I would say, but I can understand how different people would disagree with me.

    Wendy, you say, “libertarianism offers no solution under law.” I think this cannot be said loud enough or often enough, statute law is exactly the wrong way to deal with this.

    It must be dealt with through mediation or adjudication, and within the context of the society we live in. Trying to apply some rigid “law” will only hurt everyone involved far, far worse.

    I do not mean to sound flip, but getting the state OUT of the way would be the most effective single step toward finding rational, moral footing in this quicksand of emotion that is human interaction. Especially where children are concerned.

    Thank you for listening. Now I’m going to go cry remembering how I was railroaded through the legal assumptions that govern custody in a divorce.

  3. Kathleen WikstromNo Gravatar says:

    I, too, like Josiah Warren’s approach, and it’s the approach I used with my children (all grown now). I think children should be free to make contracts as soon as they are able and can find someone willing to contract with them. I think children that are old enough to talk ought to be able to choose which parent they wish to stay with in a custody battle (and to change their mind later, if the other option is still being offered). I told my kids at a very early age (like 4-5) that I was happy to treat them like adults if they took responsibility for their actions. They could stay up as late as they wanted, as long as they respected my right to not be bothered and entertained themselves if I was working. They could make all their own choices if they kept the negative consequences of those choices to themselves. They did household jobs (and some jobs for my home business) to earn a good amount of money, and they spent it how they chose. They learned a lot about buyer’s regret at a young age and learned quickly. They got used to being responsible and being productive members of the household. It was a wildly successful strategy, considering the adults they have become.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      That’s awesome Kathleen! Thanks for sharing. My parents, too, always treated me like an adult and never talked down to me. When I had something to say, they listened, and didn’t treat me like a know-nothing kid.

      Being raised by libertarians was a godsend! I really feel sorry for all of the kids who were raised by parents who disrespected their individuality or never allowed them to be responsible for themselves.

  4. I would argue that neglect of an infant is indeed aggression — and of a most sadistic form.

    Let me offer a metaphor.

    I lure you to my home, with sweet talk, promises, smiles, and entertaining noises from my mouth. You’re amused, intrigued, enthralled. You follow. You enter my home, and I lead you to the basement.

    I then lock and bolt a large door, from which you cannot escape, and no one can hear you. I refuse to give you food, water, clothing or attention. What I am doing is forcibly starving you, and at best, emotionally scarring you.

    If it is aggression to restrain and starve an adult against his own will, then surely, it is aggression to do this to an infant – whether you created that infant or not.

    Adults have no right whatsoever to their children, anymore than any adult can have any “right” over any other adult. What they have, is a stewardship responsibility, based upon their choice to bring a living human being into existence.

    They are free to choose to transfer that responsibility to another adult who chooses to accept it, but they are morally obligated by their choice to have the child, to not abandon that responsibility.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      I don’t know of anyone who does not believe that abandoning an infant is an act of agression. Certainly it is pretty much universally accepted that parents are morally obligated to take care of an infant unless they find others willing to care for te infant.


      • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

        If neglect is an act of aggression then where do you draw the line? Not giving your kids the brand of cereal they want? Not taking them to the movies? Say you feed them, but you never let them out of the house? So, they’re living and won’t starve to death.

        The question I have to ask myself is whether or not I would feel comfortable breaking and entering into a person’s house to steal the baby. The answer is that I likely would not. Hell, there are millions of children all over the world starving to death, sending troops in isn’t the answer. But I might be very motivated to get a donation drive together to purchase the baby. Or, even more drastically, but still totally acceptable under the Non-Aggression Principle is to get the adjacent landowners to agree that if the person steps off of their property they will immediately be considered trespassing and be arrested or even killed. Solves that problem pretty quickly, doesn’t it? No need to break and enter.

        • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

          An act of agression is an act that does actual harm to someone. Not giving a child cereal or an expensive pair of shoes clearly is not an act of agression to a reasonable person. A new born infant being abandoned is an act of agression because an infant is dependent on someone to take of him or her in order to survive.

          $ Really, this isn’t rocket science.

          • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

            So, are you aggressing against starving people in Africa when you don’t help to feed them, but instead go to the movies? Just because you gave birth to the child doesn’t change whether or not it’s aggression.

            • JonNo Gravatar says:

              Correct me if I’m wrong, but you accept the obligation when you make the person (who is) dependent upon you. That’s the line between kidnapping a person and being responsible for their death: between having a child and murdering one. I don’t think you produced a single starving African, therefore you’ve accepted no responsibilities regarding them. Helping those people is strictly a matter of choice. Does this line of reasoning lead to any contradictions?

              Now, how you deal with the situation when you are a third party witnessing (criminal, due to simple poverty?) neglect is another matter. All depends on how the parents react when you broach the subject, or what the community consensus is.

              • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

                Community consensus means absolutely nothing to me.

                At the end of the day this is really just the abortion issue extended to after birth. Should one be forced to take care of another? The answer is simple. No.

              • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

                Jon says: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you accept the obligation when you make the person (who is) dependent upon you. ”

                I think you’re wrong. What is the source of this obligation? You have not entered into a contract with the newborn. The act of giving birth to the child does not cause damages for which it is due compensation.

            • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

              You are not responsible for anyone unless they are your child. An infant is dependent on his or her parent(s).


              • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

                Sure, you may be morally responsible. But would I initiate violence against an individual for neglecting their child? The answer is no, nor would I fund an agency that did such things.

                • Kathleen WikstromNo Gravatar says:

                  I think there is parental responsibility, if they no longer wish to care for a child or take responsibility for it, to make the child available to others who might wish to take over guardianship. This means leaving the child with another responsible person, leaving them at a church or charitable organization, or otherwise letting potential guardians know that the child is in need of a new one.

                  • Kathleen: There is most certainly a moral obligation to seek out a 3rd party to care for the unwanted infant even if the method is nothing more than the “baby boxes” that are growing in use in Europe. That is a box, often attached to a church, where babies can be left anonymously so that they can be adopted or otherwise cared for by others. Also I think a good case in libertarian law could be made that it is improper to prevent a 3rd party from intervening to assist a child that is being starved to death. Lesser forms on non-violent abuse…not so much. If an age-of-consent child requests a de facto shift of guardianship to another individual or agency, then that’s a no-brainer. That’s when children’s right kick into full gear. The child has a right to decide what to do with its own body.

        • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

          Greg Gauthier says: “I then lock and bolt a large door, from which you cannot escape”

          This goes beyond what Wendy has said… That is, if the child wants to leave, you must permit it. In your scenario, the act of aggression would be the confinement, not the refusal of sustenance.

          Greg Gauthier says: “they are morally obligated by their choice to have the child, to not abandon that responsibility.”

          You’re restating the very thing that is in dispute.

    • Hello Gre:g: The scenario you raise is not abandonment but kidnapping and I find some hope in the concept of kidnapping (on the part of the parent) to allow a 3rd party to rescue a child that is being starved to death. In other words, if a parent is clearly and consistently endangering the life of a child, then preventing a third party from intervening to rescue that child is an act of kidnapping the child. I am not sure if I can sustain that argument but it is interesting.

      An abandonment scenario would be one in which the mother walks out of the hospital, leaving the child behind.

      As for your statement in a later post “Children are not property.” All I can say is “hear, hear!”

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        I think cb750 has a valid point that one should identify what rights are before assuming who has them. I have said before that I do not think natural rights exist in any non-trivial sense.
        Wendy, you seem to call yourself some form of individualist anarchist, but many of your articles are more from a minarchist, libertarian viewpoint. I think that law and freedom are antithetical and as such if you want to be free you can’t approve of any governmental laws. I realize that all we humans are full of contradictions, me too. But I have a hard time with the idea of promoting anarchism on one hand and talking about nuances of “libertarian law” on the other. I have probably misinterpreted what you have written. Would you please define what you mean by natural rights and state your position as either an anarchist or libertarian on law? Thank you.

  5. cb750No Gravatar says:

    Perhaps you need to identify what rights are before you can discuss who has them. We do know rights are not handed out and negative rights are based on aggression or the freedom from aggression to be more precise. So when does one have rights and can someone be in a form in which they may have rights in the future but do not have them now. Humans develop into moral agents, they don’t instantly arrive that way. So its clear there has to be some understanding of a transition period. Yes a baby cannot comprehend its world but should it still have freedom from aggression.

  6. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    My view on this is somewhat similar to Greg’s (above), but I somewhat embellished on the thought experiment. Suppose I create a machine, perhaps a robot, even, that I allow to run to unsupervised to perform whatever task I created it for. Under libertarian theory, since my neighbors have the negative right to be free from aggression, if my machine in some way harms them and/or their property, they have legal recourse to demand restitution from me, even though I myself committed no aggression toward them – I simply neglected my own creation and by doing so allowed it to harm them. It is the act of creating the machine in the first place that ties me to it, and makes me responsible for ensuring it does not cause someone else harm. If we switch this to the notion of me creating a child, until the child is of an age to care for himself, I am responsible for ensuring he does not harm others- INCLUDING HIMSELF. As he is not capable of feeding or otherwise caring for himself, I (and his other parent, of course) bear the responsibility of making sure his needs are met. This stems solely from the decision we as parents made to create this individual – that is, we engaged in sex knowing pregnancy was possible, and either did not protect against the possibility, or did not terminate the child prior to birth. This person would not otherwise exist were it not for the action(s) we took (or failed to take) that created him. Stemming from that, a child has an enforceable right to be cared for.

    For me, the “gray” lies in the fact that I, like any libertarian anarchist, do not believe in the legitimacy of the state, and so the question becomes – how is the protection from harm of neglect enforced? I think Greg made a valid point – another individual aware of the neglect can *take* the child away, and be able to defend the action as a necessary one to prevent further harm to the child. Just as one can destroy or disable the machine I created to keep it from injuring themselves or a bystander, one can remove a child from me that I clearly showed no interest in caring for properly.

    By and large, I agree that many of the problems surrounding child abuse/neglect would be solved in a libertarian society by virtue of removing the state from the equation and allowing buying and selling of children, and not creating an incentive for having kids one wouldn’t otherwise want by giving them welfare based on having them, but where I disagree is in the notion that providing care for a child is a positive right for the child being forced on the parents. I view it as a negative right to be protected from harm due to a willing choice to create the child in the first place.

  7. John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

    If libertarianism does not recognize the positive legal obligation of a parent to provide sustenance and shelter for his or her child except as established by agreement then so much for libertarianism. But I define libertarianism simply as the presumption against force, limiting it to the truly necessary. Enforcing the moral obligation of a parent to feed his or her child is justified by necessity because standing by while a parent let his child starve would be intolerable.

    • cb750No Gravatar says:

      What sense would it make to force a parent to raise a child they didn’t want? Wouldn’t that be placing a child in a household in which they are unwanted? If I had to take care of a dog I didn’t like I probably won’t take very good care of it. Maybe the better solution is to make it very easy for other parents to take care of the child or for people to voluntarily create an organization to handle this like orphanages.

      But forcing a parent who does not want their child to raise it isn’t exactly great for the kid.

  8. Tom JamesNo Gravatar says:

    There is an ongoing debate among philosophers about whether rights are dependent on the ability to exercise choice, or whether they simply reflect interests (including but not limited to the interest in autonomy.) To a choice theorist, children would not have any rights at all until they reach a sufficient level of intelligence and maturity to make reasonable choices, i.e., the time when they acquire the capacity to contract. Since children would have no rights until then, they would not have any right to be raised or cared for in any particular way. Parents could abuse or kill their children without violating any right of the child.

    Interest theorists regard that conclusion as proof that the premise on which choice theory rests is flawed. So, rather than defining rights as dependent on the ability to exercise free will, they define rights as simply being representations of a person’s interests instead. To an interest theorist, a child has a right to be free from abuse and infanticide, and to be fed, simply because he has an interest in survival.

    The trouble with interest theory, as I see it, is that it dilutes the meaning of rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, lists all kinds of children’s interests as “rights” (including, e.g., the “right” to play and to be entertained.) Since a right is meaningless without a corresponding reciprocal obligation on someone else’s part, equating rights with interests imposes an obligation on the part of every member of society to promote all the interests of every other member of society. If my interest in being rich is a “right,” then everyone has an obligation to give me money — not because I did anything to earn it, but simply because I want it. In short, interest theory simply does not comport with the common understanding of rights.

    Considerations such as these may explain why some modern rights theorists are revisiting choice theory. Suggestions have been made, for example, that choice theory can be reconciled with children’s rights by recognizing a separate category of rights — developmental rights. Simply put, a developmental right is a postulated right to those things that are needed to develop into a person who is able to make a reasonable choice through the exercise of free will. Applying this theory, it could be argued that children have a right to practice making choices. This would provide a justification for the practice of punishing only adults (and, in some states, certain older children who are treated as adults in some situations) for the commission of crimes, for example.

    The notion of developmental rights is easier to articulate than to apply, though, as too liberal an application of it can quickly devolve into interest theory. For example, an argument might be made that children have a need to play freely in order to develop into adults. If that need is treated as a developmental right, then it would seem that a child’s rights would be violated if a teacher told a student to sit at his desk and read a book at a time when the child wanted to play. Could a child sue his parents for failing to provide him enough toys to play with? And, more importantly, who decides how many toys are enough?

    Ultimately, I believe that parents have a natural right to define the specific content of their children’s developmental rights. Parents have a right and an obligation to both determine and protect their children’s rights. Whatever authority or power the state has to protect adults from the violation of their rights it also has to protect children from the violation of their rights. In the case of developmental rights, the state could have legitimate authority to override a parent’s definition of her child’s developmental rights when the parent’s definition is harmful to the child and the harm the parent’s definition does to the child outweighs the harm to the child that is done when the state undermines the authority of a parent over his/her children.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      I question whether the state has legitimate authority to do ANYTHING! The state is a convenient fiction to justify the ruling elite’s power and perks. I have never seen a convincing argument for the non-trivial existence of natural individual rights much less collectivist rights. For pragmatic reasons I think of parents as having “natural authority” over their kids. But the state is not the all-parent! But so long as apologists for the state can convince the people of the “legitimate authority” of the state the ideal of individual liberty is dead.

  9. Rick DiMareNo Gravatar says:

    Infants and children are a difficult problem for those who want no state or a minimal one, mainly because so many pair bonds fail, children are so helpless, the unexpected happens, etc. The state very often has to assist child-rearing efforts under the “parens patriae” doctrine:

    Also, children do not ask to be brought into the world. We summon them up, so its pure criminal negligence to put a helpless person in harm’s way and then not help them survive. Most of what Rothbard said about children is a result of his internal demons, most likely caused by childhood trauma, neglect, abuse, etc.

    • Hello Rick…good to see your post.

      I do not think it follows that because “someone” has to assist a child that “the state” has to do so. The state has almost killed off all private competitors in this area and is still aggressively doing so. For example, some of the most effective child care agencies in the U.S. are private Catholic ones, and many are closing down rather than abide by government requirements such as providing insurance coverage under Obamacare for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs. Indeed, if you are concerned about children, then I think you should vigorously protest against the intervening “someone” being the state and lobby for private means.

      As for Murray, I believe he had a wonderful childhood with loving parents of whom he spoke fondly, I think he was just following the logic of a position to its conclusion.

      • Rick DiMareNo Gravatar says:

        Wendy, thanks for your reply. Your responses are always appreciated.

        Because the state controls the money supply and is the “insurer of last resort,” it must take all comers, unlike private charities who tend to be somewhat selective. So, the state, right now at least, is in the best position to deal with (often very costly) child abuse and neglect issues, not to mention severely handicapped children that no private charity wants or could afford. I know anarchists don’t want to hear this, but I think it’s going to be a long time before the state gives up its money-issuing powers to numerous competing private parties.

        Also, not to belabor my comment about Rothbard, and I agree that, with his anti-childrens’ right stance, he may have just been taking his theory to its natural conclusion, but I think there’s something else going on in his mind, perhaps something on an unconscious or subliminal level, that causes him to deny rights to children. I may have mentioned these psychologists before, but the late child psychologist Alice Miller and “psycho-historian” Lloyd deMause come to mind because of their work in detecting subtle strains of child-abuse/neglect teachings running through the entire Abrahamic tradition (Christian, Jewish and Muslim).

  10. cb750No Gravatar says:

    I keep seeing this same argument of use of force crop up again and again in this forum. Why? Why has this whole discussion boiled down to the use of force and why are people looking for some excuse to use force? In actuality the vast majority of parents raise their kids. Only a small minority truly abandon their kids. So shouldn’t we base any assessment on the majority vs the minority? Making some parent who abandoned their kid raise that kid makes no sense. If they don’t want the kid or cannot afford the kid then forcing them together makes no sense. Do people think rich people are popping out children merely wishing not to pay for them?

    Instead why not focus on non-aggressive solutions. Probably the vast majority of reasons for abandonment are due to legit reasons. No finances, unfit parent etc. So how about looking for ways to put the kid some place else. If there are so many people who care about the welfare of kids then wouldn’t they pitch in to support some sort of community orphanage?

    It seems this whole debate gets pulled in this direction of some wacked out mother who spawned a kid then dumped it in the dumpster or something. Do you really want to then force that kid to be with that mother?

    I think the flaw here is trying to find that exception for the use of force. Its a trap and induces a slippery slope. Just assume you can’t use force and move on from there. If someone is really concerned about the kid then try a solution that doesn’t involve force and pitch in and help the kid.

    I think this goes towards the libertarian replacement for gov in which a community voluntarily pays for community needs. Instead of being forced to pay taxes for turtle paths, Solyndra and the Volt I would imagine people would have extra money to support a community orphanage or some adoption/ foster care system. Simply pay families to care for an abandoned child. Lots of families do that now and lots of families want to adopt but can’t due to the state blocking the process. If Americans are flying overseas to buy babies then there clearly is a market for children.

    These arguments always sound like debates I get into with progressives where they are always looking for that one excuse to use force. Humans are good. They don’t just drop out babies and chuck them in dumpsters as a practice. Either you trust humans to be rational beings or you’re Hobbesian and think humans need to be regulated. I prefer the first choice since humans are reasonable.

    • The ultimate irony: even IF humans were not mostly good — perhaps ESPECIALLY if they weren’t — a state would be the worst possible social institution to found among them.

      If I were an evil person, an institution having the moral sanction of millions to use force at will, to commit evil acts in the name of good, and to prevent others from doing the same, would be the ONLY institution I’d want to be a part of.

      • cb750No Gravatar says:

        Yes I call that Hobbe’s paradox. If humans are inherently evil then no gov could be created to regulate them to be good since any gov would have to draw from the same pool of inherently evil people. Plus why would evil people wish to be good?

    • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

      If we are interested in converting others to libertarianism we can’t simply ignore an argument by its opponents that if carried to its logical conclusion it leads to an intolerable absurdity in the context of children’s rights. Rather, the existence of such an apparent absurdity suggests that the operating conception of libertarianism needs to be re-examined and re-conceived.Libertarianism is not pacifism. To try to answer objections to libertarianism is not to look for excuses to use force. Libertarianism recognizes the legitimacy of using force to defend one’s self and to defend others. A child whose parent is seriously neglecting may warrant defense, even if that parent isn’t not physically beating him up. Of course a good society will encourage adoption of unwanted children etc., but that’s not to say there should be no consequences or deterrent for a parent who unilaterally abandons a child and thereby puts another in the position of having to care for the child or let it die. Furthermore, you may have a parent who is addicted to drugs and thereby seriously neglects his child but may nevertheless be unwilling to give up his rights. In my view a society could provide for involuntary termination of parental rights and still be libertarian.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        You remind me of many Republicans I know who want to “punish” people who have different philosophies of life. Society should not be punishing anyone. Society as a group of individuals has arguably the “right” to protect itself. It does not have the right to punish except where said punishment acts as protection for society. In today’s world parents are forced to place their kids in government schools, take Ritalin, get baby shots, etc. ad nauseum because government claims that children are being abused by not doing these things. What about we parents who honestly disagree? Are we a danger to society or just free minded folks being denied our individual liberty to raise our kids as we desire?! Personally, I see no good reason to have any government, but surely a government that micromanages how people raise their own children is tyranical.

    • Hello CB: I agree. Most people are good or adequate parents. We are dealing with the small minority who abandon or physically abuse their children, largely because they are unwanted in some manner. One thing I believe people are missing is how dramatically the number of unwanted children would decline with a few changes in social policy. For example, stop paying women to have children, especially women who become single mothers (often in their teens and serially thereafter) simply to get a sizable welfare check. This constitutes a large percentage of welfare recipients. It is a racket in which children represent a paycheck and are consigned to live in a cycle of poverty. And poverty, IMO, is the one factor that most closely correlates to physical abuse of all kinds, including against children. Making adoption a private matter of contract law would further decrease unwanted children in a dramatic manner and all parties would benefit, especially the child. I would not be surprised if the rate of unwanted and/or physically abused children fell to about 10% of what it is now. That is to say, the problem would be immensely more manageable than it is today and could probably be addressed by the traditional private means such as charities..

      Would abandoned and physically abused children still exist in a libertarian society? Of course. Libertarianism is not utopian. Human problems will always exist in every society. But I believe libertarianism — including children’s rights — would immensely minimize the problem and permit the growth of private solutions that we are not even imaging right now.

      • cb750No Gravatar says:

        And the other question one could ask is if the world were 100% draconian in its management measures would child abandonment still exist? well turning the whole of humanity into a prison doesn’t seem feasible. For example people are still murdered in prison even though prison is the ultimate draconian management system. So clearly even extreme management cannot cure social ills.

        As you say the best thing is to stop encouraging child production. Women DO stop making babies when there is no money. Women are not stupid breeding machines. Its only when the state gives them $$$ for each child do they pop out more children.

        • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

          I think you’re a bit off here. Generally, the opportunity cost for having a kid is greater for the wealthier woman. Even without subsidies, poorer families have tended to be larger.

        • Friltz KneseNo Gravatar says:

          CB, poor women tend to have children for many reasons not the leaast of which is that poor folks are more caring and sharing than wealthier people. Charitable giving is highest in the poorest states. Also we poor people have more empathy towards other poor while the rich are largely sequestered in wealthy areas where they have virtually no interation with the lower class as Charles Murray points out in his latest book. It isaalso true that the poor get very little of the good life. Kids are one area where they can have the same human happiness as rich jerks.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        Wendy, I definitely agree that a libertarian or better still an anarchistic society would have far less real child abuse and neglect. But really the problem is very small now. Government and the controlled media push a small problem into a huge one to foment their power. Our society, as bad as it is now, would be far better off with fewer truly abused kids were we to eliminate social services today. Taking kids away from parents is child abuse. I think forcing parents to send kids to government schools is child abuse. Neither would exist in a truly free society.By the way, social services can take away an adult’s freedom too. I knew a wealthy woman that social services forced into a group home forcibly taking her money to pay for it. She was a fantastic human being, the first female veterinarian in Montana, intelligent, and physically active. But she was in her mid 80s and had a car wreck which they used as an excuse to say she could not live alone though her son was right down the road.

  11. I know what I’m going to say will be offensive to some. I do not intend to offend anyone but I’m not responsible for other’s thin skin.

    Perhaps libertarians believe the question of children is one of rights, but it is really a question of morality. The principles of morality are not principles for making other people behave the way we would like them to, they principles by which an individual ensures their own choices and actions will lead to their own success and happiness as a human being.

    A fully rational human being who chooses to have children will have them because he understands their value to him, and desires them. No one will have to convince him to love them and care form them as well as he possibly can. They are the joy of his life, and almost nothing will prevent him (or her) from doing all in his power to nurture them and see them develop into the decent self-sufficient productive human beings he desires them to be.

    It is not about such individuals that questions about “children’s rights” come up. It is about people who are irrational, not objective in their choices and actions, and not living moral lives. It is a sad fact that this description fits most human beings, in some cases, entire societies. (Egypt is a good recent example. The land where fathers kill their daughters by snake bite just because they are daughters.)

    However sad these facts are, and however much a decent person’s sentiments are moved, as mine are, by how other people do or do not care for or even abuse their children, the moral issue is, what other people do with their lives and children is no one else’s business. It is the almost irresistible desire of the irrational to interfere in the lives of others to make them behave the way they think they ought to that lies behind all such discussions.

    Is it moral to abuse or neglect one’s children. No it is not. Is it moral for anyone to force other’s to act morally? No it is not. The moment that principle is violated, it becomes a game to decide who’s view of morality is going to be forced down everyone else’s throat, and it won’t be done by friendly persuasion. But most people won’t mind because most people do not really want to be free.

    • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

      What you’ve said is IMHO stupid, but not offensive, at least to me. My skin isn’t thin and I’m not clutching my pearls at your audacious independence of mind. Rather, your opinion confirms for me that many self-described libertarians are as dogmatic as the most dogmatic of fundamentalists, and come across to the uninitiated as such. Who are you to tell me it would always be immoral for me as part of a community to force a parent in that community not to abuse or neglect his children? As a libertarian, I regard force as evil but sometimes necessary. To me, libertarianism amounts to as strong of a presumption against the use of force as conscience allows.

      • I’m not a libertarian, and I would never tell you what to do. I only said what I believe is moral. You do not have to agree.

        Someone made the point that no one owns their children. I agree. My children do not belong to me, but they certainly do not belong to anyone else, not the state, not the community, and certainly not to you. You may not like what I do with my children, but if you interfere in that, I regard it as an immoral intrusion in my life. You may think it is moral for you to force you view of what is abuse or neglect on others just as the leftists do who want to take people’s children away from them if they keep those children out of public school, or want to teach them a religion. How would you argue with them since you believe one may use force to prevent what they think is abuse. You wouldn’t be able to argue against the use of force, since you agree with it. You would only be able to argue about what constitutes abuse, wouldn’t you?

        • Hello Reginald: The article I wrote very clearly and unequivocally condemned the morality of anyone who neglects or is cruel (non-violently cruel) to a child. But there is no political or legal justification for a third party to intervene in the non-violent acts of a parent or guardian. The two points at which intervention is politically and legally appropriate are…1) the child has sought out another guardian and asks for the intervention. 2) violence, physical force is being used against the child. At the point of violence, third party intervention is the same as stopping a rape, a mugging, a beating, etc.

          • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

            So you’re saying there is no political or legal justification for a third party to intervene if a drug-addicted mother leaves her newborn infant in its crib day after day without feeding it? Says who?

            • cb750No Gravatar says:

              Intervene through force? Why can’t other solutions be proposed. For example offer to take the child showing the woman she is incapable of raising it. Perhaps purchase the child.

              • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

                I am no fan of child protective services as it exists in our Statist society, but this is kind of what they do now. They would in fact remove the infant from the home in the scenario I’ve posited, as would only be prudent, but would then give the mother ample opportunity to get her act together. The initial goal is always “reunification.” In less serious cases of abuse or neglect they wouldn’t remove the child from the home but might require “services.”

            • John…I have said no such thing. And I trying to evolve my own views on children’s rrghts through this discussion, not to lay down a set of absolute rules. I *do* believe there are some absolute rules, such as non-aggression, but the line at which a 3rd party can intervene in the parent’s presumption of guardianship is unclear to me. Certainly in the case of aggression, at the child’s request, or (and I think I am adding this one as result of the thread) in case of imminent threat to the child’s life.

          • Wendy,

            Thanks for the response.

            Yes, your article unambiguously condemns child neglect and cruelty as immoral, of course, and you certainly made it clear that you reject forceful interference in all cases where there was no parental force. I agree. I did not mean my post to be applied to your article, but to another’s response.

            With regard to a child, what constitutes violence is very problematic, however. If a child grabs a toy off a store shelf and the parent forcibly takes the toy away to put it back, is it violence? If its a belligerent child, it will probably look like violence.

            Both of my children, by the way, tried the, “I don’t want to live here anymore,” ploy. I gladly granted them permission to leave and live with anyone who would have them. For some reason, that easy permission changed their minds. Perhaps no one else would have them. Not sure whether my grandchildren or great grandchildren have tried it yet, but their parents will know how to handle it when they do.

            By the way, my parents raised my cousin, because she was terribly physically abused by her stepmother. No force was required. Stepmother was glad to be rid of her, and her father wanted what was best for his daughter and I got an instant older “sister.”

            “At the point of violence, third party intervention is the same as stopping a rape, a mugging, a beating, etc.” you said.

            Everyone just knows this is moral. It’s obvious and self-evident. If someone uses force against someone else, it is moral to interfere with the use of force, even if the others have no relationship to oneself. No one, however, has ever been able to explain to me why this should be true.

            Every discussion has always invoked sentiment or feeling or, the, “what would you do?” argument. No doubt if I saw a woman being raped or anyone being innocently “beat up” I would interfere if I could. But no moral principles can be based on, “what I would do,” can they?

            Certainly no one can be morally obligated to interfere in others lives just because they engage in immoral behavior, even if it involves force. I am not convinced other’s use of force even justifies such interference and I would be very interested in any objective argument for it

            Here’s a question. How do you decide that someone else is abusing their children? Who decides how much food a child should have, and what kind, and when that amount or kind of food is not sufficient and is neglect. I’m sure the amount of food most children received from their parents in England during the second world war would be considered neglect today. They lived and prospered.

            In most cases of true child abuse, it is not discovered until after the damage has been done (just as with all crime). Unless one advocates some form of oversight or monitoring of parents, (which the leftists do advocate in a hundred ways) what goes on between parents and children is no one else’s business, not even the pediatrician’s. No doubt there will be abuse, as there always has been and will be, but our disliking it does not justify the violation of moral principles, does it?

            (For the record, for me, moral principles tell me how to behave, not how other people are supposed to behave. If I am mistaken in any of the principles I live by, I’ll suffer the consequences and learn from them. If others have mistaken moral principles, if any at all, they will suffer the consequences, but alas, few will learn from them.)


            • Sorry Regi. I hate the branching thread format because I find it confusing. Given that I dip in and out of the comments section as I have time, I read quickly and that causes even more confusion. I must stop rushing through my days. Cheers to you…

        • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

          “How would you argue with [leftists … who want to take people’s children away from them if they keep those children out of public school, or want to teach them a religion] since you believe one may use force to prevent what they think is abuse. You wouldn’t be able to argue against the use of force, since you agree with it. You would only be able to argue about what constitutes abuse, wouldn’t you?”

          Similar arguments about what constitutes self-defense are likewise common and unavoidable. See, e.g., the George Zimmerman case. The fact that I agree with the use of force for self-defense means only that I wouldn’t be able to argue that the use of force for self-defense is never justified, not that I wouldn’t be able to argue that Zimmerman’s use of force wasn’t justified if I wound up on his jury. But I would need to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt by the evidence that his use of force wasn’t justified to justify the use of force that a guilty verdict would set in motion, and society should demand that every juror be so convinced before it sets that use of force in motion. (In fact, even though I’m a lawyer I’d probably wind up disqualifying myself from the jury because I agree with Spooner that no one has any business sitting as a juror if he doesn’t retain control over the sentence that his guilty verdict sets in motion. How else is a juror to determine whether his doubt is “reasonable”?) The same burdens of proof and presumptions against the use of force should be in place in the context of determining what constitutes child abuse or neglect and what to do to stop it.

          • Thanks, John, for the reasonable reply, but I think you missed my point, which is probably because I did not make it clear.

            You actually did exactly what I said you would have to do so long as you agreed that force was a proper way of dealing with those whose behavior you did not like You explained what you thought was justification for it.

            It does not matter whether I agree with that justification or not, you made the important point:

            “… society should demand that every juror be so convinced before it sets that use of force in motion …”

            You are apparently willing to let “society” decide when and under what conditions force ought to be used. I’m not sure how “society” does that, but I can guarantee, whatever it decides, it won’t be what you want.


            • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

              Ultimately it is only individuals who decide under what conditions force should be used: namely, those individuals actively contributing in whatever way to the decision to use force and to the force used. A”society” as I used the term consists solely of the individuals who make it up. Put another way, government derives its just powers from the consent of the governing and from justice. I follow Nock in distinguishing between government and the State. Rule, by a ruler or ruling class, is the defining feature of the State. Government by contrast is anarchic because it is characterized by rulerlessness. It consists of those individuals who choose to be part of it and is instituted by them to enforce inalienable rights. It therefore does not make laws (i.e., it does not legislate / rule) but only discerns and enforces them. Like the individuals which make it up it can be mistaken about what the laws of natural justice require, and therefore the presumption against the use of force is its most important law.

      • John…I would be comfortable in a society that you constructed where there was a strong “presumption against the use of force as conscience allows.” We would still have areas of disagreement because I suspect my presumption against force would be considerably stronger than yours and closer to a mandate. I understand your point on conscience, however. I have long realized that I would probably be unable to watch someone torture a dog to death even though I might agree that the dog was his property. I would be psychologically unable to constrain myself from rescuing the dog (ideally by buying it). After doing so, if I used force, I would pay whatever legal fine etc. that was necessary because I would freely admit violating the fellow’s property rights. So I understand there are a few rare situations in which the non-aggression principle and conscience clash, and conscience wins out. Or does it? If I willingly provide restitution (or whatever) does the NAP win? I don’t know for such.

        • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

          No way would I pay a legal fine or restitution to a guy for rescuing the dog he was torturing to death on the grounds that the dog what his property to torture or not torture as he saw fit. In fact, I’d be very comfortable with forcing HIM to pay a fine or spend a few nights in jail. I think libertarianism needs a healthy dose of Max Stirner when it comes to property. Property isn’t that sacred.

          • Well…I don’t believe in animal rights, which may be a difference between us.

          • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

            John, I am an animal lover. I was raised on a farm and have had to deal with sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, dogs, cats, etc. But when you start saying that you have some right to interfere with my treatment of my animals, it makes my blood boil. I eat animals. You can’t be much worse to them than that. If I want to torture and kill MY animals, it is none of your damned business. I have no problem with someone giving me reasons they think I should modify my actions, but do not interfere with me if I decide to go ahead. If you insist upon interfering then the door is open for all kinds of intervention into both of our lives and freedom becomes just a word. Just like it is now in our society.

            • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

              I’m glad my opinion makes your blood boil. It will give you a more realistic appraisal of what you’ll be up against should anarchy ever prevail, as I’m confident I’m in the vast majority on this. This whole idea that admitting that people can stop a person from gratuitously and sadistically torturing an animal he owns for shits and giggles necessarily opens the door to all kinds of unwarranted intervention is nonsense.

              • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

                Actually John, I am not at all sure you are in the vast majority on this issue, especially if you take a world view instead of just the USA. I do appreciate your subtle joke about what kind of animal lover am I. I heard all the baaad jokes about men who raised sheep by the time I was 12. In actuality I only have cats now since our puppy died of probable snakebite recently. By the way, am I supposed to love poisoous snakes too? I live in the backwoods where I see deer nearly daily and find the beauty of nature wonderful. But realistically, we humans have USED animals for thousands of generations. The past 50 years or so of city folk trying to introduce a new paradigm does not change the facts that we continue to use animals despite your emotional response to that use. If you interfere with people they will feel justified in interfering with you. I think it is pragmatic to avoid such conflict over something so trivial and unprovable as animal rights.

                • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

                  I have no problem with people using animals. I suspect that in anarchy the kind of arguably “inhumane” chicken farms that PETA hates and that free-range chickens are supposed to be a response to (I’m not up on the proper terminology because this isn’t a pet issue for me) would not be stopped because there would not be the near-unanimous will necessary to stop them. Probably in some communities dog fighting and cock fighting (and bestiality?) would be allowed because not enough people in the community are opposed to it and neighboring communities, while not permitting such things within their own community, would not have the near-unanimous will necessary to intervene in the other community. But I suspect that in most communities, with the possible exception of communities which don’t stop dog fighting and cock fighting and bestiality, and in the community within which I would choose to live, there would be the near-unanimous will necessary to stop a person from sadistically torturing an animal just for the fun of it. And there would be nothing unlibertarian about stopping such torture.

                  • You are absolutely wrong. Under individualist anarchim, no one would use force to prevent chicken farms. They may well be put out of business but that would be through boycott and other non-violent means.

                    As for where to draw the line on comments, disagreement is welcomed. I note that you often favor sarcasm over reason but that is largely stylistic and an expression of personality. I draw the line when aspersions are cast on someone’s sexuality because of disagreeing with them. Just to clarify.

                    • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

                      I think I pretty much said that in individualist anarchism nobody would use force to shut down chicken farms. (And I have in mind the kind of farms, and I’m sure there’s a name for them which escapes me, that are Matrix-like in their inhumaneness.) But I don’t know that this is because of a hard and fast absolute black and white legal principle. I think an individual anarchist community could prohibit dog-fighting for example, for the same reason that it could prohibit the gratuitous torture of a cat for sadistic pleasure. The same community could theoretically say that Matrix-like chicken farms are unnecessarily cruel when chickens can be raised on normal farms. (Of course natural law is the only law, and the difference in such communities would reflect their differing understandings of natural law.) Many anarchists are atheists, and for atheists especially the line between the consciousness of animals and humans is arguably not so hard and fast and absolute and black and white as to preclude protecting animals from the unnecessary cruelty of humans.

                      Anarchism means for me nothing more and nothing less than rulerlessness. Libertarianism means for me nothing more and nothing less than the presumption against force and the limitation of its use to the truly necessary.

                  • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

                    John, I guess I do not underestand your concept of anarchism. The idea of a community making and enforcing rules seems like some sort of feudalism not anarchism to me. I think that in a truly free society people would not interfere in other folk’s business from the purely pragmatic standpoint that that would likely cause others to interfere with your freedom. To get along with each other I assume that some”rules” of politeness would exist, but they would be more like the rules followed in a pick up basketball game rather than the formal basketball rules you play under in an organized game. Without governmental thugs (cops) to enforce “rules” at the point of a gun, people would have lots of disincentive to mess with other’s freedoms.

            • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

              Exactly what kind of an animal “lover” are you anyway? I can see why certain kinds of animal “lovers” would be especially motivated to insist that it’s nobody’s damn business how they treat their animals.

              • John…please keep the comments civil. OK? And, yes, this is an anarchist wanting the rules to be respected. I think you have a mistaken view of what constitutes anarchism.

                • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

                  This comment was only half-serious. And partly I’ve taken to heart the invitation up-thread to not be thin-skinned, by assuming thick skins on the part of other commenters, and responded to borderline incivility by arguably escalating. But nolo contendere. There is nothing contradictory about an anarchist wanting the rules to be respected. I don’t think I have a mistaken view of what constitutes anarchism. I would say I think you have a mistaken view of what constitutes anarchism but that might sound uncivil.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      Well written and thought out. I do not like the use of the word morality for its meaning varies a lot with different groups. My brother thinks of it as a religious term. Libertarians see it as a force of nature. I see it as another word for ethics which is a personal belief system not applicable to others.

      • Thank you.

        I also do not like the word morality but, since I have to use some word that identifies those principles of value by which people make life choices, I use it because it is, like ethics, the word generally used in philosophy. Rand used it exclusively for that purpose.

        Actually ethics is the formal term for the branch of philosophy that studies the principles of morality by which right and wrong human behavior is determined. A correct ethics is no more a personal belief system than a correct physics is a personal belief system. It is true that most people’s ethical views are subjective and mostly irrational, but most people carry around a lot of mythical and superstitious baggage about the physical world as well, but that doesn’t make objective physics any less true.

        Thanks again.


        • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

          Regi, I was not aware of the formal definition of ethics but was using the term as it was commonly used in my home growing up. It still seems to me that what is morally right or wrong is purely subjective unlike the laws of physics which are normally pretty unambiguous. Perhaps this reflects the fact that I majored in physics and only minored in philosophy eons ago when I was in college. But it seems that the concept of what is right and wrong varies so much from society to society and time to time (just look at the Muslim’s reaction to freedom of speech critisizing their prhofit) that morality or ethics has no natural meaning but only in relationship to a particular time and social condition. It is hard to argue from something like that for universal absolute rules of behavior as many libertarians do.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      The above was for Reginald Firehammer’s first submission.

  12. Children are not property.

    • Hello again Greg:

      I did not say children were property. Indeed, in the article, I was careful to always use the word “guardian” and not “owner” to describe the parent. And I explicitly disagreed with Benjamin Tucker’s position that parents own their children. The entire purpose of introducing the torture of a dog that someone owned was to offer a scenario in which my conscience and my libertarian principles are at odds. It was not meant to be a parallel with children. After all, I have said it is absolutely justified for a 3rd party to intervene when an act of violence against a child.

      • Apologies for the confusion. That comment was directed at one of the other responders, not to your article specifically.

        FWIW, I think the whole focus on “rights” is a red-herring.

        It really all comes down to moral judgments, in the end.

        How we judge our own actions, and how we judge others actions, is the only thing we can talk about empirically. By what standard are those judgments made? How we know that standard is valid?

        Until we can settled on a methodology for determining the truth and falsehood of claims of goodness and badness, we’ll forever be lost in a quagmire of empty concepts like “rights”, and the complex Ptolemaic system of calculating which ones deserve to win and which deserve to lose, when they’re in retrograde competition with each other…

        • No apologies necessary Greg. Or, rather, I should render one to you. Elsewhere on the thread I mention how much I dislike this branching thread structure. It never fails to confuse me. Who is it I’m speaking to now? And why does the remark not appear directly under who I addressed? Argh!

          • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

            I think part of the complication in following the threaded comments here has to do with the design theme. This is a narrow, fixed-width, 3-column theme design which, combined with the faintness of the line linking comments with their respective replies, makes it a challenge to follow. There are other pros/cons to threaded (and non-threaded) forum layouts, but here I think the design theme is the primary obstacle.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      Yes children are property of their parents. A hugely loved property that we parents are willing to fight and kill for. Eventually this property has the potential to become a free individual if the parents have free rein to raise them from unthinking, incompetant masses of protoplasm into the parents’ concept of a decent adult.

      • Plantation owners claimed slaves were their property, too. They also claimed to prize them highly. Some even claimed to ‘love’ their slaves. They did, of course, pay huge amounts of money to obtain, and maintain them. So its difficult to argue with their claim to value them.

        But the simple fact is, that human beings cannot be property, because they cannot be owned. You can only own yourself.

        That you chose to take on the responsibility of caring for and stewarding a child into adulthood is admirable, indeed. But that is not a valid argument for assigning the status of “property” to a human being.

        • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

          Greg Gauthier says: “But the simple fact is, that human beings cannot be property, because they cannot be owned. You can only own yourself.”

          That is a self-contradictory statement.

            • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

              You can’t own yourself because you’re a person and as you just said, people cannot be owned.

              • To clarify: they cannot own each other. The locus of control and possession of yourself is within you. Your life force, and your mind have dominion over your body, and no one else’s.

                Anyone who claims they own you, is false by simple observation.

                It is not a contradiction to point this out.

                • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

                  Greg Gauthier says: “The locus of control and possession of yourself is within you. ”

                  As it is for animals, plants, and robots.

                  Greg Gauthier says: “Anyone who claims they own you, is false by simple observation. ”

                  Then you conflate ownership with mere control. Whoever controls the thing, owns the thing.

          • Prime…that is a flaw in the term “self-ownership” because I do agree that people do not have the necessary characteristics to be property even if the property is self-owned. For example, you cannot transfer ownership because you cannot alienate your will. Frankly, I like the term and use it because I am so fond of the abolitionist literature and movement from which it sprang. But I usually follow the term with the explanation that what I am referring to is “the moral jurisdiction that every human being has over their own body, which is it never proper to violate.”

            • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

              Of what importance is will in the question of “self-ownership?” Infants, like other non-reasoning animals, lack a will. They potentially have a will, yes. But like all humans, they are also potentially a lot of things, including potentially inanimate corpses, which are something that can be owned. So as I commented earlier, I’m not sure why potentiality matters, as Rothbard claimed.

              What of the will of murderers and rapists? It would seem to me that if the inalienable will is they key to “self-ownership,” then no victim has the right to forcibly compel a criminal to make restitution or endure punishment. This may be a bit of argumentum ad consequentiam, but I bring it up because I think it would conflict with what you have written elsewhere on an anarchist view of crime & punishment.

              • cb750No Gravatar says:

                Given that just law and rights are based on what someone else does with aggression then a murdered can have force used against them in self defense since they initiated force.Negative rights are the expectation upon others not to aggress against you.

                • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

                  Yes, but how does that square with the claim that people are “self-owners” because of the inalienability of the will?
                  In order for a victim to inflict some punishment or compelled act of restitution on the aggressor, the victim must have a superior claim to the control over body of the aggressor than the aggressor himself does, no? The aggressor has lost, at least to some degree, his claim to self-ownership, his inalienable will to control his body notwithstanding.
                  Suppose Augustus the Aggressor kidnaps Vicky the Victim, and makes her a slave for 5 years. Vicky then escapes, and enlists the help of others (her P.D.A. perhaps) to apprehend and try Augustus in court, where he is found guilty of the crime. Vicky would prefer to get those 5 years of her life back from Augustus, but this is impossible. Instead she decides a very just and proportional form of punishment and restitution would be for Augustus to be her slave for 5 years. Would Vicky not have the right to compel this from Augustus? If so, would it not be because she has a superior claim to his body than he does? And if so, would this not conflict with the idea that “self-ownership” comes from having a will that is inalienable?
                  The will may be important, but I suspect the _inalienability_ of the will is perhaps less so. But if it is important, then I think we may need to give up the notion that there is a right to compel others for any purpose, including restitution or punishment.

        • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

          Greg, you miss my point. I do not consider children as fully human. Mine certainly were not. With luck and a lot of hard work they sometimes make it into decent adults who have become human, but a baby is not human yet, just a potential human.

          • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

            You have a point about kids not being fully human. I’m ashamed to admit that I tortured and massacred large numbers of toads in my day.

            • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

              John, my brother and I used to toss cats out of the hayloft not so much out of meanness but out of curiosity to see if you twisted them enough in flight would they still land on their feet (no). We were both smart and caring kids, but we just had not the experience to forsee some consequences yet. That is part of athe parents’ job in helping their children grow into decent adults. Which is one reason kids should be left with parents for the state surely does not love the kids as parents usually do so the odds of a kid turning out well coming from the system are necessarily small.

  13. PrimeNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy says: “Beginning with the obvious: an infant is an autonomous individual with the same rights against aggression as an adult possesses.”

    Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t find this obvious. I’ve neither accepted nor dismissed this claim. We had a discussion on here awhile back about abortion, which I think is essentially the same as the question of “positive rights” for children. It’s clear to me that parents have no ethical duty to care for their children.
    But whether children are property of the parents, self-owners, or individuals with the right to life (as a rational individual & “contractual animal”) is less clear to me.
    As I see it, the question of the rights of children seems to present a problem of transitivity when accepting the concept of rights that arise (in whatever way) from man’s rationality (Rand, Rothbard, Hoppe). It’s not clear to me how this applies to children. So what if they are potential adults? Why does potentiality matter? And why is it assumed that the biological parents are to be the “trustees” or guardians of the infant? If the infant is not their property, and since the infant is incapable of making the decision that her biological parents care for her, what gives the biological parents a more valid claim than any other random claimant? Why does infantility mean the child can be compelled or coerced, but being able to “properly rebel” does not?

  14. AnonymousNo Gravatar says:

    > an infant is an autonomous individual says: 3. Biology. a. existing and functioning as an independent organism.

    A baby isn’t autonomous, it does not function as an independent organism.

    > But do infants have “positive rights” which impose obligations for assistance upon others? The question springs from the helplessness of an infant for whom negative rights are not sufficient to sustain its life.

    Wait a minute, a few paragraphs ago you were claiming babies were autonomous.

    Rothbard’s answer is the correct one, and it is not cold. The only time coldness appears is when the parents do not feel the “unbreakable bond that most parents feel when holding their child”. In this case the parents are supplying the coldness, not the property defense system. Do not confuse your personal high standard of what parental behavior is morally correct with the standard of what behaviors a valid property rights defense system should forcibly prevent.

    A third party does not have standing to interfere in a fight between a baby and a parent; a third party does not have standing to interfere in a fight between a victim and a rapist. The adult victim can ask for military help killing the attacker in a legally binding way, the baby cannot. The baby cannot make legal deals because it’s a baby. That’s what being a baby means, it means being incapable of autonomous functioning as an individual organism. All the pediatricians who want to testify to “what the baby wants” can only give heresay.

    > The burning question becomes, “what will become of abandoned or abused children?”

    Obviously, they will starve begging in the public square just like they always have. What, you mean children in the first world don’t die that way? You mean this is a non-problem that somebody is using as an excuse to expand the State? But it’s for the children!

    Despite a lifetime’s experience witnessing for anarchism, the strength of your emotional reaction to this issue has overwhelmed your normal hyper-rationality, and pushed you into the mental realm of “there outta be a law” do-gooder. For you this is temporary insanity, brought on by extreme emotion. Abuse of dogs seems to do the same thing for Claire Wolf.

    Can you tell me what number and size of weapons would it take for the bad parents to threaten you with, for you to not make even the slightest, tiniest attempt to insert your coercion between the bad parents and their baby victims? To not even write in favor of it on the web, because it couldn’t help but be organizing for electoral politics? Answer that and we will know the shopping list of what it will take to be free.

    > What is the age of consent for a child at which it becomes able to exercise full individual rights?

    Historically, kids were considered to have the capability of being autonomous around age seven. At this age they could work, and earn enough to survive. The State has banned low wage payments and cheap housing so this is no longer possible, but that’s the State’s problem and we have no moral obligation to step aside and enable the State evilness.

    I saw a great picture on a web page a while back, it was a six year old boy with a rifle carrying several furry forest creatures he had shot. The picture’s caption was written by the boy in the picture, now grown into a man of age 70. He said his parents sent him out to bring home meat for the table, and the whole thing worked just fine. 64 years later the gun is the same, the forest is the same, the furry forest creatures are the same, and a baby homo sapiens can grow into the same capable six year old boy. Only the State is different.

    • Excellent!

      “Despite a lifetime’s experience witnessing for anarchism, the strength of your emotional reaction to this issue has overwhelmed your normal hyper-rationality, and pushed you into the mental realm of “there outta be a law” do-gooder. For you this is temporary insanity, brought on by extreme emotion. Abuse of dogs seems to do the same thing for Claire Wolf.”

      For those capable of objective thinking, mistaken thoughts are almost always the result of allowing sentiment to interfere with objectivity.


      • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

        You demonstrate not objectivity but fanaticism by following a flawed premise to an absurd result.

      • GilNo Gravatar says:

        Gee, and Libertarians aren’t barbarians? Civilisation demands basic laws and treatment for others. You, Rothbard & co, are barbarians who wants a world were might makes right. You claim “. . . as long as you don’t hurt others” which is vacuous since you get to determine what’s the harm. You quite clearly wants a world where you can do what you want and if others interfere then they’re aggressing against you and will be treated as such.

        • PrimeNo Gravatar says:

          Gil says: “You, Rothbard & co, are barbarians who wants a world were might makes right.”

          That’s clearly the opposite of what has been said here.

          Gil says: “You quite clearly wants a world where you can do what you want and if others interfere then they’re aggressing against you ”

          This is true of all ideologies. And so what?

    • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

      Your inability to spell “hearsay” is only the least of the ignorance manifested in your comment. Why anonymous Anonymous? I’ve seen no “objective thinking” on the part of the child abuse apologists here but only the baldest assertions apparently based on nothing more than slavish adherence to the authority of Rothbard. Your emotional attachment to daddy Rothbard is showing.

    • Hello. I do not mean infants are autonomous in the sense of their being able to take care of their own needs but in the sense of being entirely separate entities. That is, they no longer are nourished by the mother’s blood and food intake, they no longer breathe by virtue of her inhale. They are complete, discrete beings. There is no contradiction.

    • I do not dispute Rothbard’s answer. Indeed, I acknowledge its validity. If I am not comfortable with aspects of children’s rights and if I am still working out a position with which I am comfortable — politically and emotionally — then you will have to excuse me. Or not. As I stated in the article, I am trying to resolve matters for myself, not laying down iron principles or conclusions. If this bothers you, then you have to excuse me. Or not.

  15. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    Well, all I can say is, if I see a baby that’s being starved by its parent(s), and under libertarian theory it’s wrong for me to interfere, I will always do the “wrong” thing. Because frankly, if that act on my part is wrong, what under libertarian theory makes it “right” for anyone to interefere with ME?

    • Shawn: I would react the same way. And, as I said earlier, I think a solid libertarian argument could be made for 3rd party intervention in the case of imminent danger to the infant’s life. I don’t think it can be made in the case of non-life threatening neglect. But as I do not believe that children “belong” to their parents, there is not a property right issue in a 3rd party assisting a child. Frankly, I am puzzled as why my article is drawing the interpretation that children should be allowed to starve to death. I argue for a “presumption of guardianship” on the part of parents…not an established permanent guardianship. Tho’ I do think there should be a high bar to overcoming the presumption. Again…violence, the child’s stated preference, or life threatening circumstances. I think any of those 3 would do it.

  16. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    As a father of 6 children I think I have a lot of pragmatic experience about children and child rearing issues. First, throw away the libertarian concept of kids having rights other than through their parents. My experience tells me that both kids and parents are better off if the children are treated as extensions of their parents until such time as they become mature enough to fend for themselves. Children are not very human and anything but humane when they are young. One parental responsibility is to teach their kids how to think and act humanely. Since your kids are your creation, I do not agree with the idea that they have a right to run off and be with anyone who will care for them. Frankly, that just makes it more difficult to raise kids out of their natural selfish animalism into something resembling a civilized being. Governmental or social busybody interference just makes things worse. Since most people have an instinctual need to protect children, the government uses our natures against us to gain more social control in the name of “protecting” kids. Frankly, I have never seen a kid taken from its parents and raised in the system who was not screwed up.
    Many people seem to think that corporal punishment is somehow evil and abusive to children. That is 180 degrees out of synch with reality. Children have been spanked for thousands of generations. Sometimes it is the only practical way to get a kid’s attention. Yet society wants to tell people today to use timeouts and other non-violent methods of discipline. I can tell you that does not work with hellions like my kids.
    Libertarians make a big error in trying to extend individual rights to children. They only succeed in stealing parents ability to raise their children as they see fit and substitute the slavery for both parents and kids of the social service system.
    You are correct Wendy, no system will be perfect. I think that the best solution is to allow parents to raise their children as they wish because most of the time they love their kids as no one else possibly could. Mistakes will be made, but far better individual errors than the systemic mistakes endemic to social systems. We humans are individuals not damned social insects. Lets mind our own business and stay the hell out of forcing our views of proper child rearing on other parents!

  17. zhinxyNo Gravatar says:

    Roderick Long’s Abortion, Abandonment and Positive rights has been the most helpful libertarian argument on the subject of “duty” to care for a (born) child until another guardian is found, for me.

  18. Hi all…FYI, I am leaving today for a two week stint in Ireland. I have been
    invited to speak at a university in Dublin. I almost certainly will be
    unable to write articles while I am in Ireland and I won’t have the time to check into the Daily Anarchist. I’m sorry to desert the discussion but…Dublin awaits. Best to all…

  19. annNo Gravatar says:

    thanks this post

  20. James Anderson MerrittNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for this very thoughtful article, which, as it happens, articulates many of my own thoughts and misgivings on the matter of childrens’ rights — a topic with which I, as a child of a very messy divorce, have grappled since my pre-teen years. I wish I had encountered your article during the time when my wife and I were raising our son, who is now 21 and has been effectively on his own since he was 18. I think we might have studied Josiah Warren and tried some of his approaches, which seem very sensible and practical. Even so, our son seems to have turned out OK — he has a good job, friends, works and plays hard, and still comes home to visit every few weeks — but seems more ready to accept coercive, government-based solutions to social and economic problems than would make either of his parents comfortable. Then again, he spent four years getting a Berkeley education and living in a Co-Op! 😉

    After years of thinking about the topic, I have distilled my thoughts down to these: Children are NOT property, but neither are they wards of the State unless no other, suitable guardians are available. Parents (with preference for biological) are the best guardians of their children, but the State has a role to play in preventing or punishing clear abuse or endangerment. What constitutes abuse or endangerment is tricky: I tend to draw the line at the physical, and am extremely uncomfortable about cases of alleged mental or emotional abuse. I am most disturbed and confounded by cases, in which the parents or guardians are accused of abusing their children by denying them nutrition, education, or health care that conflicts with religious, societal, or familial traditions. I respect children, but do not regard even the brightest among them as fully-formed people who deserve the legal or social status of “adult.” Society needs to rediscover or create anew wise initiation rites, so that children can be confirmed as ready to assume the various roles that adults have; as each milestone is passed, the legal authority and responsibility of the guardians are reduced, and those of the child increased, until full adult status is achieved. The child should be able to instigate the accelerated confirmation of one or more aspects of adulthood, especially if his or her wishes and those of the parents or guardians are severely in conflict. Until adulthood is confirmed in one area or another, however, the child has a right to life free of injury or abuse, but is considered incompetent to conduct business as an adult or make binding decisions about his or her life.

    I consider myself very libertarian, and am struck by how … paternalistic … the above sounds. But really, if there is ever any proper time to be paternalistic, is it not in the raising and treatment of children? The younger me might have accused the present-day me of being some kind of crypto-slaver, or at least, of giving tacit approval to parental slaver culture. But the me I am today understands that the appearance of tyrannical authoritarianism is not always the reality. The otherwise strict parent or guardian who gives a child a fair chance at developing and demonstrating competence and maturity — and then acknowledges and respects what has been proven by demonstration — provides the most honest and loving upbringing for a future adult, in my opinion. We need more adults, to combat the tendency of this society and its ruling class to infantilize the population and keep us dependent on the people in charge. Paternalism is not the approach to take in running the government of a free nation. The government is not your mommy or daddy; when the people in charge start referring to themselves in such terms, it is time for us, the would-be “children,” to emancipate ourselves at the earliest possible opportunity.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      James, I think that considering children as their parents’ property is the least bad way of dealing with the issue of children’s “rights”. .No one loves children like their parents usually do, but more importantly, what gives the state any rights over me or my kids?!!! You accurately point out that the state is not the all parent but still think there are times that the state should intervene. That is absurd. The state has no role to play. It should not exist. Be careful of falling into the trap statists set for freedom oriented people about children’s “rights”. They are using your love of kids against you realizing that you will probably not think too clearly about such an emotionally charged issue. The bottom line is that kids and parents would all be far better off even in this society if there were no children’s service agencies. They exist to foment the power of the state, not to help kids.

  21. MAMNo Gravatar says:

    There is no obligation. As cruel as it is no one is responsible for another. Men are responsible for themselves no one else. Should a parent decide to kick a child out of their house, that makes them an ass sure, but it is not coercion to refuse to provide for another.

    Saying parents should be obligated to take care of their children is bordering on Statism, both ideas stem from the same root.

    To be honest though I don’t think of this as that big an issue. Evolutionarily speaking parents take care of their children, if they didn’t our species would have been dead long ago.