Children and The Family

The question of children's rights and familial authority is often regaurded as a grey area for libertarians, as it remains an issue of contention. I generally take a fairly anti-authoritarian view on the matter. While I think that Murray Rothbard's views on children's rights that he expressed in "The Ethics of Liberty" is an improvement over a more traditional conservative view, I ultimately do not find it to be entirely sufficient. In this regaurd, I genuinely think that Stefan Molyneux has provided a more rational libertarian view on children's rights and familial authority than Rothbard and this is his most significant contribution to libertarianism, although my own view is not identical to his.

On a normative ethical level I contend that the non-aggression principle applies to children just as much as it applies to adults and on a psychological level I contend that the imposition of any kind of physical violence is not necessary to raise a healthy child. I do not think that the consistant application of the non-aggression principle to children should be controversial, but apparently it is controversial, especially among many of the more culturally conservative libertarians. I see no reason why child abuse should be considered any more legitimate than adult abuse. That being said, I wouldn't necessarily want to blur the lines between a few light spankings and something more overt and egregious. But I still nonetheless would contend that spankings are not necessary to raise a healthy child.

Furthermore, for some of the exact same reasons behind why I oppose the state, I do not think that the mere fact that a child lives in their parent's household or the mere fact that they have a biological connection to their parents that this grants the parents the right to initiate violence and have completely arbitrary authority over every single aspect of their lives, nor does it mean that the child has an unchosen positive obligation to their parents. Even the capability of the child to run away is not a sufficient justification for whatever their parents do to them, and it is at this point that Rothbard's expressed views on children's rights starts to fail, since the love it or leave it argument is no more legitimate for parental authority than it is for a state.

In Rothbard's view, the child gains their rights as soon as they express the capability to run away. In my view, the child already has rights, it's just that their circumstances limit their ability to express them, particularly because of their dependance on their parents. This dependance is more understandable the earlier in childhood it is, but in either case it does not mean that the child has no rights. I do not think that children are the defacto slaves of their parents until they move out or get a job. In my view, parents are not owners of their children so much as caretakers. In a normative ethical sense, the child cannot be owned by anyone. Noone can be.

I think that families should be voluntary. The fact of the matter is that not all families are voluntary, which is part of why a conservative view on the family doesn't make sense, since it broadly assumes the benevolence of "the family" as such. But I think that it is just as ridiculous to be "pro-family" as an absolute as it would to be "anti-family" as an absolute. The context that is missing from both absolutes is the actual behavior of the family members and the consequential way in which the family is structured. A family can be generally healthy or abusive and parental authority could be nurturing or arbitrary.

I see no more reason to treat parents or family members as having intrinsic authority than to treat nations, states or corporations as having intrinsic authority. I don't believe in intrinsic authority or intrinsic value of any kind. I think that a transcendental concept of the family is just as irrational as a transcendental concept of society. Parents and family members should be judged as individuals and associate freely. An individual should always have the choice to disassociate with parents or family, as there is no intrinsic obligation. Otherwise, the family can be structured as a form of slavery, which sets up the basis for the authorian tribe when blown up on a somewhat larger scale and devolved.

The family, when it is voluntary, is the simplest anarchistic form of government, and it definitely deserves praise in such a context. However, when the family functions as an authoritarian institution, it is precisely what plants the seeds for the more large-scale forms of authoritarianism such as the state that libertarians commonly critisize. The initial breach of liberty always starts small-scale, at the level of the family and the immediately surrounding community. The logical and historical outgrowth of an authoritarian family structure is the authoritarian tribal system and monarchy. It is not a mere coincidence that monarchies are based on familial lines, and a tribe is essentially just a large extended family.

Another interesting point to consider is that in a sense authoritarian political ideology could be thought of as viewing political institutions as a surrogate family, so there is an important psychological element to all of this. While this tendency may not always be completely overt, it is nonetheless a fairly obvious connection. People may tend to want the state to play a paternal or maternal role because they feel that either they themselves or others in society are missing or in need of such a role or out of a feeling of obligation that can be traced back to a familial root. Likewise, the powermongering of various individuals can often be traced back to a familial root. As long as one doesn't dive head first into fruedian absurdity, I think such an analysis can make a lot of sense and be very useful.

Published Fri, Jan 16 2009 12:18 AM by Brainpolice


# lulzy said on 16 January, 2009 04:26 AM

Tangentially topical comment: Parents ought not be permitted to raise their children in a manner that threatens the safety of others. To raise a child to be racist, for example, is an act of aggression; an assault on society (spare me any drivel about society not being an entity; just replace "society" with "people" if it's going to drive you nuts).

Children are not slaves, property or possessions. They are not Play-Doh for grownups. They are a self-inflicted responsibility. Part of the responsibility is to not wield them as weapons against your neighbors.

The society has every right to prevent dangerous parenting by removing the little timebombs from their custody before they finish wiring them. Yes, this does have frightening implications: What constitutes dangerous parenting, and who decides? Let parents be on their toes about this and play it safe.

# scineram said on 16 January, 2009 02:56 PM

Now I will have to raise them racists.

# Brainpolice said on 16 January, 2009 04:24 PM


# lulzy said on 16 January, 2009 07:54 PM

Hehe, yay! Lack of substantive response = win!

It's fun pointing out inconsistencies to a crowd that prides itself on absolute consistency. (Don't worry, inconsistency is normal, which is why right-libertarians aren't: they don't understand this.)

All I did was take two of the supposed bedrock principles of right-libertarianism -- non-aggression and self-defense -- and show how they can support ideas that make right-libertarians queasy.

Thus demonstrating, once again (it's so easy!), that right-libertarians arrive at their worldview not because their favorite first principles necessarily lead there, but because when they reach a fork in the road they take the path that does.

# Genodu said on 16 January, 2009 09:04 PM

Being racist and lynching someone based on their skin color or ethnic background are two different things.

Its the difference between thought and action. One must interact with the other, however, thoughts only effect others when translated into action.

Racism is still stupid and insipid, and libertarians would be right to fight it and point out its absurdity. There's simply no reason to treat the teaching of racism as aggression against others.


# revolutionist said on 16 January, 2009 09:05 PM

Join here:

we need more libertarians

# lulzy said on 16 January, 2009 09:47 PM

Careful Gendou. You're dangerously close to being trapped into conceding that free will is nonsense. Shall I clue you in, or shall I let you mull it over a while? I'll wait.

Keep in mind that the entirety of the Austrian school hinges on free will; if it falls, so does everything under this domain. The whole ball of wax, straight down the crapper.

*giggles* I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl! :-D

# Rorshak (1313) said on 16 January, 2009 10:06 PM

How on earth does Gendou's comment have anything to do with free will?

# Gendou said on 17 January, 2009 02:33 AM

The Austrian school hinges on people making choices between scarce means and ends and acting on those choices. That they use some supernatural free will is irrelevant to the point.

"Free will" is nonsense. That is not a concession of anything, save that I think the issue of "free will" is stupid and wholly irrelevant to any discussion besides one on free will or determinism (to be clear, I don't think either one of those positions are entirely correct).


# unhealthy said on 17 January, 2009 05:39 AM

lulzy, I agree with you that the child is a self-"inflicted" responsibility of the parent, and that raising that child in a way in which the child will harm others can be seen as an act of aggression on the parents' end. However, I don't agree that, "The society has every right to prevent dangerous parenting by removing the little timebombs from their custody before they finish wiring them." You're right, that does have frightening implications--just as the implications of preemptive wars, or the idea that one is guilty until proven innocent are frightening. But also, I think you brought up a bad example. Is it right for one to punish thought-crimes, like racist ideas? I don't see how racism is an assault on other people (just like any political "incorrectness" is not assault). Getting back to the main issue though, if the child causes mental or physical harm to others, than it should be the parents who are punished--one for ultimately creating this "weapon" as you call it, and two for the psychological abuse previously given to the child. And I do think it is a good idea for individuals to intervene in order  to make the parents stop it or to get the child out of a situation if it's truly dire (indoctrination doesn't even come close though). But there is no need to think of it in collective terms, as in, "this is what society will/should do." Individualist terms are more approriate here. The societal underpinnings are already implied in any situation anyway, since everyone in one way or another affected by the interactions with others. And it doesn't make sense to think of society as an entity. What's most important is to focus on what the society is determined by, i.e. the individuals who constitute it.

BTW, great post Brainpolice.  Those are like my thoughts exactly =D.

# Brainpolice said on 17 January, 2009 09:12 AM

Lulzy: I do not think that non-aggression and self-defense are exclusively "right-libertarian" concepts. Unless you wish to consider Roderick Long a "right-libertarian", which would be rather silly.

# zefreak said on 23 January, 2009 02:09 PM

Lulzy, you are espousing a very shaky concept of aggression. Raising a child to be prejudiced, while immoral, is not an act of aggression on any person. One can be predisposed to distrust redheads yet remain consistently libertarian so long as the NAP is consistently applied.

As an aside, your egotism is laughable, your claim of "disproving Austrian theory" incoherent, and I suggest learning a bit more about the subject before making such claims.

# Solomon said on 24 January, 2009 03:31 AM

"I do not think that the mere fact that a child lives in their parent's household or the mere fact that they have a biological connection to their parents that this grants the parents the right to initiate violence and have completely arbitrary authority over every single aspect of their lives, nor does it mean that the child has an unchosen positive obligation to their parents."

Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but what about being fed, clothed, or educated?  Child-rearing is expensive and a great cost to the parent.  Starvation admittedly is less aggressive than a beating, but it may be crueller.

# Graham Wright said on 08 May, 2009 03:53 PM

Great post - I agree that Rothbard's view on this issue is faulty.

You say that children cannot be owned, and the parents are mere caretakers.  But what is a caretaker?  Consider the case of a baby being kidnapped?  The legal case will proceed considering the baby as the parents' property.

So caretakership in the case of a baby is similar to property ownership.  But for grown up children, there is no similarity at all.  So the question is when does this change in status occur?  Rothbard says when the child wishes to leave home.  This criterion has problems, but it is difficult to see any other non-arbitrary answer.

Caretakership needs to be defined much more clearly.  Murdering children is not a right that a caretaker has.  But what about grounding a child, or taking away a favorite toy for misbehaving?  Your view is that aggressions against life (smacking) are not permitted.  But what forms of aggression against liberty and property are within the rights of a caretaker, if any?