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Some questions on Rothbard's parental obligations

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The Texas Trigger Posted: Tue, Sep 4 2012 10:56 AM

So, in Walter blocks Defending the Undefendable: Chapter 32 - The Employer of Child Labor (pg. 243),  he paraphrases Rothbard's conception of what a child is and the duties and obligations a parent has to his child. Block states (reiterating Rothbard's theory):

"The question arises as to what degree the parent is obligated to support the child. As a general principle, the parent has no positive obligations whatsoever in regard to the child. The argu- ment to the contrary, that a parent does have some positive obli- gations toward the child, based upon the supposed contractual nature, or voluntary decision on the part of the parents to bear the child, may be easily shaken. Consider the following:

"1. All children are equal in rights due them from their parents, regardless of the way in which they were conceived.

 

2. Specifically, the child who is a product of rape has as many obligations due him from his female parent as any other child. (We assume that the male parent, the rapist, has gone.) No matter what views we have on rape, the child who is a product of such rape is entirely guiltless of this crime, or any other crime.

 

3. The voluntary nature of child rearing and conception does not apply in the case of rape.

 

4. Therefore, the argument that the parent owes some obli- gations to the child which arise out of the voluntary nature of the conception, or out of an “implicit contract,” cannot apply in the case of rape, i.e., in the case of rape, at least, the female parent owes no positive obligation to the child, because she did not consent to its inception.

 

5. All children, being equally guiltless of any crime, in spite of any theory to the contrary, such as “original sin,” have equal rights due them from their parents. Since all such rights (supposedly) flow from the voluntary nature of conception, and the children born of rape manifestly lack this voluntary aspect, they, at least have no rights due them from their (female) parent. But their rights are equal to those of all other children. Therefore, no child, whosoever, has any positive obligations due him from his parents."

 

There, in the last sentence he claims, "Therefore, no child, whosoever, has any positive obligations due him from his parents." But, wouldn't this only be true if one were to accept assumption 1 that "All children are equal in rights due them from their parents, regardless of the way in which they were conceived"? I would like an answer to this, for what if one were to make the claim, “The rights due to a child from his parent(s) are dependent upon how a child is conceived”? Is Rothbard’s reasoning not refuted once one rejects the first assumption? 

 

I have a few other sticking points with this:

 

(1)  I know Rothbard was “pro-choice”. While the rape, and any resulting conception of a child due to the rape would in no way be a voluntary choice by the mother, could it not be said that the mother’s refusal to abort the child could be construed as an implicit voluntary choice to accept the responsibilities of raising the child until that child shows an ability to act on its own, and making its own way in life, thus making the child an adult?

 

(2)  The line of reasoning above has put me in a bit of an existential crisis. Part of me does believe assumption 1 above is true, that all children are due the same rights from their parents, regardless of the circumstances of conception, because no child is responsible for the way in which he is conceived.

 

a.      If the rights due to a child are none, then this does account for the rights of the mother who was involuntarily impregnated.

b.     However, accepting that notion whilst also contemplating the voluntary choice to conceive and give birth, then (this is where my crisis comes in) I do not see how the child is not due some expectation, some right, of care from his parent(s) in the best way that they can care for him. Again, the child cannot be held responsible for the circumstances of his conception, therefore it appears it could be argued that certain rights are due him from his parent(s) should they choose to have him.

c.      I feel like I can only reconcile these ideas together with my first question above: if the mother refuses and abortion, she is implicitly accepting the responsibility.

d.     But at the same time, part of me does not accept assumption one above, on the grounds that people are not born equal. Some are born wealthy, some athletic, some poor, and some paraplegic. Knowing this, who can say with any authority or certainty that rights must be an exception to this rule? Why can’t some kids reasonably expect rights from their parents while others cannot, depending on the circumstances of their conception? We could refute assumption one above by claiming that it is certainly not true that all children are equal in ability, or wealth.

e.      Lolz…but then again, relative poverty and physical ability are measures of equality that we cannot (yet) control, whereas what rights we guarantee each child can be, so long as there are no rights guaranteed.   

(3)  My final question: I think the following paragraphs contain a contradiction. If I am wrong or am misunderstanding the text, please put it out, and tell me how I am wrong/misunderstanding the text.

 

Given, then, that nothing but a voluntary agreement on the part of the parent could establish obligations to children, and that this argument fails, it is obvious that there are no positive obligations incumbent upon parents toward their children.

 

‘No positive obligations’ implies that the parent has no more of an obligation to feed, clothe, and shelter his own child than he has to serve the children of other people, or, for that matter, than to serve other adults who are completely unrelated to him, by birth, agreement, etc.”

yet sentences later…

“But the parent may not secret the baby in a hidden corner of the house without food, or refuse to offer it for adoption, and wait for it to die. To do this would be equivalent to murder—a crime which must always be severely condemned. The parent who keeps the child hidden while starving it (so as not to actu- ally commit violent murder upon it) has renounced his caretak- ership or the parental relationship others might be willing to assume.”

Ok, so:

(1)  The parent has NO obligation, whatsoever, to the child. He has ‘no more obligation to feed, clothe, and shelter his own child than he has to serve the children of other people…”

 

yet,

 

(2)  The parent has the obligation to find these things (food, clothing, shelter) for the child should he relinquish his guardianship over the child. He cannot let the child starve to death.

These seem contradictory and for several reasons: First, what if he sees someone else letting their child die of hunger? I don’t think the case can be made that the parent has the obligation to intervene and find a guardian for someone else’s child, as evidenced by assertion 1 above. Second, the parent does have at least one obligation to his child: he cannot let the (presumably helpless) child die, but this assertion flies in the face of assertion one above.

 

That’s it. Thanks. 

"If men are not angels, then who shall run the state?" 

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Well my own view is that parents do have positive obligations to their children.  I got this by combining what Block says here about abandonment with what Kinsella says here about how children become self-owners.  In that paper, Block says that parents do have one obligation at least: they cannot abandon their child without informing anyone, and if they do want to abandon their child, they must make it available for homesteading (i.e. available for some other person/couple to raise the child if they want to). 

All property owners have 'positive obligations' of some sort.  Namely, the property owner must do whatever is considered necessary to constitute non-abandonment of that property.  Take the example of a field.  A property owner cannot simply leave the field unused indefinitely.  At some point (say after X years), the field must be considered abandoned, such that someone else can homestead it and become the new owner.  If the previous owner returns after this, the libertarian court would not rule in his favor, because they would say that what he did (i.e. leave the field unused for X years) constitutes abandonment, and so the new owner did nothing wrong.  So we can say that if you own a field, and you want to continue owning it, you must: not leave it unused for X years, i.e. do whatever is considered necessary to constitute non-abandonment.

And so it is with children.  There are certain actions that constitute abandonment, and if a parent abandons their child, the child becomes available for homesteading, i.e. someone else (the courts will decide who) is justified in assuming the parental rights over the child.  So if you see someone else letting their child die of hunger, there is a course of action you can take to help that situation... a libertarian court may consider the parents' actions to constitute abandonment.  (See this thread for more about this).

In this sense, a parent has positive obligations to their child: they must do whatever is considered necessary to constitute non-abandonment.  I like this way of looking at things because it doesn't involve making ownership of parental rights a 'special case' of property rights, and it gives us a coherent libertarian answer to the difficult issues of both child abuse/neglect and abortion.

Rothbard and Block both baulk at the idea of 'positive obligations' (because it usually means something quite different), but this does cause them to say things that appear contradictory, like the one you pointed out.

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Graham Wright:
Block says that parents do have one obligation at least: they cannot abandon their child without informing anyone, and if they do want to abandon their child, they must make it available for homesteading (i.e. available for some other person/couple to raise the child if they want to).

What is the parent cannot find anyone willing to take on the child? Does the parent then have the right to let it starve? I am not insinuating one way or the other, just curious. I would imagine probably not, but if not, then is the parent essentially stuck in the care of the child, thereby increasing his obligations to the child?

 

Graham Wright:
Take the example of a field.  A property owner cannot simply leave the field unused indefinitely.  At some point (say after X years), the field must be considered abandoned, such that someone else can homestead it and become the new owner.

How can this number of "X" be arrived at other than arbitrarily, much the same way current ages to differentiate adults from children are?   

 

Graham Wright:
And so it is with children.  There are certain actions that constitute abandonment, and if a parent abandons their child, the child becomes available for homesteading, i.e. someone else (the courts will decide who) is justified in assuming the parental rights over the child.  So if you see someone else letting their child die of hunger, there is a course of action you can take to help that situation...

Some questions I have on this reasoning: 

(1)How long must a parent be said to have abandoned a child before it can be homesteaded? In other words, what is the equivalent of "X" amount of time of the field's abandonment for the abandonment of the child? A second? A minute? An hour? A day?

(2) how is this number not decided arbitrarily?

(3) how, then, can we equivocate a child with a field? A field can lay abandoned for years and then be used again. A child, being a living being, can only live abandoned for so long before he dies, unlike the field (in a certain sense).

 

Thanks in advance....By the way, I love your videos. They are really great. You are one of my favorite posters on the forums. Always really objective, non-emotional answers. Thanks for all you do here.

 

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I'm personally of the opinion that AnCap children's rights are a mess. And rightly so - the child is the epitome of the continuum problem - in the in-between of lack of sentience (early fetal stages) and independent decision-making (adulthood).

I have not read very much by either Rothbard or Block on the issue (though I do have the above article under my belt - read it last week), but from what I have read I am not sure I liked very much of it. To begin with, I disagree with Block's encirclement conclusion - in my opinion the NAP allowed for encircling unowned land and preventing access to it. It's not like people have a right to be able to homestead land which they cannot reach. I plan to write on this more and post an article (maybe publish?) because I think I have come up with an interesting reductio.

Besides this issue, I disagree with Block about abandonment - property rights are conceived as use + intent to use - especially in the Argumentation Ethics which Block and Rothbard like. Property rights exist because scarcity sets up the stage for conflict. Property rights are the way to resolve that conflict, or to decide "who is in the right." If a land owner decides he has no use for land any more and abandons it but neglects to tell the rest of society, he will not be in conflict anyone who claims the land. Why? Because he personally gave up the desire to own the land, and hence the land is now up for homesteading.

Lastly, I am also unsure about this idea of stewardship of children as partial property rights in them. Couldn't there be a child rights theory that simply accepts them as individuals themselves? If not, then rights must necessarily, by deduction, be conferred only upon not only sentient, but also intelligent creatures. The child is sentient but his logical circuits, common knowledge has it, are not yet developed. If we take this lack of independence, so to speak, to be the deciding factor in individual rights, then the case must also be made for very old people being able to be controlled by their sons/relatives.

Anyway, I am unhappy with children's rights, though I do not think that they would necessarily prose a large problem if an AnCap society is created.

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What is the parent cannot find anyone willing to take on the child? Does the parent then have the right to let it starve?

If you read the article he addresses this claim - he says yes, allow it to starve. He also adds that, although illegal, a mercy killing might not be scorned by society. I'm not defending or attacking this view, but that's what it is.

How can this number of "X" be arrived at other than arbitrarily, much the same way current ages to differentiate adults from children are?   

The evolution of law. Sadly, this cannot be pre-determined. As to the age problem, I do agree with you and hope there is a more appealing system out there.

How long must a parent be said to have abandoned a child before it can be homesteaded?

Block believes that abandonment requires social notification - so as soon as you abandon it it's free for all (wow, that sounds evil).

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Wheylous:
Block believes that abandonment requires social notification - so as soon as you abandon it it's free for all (wow, that sounds evil).

 

yeah, while I agree with Rothbard's view of the child vs the adult, I feel that of all of the tenets and theories (moral or otherwise) that Libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism offer, its theoryies on the obligation of the parent to the child are, to me, by far the least effective and cogent. More work needs to be done I think. For instance on my question above in my OP, for those who believe that abortion is perfectly moral, like me, then the issue that a rape victim becomes pregnant and refuses an abortion, she has thus accepted the obligation to raise the child. This however becomes more tricky if she is raped but cannot afford the abortion...I don't know. All of the theories seem to stumble all over themselves. None are very satisfying or convincing to me.

The only reason this doesn't make me a non-believer in the AnCap ideology is because I think the market will prove to answer these questions better than the state can.

Perhaps a cogent argument for something like this could only be developed out of necessity; once there is no state and we have to develop laws for these situations. But, then again, maybe its just that age-old maxim that never seems to die: "we must do it for the children." 


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The Texas Trigger:

What is the parent cannot find anyone willing to take on the child? Does the parent then have the right to let it starve? I am not insinuating one way or the other, just curious. I would imagine probably not, but if not, then is the parent essentially stuck in the care of the child, thereby increasing his obligations to the child?

As Wheylous said, basically the answer is yes.  If the parents have taken reasonable steps to notify other people that the child is available for homesteading, and they haven't put any barriers up that would prevent anyone from homesteading it, and still nobody comes forward, then yes the parent has no obligation to feed the child.  Sad, but what are you going to do if absolutely no one wants this child to survive?  This situation is practically unthinkable however, given that people care a lot about children (hence the constant cry of 'think of the children') so charities helping out less fortunate children will no doubt always exist.

How can this number of "X" be arrived at other than arbitrarily, much the same way current ages to differentiate adults from children are?

It can't be arrived at from the armchair.  There is no 'correct' libertarian answer for what X is.  It depends on the context, always.  Competing courts will tend towards the value of X that is considered reasonable by most people... no court would want a reputation of having X too high or too low.  So it all depends on societal customs.

The same kinds of questions are asked about the homesteading principle, all the time (e.g. gotlucky here).  People want to know (want me to tell them) exactly what they must do to homestead an object.  There is no answer other than 'the courts will decide, based on custom'.  That should not be surprising... as political philosophers we use words like 'threat' and 'violence' without pause, when we all know that the question 'what exactly constitutes a threat?' is beyond our remit.  Applying the principles political philosophers talk about is the specialised task of a judge.  We can but make vague guesses, and broad illustrations, about how a judge would apply the principles, based on more vague guesses about what people generally consider reasonable.

Some questions I have on this reasoning: 

(1)How long must a parent be said to have abandoned a child before it can be homesteaded? In other words, what is the equivalent of "X" amount of time of the field's abandonment for the abandonment of the child? A second? A minute? An hour? A day?

(2) how is this number not decided arbitrarily?

(3) how, then, can we equivocate a child with a field? A field can lay abandoned for years and then be used again. A child, being a living being, can only live abandoned for so long before he dies, unlike the field (in a certain sense).

1) As with the field, it will be determined by custom.  Will it be a second?  No, because a court wouldn't want to be known as one that strips parents of their rights so frivolously.  Will it be a week?  No, because a court that took no action against parents that starved their children for 6 days would become known as a court that fails to prevent children suffering.  With competition, courts will find the optimum in terms of what people in society consider reasonable.

2) I guess you could say it is arbitrary in the sense that there need not be a 'reasoned' argument for having it be one length of time as opposed a different length of time.  But the courts are responding to consumer demands, so it is not arbitrary in the sense of being 'plucked out of the air'.  It is only arbitrary if you also consider as arbitrary the ratio of thick-sliced to medium-sliced bread at my local supermarket.  There is no 'reason' for it to be the way it is, but it is not arbitrary because it is determined by the demand for thick-sliced bread relative to medium-sliced.

3) That's true, but to me that's an incidental difference, from a theoretical point of view.  The point is that all property is subject to this abandonment principle: that owning something obliges the owner to not abandon it, if he wants to retain ownership.  Most of the time abandonment is not a big deal, i.e. it doesn't lead to conflicts.  If I leave a newspaper on the train, or dump a half-eaten kebab in a litter bin, or leave an old TV outside my house with a sign on it, these are all customary acts of abandonment.  I am signalling to the community that I am abandoning my property and making it available for others to homestead, if they want.  Items that get abandoned tend to be of low value (otherwise they'd be sold), so you do not often get conflicts where the argument comes down to whether or not the property was legitimately abandoned.  This is probably why, compared to The Homesteading Principle, The Abandonment Principle (it's mirror image) is not so well developed in libertarian theory.  But it suddenly becomes hugely important when the property in question is a child, or even more so, a fetus, because these are highly valued objects which one might nevertheless still want to abandon (because the obligations of owning them are more burdensome than the obligations of owning a non-sentient item of property, like a sweater).

Thanks in advance....By the way, I love your videos. They are really great. You are one of my favorite posters on the forums. Always really objective, non-emotional answers. Thanks for all you do here.

Thank you, that is very nice to hear.

 

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Wheylous:
I'm personally of the opinion that AnCap children's rights are a mess. And rightly so - the child is the epitome of the continuum problem - in the in-between of lack of sentience (early fetal stages) and independent decision-making (adulthood).

For me, it all starts to make sense when you think of childhood as the process by which a child "homesteads 'his' body" and becomes a full "self-owner".  To begin with, the body (i.e. the fertilized egg) is owned entirely by the mother.  The child gradually acquires more and more ownership over himself, and the parents must gradually relinquish their claims which conflict with the claims of the child.  Definitely check out Stephan Kinsella's How We Come To Own Ourselves (audio here) if you haven't already.

I have not read very much by either Rothbard or Block on the issue (though I do have the above article under my belt - read it last week), but from what I have read I am not sure I liked very much of it. To begin with, I disagree with Block's encirclement conclusion - in my opinion the NAP allowed for encircling unowned land and preventing access to it. It's not like people have a right to be able to homestead land which they cannot reach. I plan to write on this more and post an article (maybe publish?) because I think I have come up with an interesting reductio.

I look forward to reading it.

Besides this issue, I disagree with Block about abandonment - property rights are conceived as use + intent to use - especially in the Argumentation Ethics which Block and Rothbard like. Property rights exist because scarcity sets up the stage for conflict. Property rights are the way to resolve that conflict, or to decide "who is in the right." If a land owner decides he has no use for land any more and abandons it but neglects to tell the rest of society, he will not be in conflict anyone who claims the land. Why? Because he personally gave up the desire to own the land, and hence the land is now up for homesteading.

I don't see where you are disagreeing.  Of course there is only a conflict if there are conflicting claims to the same property.  If the previous owner is not making a claim, there isn't a problem.  The problem is that he IS making a claim.  The new claimant is saying "I homesteaded this unowned land, so it's mine!".  The original owner is saying "It wasn't unowned, I never abandoned it!".  There is a conflict, and the conflict will need to be resolved by having some idea of what constitutes legitimate abandonment.

Lastly, I am also unsure about this idea of stewardship of children as partial property rights in them. Couldn't there be a child rights theory that simply accepts them as individuals themselves? If not, then rights must necessarily, by deduction, be conferred only upon not only sentient, but also intelligent creatures. The child is sentient but his logical circuits, common knowledge has it, are not yet developed. If we take this lack of independence, so to speak, to be the deciding factor in individual rights, then the case must also be made for very old people being able to be controlled by their sons/relatives.

To your first question, no, because such a theory would mean that there are no unique relationships between certain adults and certain children, and there needs to be for any decent society (in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, there are no such relationships... child communism, as it were).  We need this theoretical/legal category where a sentient being is neither a full self-owner nor a complete non-self-owner.  The parent-child relationship is only the most obvious example of this category.  But it would also include comatose adults and the temporarily incapacitated, where the carer-patient relationship becomes theoretically equivalent to the parent-child relationship.  And it may also include animals, where the petowner-pet relationship becomes theoretically equivalent too.  All these things can be analyzed the same way.

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Rothbard's view on when the child becomes an adult -- by exercising the absolute right to run away -- also seems problematic to me. What if a four-year-old runs away from his parents at the mall? What if a 10-year-old runs away from home and spends the day in the woods? If a child that did run away in these scenarios returned home, would they no longer be "adults"? I agree that any age to be set would be completely arbitrary, but I don't find his standard of running away to be particularly convincing.

Also, I used to think that because Rothbard argues children do have negative rights (ie. their parents don't have the right to aggress against them), then wouldn't it be justified to have a state whose only function is defense of children's rights, and is only funded by taxing abusive parents? It was hard to conceptualize a private "charity" protecting children's negative rights. Since children cannot buy insurance policies (only their parents can, and there's the possibility that they won't so they can abuse the kid). But this was the same sort of thing that plagued me with the question of protection of the rights of the poor. I thought, "Oh, so if you're too poor to pay for insurance, your rights will be violated." Then I read Rothbard and he pointed out, "How do the poor buy anything?" I then realized even today the protection of your rights is not guaranteed (not every act of aggression can be prevented) by any sector, private or public. So could we be certain that children's rights be infallibly enforced by private entities? No. By public ones? Also, no.

Addressing my own concerns further was the word orphanage. It's strange; this did it for me. I know what an orphanage is. If someone suspects a child of being abused, call the orphanage. The orphanage can then bring to court that the child is an orphan, on the grounds that the parents have given up the right to raise the child by violating his or her rights. Block writes about that principle here: http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/block-children.pdf

Now, there's the question of rights. I agree with you that since Rothbard believed in the right to get an abortion, wouldn't having the child implicitly subject the parent to providing for it (provided the child was not conceived as a result of a rape)? I argue yes. Rothbard's example in Ethics of Liberty involved a burning building with two parents and a child inside. A heroic stranger enters the building and rescues the child, while both parents are killed. Does this stranger who rescued the child now have a responsibility to care for the child until the child reaches adulthood? Rothbard said no, and I agree, provided the stranger had nothing to do with the original cause of the fire.

But what about the arson? It's possible the house was burning down because there was something like an electrical fire, but what if the neighbor was responsible for the house being set on fire, and thus responsible for the child being an orphan? I would argue that, yes, the arson must now raise the child, providing the child with the nourishment the child's parent would have given the child, on the grounds that the arson is responsible for the child not having parents. So then, it is justified to force to parents of a child to provide nourishment because, although birthing a child is not aggression as is arson, the parents are certainly responsible for the child's existence, and therefore the child's existence as an orphan if they take no positive actions to raise it.

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I have a unique perspective on this particular issue because I have lived it and have given much thought to this particular subject.  I have come to appreciate Einstein is 100% correct in that E-MC2.  I have come to believe I existed somewhere in the cosmos as pure energy and I wanted to learn something about Myself beyond the existence of a pure state of energy.  In order to learn something about Myself I converted some of My energy to mass in a conception arrangement.  I believe I chose My parents and My exact time and point of conception.  I believe in making this choice I established a trust whereas legal title of My developing self as a mass was given to the Man and Woman who are also parties to the conception.  As I did not obtain their consent prior to establishing a conception I believe they have no duty or obligation to Me because I chose them and I beliefve I received a full and honest disclosure before choosing them while in a state of pure energy existence.

If the whole point of My existence is to learn something about Myself I believe nature has a built in justice system and I am going to call it capacity or charge.  In an atom, an electron is governmed by its charge and a proton is governed by its charge whereas a neutron has no charge.  We could say the proton must be there because it is governed by its charge, the electron must be there because it is governed by its charge, and the only entity that is not governed by a charge is a neutron.  Perhaps only neutron like entites are the only entities in the cosmos possessing free will or have the free will to enter into a conception arrangement.  Perhaps while I am down here learning something about myself I will take on a new charge whereas I started in the cosmos with no charge but maybe I will return to the cosmos in a form of energy governmed by a positive or negative charge based on My own actions and choices.  Maybe I will return to the cosmos with no charge based on My own choices and actions.

As there is no evidence for any of what I just said that could be the rambling of someone wearing a tin foil hat but on the other hand anytime I have articulated the above I have often heard that the theory does not sound unreasonable and in a few cases some people intuitively felt there just may be some truth in that somewhere.

 

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