Libertarianism is an ideology which is appealing to logical types because it is based on clear-cut, simple principles which seem coherent, such as non-aggression and private property. I’ve already discussed how these principles are bizarre on their face. They are reason enough to reject this whole ideological mish-mash we call Libertarianism.
But there is another major issue that remains relatively untouched: the profound, repulsive, disgusting misopedia that lies at the core of Libertarian thought. It alone is sufficient to outright reject Libertarianism and its own bastard offspring, “anarcho-capitalism,” as evil ideologies unfit for human beings living on this planet.
Let’s start on the entry where Matt Bruenig expressed surprise that some libertarians were arguing whether there should be parental licenses, pointing out that Murray Rothbard, one of the founders of “anarcho-capitalist” thought, stated:
No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced… As a corollary this means that, in the free society, no man may be saddled with the legal obligation to do anything for another, since that would invade the former’s rights; the only legal obligation one man has to another is to respect the other man’s rights.
Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.
This is a statement of profound child-hatred, but it does follow logically from Libertarianism’s rejection of “positive rights.” If there can be no such thing as “positive rights,” then every individual must fend for themselves, without further recourse than free market charity if they fail. Parenting duties are therefore nothing more than a form of charity. And if children are unable to fend for themselves and receive no charity from their parents, then they must die.
You may be thinking that surely no one actually believes this and that Rothbard must really mean something else entirely. But this is no misunderstanding. He lays down his theory of children in chapter 14 of The Ethics of Liberty, and you can read it for yourself if you wish. Here, I mainly want to show his theoretical rationalizations of this evil doctrine.
Let us examine the implications of the doctrine that parents should have a legally enforceable obligation to keep their children alive. The argument for this obligation contains two components: that the parents created the child by a freely chosen, purposive act; and that the child is temporarily helpless and not a self-owner.
These two “components” of the obligation as imagined by Rothbard are both absolute nonsense. There is no such thing as a “freely chosen” act, and there is no such thing as a “self-owner.” So no, this is not the proper basis for the obligation to keep children alive. This is just Rothbard’s fanciful straw man.
The argument for this obligation is very simple: we should do no harm to other people, and starving a child to death is a pretty damn clear example of harming someone. Starving a child is a premeditated act of murder. Of course “anarcho-capitalists” are far too rational to believe in such a silly thing as intuitionist morality, so they cannot ever acknowledge this simple fact.
Parents do not, on the whole, kill their children deliberately because they have a stake in the child’s survival: whatever psychological motivation they had for procreating (however noble or depraved) can only be fulfilled by the child’s continued existence.
If we consider first the argument from helplessness, then first, we may make the general point that it is a philosophical fallacy to maintain that A’s needs properly impose coercive obligations on B to satisfy these needs. For one thing, B’s rights are then violated.
It is of no concern to me that the child is helpless. Harming a human being is wrong no matter how helpless it is. But we observe here again the compulsive rejection of “positive rights” presented as if it was a complete argument. What Rothbard tells us here is this: the child’s needs cannot possibly entail that the parents must satisfy them, because that would mean “imposing” on the parents’ “rights” to decide not to satisfy them.
But this is asinine. No parent has the “right” to murder their child, any more than anyone has the “right” to murder innocent people. Such a “right” should be violated, and must be violated. But Rothbard then raises a somewhat better objection:
Secondly, if a helpless child may be said to impose legal obligations on someone else, why specifically on its parents, and not on other people? What do the parents have to do with it?
Now here is a point where I actually agree with him, and I’ve said as much in the past: there is no possible logical argument demonstrating that having sex is sufficient justification to own another human being. The family structure is a bankrupt ideology from the get-go.
But Rothbard is not advocating against the family structure, he’s advocating for childism. He has no qualms with children being owned by their parents: in fact, he believes the parent-child relation to be a property claim like any other, that the child is literally an owned object. Now that’s objectification for you:
Now if a parent may own his child (within the framework of non-aggression and runaway freedom), then he may also transfer that ownership to someone else. He may give the child out for adoption, or he may sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract. In short, we must face the fact that the purely free society will have a flourishing free market in children. Superficially, this sounds monstrous and inhuman. But closer thought will reveal the superior humanism of such a market. For we must realize that there is a market for children now, but that since the government prohibits sale of children at a price, the parents may now only give their children away to a licensed adoption agency free of charge.
Think about this carefully. The child has already been objectified, so a parent may “sell the rights” to their child in a “voluntary contract.” Voluntary? Of course, the child has no say in it, since ey’s already an object! The only people who need to agree are the parent and the buyer!
Not only that, but we are then astounded to learn that this is “superior humanism.” A society where children can legally be starved to death and otherwise deprived of their basic human rights because they are literally objects of property shows “superior humanism” to the current state of affairs, says Rothbard, because there is an overabundance of children waiting to be adopted.
But even from a fanatical free market standpoint, his reasoning makes no sense. Rothbard argues that the price of children (who are a commodity, remember) is set at zero, and therefore there is a child shortage. But his complaint is about all the children who don’t get adopted. Far from there being a shortage, there is a vast surplus of this walking, talking commodity!
So much for free market logic.
Rothbard sheds tears about the rights of parents being violated by the government taking away children because of neglect, but then sheds more tears for… children:
The rights of children, even more than those of parents, have been systematically invaded by the state… Supposedly “humanitarian” child labor laws have systematically forcibly prevented children from entering the labor force, thereby privileging their adult competitors.
And there, I think, lies the chewy center of Rothbard’s childism: like many capitalists, he yearns for the good old days when children could be exploited as a work resource for their parents’ benefit. This is obviously not a new form of childism, but perhaps the oldest one that has ever existed, and holds that children exist, not to grow up and develop, but to serve their family’s material interests.
Because they pledge allegiance to unworkable principles disconnected from morality, Libertarians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they wish to protect children, they have to accept the existence of “positive rights,” which contradicts the very core of Libertarian theory. To accept the positive rights of children on the basis of vital need (which would lead to major harm if not fulfilled) must logically lead one to accept the positive rights of anyone who has a vital need, which can only lead to the complete destruction of Libertarianism.
Some have tried to reconcile Libertarian theory with child protection. For instance, Roderick Long has tried to argue that, while there is no such thing as “positive rights,” child protection is a “derivative” of “negative rights.”
First I need to explain to you his hypothetical, because there is a fatal error in it. He sets up a hypothetical where a pilot named Stan takes people up on a plane, and then abandons them. Long is trying to argue that Stan had an obligation to lead them to safety instead of bailing out, and from there deduces the principle that “[i]f S voluntarily places O in a situation where S’s failure to take positive action on O’s behalf will result in O’s death, then such a failure on S’s part is a killing, not merely a letting-die.”
That’s what I’ve been saying. And Long makes a clever argument for it based on consent: the passengers did not consent to just be taken up in the air, but to get back down as well. But that’s where his error lies:
And the passengers consented to being brought there on the understanding that Stan would return them safely to the ground; they would not have consented to be carried upward if they had known that Stan was going to bail out. Thus, if Stan bails out, he has violated the conditions under which the passengers’ ascent was voluntary; and so Stan’s total behavior toward the passengers (carry them upward and then leaving them there) counts as a violation of their negative right not to be killed without their consent.
Likewise, the child did not consent to be killed by starvation. But neither did he consent to be born. Therefore the hypothetical cannot possibly have any relevance to the case of child protection, and it’s surprising that Long, clever as he is, didn’t realize this. The child’s situation is not at all analogous to a passenger: it is more analogous to someone in a coma being taken on a plane, coming awake just in time to see the pilot bailing out. Consent has never entered the equation (the impossibility of consent implies non-consent), and therefore cannot be used to justify child protection.
Another standard response, which appears in Rothbard’s book as well as in David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom, is to claim that a child has rights when ey is able to run away from home. Yes, you read that correctly. Here is a quote from The Machinery of Freedom:
What rights should parents or, in their default, other adults, have over children? Philosophically, this involves the difficult problem of when a baby becomes, in some sense, a human being. Practically, I think that there is a simple solution. Any child above some very low age (say, nine years old) who is willing to arrange for his own support should be free from the authority of his parents. For the first year of his freedom, the child would retain the option of returning to his family; during this period he might be required to visit the family and reaffirm his decision several times. After he had supported himself for a year, his parents would no longer be obligated to take him back.
How is a nine year old supposed to survive without eir parents? Child labor, one presumes (aha!). And a child has no rights until ey runs away from home. What sort of magical transformation is this? Is there a specific distance from one’s parents that turns on the “rights” gene? By what transubstantiation does distance from home turn worthless property into human flesh?
The runaway solution is not only bizarre, but it does not answer the problem. It assumes that until a certain age child abuse is still justified. Before that age, the child does not qualify as a human being.
And that age is, for what reason only Friedman can say, determined by a psychological desire, and the physical and psychological capacity, to leave the home. How is this an even remotely fair test? The children who are the most abused and indoctrinated will be the least likely to have the capacity to leave. Pedagogy would become a game of who can best brainwash their children not to leave the home.
The contortions Libertarians have to go through to acknowledge and try to deal with the problem of child abuse are ridiculous. If they cannot deal with such a simple, cut-and-dry issue in an even remotely logical or moral fashion, we have no reason to care at all about what they have to say.
I realize that, as per their usual modus operandi, Libertarians are going to come on here (if any of them still remember my blog) and comment that they don’t believe that children are literally property and they don’t believe in starving children to death. It’s always Libertarians and voluntaryists who do this, at least on this blog.
Such comments are tiresome because they reflect a total lack of self-awareness. Obviously no one in their right mind believes that children are literally property or in starving children to death: that’s the whole point of my argument. If you’re going to make that sort of asinine comment, just don’t bother, you obviously don’t have the intelligence to grasp anything more than the most basic of arguments. Go watch football or whatever.