The connection between political freedom and the way we treat children is rarely made, although they are sometimes compared in a metaphorical way (i.e. that treating children better is nebulously connected to the way we treat each other). And when the direct connection is made, it is on the grounds that treating children better interferes with the freedom of parents to treat their children like shit. I don’t know of anyone (except other anti-childists) who makes the claim that political freedom and anti-childism are directly connected.
I’ve given my argument as to why enforcing freedom of thought for adults but not for children is contradictory: a person who has been raised for 18 years under indoctrination cannot magically gain freedom of thought when they attain adult age. Their capacity to think freely has been majorly stunted.
But I want to generalize and reinforce the point here, and talk about its political implications. The argument I made about freedom of thought applies more generally to any freedom. The way we are raised, educated, and treated, as well as the social status and economic status of our family, has a direct bearing on how we are able to use our freedoms when we become adults. As a general principle, the more freedom we have as children, the more freedom we have as adults (and, as I can already foresee the objections: no, freedom is not licence, neither in children nor in adults).
This relation is directly due to childism. The fact that a child’s social status and economic status are linked to that of its family is the product of a childist system. The fact that children are raised, educated, and treated in ways which make them unfree is the product of a childist system. It is the result of societies which do not value children in themselves, as human beings, only as potentialities.
People who are raised unfree cannot be free later in life. Political freedom is necessarily, and strongly, curtailed by childism. And, to make the problem even worse, people who are not used to freedom when children will not miss it when they are adults. Not only that, but they will not even know what’s missing.
This is not a small consequence. We have a tendency to treat childism as a background fact, simply because we’re not aware it’s even there (I certainly include myself, up to a few months ago, in that “we”). Atheists have a dim awareness of the link insofar as religion is concerned, but it’s not something you’re encouraged to think about, since we live in a childist society where the right to indoctrinate is basically sacrosanct. Besides, most atheists are liberals, not radicals, so they don’t even have the tools to identify childism, let alone oppose it.
And I haven’t talked about the link between childism and the desire to suppress freedoms. There does seem to be some correlation between people who hate children and people who want to suppress freedoms (conservatives, fundamentalists, and also Libertarians: I’ve written about the latter connection). I don’t think these two factors are necessarily related by causality: it seems more likely that people tend to both hate children and want to suppress freedom because they are more authoritarian. Children are just more easy to exert control over, because of their dependent situation.
We must therefore make explicit that with all political ideologies comes a political theory of childhood, and that the latter has a direct bearing on the freedoms people are allowed under that political ideology. A society where children are raised in an authoritarian manner is an authoritarian society, regardless of what rights are theoretically granted to people. I think this may be why, by the way, many people don’t understand the term “utopia”: because they don’t recognize authoritarianism when it’s applied to child-raising, they think coercing everyone to fit a model, and then granting these uniform citizens freedoms at adulthood, makes a society a utopia, but they also clearly recognize that this is a terrible state of affairs.
I think there are at least three important parts to those theories:
1. What is the nature and purpose of childhood?
2. How should parents behave towards children? What should they be allowed to do and what should they be prevented from doing?
3. How should children be made ready for adulthood? (social roles, education, procreation, etc)
To take a really simple example, you can look at Libertarianism. I’ve linked above to my analysis of Libertarianism and childism. In Libertarianism, all people can be defined as self-owned objects: children not having self-ownership, childhood is therefore the state of being an owned object. The purpose of childhood is whatever the child’s owners decide it is. There are basically no rules that can be made against parents, apart from laws against assault or murder (i.e. children still have “negative rights,” but they do not have “positive rights,” including the right to be fed or clothed by their parents). This is basically ultra-authoritarianism. And we find that the Libertarian ideology, if it was allowed to rule wholesale, would be a system of ultra-authoritarianism (capitalism to the nth degree, coupled with a government too weak to protect anyone from corporate abuses).
Other political ideologies are not as abstract and clear-cut as Libertarianism, and therefore theories may be harder to formulate, but we can at least look at how existing systems treat children. So what is the political theory of childhood in our capital-democratic societies?
1. Childhood serves two purposes: to prepare the child to be a productive member of society and a generous consumer, and to ensure that the child conforms to the institutions which underpin the democratic order (gender and religion for marriage and procreation, race and schooling for class sorting, race and patriotism for supporting the nation-state, and so on).
2. In general, parents are not allowed to assault children’s bodies, but control over those bodies, and the children’s minds, are fair game.
3. Children are prepared for adulthood through a long, rigorous, and pointless process of schooling. They are also indoctrinated by the media, each other, and also, generally, by their parents.
My general theory of childhood in capital-democracies is described as the alignment paradigm of childism: children exist as potential human beings and must be made to align with the needs and values of their society. It follows from this principle that children only need to be protected insofar as this protection ensures they will be aligned with those needs and values: protecting their minds would go against that purpose, but protecting their bodies does not (if one correctly believes that corporal punishment does not produce more obedient citizens or better consumers, and that a maimed or dead child does not grow up to be a good citizen or consumer).
What would a more rational, anti-childist theory of childhood be like? It would have to be based on the premise that children are full human beings. From this premise, much of the rest can be easily deduced, since we already have ethical rules on how to deal with other human beings (i.e. people that we don’t simply dehumanize). Childhood serves one, and only one, purpose: for children to be children and develop naturally. There should be no further objective, no ideal to mold children around, no isolation of children by family units, and nothing else which interferes with the natural development of children. Children are not potential human beings who need to be prepared for anything. They are not objects, self-owned or not. An anti-childist theory of childhood must categorically deny, and stand opposed to, any theory build on childist grounds.