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Anarcho-capitalism and child abuse
July 11th, 2009 by Ken Hagler

For your ref­er­ence: Roth­bard against the Fugi­tive Child Act.

Rod­er­ick recent­ly post­ed a link to a creep-out ad for this sado-fas­cist hor­ror showThe Total Trans­for­ma­tion® self-help course for par­ents who are frus­trat­ed at their inabil­i­ty to uni­lat­er­al­ly dom­i­nate their chil­dren. (Just as a side­bar, I used to hear ads for this ser­vice or one sim­i­lar to it dur­ing the inter­stices for a nom­i­nal­ly lib­er­tar­i­an min­i­mal-sta­tist talk radio show — I think it was the Down­size DC radio show. I dun­no how that reflects on the show itself; I think it doesn’t reflect well at all on the tar­get audi­ence for the sta­tion that was run­ning it.)

Any­way, in reply, Andrea Shep­ard men­tioned some of the child humil­i­a­tion industry’s pri­vate intern­ment camps for way­ward youths (which active­ly encour­age anx­ious par­ents to force their chil­dren into the camp, in secret, on false pre­texts). In reply, Anon73 wrote:

Yeah I came across this stuff a few years ago and was hor­ri­fied by it. I remem­ber hav­ing this in mind when social anar­chists accused ancaps of sup­port­ing pri­vate tyran­ny since most ancaps accept fam­i­lies and fam­i­ly prac­tices gen­er­al­ly. If the alter­na­tive to hav­ing my kid be a pot-smok­ing starv­ing ston­er is to have them sent to Amer­i­can Guan­tanamo then I’d rather have them be stoners.

Andrea respond­ed:

You haven’t been pay­ing atten­tion to the same an-caps I have. I’m an an-cap and that sort of You’re a slave until you turn 18. It’s for your own good bull­shit has always been a rather hot-but­ton issue for me.

I think that Anon73’s point is a fair one against some anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists and not against oth­ers, and that it’s impor­tant to track the dis­tinc­tion. Anon73 men­tioned he wasn’t sure about Rothbard’s view on the matter:

I’m not sure how Roth­bard was on the slave until you’re 18 doc­trine but I remem­ber at one point he did repu­di­ate it. Not sure about oth­er ancaps. At any rate this is def­i­nite­ly a pri­vate tyran­ny worse than many types of sta­tist tyran­ny, which was the point I want­ed to make.

For what­ev­er it’s worth, here is the deal on Roth­bard, as it per­tains to children’s rights, and in par­tic­u­lar as it per­tains to children’s rights to defy par­ents and not to be forced into quote-unquote Behav­ior Mod­i­fi­ca­tion hell­holes, whether pub­lic or pri­vate, by their parents.

Rothbard’s plumbline posi­tion in Kid Lib (1974) and The Ethics of Lib­er­ty ch. 14 (1982) is that par­ents have a right to set rules for house­hold con­duct, as the pro­pri­etor of the house­hold, until chil­dren move out and take up liv­ing on their own. But also that par­ents have no right to phys­i­cal­ly aggress against chil­dren[1], that chil­dren should be able to legal­ly pros­e­cute par­ents for injuries com­mit­ted against them in the name of dis­ci­pline, that if chil­dren do not like how their par­ents are treat­ing them that they have an uncon­di­tion­al right to end their par­ents’ guardian­ship at any age where they are phys­i­cal­ly capa­ble of run­ning away, that this right shuld include the right to strike out on their own or to take up with any fos­ter par­ents who agree to take them in, and that nei­ther par­ents nor the State have any right to force run­away chil­dren to return to the guardian­ship of any adult against the child’s will.

In the ear­li­er piece, Kid Lib,” Roth­bard aims to posi­tion his view as a mid­dle-road between tra­di­tion­al coer­cive par­ent­ing and (his notion of) “Pro­gres­sive” any­thing-goes par­ent­ing, with most of the rhetor­i­cal ener­gy being spent on the lat­ter, so he spends a fair amount of time grump­ing about kids “kick­ing adults in the shins” and dis­cussing how he thinks that par­ents should insist on rules of con­duct and a cer­tain degree of uni­lat­er­al author­i­ty, but that it must be on a “my house, my rules” basis and not on the basis of using phys­i­cal or legal coer­cion to keep the child cap­tive. But the last, which he views as the fun­da­men­tal tyran­ny of the con­tem­po­rary par­ent-child rela­tion­ship, he denounces as kid­nap­ping, and as enslave­ment of chil­dren by parents.

In Ethics of Lib­er­ty, Roth­bard got more in-depth and went fur­ther. Most of the stuff about the­o­ries of par­ent­ing and house-rules is dropped, in favor of a more sys­tem­at­ic exam­i­na­tion of children’s rights, with a long sec­tion on the vio­la­tion of children’s rights by sta­tist law in par­tic­u­lar. Among oth­er things, this sec­tion high­lights the use of arbi­trary and uni­lat­er­al legal force to give par­ents, or the pater­nal State, near-absolute coer­cive con­trol over chil­dren. He con­demns the use of tru­an­cy laws and all oth­er Fugi­tive Child Acts to force chil­dren to stay in the places that adults have made for them; he also spends a great deal of time dis­cussing the use of inquisi­to­r­i­al court pro­ceed­ings and reha­bil­i­ta­tive impris­on­ment — through tru­an­cy laws, catch-all pun­ish­ment of juve­nile delin­quen­cy (which more often than not encom­pass­es anti­so­cial acts which are nei­ther vio­lent nor crim­i­nal and which no adult could be impris­oned for com­mit­ting), and, in the last resort, the use of arbi­trary PINS cat­e­go­riza­tion as a let­tre-de-cachet for the indef­i­nite impris­on­ment of way­ward youths. Rothbard’s posi­tion cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly rules out the use of force to con­fine inde­pen­dent chil­dren to humil­i­a­tion-camps for behav­ior-mod­i­fi­ca­tion (whether gov­ern­men­tal­ly or pri­vate­ly admin­is­tered), and in his dis­cus­sion of the juve­nile prison sys­tem against chil­dren who have done noth­ing to vio­late anyone’s rights but who have dared to skip school, have unap­proved sex, or oth­er­wise offend­ed against their par­ents’ or the state’s sense of pro­pri­ety, Roth­bard con­demns this use of force against chil­dren as noth­ing more than a legal means to extend and inten­si­fy the pow­er of abu­sive par­ents over chil­dren who would be inde­pen­dent, or for the state to step in if a par­ent isn’t judged to be vig­or­ous­ly abu­sive enough for the child’s own good.

As far as I know, even after his paleo turn in the late 1980s and ear­ly 1990s, Roth­bard nev­er actu­al­ly declared that his pri­or posi­tion on children’s rights was false. (As a gen­er­al thing, he actu­al­ly hard­ly ever repu­di­at­ed any ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tions, no mat­ter how many strate­gic 180s he did and no mat­ter how uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly he dumped his ear­li­er point on the floor in the inter­est of his new coali­tion; instead, he just swapped out his rhetoric and tend­ed to write a if he had nev­er said the things that he said before.) But by 1992, main­ly in the inter­est of demo­niz­ing Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and her asso­ci­a­tion with legal activism for children’s rights, he was scare-quote ridi­cul­ing any dis­cus­sion of children’s rights, declar­ing that chil­dren should quote-unquote get gov­erned by their par­ents, and denounc­ing Tibor Machan for sup­port­ing chil­dren who sued their par­ents for dam­ages or for ter­mi­na­tion of cus­tody. (I haven’t read any of Tibor’s stuff from that peri­od, so I can’t be sure, but from the date and from what Roth­bard writes, my guess would be that this was in response to high-pro­file cas­es like Kings­ley v. Kings­ley, in which a child was grant­ed legal stand­ing to sue for a trans­fer of cus­tody from his bio­log­i­cal par­ents to fos­ter par­ents. Any­one know for sure? If so, drop a line in the comments….)

Any­way, after the paleo turn, Roth­bard was look­ing to hook up with polit­i­cal allies who took rock-ribbed con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions on parental con­trol, so all that stuff about the rights of way­ward chil­dren and the use of state vio­lence to keep chil­dren enslaved to their par­ents was pret­ty quick­ly dropped out, in favor of a line about the state’s med­dling in parental rights, with folks like Hoppe throw­ing in paeans to the author­i­ty of the pater­fa­mil­ias and the order of rank with­in the fam­i­ly, and the occa­sion­al casu­al sup­port­ive shout-out from LRC to the won­der and mys­tery of beat­ing your chil­dren in the name of dis­ci­pline.

Of course, after Rothbard’s paleo turn, there were still plen­ty of oth­er non-paleo anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists who dif­fered with Roth­bard and with his new­found allies on all this stuff, and who gen­er­al­ly took some­thing more like the old­er Roth­bard line. (George H. Smith, for exam­ple, defends the ear­ly Spencer’s posi­tion against parental coer­cion.) And the decline of pale­olib­er­tar­i­an­ism (both as a strate­gic alliance and as an ide­ol­o­gy) since Mr. Bush’s wars and the rise of Red State Amer­i­ca has result­ed in a pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant drop-off.

So is the wor­ry about anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists and non-gov­ern­men­tal forms of tyran­ny, in par­tic­u­lar as they affect chil­dren, a fair one? Well, for some yes, and for oth­ers, no. For Roth­bard, both, depend­ing on what peri­od you’re look­ing at. Pale­olib­er­tar­i­an­ism was an impor­tant move­ment (almost entire­ly impor­tant for ill, rather than for good, but impor­tant nev­er­the­less) in the his­to­ry of anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ism, but it’s impor­tant not to con­fuse it with ana­cho-cap­i­tal­ism as such; there were plen­ty of anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists before it who took much more rad­i­cal posi­tions on rights with­in the fam­i­ly, plen­ty of anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists at the time who reject­ed it, and at this point in lib­er­tar­i­an his­to­ry there are few left, espe­cial­ly among anar­chists, who would iden­ti­fy with any­thing like the full pale­olib­er­tar­i­an pro­gram. But those who did, and those who still would, typ­i­cal­ly take real­ly awful posi­tions on children’s rights, which ought to be called out and denounced. On the oth­er hand, many anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists, fol­low­ing Roth­bard and in the more lefty cli­mate of late-1960s, 1970s, and 2000s lib­er­tar­i­an­ism, took very strong stances against the coer­cion of chil­dren, and indeed often took a stronger stance than most social anar­chists. (Social anar­chists who devote a lot of writ­ing to edu­ca­tion, par­ent­ing, or patri­archy typ­i­cal­ly have tak­en a very strong line for child lib­er­a­tion; the major­i­ty who haven’t, haven’t.)

Most anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists, how­ev­er, just don’t write about the issue at all. Pre­sum­ably because they either don’t think about it, or don’t care to talk about it, or both. Which is unfor­tu­nate but not sur­pris­ing: most polit­i­cal the­o­rists don’t spend much time dis­cussing the sta­tus of chil­dren. Not because it’s unim­por­tant to them (patri­ar­chal author­i­ty is very impor­tant to lots of the­o­ries) but rather because they have rea­sons for want­i­ng cer­tain bedrock com­mit­ments to be left unspo­ken so that they can­not be iden­ti­fied, and with­out any explic­it defense so that they can­not be challenged.

And for those of us (like me) who are anar­chists but not anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ists, and who think that the free­dom of chil­dren from 18 years of vio­lence and despo­tism is among the most impor­tant, press­ing, and uni­ver­sal con­cerns that a mod­ern-day Free­dom Move­ment ought to take up, I think the most impor­tant thing is to take what lessons we can from the best work avail­able and to expand it — to talk about how those who believe that chil­dren ought to be able to take up a free and inde­pen­dent life as they become ready for it, and who are con­cerned to help chil­dren escape from phys­i­cal vio­lence, coer­cive con­trol, bul­ly­ing and emo­tion­al abuse, and any oth­er assault on their bod­ies, lib­er­ty, inde­pen­dence, or dig­ni­ty, whether com­mit­ted by par­ents, by teach­ers, by the State, or by any oth­er adult — I think the impor­tant thing to do here is to learn from the best parts of what Roth­bard (among oth­ers) had to offer. What we have to stress is that this can­not be brought about by tak­ing out one form of coer­cive con­trol (by par­ents or oth­er state-approved guardians) only to replace it with anoth­er (through lit­er­al nan­ny-sta­tism, gov­ern­ment-con­trolled school­ing, coer­cive child wel­fare bureau­cra­cies, etc.). Rather, what I think the old­er Roth­bar­dian approach right­ly stress­es — the right of chil­dren to assert their own inde­pen­dence when they are ready to do so, not to be held cap­tive by over­bear­ing par­ents, and to have their deci­sion respect­ed when they decide it’s time to get the hell out of a house that they hate to be in — is the impor­tance of sol­i­dar­i­ty rather than res­cue. We must look towards help­ing chil­dren and ado­les­cents name their own sit­u­a­tion and make them­selves free — by oppos­ing laws that allow par­ents to beat and imprison chil­dren at will, and by work­ing in sol­i­dar­i­ty to sup­port the rights and the well-being of so-called run­away chil­dren and ado­les­cents; to cre­ate alter­na­tive insti­tu­tions that pro­vide them with a sup­port­ive place to go; and to strug­gle against the State’s efforts to force them back into homes that they hate and under the author­i­ty of par­ents that they risked so much to try to escape.

Note. Roth­bard talks about muti­lat­ing and abus­ing chil­dren as aggres­sions and as vio­la­tions of the parent’s role as trustee for the child’s self-own­er­ship. I think his posi­tion log­i­cal­ly implies that it’s ille­git­i­mate for par­ents to use any form of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment at all against chil­dren, but as far as I know Roth­bard nei­ther con­firmed nor denied that in his writ­ing on the top­ic. (back)

See also:

[Rad Geek Peo­ple’s Dai­ly]


One Response  
  • David J. Heinrich writes:
    July 21st, 20099:05 amat

    Prof. Long,

    I think that you are not ade­quate­ly char­ac­ter­iz­ing MNR’s posi­tion here. In the link you ref­er­enced, Roth­bard writes:

    ====
    Mom and Dad: Hillary is Out to Grab Your Kids! Hillary is the prophet of the chil­dren’s “rights” move­ment, a move­ment now open­ly backed by left-“libertarian” philoso­pher Tibor Machan, a move­ment that encour­ages 11-year-olds to sue their par­ents for “mal­prac­tice.” Any par­ent can be accused by some offi­cious bid­dy of “mal­par­ent­ing,” and since 11-year-olds and 9‑year-olds and 5‑year-olds are not exact­ly legal bea­gles, you know darned well who will real­ly be doing the suing: left­ist ACLU-type lawyers, lawyers cut in the mold of Hillary and Thomases. When the cam­paign began, ultra-left social the­o­rist Gar­ry Wills hailed the “bril­liance” of Hillary as a “chil­dren’s rights the­o­rist.” That means: the gov­ern­ment, the left­ist lawyers and social work­ers are out to get your kids! There is a lot of con­fused dis­cus­sion about fam­i­ly “val­ues,” about what these terms real­ly mean, and about what they don’t mean. Well, there’s one clear test: “fam­i­ly val­ues” means that kids get brought up, get gov­erned by, their par­ents. Anti-fam­i­ly val­ues means that oth­er folk; bureau­crats, lawyers, duly licensed social work­ers and coun­selors and “ther­a­pists,” the rapa­cious, pow­er-hun­gry, left­ist New Class, get to bring up and run every­one’s kids: all in the name, of course, of chil­dren’s “rights” and “lib­er­a­tion.”
    ====

    I do not take this as Roth­bard repu­di­at­ing his ear­li­er posi­tion, or sup­port­ing parental coer­cion. I think that he is, how­ev­er, advo­cat­ing that lawyers not take advan­tage of the right of chil­dren to run away, as a means to bol­ster gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions and under­mine fam­i­ly values.


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