Apr 222010

On FormSpring, someone asked me whether I agreed with the following quote:

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.

Unfortunately, FormSpring managed to delete the question and my reply. Or so I thought for a while: it was actually just delayed in posting. In any case, here’s a slightly edited version of my FormSpring answer:

Oh my god, no no no. That’s horrid libertarian drivel. (I wrote that, then I googled the quote. I was right: it’s from Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty.)

Parents are obliged to care for any child brought willingly into existence (i.e. not aborted) and then brought home (i.e. not adopted). By doing so, the parents create a creature with a right to life, yet utterly dependent on themselves, and they exclude others from caring for it. To do that, then withhold the food, clothing, or education that the child needs to survive in order to become a self-supporting adult — that would be a monstrous violation of that child’s rights.

Parents are obliged to care for their children for the basic reason that the owner of sailboat cannot simply leave a passenger swimming in the middle of the ocean. Contrary to concrete-bound libertarian nonsense, to do that would be an initiation of force and a violation of rights. That’s because the captain has assumed responsibility for safely transporting the swimmer, knowing that the swimmer’s life depends on his doing so. The swimmer has a right to be returned to land, where he can fend for himself. To leave him in the ocean would be murder.

The child is like the swimmer, except without the benefit of consenting to the journey. His parents created him as a dependent being, and they are obliged to nurture him in some very basic ways (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, basic education) until he can fend for himself. Or they must find someone else willing and able to assume that responsibility.

If people want to know why I recoil from the term “libertarian,” the fact that views like Rothbard’s on parental obligations are standard fare should be a clue. Sure, he might talk about rights and free markets, but clearly, his whole understanding of those topics is warped by concrete-bound rationalism about initiating force. If implemented, the practical result of his ideas would be a monstrously barbaric society. I don’t support that, and I won’t tolerate it. I oppose it!

The people who advocate views like Rothbard’s — or tolerate them from their political allies — are not my political allies, except perhaps on some very narrow, concrete issues. And I don’t wish to make common cause with them, nor be included among their number. The mere thought of Rothbard’s views in practice turns my stomach, and I hope that other lovers of liberty have the same reaction.

  • Judy Petraroi

    Rather disingenuous characterization of what Rothbard advocated.

    Everything you said, about them being dependent in that are the legal responsibility of the parents until the age of majority, is peripheral to libertarian qua libertarian philosophy and contrary to everything else I’ve ever read by Rothbard…and that’s almost everything he’s published. Failing to acknowledge the centrality of familial and community bonds in libertarian philosophy takes studious ignorance of the subject.

    Libertarianism isn’t prescriptive for how others live. Austrian economics only provides a framework for understanding the economic consequences of Human Action.

    Insinuating that libertarians would ever leave children to starve, or that any community would allow such people to continue to participate in that community, is insulting.

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