Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Thursday, September 7, 2006

    More on Children as Property

    I've previously explored the idea that parents "own" their children. The Mises Institute today posted an article that discusses this in a little further detail, and makes mention of how we can determine, through the property rights mechanism, that child abuse is a violation of a child's rights while still maintaining a non-abusive parent's "property rights" over their children.

    the libertarian could argue that the parent has various positive obligations to his or her children, such as the obligation to feed, shelter, educate, etc. The idea here is that libertarianism does not oppose "positive rights"; it simply insists that they be voluntarily incurred. One way to do this is by contract; another is by trespassing against someone's property. Now, if you pass by a drowning man in a lake you have no enforceable (legal) obligation to try to rescue him; but if you push someone in a lake you have a positive obligation to try to rescue him. If you don't you could be liable for homicide. Likewise, if your voluntary actions bring into being an infant with natural needs for shelter, food, care, it is akin to throwing someone into a lake. In both cases you create a situation where another human is in dire need of help and without which he will die. By creating this situation of need you incur an obligation to provide for those needs. And surely this set of positive obligations would encompass the obligation to manumit the child at a certain point. This last argument is, to my mind, the most attractive, but it is also probably the least likely to be accepted by most libertarians, who generally seem opposed to positive obligations, even if they are incurred as the result of one's actions.

    Our author is one such opposed libertarian, and explores the nature of homesteading as a special case vis-a-vis our bodies. He then quotes Hans-Hermann Hoppe, from Hoppe's book A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism:

    It is worth mentioning that the ownership right stemming from production finds its natural limitation only when, as in the case of children, the thing produced is itself another actor-producer. According to the natural theory of property, a child, once born, is just as much the owner of his own body as anyone else. Hence, not only can a child expect not to be physically aggressed against but as the owner of his body a child has the right, in particular, to abandon his parents once he is physically able to run away from them and say "no" to their possible attempts to recapture him. Parents only have special rights regarding their child stemming from their unique status as the child's producers insofar as they (and no one else) can rightfully claim to be the child's trustee as long as the child is physically unable to run away and say "no."

    If a child can expect, by virtue of a right, not to be physically aggressed against, then anyone else intervening on the child's behalf during an instance of physical attack, is merely acting to defend the rights of another. Of course, this begs the question of whether spanking and other forms of corporal punishment could or would be tolerated in a libertarian society, but I'll leave that topic alone for the moment.

    The author of the article seems at a loss to explain how the "age of majority" is reached in a libertarian society, and how one transitions from "child" to "adult". For that, I turn to Michael Z. Williamson, and his explanation in the science fiction novel Freehold. Essentially, anyone wishing to be treated as an adult states the following in front of witnesses:

    I, *NAME*, before witness, declare myself an adult, responsible for my actions, and able to enter contract. I accept my debts and duties as a Resident of *WHEREVER*.

    Seems simple enough to me.

    Posted by Tom, 9/7/2006 6:29:14 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sounds nice in theory, but I still see problems with it. From a psychological standpoint, children think in concrete terms and cannot understand concepts like freedom, liberty, and even responsibility. A child can, however, decide he does not like the broccoli offered him for dinner and can fantasize that being "free" would mean no more broccoli. Allowing such a child to make a decision to stand before a tribunal and move into adulthood on the basis of his confession is not appropriate, imo. I'm not willing to defend the idea that age is a more valid way to determine adulthood either. Perhaps if a child had to demonstrate the ability to care for him/herself with a series of criteria, that would be more suitable to my way of thinking. Yet that could mean that a child is still the responsibility of his/her parents well into older ages. A child with a mental disability could forever be his parent's obligation. (And maybe should be?)

    -- PastorFreud

    This must sort of spin you around a bit...
    On one hand you have the "children as property" (unless there is physical aggression)theory...
    On the other hand the "Jesus Camp" sort of puts you in a twist (understandably so).
    What I mean is, the kids are being raised and trained by a belief that their parent (owner) has - and in their opinion, has the best interest of the child at heart. From a libertarian view, they are well within their bounds, because there's nothing physically hurtful going on. How far does this reach for psychological health? When is the parent (owner) crossing a line? Who makes that decision? Who steps in and with what extent of force? Or not at all?
    Waiting for part II of this blog! Interesting stuff!

    -- Annie