“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. ….This is like a playbook – a blueprint – for destroying a human society. It also demonstrates how a person starting with a profoundly flawed ethical theory like natural rights uses deductive logic and ends up in an insane asylum.
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. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.) This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g. by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (Though, as we shall see below, in a libertarian society the existence of a free baby market will bring such ‘neglect’ down to a minimum.) (Rothbard 1998: 100–101).
“The mother, then, becomes at the birth of her child its ‘trustee-owner,’ legally obliged only not to aggress against the child’s person, since the child possesses the potential for self-ownership. Apart from that, so long as the child lives at home, it must necessarily come under the jurisdiction of its parents, since it is living on property owned by those parents. Certainly the parents have the right to set down rules for the use of their home and property for all persons (whether children or not) living in that home. …
“… the child has his full rights of self-ownership when he demonstrates that he has them in nature – in short, when he leaves or ‘runs away’ from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own. Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return. The absolute right to run away is the child’s ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age.
Now if a parent may own his child (within the framework of nonaggression 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.” (Rothbard 1998: 103).
“In the libertarian society, then, the mother would have the absolute right to her own body and therefore to perform an abortion; and would have the trustee-ownership of her children, an ownership limited only by the illegality of aggressing against their persons and by their absolute right to run away or to leave home at any time. Parents would be able to sell their trustee-rights in children to anyone who wished to buy them at any mutually agreed price.” (Rothbard 1998: 104).
(1) parents may legally kill their children by neglect (and there are no criminal laws in any case, only private laws).If parents have neither the legal responsibility to raise their children nor the power to control and discipline them, then the new generation of human beings can be neglected and will to a significant degree be incapable of being formed into well-adjusted, educated, moral human beings.
(2) children can run away from home as soon as they are physically able, and no coercion can be used to make them return;
(3) while parents have the right to “set down rules for the use of their home and property” there is no ability to enforce such rules if children wish to run away.
(4) parents may sell their young children as commodities.
You could not even keep children in school by force in such a system. So say goodbye to any hope for an effective education system.
Since there will be no child labour laws in Rothbardtopia (Rothbard 2009: 1111–1112), there is no barrier to businesses’ exploitation of children either, nor indeed to businesses people buying children to employ.
It is a surprise to me that anyone can take Rothbard seriously at all.
Rothbard’s insistence that we must be free from any coercive authority done without our consent entails a radical violation of one fundamental part of human nature: the relationship of parents to children.
How can you raise children without using coercion without their consent, especially the young males who frequently require very strong discipline indeed? You can’t. The alternative is letting children run wild.
Rothbard, M. N. 1998. The Ethics of Liberty. New York University Press, New York, N.Y. and London.
Rothbard, M. N. 2009. Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market: The Scholar’s Edition (2nd edn.). Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.