Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Insanity of Rothbard’s Ethics in Relation to Children

From Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty:
“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. ….

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).
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.

In Rothbardtopia:
(1) parents may legally kill their children by neglect (and there are no criminal laws in any case, only private laws).

(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.
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.

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.


  1. Indeed. Rothbard and his ilk cannot handle children. Everyone's a child t some point. As I pointed out repeatedly on Murphy's blog, a theory that fails on 100% of those it is applied to is seriously lacking.

  2. I'm pretty sure Rothbard and his wife never had any children, that might explain the absurdity of this.

    Then again Hans Herman Hoppe may have the "solution"

    "In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one's own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They – the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism – will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order."

    Democracy: The God that Failed p.218

    Self chartered corporate states/company towns or as Hans calls them "covenant communities" will criminalize and punish people for not engaging in normal family behavior.

    1. Yah, Hoppe's own harsh policies actually stem from the severe and devastating contradictions and problems of Rothbard's own anarcho-capitalist system.

      Hoppe's psycho-libertarian world is brutal but -- give him credit! -- refreshingly honest!!

    2. There is a lot of refreshingly brutal honesty in "Democracy: The God that Failed"

      "A member of the human race who is completely incapable of understanding the higher productivity of labor performed under a division of labor based on private property is not properly speaking a person… but falls instead into the same moral category as an animal – of either the harmless sort (to be domesticated and employed as a producer or consumer good, or to be enjoyed as a “free good”) or the wild and dangerous one (to be fought as a pest). On the other hand, there are members of the human species who are capable of understanding the [value of the division of labor] but...who knowingly act wrongly… [B]esides having to be tamed or even physically defeated [they] must also be punished… to make them understand the nature of their wrongdoings and hopefully teach them a lesson for the future."
      "Not surprisingly, then, from the outset the libertarian movement attracted an unusually high number of abnormal and persevere followers. Subsequently, the countercultural ambiance and multicultural-relativisitc "tolerance" of the libertarian movement attracted even greater numbers of misfits, personal or professional failures, or plain losers. Murray Rothbard, in disgust, called them the "nihlo-libertarians" and identified them as the "modal" (typical and representative) libertarians. They fantasized of a society where everyone would be free to choose and cultivate whatever nonaggressive lifestyle, career or character he wanted, and where, as a result of free-market economics, everyone could do so on an elevated level of general prosperity. Ironically, the movement that had set out to dismantle the state and restore private property and market economics was largely appropriated, and its appearance shaped, by the mental and emotional products of the welfare state: the class of permanent adolescents."
      "True libertarians cannot emphasize enough, is that the restoration of private property rights and laissez-faire economics implies a sharp and drastic increase in social “discrimination” and will swiftly eliminate most if not all of the multi-cultural-egalitarian life style experiments so close to the heart of left libertarians. [...] In other words libertarians must be radical and uncompromising conservatives. Contrary to the left libertarians assembled around such institutions as the Cato Institute and the Institute for Justice, for instance, who seek the assistance of the central government in the enforcement of various policies of nondiscrimination and call for nondiscriminatory or "free" immigration policy, true libertarians must embrace discrimination"
      "There would be signs regarding entrance requirements to the town, and, once in town, requirements for entering specific pieces of property(for example, no beggars, bums, or homeless, but also no homosexuals, drug users, Jews, Moslems, Germans, or Zulus), and those who do not meet these entrance requirements would be kicked out as trespassers."

      Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Democracy: The God That Failed. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001. 207, 208, 211.

    3. Walter Block has a pretty good counter to Hoppe's views. I don't think Hoppe is a real libertarian at all but a hyper-conservative anarchist.

      Block's retort to the above quotation is:

      "But there is the rub: Only owners of private property are justified, in the libertarian legal code, of excluding from entry. It would not at all be legitimate for Hoppe’s “towns and villages,” in contrast, to engage in any such activity. For these are public entities, and hence illicit. The point is, suppose that the town or village passed a law prohibiting the entry of a bum, or a Jew, or a Christian, but that one of the
      local property owners wanted to invite such a person into his home or store.
      Then, for the town council to forbid this access would be a violation of private
      property rights, the very bedrock of libertarianism"

    4. "a hyper-conservative anarchist"

      A total contradiction in terms. The idea that Hoppe is an anarchist is laughable. What the mad advocates is dictatorship.

      so-called 'anarcho-capitalism' is a total fraud.

  3. I've sometimes wondered if Rothbard's ridiculous arguments about childrearing are really an elaborate parody of arguments about abortion. Somewhat earlier in this work he agrees with abortion advocates that a women's right to her body entail a right to abortion. And logical consistency, he goes on to say, entails that if a women's right to her body and labor protects the right to kill by intention, surely it also protects the right to kill by omission. After all, compelling non-neglect is an infringement upon personal autonomy. Wherein lies the difference? Phrased this way, it's a somewhat interesting question in my opinion. But alas, he meant it quite seriously.