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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8062/but-what-about-the-children/

But What About the Children?

April 30, 2008 by

The real issue concerns the locus of the control. Does it belong to the family or the state? When there is a dispute, to whom does the presumption of innocence belong? It is not enough to say, here is a bad family environment, so of course the state should control the outcome. When it comes to the power of the state over the family, there is no such thing as a judicious use. The state has every reason to invent excuses to destroy families, and the families themselves have no choice but to crawl and beg.

State campaigns for the welfare of children have long been a major justification for the expansion of Leviathan. This is the primary basis for the war on drugs, which has robbed us of so many civil liberties. It is the basis for the nationalization of education that is taking place, administration by administration, in the name of preventing any child from being left behind. If the Internet is ever regulated in the United States the way it is in China and parts of Europe, it will be in the name of protecting the children. Indeed, it is possible to erect a totalitarian state in the name of helping the children. FULL ARTICLE


TLWP Sam April 30, 2008 at 9:47 am

Funny picture to go with the article for those in the know! X)

Pierre April 30, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Polygamy and underage marriage? Try rape and indoctrination. Had the state not put a stop to this rape factory, what would we have done with the handicapped inbred offsprings?
Other than that, I agree with the article.

Christopher Brennan April 30, 2008 at 2:21 pm

I still have a few questions regarding the typical Rothbardian answer to children and rights.

Can you, for instance, inject your child with steroids? If the answer is no then why is it then OK to inject them with the MMR vaccine for example, or even to feed them milk? Such a thing might be deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ but surely such terms are entirely subjective.

Christopher Brennan April 30, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Note: I am a Rights Theorist myself mind. I just find the current application to children to be in need of further refinement.

Jordan April 30, 2008 at 3:47 pm

*The Case of the Accidental Hard Lemonade* is regrettable, I agree. But it is hardly *Jarndyce and Jarndyce*. This is not a Dickensian legal monster crushing all before it.

That is to say, I think your characterization of it as “the gears of the bureaucracy” grinding away, and “ruining people’s lives for no good reason” is hyperbolic.

The father was precluded from seeing his son for one week. He was humiliated (people writing about it and using his name is doing nothing to help, there, by the way) and will probably want to seek some redress — but absolutely nobody’s life was ruined.

The fact that none of the vodka was ingested by the child is immaterial. (By the way, would you prefer children to be able to drink vodka? This seems implied in your argument.)

The key, here, is that a person explicitly hired to protect the public was…*gasp*…protecting the public!

He got the alcohol away from the child before the child could drink it. And since giving alcohol to children is dangerous the father was considered a danger.

When it turned out to be a misunderstanding, apologies and restitution were made.

This all seems very reasonable to me.

I would appreciate it if you didn’t put more emphasis on this event than it will bear, or use it to support your belief in the impending totalitarian state.

Reasonable? April 30, 2008 at 5:44 pm

The behavior of all government parties involved was not reasonable at all. It was self serving at best. They saw a situation and immediately recognized that it was a misunderstanding. They could have stopped there but no they took the child and tested the child for alcohol consumption. Not finding anything they kept the kid hoping not to look like idiots.

Owen April 30, 2008 at 6:20 pm

That is why in New Zealand the Police officers and child-care workers are given discretion to deal with such situations.

NZ has recently passed a law criminalising physical discipline of children by parents or caregivers. This however has not produced any criminal charges yet as discretion was always intended to be used.

Maybe it is different in the USA.

Jordan April 30, 2008 at 7:10 pm

“They saw a situation and immediately recognized that it was a misunderstanding.”

If I follow you: they understood it was a misunderstanding but decided to misunderstand it, anyway?

A child was handed a vodka drink by a parent.

Until it was determined that this was a mistake — like the common (in some parts of the world) ‘Diet Coke’ becoming an accidental ‘Rye-and-Coke’ due to a slight mis-hearing between waiter and bartender — something had to be done.

As in all domestic disputes where it is a possibility, the police sought incontrovertible evidence when faced with the possibly self-serving testimony of the involved parties. (That is to say, testing the child for alcohol was the right step; trusting the father’s claim, which he may have made up to avoid punishment, would have been the wrong step.)

This is how the legal system works, and it does so because reconciling diverse interests and balancing the rights of various people is the slow drilling of hard boards.

In short: it is more reasonable for the people we pay to protect children to, you know, actually protect children than to walk away and say, ‘well, it is probably nothing’.

Som April 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Christopher Brennan,

I’ve always been curious about how libertarian philosophy would handle children’s rights, but then I started to realize that these questions don’t just apply to children. Consider this:

How would handle a person you had over as a guest in your house who fell into a deep sleep, but you wanted him to leave? What are allowed, from a libertarian ethic, to do to him if he refuses to wake up when you tap him?

Are you allowed to inject him with some sort of lethal and damaging drugs to mess with him because he is on your property?

Are you allowed to move him over to his side so he can at least “sleep better”

What would mark the (intuitive) distinction between such two actions?

Well, it’s apparent that any attempt to persuade or argue to do what you want to him is completely pointless, and any possible verbal response he gives you is meaningless (he can’t be aware of them so he’s is not actually “acting” in the action axiom sense in any way).

I think the answer seems to move more into the physical area, meaning if he accepts PHYSICALLY what you are doing to him, as in he does not try to resist in any way to your advances (as somebody would react by jerking away from the prick of an injection) then what you are doing is not unjust.

However, a correlary to this is that just as it’s impermissible to break and enter into a home when the owner is not there, it’s impermissible to do physical damage to a person’s body whose on your property and sleeping (so date rape where the woman was “completely passed out” is still illegitimate), so just because a person could not oppose to your stabbing him because he was asleep at the time, it’s still unlawful at least as much as what we ordinarily consider property damage.

Now, let me ask you, why do we not apply the same logic of the sleeping man as to children?

In one sense, children who cannot make rational judgements (especially true when the child cannot verbally communicate “no!”) are “sleeping people” on your property. Therefore, any person, even a mother or father, must past the test of if the child will PHYICALLY accept or resist what is happening to him by the parent, while at the same time his body cannnot be damaged in the same “breaking and entering” fashion. So a mother can feed milk if the baby takes the bottle, but she cannot cram the bottle down the baby’s throat if the baby keeps resisting by reacting jerkingly.

Now of course, this become stickier in cases of punishing the child, but as someone of knowingly or unawaringly attempts to damage you or your property, you can “punish” that person to the degree proportionate of the violation, same logic applies to irrational children. You can hit your kid if he hurts someone else or steals something, but generally its much harder to justfy hitting from a libertarian ethic for some other immorality (lying, insulting mom or dad, etc.)

This is what i think it will have to boil down to, but Murray Rothbard has a much lengthier and interesting discussion in his book, Ethics of Liberty. Check that out.

In the meantime, I appreciate any thoughts on my analysis above. Thanks,


Som April 30, 2008 at 8:07 pm


Yup that’s Helen Lovejoy,

“Oh won’t somebody please think of the children!”

Another point I wanted to add from my last post:

It’s true some “healthy or beneficial” is subjective, but since babies are not rational, they are not acting so there has to be another indicator to rely on a child’s rights. Like the sleeping person, the child also has instincts:

For exmaple, when the baby opens his mouth to consume, he is INSTINCTIVELY expects to be receiving food (otherwise, from what we know of instincts, he wouldn’t open his mouth) So, if an adult puts in that baby’s mouth some sort of poison or something that is not food, he commited a sort of fraud to the baby, and that would be illegitimate. We can use this logic in other instictive actions of the irrational child

More to think about.

Just Obeyed Orders Fallacy May 1, 2008 at 6:34 am

Let’s remember there’s no state – only people who act in the name of the state. As such, keeping the soldiers of the state accountable for their deeds might do the trick. Instead of accepting “I just obeyed” excuse, let’s hold them responsible for their actions, but also allow them to take it then on those who gave those stupid commands.

If there was a probability that the father could now, when it was acknowledged to be a misunderstanding, go after the policeman and demand damages for the unreasonable act, then maybe the policeman in the same situation would listen more to his reason instead of his boss, and handle it in a civil manner.

Keith May 1, 2008 at 7:15 am

Quote from Jordan: “The father was precluded from seeing his son for one week. He was humiliated (people writing about it and using his name is doing nothing to help, there, by the way) and will probably want to seek some redress — but absolutely nobody’s life was ruined.”

What if it had turned out to be more than a week? The article said that the only reason it was a week was because the father was well educated and well informed, and that somebody with less resources would probaly be left haging for who knows how long.

So when does it become unreasonable?’ A month? A year? And what are the repercusions to the police and the bureaucrats for going off the deep end? What is to keep this from happening again and again and again?

I think its a very thin line between compassion for a fellow human and being a butt-in-ski, and when the government is doing the butting-in, then there is no sublety at all, and you’re on a very steep and slippery slope. There is no incentive for a government agent to not go off the deep end.

At some point you have to defer judgments to the parents, or you should just acknowledge that the parents only have authority as allowed by the state and the state is the actual parent. Once you’ve made that transition, why not just take it to its logical end and have the state decide how all children should be raised, or better yet decide who gets to have children.

scineram May 1, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Land of the free, LOL.

Pete May 2, 2008 at 12:46 pm

So what IF the father had purposely decided to give his son alcohol, under his supervision and control?

It seems this whole discussion presumes that it is INHERENTLY wrong for a child to consume ANY alcohol.. and while there are obvious negative health affects to ‘excessive’ consumption of alcohol, moderate amounts consumed infrequently at special occasions can hardly be considered harmful.

And EVEN IF it was harmful, it could hardly be more harmful than say.. letting the child eat junk food… or to take this logic even further, to not providing the child with the most nutritious meals.. hell, a nanny state might even consider it child neglect if a person failed to deliver the perfect combination of ‘nutrients’ at the right timing catered specifically to that child’s nutritional requirements.

So does the government have the fundamental right to interfere here? And to those that argue that the children should be taken away from the polygamist sect.. I AGREE… BUT.. what makes the beliefs of this sect any less scientifically invalid than larger religions? from a purely scientific point of view, the belief set of this sect is no less empirically disprovable than all fundamentalist evangelicals.. catholics.. muslims.. etc. And now we’re on a fairly slipper slope, don’t you think? ;)

I’m convinced that the next totalitarian government in the west will be brought to power by misguided soccer mums, to the rallying cry of “save the children”, with the full backing of every power hungry opportunist politician, and glued together by a state sponsored religion.

Disclaimer: I’m from Australia, our government is still relatively sane.

josh m May 2, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Exactly Pete (well, I was with you until you brought up the polygamist group). Why is it assumed that serving alcohol to a child (or even more absurdly, the ‘threat’ thereof) is a basis for interference by the state, or anyone else? The poisonous crap that pretends to be food that I see kids eating with the parents’ sanction is—in my opinion—much more harmful to these kids’ well-being than anything that could have happened to the kid in this story. But that’s just my opinion, Jordan–not a basis on which the state could impose a sanction on a parent.

Owen May 3, 2008 at 1:12 am

I agree. A parent whould be able to decide when it is appropriate for thier children to try alcohol.

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