PostHeaderIcon Who Owns a Child?

I am very comfortable with my libertarian philosophy, which propounds individual sovereignty and Liberty for freemen and women, with the natural right to live their lives as they choose to live them, as long as they do not forcefully interfere with or violate the natural rights of others. I have carefully worked out in my head, how such free individuals can live at peace with their neighbors, meeting in the commons for commerce and fraternity, as free traders giving no more than they take, in entirely voluntary value for value exchanges, which enrich each other's lives.

Thus, I regard one's home as his castle, and his real estate as his sovereign domain, where he gets to make the rules, which visitors are bound to abide. When he steps off his private property, however, he must abide by the standards, social customs, and rules of the community. If there were no social compact and universally accepted basic rules, to insure that any vehicle coming around the next bend would be on the other side of the road, it would be chaos. I am fine with that, and wouldn't have it any other way.

Where my philosophy falls completely apart, however, is when it comes to the welfare of children. Having discussed this issue with folks of all political persuasions, I can assure all that empathy for an innocent child is a sincerely held universal human trait, The question becomes, what are parental rights and responsibilities vs. any sort of societal rights and responsibilities vs. children's rights.

Do parents 'own' their children as chattel, or do they have natural rights from birth, as we like to say they do? If parents are held responsible to feed, clothe, and shelter their progeny, shouldn't they be able to establish the rules and demand unquestioned obedience from them? What right does any outsider have to interfere in their affairs?

This is by no means a simple issue to resolve, particularly for a laissez-faire-minded libertarian, who eschews busybodies, and I have been unable to satisfactorily do so in my own mind. E.g. what should I do, if I discover that the bastard in the castle next door, is abusing his young child on his sovereign estate? What business is that of mine, or anyone else's?

Technically, it is none, of course; but somehow that does not get me off the hook morally, does it? I suppose it is less of a conundrum for those who accept the altruistic principle that the good of society supersedes the natural rights of individuals; but only marginally so, because the competing versions of altruism vehemently disagree over how children should be raised and acculturated, or what constitutes child abuse.

Both camps in the Left/Right culture war, are convinced that the other is spawning another uncivilized generation, which their own progeny will have the unpleasant chore of having to deal with one day as adults. Either side would, if they could, 'save' these unfortunate children from the clutches of their irresponsible and/or wrongheaded parents, and make sure they got a 'proper' education (indoctrination), so they would grow up to be responsible adults with the 'correct' (politically or piously) worldview.

While 'for the children' often appears to be little more than a rhetorical political weapon in the culture war, it is a potent one, because of our natural empathy for helpless children. Is there a way to stop using them as pawns in our ideological struggles; and what exactly are their rights? When must the absolute tyrannical power of parents yield to them? Does this amorphous mental construct we call 'society,' have any business interfering in the parenting process? If so, who gets to decide at what point, and how much? ◄Dave►

 

15 Responses to “Who Owns a Child?”

  • Greg says:

    Question for you: if you’ll allow me a metaphor, you believe that each person is like a country unto his own. With that metaphor in mind, could children be considered “developing nations,” ones that need to be watched over by a larger nation until they able to go about their business freely and independently, and thus become a “sovereign?” Further, if a parent is abusive, and is therefore being a hindrance to a developing child becoming fully sovereign, it is justified to remove that parent?

    Thoughts? 🙂

    • ◄Dave► says:

      That is the conundrum, isn’t it Greg? In either case, who has the authority to decide the standards and/or take the necessary corrective action? It always comes down to ‘might makes right,’ doesn’t it? How can we posit natural rights at birth, and then qualify same as needing to be earned, and unavailable until one meets some arbitrary standard, established and approved by others? ◄Dave►

      • Greg says:

        Well, I think there are some universal standards that would serve as, at the very least, a baseline:
        1) Children should have the right to be provided food, clothing, and shelter by their caretaker (when they become a fully developed adult, that is up to them to get for themselves–or, if they are unable to right away, it should be completely up to the parent nation as to whether they are going to continue to provide it once the child reaches “sovereignhood”)
        2) Children ought not to be abused in any form

        Do you see what I am getting at here? They ought to be mandated to have the right to what we have as adults. Once they become adults, it is up to them to earn the rights as you have mentioned in your sovereignty essay (I botched the concept here slightly).

        • ◄Dave► says:

          Natural rights are not, and cannot be, earned or conferred, Greg. They already exist in nature, as a condition of our humanity. They can only be taken away by a coercive force, which is the definition of servitude. ◄Dave►

        • Greg says:

          That was…my bad. Point still stands though: If the parents are not able/unwilling/malfeasing (new word 😉 ) to provide those natural rights, should the children then be put somewhere where they CAN get those rights?

          • ◄Dave► says:

            Again, nobody can ‘provide’ natural rights; they already exist and must be asserted. Yet, a child is powerless to assert them. One could only interfere in the parenting prerogatives, by violating the parents natural rights. It is a paradoxical conundrum of the first order. ◄Dave►

  • My philosophy still serves me well enough in this regard. Starting at the top, give each level of government the bare minimum of powers that it needs in order for society to function. If you can’t convince 80% of the people that the law needs to be there, then scrap it.

    So federal government gets immigration, currency, war, treaties, interstate highways, etc. And thusly all the way down, the states get the highways, the towns their streets, and you: your driveway, and anything not already taken by those above.

    If you can’t get 80% of the people at any of these levels to say that something is wrong, then leave it be. I know this will leave some children with less than optimal situations, but such is life, under any realistic system.

    Sometimes a family of dirtballs is still better than child services. I think about this whenever I see the local bums with their dogs. People feel sorry for those dogs, while they pass them in their car on their lunch break, their own dog locked in the kennel at home, barking at anything that moves. That bum’s dog is the happiest dog in town, and generally the most well adjusted.

    • ◄Dave► says:

      I really like this, Steel. If we could change the rules of Congress, such that it required an 80% super majority to pass anything, and then required them to renew all laws every two years, much mischief could be eliminated.

      And, I completely concur on the happy dogs, who get to spend all day at their master’s side, which is precisely where they wish to be. You’ll notice they do not require leashes. 🙂 ◄Dave►

    • Greg says:

      I like this. How many laws can you think off the top of your head that would be tossed out? 🙂

      • ◄Dave► says:

        Most of them. It would be so simple. An automatic sunset rule; any legislative act not renewed and signed by the POTUS by election day (no lame-duck action permitted), automatically expires on 12/31. I love it. ◄Dave►

  • Daedalus says:

    I think at the bottom of this topic is the concept of “rights.” The Declaration of Independence claims they result from man’s nature and natures God. Since we are aware of no hotline to God or even what folks are talking about when they use the expression we are left with “rights” coming from mans nature. From the previously named document we understand the founders thought that among these rights were “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” that last being substituted for property because of the slavery issue (much as Dave is wrestling with the child issue) . For much of history it appears that children, wives and slaves were considered to be property. Before we can effectively deal with the issue I think we need to give more thought to what man’s rights are, how they are derived from his nature, and what this means in a social context. If we don’t do that first we are in danger of a discussion based on floating abstractions.

    I can assure all that empathy for an innocent child is a sincerely held universal human trait

    This is the “argument from authority” Dave, you know better.
    http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl/1990_728464/fire-ants-to-the-rescue-insects-bit-newborn-but-al.html

    http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1989-05-30/news/8905300377_1_garbage-bin-taft-baby-breathing

    Not so universal as some might consider. Is it nurture or nature?

    • ◄Dave► says:

      For much of history it appears that children, wives and slaves were considered to be property.

      In many cultures, including subsets of ours, they still are, John.

      Before we can effectively deal with the issue I think we need to give more thought to what man’s rights are, how they are derived from his nature, and what this means in a social context. If we don’t do that first we are in danger of a discussion based on floating abstractions.

      Agreed. Of course, rights and society itself are abstractions. Without the abstraction of ‘authority,’ there would be no need of the abstraction of ‘rights.’

      I actually have some issues with property rights. I don’t recall whether you joined the discussion; but Troy and I kicked around the question of property rights and inheritance, in our fireside chats a few years ago. It was a thought provoking subject.

      I did not intend an argument from authority. I merely wished to suggest that (most) ideologues, who would take a child from their opponents for a ‘proper’ upbringing, if they could, actually and sincerely think they would be ‘rescuing’ said child from harm. I stand corrected on my sweeping generalization, I should have qualified it as ‘most’; but I wish you had not sent me to read those distressing reports. One would have to conclude that somehow the inadequate ‘nurture’ of those young mothers, overrode what should have been their ‘nature.’ 🙁

      Speaking for myself, in my life experiences, I have become rather inured to the necessity of dispatching pests and varmints. Yet, when I would occasionally encounter a nest of their young, my empathy for these helpless little critters would present a moral dilemma. My duty was to kill them, before they grew up to threaten my livestock; but it was never easy to do. Somehow, even a nest of tiny pink baby mice elicited my sympathy. Nature or nurture? ◄Dave►

  • Daedalus says:

    but I wish you had not sent me to read those distressing reports. One would have to conclude that somehow the inadequate ‘nurture’ of those young mothers, overrode what should have been their ‘nature.

    Sorry Dave, I didn’t have to look very far to find them. Maybe the inadequate nurture left them with nothing but their nature. Many cultures have practiced infanticide & for a variety of reasons. There do appear to be exceptions, e.g. ancient Egypt .

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide

    Yet, when I would occasionally encounter a nest of their young, my empathy for these helpless little critters would present a moral dilemma. My duty was to kill them, before they grew up to threaten my livestock; but it was never easy to do. Somehow, even a nest of tiny pink baby mice elicited my sympathy. Nature or nurture?

    Same with me Dave, but I know I was raised to be kind to animals. As a young boy I was a member of the R.S.P.C.A. I quit fishing in my teen years because I didn’t like killing the fish. I don’t hunt for the same reason. However I realize that is a “feeling” problem caused by my early training, and I am sure that if I had no other way of putting food on the table some feelings would overpower others. I have no negative feelings to people who hunt and fish for food, protect their property, or who raise livestock, I am rather happy they do. 
    On abstractions: I think that words are symbols standing for concepts. Concepts are derived by the integration or differentiation of other concepts or by the abstraction of commonalities of different percepts. There is always a chain of concepts back to original sensory data. When this chain is broken and a concept is asserted as being something not based on its derivative elements that is what I refer to as a floating abstraction. This is what leads to documents like the UN Human Rights charter. It includes individual rights and others (Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay) Note, not the right to the pursuit of leisure, but the right to it. This is because “the declaration” is based on rights as a floating abstraction not tied to the fundamental development of the concept “rights” developed in the 18th century and applied by our founding fathers.

  • Troy says:

    I am of the strident opinion that NONE among us absolutely knows what is correct and what is incorrect. In the first place, what is correct for me might be very incorrect for another. In the second place, we only know, in general, what seemed correct after the fact.

    Given this attitude, by what possible logic can one person or group think they know better than the parents of a child, how that child should be reared?

    For sure, I wish no children were raised as fundamentalist religionists, racial bigots, murders, or whatever. But, a large portion of our population would have forbade me raising my children absent any hint of religion.

    Life is a huge kaleidoscopic game of trial and error – with the definition of error in constant flux.

    It sucks to see the young of any species being abused. But I have long since realized that I lack the capacity to even save myself, much less all the others.

    Lacking that perfect being who knows all, I suggest we each do best by treating others the way we wish to be treated, by offering value for value in our trades, then by otherwise minding our own business while letting others do the same.

    Please remember that the supposed welfare of children has been the excuse for almost every progressive perversion of our liberty.

    Troy

  • ◄Dave► says:

    I have been busy rearranging my prejudices regarding anarchism, and stumbled across an excellent discussion of this subject in the comment section of ‘The Grayness of Children’s Rights‘ ◄Dave►

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