Posts tagged Murray Rothbard

Credit where credit’s due

In my recent post on Rothbard’s position on children’s rights, I lodged a pretty broad complaint against paleolibertarian writing on the family, paternal authority over children, and parental violence against children. In particular I mentioned the paleo crew’s embrace of conservative ideas about child-rearing, their fevered praise for parental rights over their children (which is really nothing more than the states’ rights argument writ small), and their occasional supportive shout-outs to conservative child-beating advocacy. But here’s a couple of cointervailing points of light, in the interest of fairness.

First, I had some fairly harsh things to say about Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s writing on the so-called traditional family, and the internal layers and ranks of authority within it. Given that this was in the context of a discussion on the Rothbardian view on children’s rights, David K. was right to point out that the discussion needs a bit of complication — because Hoppe has actually defended the plumbline Rothbardian view on children’s rights to run away:

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. (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, ch. 2, fn. 9)

… which is worth noting in Hoppe’s favor. Hoppe’s problem — and it is a serious problem, worthy of exactly the sort of criticism I’ve directed against it and more — is not with his view on parental coercion but rather his views on parental authority — apparently to be defended by means bullheaded cause-I-say-so unilateralism, deliberate cruelty, withholding, browbeating, guilt-tripping, bullying, and so on, rather than by resort to physical violence or legal coercion. Which is an advance, no doubt, over efforts to enforce it by physical violence or legal coercion. But still not much in the way of civilization, and certainly not (as Hoppe would have it) a bulwark for resistance to governmentalism. However, it is worth noting that while Hoppe’s writing on parental authority is some of the worst that contemporary libertarianism has to offer, it is in an important respect different from someone like, say, Karen De Coster, who writes openly in favor of beating children in the name of discipline. (I’d offer a good link, but her recent post on the topic seems to have gotten shredded by her blog software.)

Secondly, in a far more positive note, I’d like to take notice of a fine post Ryan McMacken put up recently at the blog, against institutionalized schooling. Opposition to creeping authoritarianism in government schooling isn’t actually that exceptional — it’s one of the things that even fairly conservative homeschoolers tend to get right — but what I really appreciate here is where he mentions, inter alia:

It turns out that children are rational beings who should not be coerced and hounded every second of their waking lives. Indeed, children have an innate sense of the importance of learning and the importance of justice. Unfortunately, most adults beat these impulses out of children as soon as they can. Besides, a free spirited individualist of a child is harder to control, so it’s all the better that we ship them off to school where they can be taught to obey, and where they can be taught that learning is an onerous task that is to be completed when demanded by some unbearable schoolmarm.

… Incidentally, if you ever want to see me fly off the handle, just start in about how children don’t pay their elders enough respect or that kids these days are more rotten than during the good ‘ol days. I’m sure you’ll see that vein on the side of my forehead really get going. In my experience, most adults get all the respect they deserve: virtually none at all.

— Ryan McMacken, Blog (2009-06-14): The evils of preschooling

So, like I said: there’s a lot of awful stuff coming from paleos and more conventional conservatarians about parenting and children’s rights. But, hey, credit where credit’s due.

Oscar Goodman: Deep Cover Anarchist?

So here in Vegas the city government has these stupid plans to take a vacant government building and force Vegas taxpayers to pour $11,500,000 or so into another government-subsidized tourist trap — this time, a new Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which is allegedly intended to attract more customers for the profit of downtown business owners. Here’s what Mayor Oscar Goodman had to say about this latest tax-financed corporate development boondoggle in a recent press interview:

It will bring an awful lot of attention to the community because it’s part of our roots, argues Mayor Goodman. Like it or not, we’re the mob.

— Mayor Oscar Goodman, quoted by News 3 KVBC (2009-07-09): What will become of the mayor’s Mob Museum?

… Hey man, you said it, not me.

.. the State, which subsists on taxation, is a vast criminal organization far more formidable and successful than any “private” Mafia in history….

— Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty

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For your reference: Rothbard against the Fugitive Child Act

Roderick recently posted a link to a creep-out ad for this sado-fascist horror showThe Total Transformation® self-help course for parents who are frustrated at their inability to unilaterally dominate their children. (Just as a sidebar, I used to hear ads for this service or one similar to it during the interstices for a nominally libertarian minimal-statist talk radio show — I think it was the Downsize DC radio show. I dunno how that reflects on the show itself; I think it doesn’t reflect well at all on the target audience for the station that was running it.)

Anyway, in reply, Andrea Shepard mentioned some of the child humiliation industry’s private internment camps for wayward youths (which actively encourage anxious parents to force their children into the camp, in secret, on false pretexts). In reply, Anon73 wrote:

Yeah I came across this stuff a few years ago and was horrified by it. I remember having this in mind when social anarchists accused ancaps of supporting private tyranny since most ancaps accept families and family practices generally. If the alternative to having my kid be a pot-smoking starving stoner is to have them sent to American Guantanamo then I’d rather have them be stoners.

Andrea responded:

You haven’t been paying attention to the same an-caps I have. I’m an an-cap and that sort of You’re a slave until you turn 18. It’s for your own good bullshit has always been a rather hot-button issue for me.

I think that Anon73’s point is a fair one against some anarcho-capitalists and not against others, and that it’s important to track the distinction. Anon73 mentioned he wasn’t sure about Rothbard’s view on the matter:

I’m not sure how Rothbard was on the slave until you’re 18 doctrine but I remember at one point he did repudiate it. Not sure about other ancaps. At any rate this is definitely a private tyranny worse than many types of statist tyranny, which was the point I wanted to make.

For whatever it’s worth, here is the deal on Rothbard, as it pertains to children’s rights, and in particular as it pertains to children’s rights to defy parents and not to be forced into quote-unquote Behavior Modification hellholes, whether public or private, by their parents.

Rothbard’s plumbline position in Kid Lib (1974) and The Ethics of Liberty ch. 14 (1982) is that parents have a right to set rules for household conduct, as the proprietor of the household, until children move out and take up living on their own. But also that parents have no right to physically aggress against children[1], that children should be able to legally prosecute parents for injuries committed against them in the name of discipline, that if children do not like how their parents are treating them that they have an unconditional right to end their parents’ guardianship at any age where they are physically capable of running away, that this right shuld include the right to strike out on their own or to take up with any foster parents who agree to take them in, and that neither parents nor the State have any right to force runaway children to return to the guardianship of any adult against the child’s will.

In the earlier piece, Kid Lib,” Rothbard aims to position his view as a middle-road between traditional coercive parenting and (his notion of) “Progressive” anything-goes parenting, with most of the rhetorical energy being spent on the latter, so he spends a fair amount of time grumping about kids “kicking adults in the shins” and discussing how he thinks that parents should insist on rules of conduct and a certain degree of unilateral authority, but that it must be on a “my house, my rules” basis and not on the basis of using physical or legal coercion to keep the child captive. But the last, which he views as the fundamental tyranny of the contemporary parent-child relationship, he denounces as kidnapping, and as enslavement of children by parents.

In Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard got more in-depth and went further. Most of the stuff about theories of parenting and house-rules is dropped, in favor of a more systematic examination of children’s rights, with a long section on the violation of children’s rights by statist law in particular. Among other things, this section highlights the use of arbitrary and unilateral legal force to give parents, or the paternal State, near-absolute coercive control over children. He condemns the use of truancy laws and all other Fugitive Child Acts to force children to stay in the places that adults have made for them; he also spends a great deal of time discussing the use of inquisitorial court proceedings and rehabilitative imprisonment — through truancy laws, catch-all punishment of juvenile delinquency (which more often than not encompasses antisocial acts which are neither violent nor criminal and which no adult could be imprisoned for committing), and, in the last resort, the use of arbitrary PINS categorization as a lettre-de-cachet for the indefinite imprisonment of wayward youths. Rothbard’s position categorically rules out the use of force to confine independent children to humiliation-camps for behavior-modification (whether governmentally or privately administered), and in his discussion of the juvenile prison system against children who have done nothing to violate anyone’s rights but who have dared to skip school, have unapproved sex, or otherwise offended against their parents’ or the state’s sense of propriety, Rothbard condemns this use of force against children as nothing more than a legal means to extend and intensify the power of abusive parents over children who would be independent, or for the state to step in if a parent isn’t judged to be vigorously abusive enough for the child’s own good.

As far as I know, even after his paleo turn in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rothbard never actually declared that his prior position on children’s rights was false. (As a general thing, he actually hardly ever repudiated any ideological positions, no matter how many strategic 180s he did and no matter how unceremoniously he dumped his earlier point on the floor in the interest of his new coalition; instead, he just swapped out his rhetoric and tended to write a if he had never said the things that he said before.) But by 1992, mainly in the interest of demonizing Hillary Rodham Clinton and her association with legal activism for children’s rights, he was scare-quote ridiculing any discussion of children’s rights, declaring that children should quote-unquote get governed by their parents, and denouncing Tibor Machan for supporting children who sued their parents for damages or for termination of custody. (I haven’t read any of Tibor’s stuff from that period, so I can’t be sure, but from the date and from what Rothbard writes, my guess would be that this was in response to high-profile cases like Kingsley v. Kingsley, in which a child was granted legal standing to sue for a transfer of custody from his biological parents to foster parents. Anyone know for sure? If so, drop a line in the comments….)

Anyway, after the paleo turn, Rothbard was looking to hook up with political allies who took rock-ribbed conservative positions on parental control, so all that stuff about the rights of wayward children and the use of state violence to keep children enslaved to their parents was pretty quickly dropped out, in favor of a line about the state’s meddling in parental rights, with folks like Hoppe throwing in paeans to the authority of the paterfamilias and the order of rank within the family, and the occasional casual supportive shout-out from LRC to the wonder and mystery of beating your children in the name of discipline.

Of course, after Rothbard’s paleo turn, there were still plenty of other non-paleo anarcho-capitalists who differed with Rothbard and with his newfound allies on all this stuff, and who generally took something more like the older Rothbard line. (George H. Smith, for example, defends the early Spencer’s position against parental coercion.) And the decline of paleolibertarianism (both as a strategic alliance and as an ideology) since Mr. Bush’s wars and the rise of Red State America has resulted in a pretty significant drop-off.

So is the worry about anarcho-capitalists and non-governmental forms of tyranny, in particular as they affect children, a fair one? Well, for some yes, and for others, no. For Rothbard, both, depending on what period you’re looking at. Paleolibertarianism was an important movement (almost entirely important for ill, rather than for good, but important nevertheless) in the history of anarcho-capitalism, but it’s important not to confuse it with anacho-capitalism as such; there were plenty of anarcho-capitalists before it who took much more radical positions on rights within the family, plenty of anarcho-capitalists at the time who rejected it, and at this point in libertarian history there are few left, especially among anarchists, who would identify with anything like the full paleolibertarian program. But those who did, and those who still would, typically take really awful positions on children’s rights, which ought to be called out and denounced. On the other hand, many anarcho-capitalists, following Rothbard and in the more lefty climate of late-1960s, 1970s, and 2000s libertarianism, took very strong stances against the coercion of children, and indeed often took a stronger stance than most social anarchists. (Social anarchists who devote a lot of writing to education, parenting, or patriarchy typically have taken a very strong line for child liberation; the majority who haven’t, haven’t.)

Most anarcho-capitalists, however, just don’t write about the issue at all. Presumably because they either don’t think about it, or don’t care to talk about it, or both. Which is unfortunate but not surprising: most political theorists don’t spend much time discussing the status of children. Not because it’s unimportant to them (patriarchal authority is very important to lots of theories) but rather because they have reasons for wanting certain bedrock commitments to be left unspoken so that they cannot be identified, and without any explicit defense so that they cannot be challenged.

And for those of us (like me) who are anarchists but not anarcho-capitalists, and who think that the freedom of children from 18 years of violence and despotism is among the most important, pressing, and universal concerns that a modern-day Freedom Movement ought to take up, I think the most important thing is to take what lessons we can from the best work available and to expand it — to talk about how those who believe that children ought to be able to take up a free and independent life as they become ready for it, and who are concerned to help children escape from physical violence, coercive control, bullying and emotional abuse, and any other assault on their bodies, liberty, independence, or dignity, whether committed by parents, by teachers, by the State, or by any other adult — I think the important thing to do here is to learn from the best parts of what Rothbard (among others) had to offer. What we have to stress is that this cannot be brought about by taking out one form of coercive control (by parents or other state-approved guardians) only to replace it with another (through literal nanny-statism, government-controlled schooling, coercive child welfare bureaucracies, etc.). Rather, what I think the older Rothbardian approach rightly stresses — the right of children to assert their own independence when they are ready to do so, not to be held captive by overbearing parents, and to have their decision respected when they decide it’s time to get the hell out of a house that they hate to be in — is the importance of solidarity rather than rescue. We must look towards helping children and adolescents name their own situation and make themselves free — by opposing laws that allow parents to beat and imprison children at will, and by working in solidarity to support the rights and the well-being of so-called runaway children and adolescents; to create alternative institutions that provide them with a supportive place to go; and to struggle against the State’s efforts to force them back into homes that they hate and under the authority of parents that they risked so much to try to escape.

Note. Rothbard talks about mutilating and abusing children as aggressions and as violations of the parent’s role as trustee for the child’s self-ownership. I think his position logically implies that it’s illegitimate for parents to use any form of corporal punishment at all against children, but as far as I know Rothbard neither confirmed nor denied that in his writing on the topic. (back)

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Wednesday Lazy Linking


  • Libertarians Against Property Rights and Freedom of Association. (Cont’d.) Vin Suprynowicz Vs. Rad Geek on so-called illegal immigration. In which I argue keep your borders off my property and Suprynowicz argues that a libertarian community ought to have the government constitutionally policing people’s political views. Democracy, you know.

News and Comment.



Rad Geek Speaks: Motorhome Diaries interviews me on agorism and counter-economics

It’s been a couple days since I was hepped to the fact that this video has gone online; but I’ve been delayed by travel and other considerations. Anyway, here is a video of Jason Talley’s interview with me in Las Vegas back in April, focusing on anarchism, agorism, and counter-economics. Judging from the closing title card, it looks like the MD3 have decided to break out the material from the interview on anarchism into a separate video, presumably forthcoming. But, in the meantime, this video has the segments of the interview where our discussion focuses on building the counter-economy as an alternative to electoral politics. Enjoy!

The one thing which I regret not having the time to discuss during the interview — which I would have done my best to break down, were I not already taxing Jason’s very generous allowance of time in what are typically very concise interview segments — is how my sympathies for mutualism and wildcat unionism influence my understanding of the agora, and of the sort of counter-economy that we should work to build: why, in short, I think that libertarians should be especially interested in building, so to speak, Black-and-Red markets. (Red as in workers-of-the-world-unite. Not, of course, as in Konkin’s notion of red market mafiosi.) Of course, Konkin’s original-flavor agorism is already very much in favor of the informal sector, and opposed to the state-collaborationist, state-supported corporate economy; but I think that agorists would do well to look at the kinds of counter-institutions that have historically been associated with the anti-statist and anti-authoritarian Left: fighting unions, direct action on the shopfloor, grassroots mutual aid networks, worker and consumer co-ops, neighborhood permaculture projects, community free clinics, participatory indymedia, CopWatch as a means of community self-defense, LETS trading networks, small-scale gift economies based on gleaning and homesteading (Food Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails, free stores, etc.). And so on, and so forth. To the degree that State privilege and State subsidy have artificially roided-up the rentier-centric, cash-lubricated, centralized, formalized bidniz economy, we can expect the counter-economy (which is the embryonic new society, being built within the shell of the old) to form up in opposite tendencies: egalitarian and decentalized exchange (which Konkin rightly predicted and emphasized), and also significantly more emphasis on informal connections, often based not on contracts or cash-on-the-barrelhead exchanges but rather on practicing solidarity, mutual aid, gleaning, homesteading, and other cashless forms of value-creation and social exchange (which I think Konkin underemphasized and overlooked in various ways). (I hardly expect cash, let alone simple quid-pro-quo exchange, to disappear; I’m certainly not interested in any dogmatic campaign to rub them out. But I do expect the counter-economy, and future fully-freed markets, to emphasize them much less intensely, and much less monomaniacally, than the current state-approved official economy does.) All of which underlines why I think it’s important for radical libertarians to see ourselves as part of the Left; and for that understanding to cash out in serious efforts to work together on countereconomic projects with the folks who ought to be our primary allies — that is, other anarchists — rather than working on the familiar set of conventional-delusional electoral projects together with conservatives and conventionally pro-capitalist minimal-statists, which all too many good radical libertarians have, due to a combination of cultural comfort zones, and statocentric models of political change, wasted their time and resources on in the past.

Anyway, like I said, there may be another interview segment forthcoming focusing on anarchism; if so, I’ll let you know when it drops.