Posts tagged Tibor Machan

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)

See also:

Where do you normally go to get criticized?

Some of y’all may have already heard through Roderick; but for those of you who haven’t, I will be in Philadelphia from today through (the afternoon of) the 30th of December. I hope to spend some time checking out some local attractions, but my immediate purpose in being here is to take part in the Molinari Society’s joint Author Meets Critics session for Crispin Sartwell’s Against the State and the Anarchism/Minarchism anthology from Ashgate. In virtue of my essay in the anthology I’ll be among the Authors. The Critics I’ll be Meeting are Jennifer McKitrick, Christopher Morris, and Nicole Hassoun. The session will be at the Philadelphia Marriot downtown (1201 Market St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on Monday, 29 December, from 1:30 – 4:30pm. Here’s the current lineup, courtesy of Roderick:

GIX-3. Monday, 29 December 2008, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Molinari Society symposium: Authors Meet Critics:
Crispin Sartwell’s Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory and
Roderick T. Long and Tibor R. Machan, eds., Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country?
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, 1201 Market Street, Room TBA

Chair: Carrie-Ann Biondi (Marymount Manhattan College)



The session will consist of three essays from the Critics offering critical responses to the books, followed by short replies from the Authors, and a discussion and Q&A to follow. Nicole Hassoun has diligently sent in her critical essay and Jan Narveson has sent in such replies as he’s been able to prepare, given what’s been sent to him (with some bonus remarks about Crispin Sartwell’s book); what the rest of us will be saying is, I guess, a mystery only to be revealed in the fullness of time. But I’m looking forward to hearing the critical engagement with the work we’ve done, and to joining in on the discussion.

The APA Eastern Division has refused to give out any information about room assignments in the materials you can get without forking over a registration fee — for evil’s sake, of course — so I won’t know where inside the Marriot we’ll be until tomorrowish. But as soon as I do know, I’ll let you know.

Anyway, come on down if you can; it’d be great to see you there. Or, even if you can’t, if you happen to be in the area, drop me a line; I’ll be around.

Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism

Here’s what I got in the mail Monday afternoon. It took a week longer to reach me than it did to reach Roderick; I don’t know whether that’s one of the perks of being an editor rather than a mere contributor like me, or simply because I’m way out west and he’s in Alabama.

A hardbound copy of Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country? Edited by Roderick T. Long and Tibor R. Machan. Published by Ashgate Press (pictured here). Under the contents, in Part 2, is Chapter 10: Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism by Charles Johnson (p. 155)

Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism

Charles Johnson

The purpose of this essay is political revolution. And I don’t mean a revolution in libertarian political theory, or a revolutionary new political strategy, or the kind of revolution that consists in electing a cadre of new and better politicians to the existing seats of power. When I say a revolution, I mean the real thing: I hope that this essay will contribute to the overthrow of the United States government, and indeed all governments everywhere in the world. You might think that the argument of an academic essay is a pretty slender reed to lean on; but then, every revolution has to start somewhere, and in any case what I have in mind may be somewhat different from what you imagine. For now, it will be enough to say that I intend to give you some reasons to become an individualist anarchist,1 and undermine some of the arguments for preferring minimalist government to anarchy. In the process, I will argue that the form of anarchism I defend is best understood from what Chris Sciabarra has described as a dialectical orientation in social theory,2 as part of a larger effort to understand and to challenge interlocking, mutually reinforcing systems of oppression, of which statism is an integral part—but only one part among others. Not only is libertarianism part of a radical politics of human liberation, it is in fact the natural companion of revolutionary Leftism and radical feminism.

My argument will take a whole theory of justice—libertarian rights theory3—more or less for granted: that is, some version of the non-aggression principle and the conception of negative rights that it entails. Also that a particular method for moral inquiry—ethical individualism—is the correct method, and that common claims of collective obligations or collective entitlements are therefore unfounded. Although I will discuss some of the intuitive grounds for these views, I don’t intend to give a comprehensive justification for them, and those who object to the views may just as easily to object to the grounds I offer for them. If you have a fundamentally different conception of rights, or of ethical relations, this essay will probably not convince you to become an anarchist. On the other hand, it may help explain how principled commitment to a libertarian theory of rights—including a robust defense of private property rights—is compatible with struggles for equality, mutual aid, and social justice. It may also help show that libertarian individualism does not depend on an atomized picture of human social life, does not require indifference to oppression or exploitation other than government coercion, and invites neither nostalgia for big business nor conservatism towards social change. Thus, while my argument may not directly convince those who are not already libertarians of some sort, it may help to remove some of the obstacles that stop well-meaning Leftists from accepting libertarian principles. In any case, it should show non-libertarians that they need another line of argument: libertarianism has no necessary connection with the vulgar political economy or bourgeois liberalism that their criticism targets.

The threefold structure of my argument draws from the three demands made by the original revolutionary Left in France: Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity.4 I will argue that, rightly understood, these demands are more intertwined than many contemporary libertarians realize: each contributes an essential element to a radical challenge to any form of coercive authority. Taken together, they undermine the legitimacy of any form of government authority, including the limited government imagined by minarchists. Minarchism eventually requires abandoning your commitment to liberty; but the dilemma is obscured when minarchists fracture the revolutionary triad, and seek liberty abstracted from equality and solidarity, the intertwined values that give the demand for freedom its life, its meaning, and its radicalism. Liberty, understood in light of equality and solidarity, is a revolutionary doctrine demanding anarchy, with no room for authoritarian mysticism and no excuse for arbitrary dominion, no matter how limited or benign. . . .

1. For the purposes of this essay, I will mostly be using the term anarchism as shorthand for individualist anarchism; since the defense of anarchism I will offer rests on individualist principles, it will not provide a cogent basis for communist, primitivist, or other non-individualist forms of anarchism. And I will use the term individualist anarchism in a broad sense, to describe any position that (1) denies the legitimacy of any form of (monopoly) government authority, (2) on individualist ethical grounds. As I will use it, the term picks out a family of similar *doctrines*, not a particular self-description or historical tradition. Thus it includes, but is not limited to, the specific nineteenth and early twentieth-century socialist movement known as individualist anarchism, whose members included Benjamin Tucker, Victor Yarros, and Voltairine de Cleyre. It also includes the views of twentieth and twenty-first-century anarcho-capitalists such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman; contemporary self-described individualist anarchists and mutualists such as Wendy McElroy, Joe Peacott, and Kevin Carson; and of others, such as Gustave de Molinari, Lysander Spooner, or Robert LeFevre, who rejected the State on individualist grounds but declined (for whatever reasons) to refer to themselves as anarchists. Many self-described socialist anarchists deny that anarcho-capitalism should be counted as a form of anarchism at all, or associated with individualist anarchism in particular; many self-described anarcho-capitalists deny that socialist anarchism should be counted as a form of genuine individualism, or genuine anarchism. With all due respect to my comrades on the Left and on the Right, I will use the term in an ecumenical sense, for reasons of style, and also because the relationship between anarchism, capitalism, and socialism is one of the substantive issues to be discussed in the course of this essay.

2. See Chris Matthew Sciabarra (2000), Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. See also Sciabarra 1995a and 1995b.

3. Libertarianism as discussed in this essay is a theory of political justice, not as a position on the Nolan Chart. Small government types who speak kindly of economic freedom or civil liberties may or may not qualify as libertarians for the purpose of my discussion. Those who treat liberty as one political good that must be balanced against other goods such as social stability, economic prosperity, democratic rule, or socioeconomic equality, and should sometimes be sacrificed for their sake, are unlikely to count. Since they are not committed to the ideal of liberty as a principled constraint on *all* political power, they are no more likely to be directly convinced by my arguments than progressives, traditionalists, communists, etc.

4. Of course, the male Left of the day actually demanded fraternité, brotherhood. I’ll speak of solidarity instead of brotherhood for the obvious anti-sexist reasons, and also for its association with the history of the labor movement. There are few causes in America that most twentieth-century libertarians were less sympathetic to than organized labor, but I have chosen to speak of the value of solidarity, in spite of all that, for the same reasons that Ayn Rand chose to speak of the virtue of selfishness: in order to prove a point. The common criticisms of organized labor from the twentieth-century libertarian movement, and the relationship between liberty and organized labor, are one of the topics I will discuss below.

–Charles Johnson (2008), Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism in Roderick T. Long and Tibor Machan (eds.), Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country. Ashgate Press, ISBN 978-0-7546-6066-8. 155–157.

The good news, for those whose interest is piqued and who would like to read the whole thing, is that the book is now available for pre-ordering and will be shipped somewhere around the end of the month. The bad news is that it’s about $80.00 for the hardcover edition, which is, for the time being, the only edition there is. (If you’re interested in reading the essay but are unlikely to have the bread to buy the book anytime soon, contact me privately.) In any case, for those who do get a chance to read the essay, I’d be glad to hear what you think, or any questions you may have, in the comments section at this post.

I mention this in the essay, but I’d like to repeat it here while I have the chance: the debts I accumulated in the process of writing this essay, and the earlier work on which it drew, are too numerous to give an accounting of them all, but I would especially like to thank Laura Breitenbeck and Roderick Long. The essay would have been much the poorer, or simply nonexistent, without their patience, inspiration, collaboration, encouragement, and detailed and very helpful comments