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A question for libertarians



June 04, 2010 – Comments (6)

...though anyone is free to chime in if they wish. I have long been tormented by the question of whether a libertarian society (particularly an anarchist one such as I advocate) would be worse at protecting abused and neglected children than the democratic/bureaucratic one we currently have. If there is no government, what if parents start physically or sexually abusing their children? What if parents neglect to feed their infants or toddlers?

I would appreciate other libertarians' thoughts on this. Anyone's opinion or comments are welcome as long as they're polite.  

6 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 04, 2010 at 2:22 AM, mhy729 (30.27) wrote:

Good question.  I personally believe that a truly anarchist society (complete absence of government) is impossible.  People will always organize themselves into local communities, and will invariably establish rules (a.k.a. laws) that will require at least some minor form of government.  In that sense government is a "necessary evil."

The only scenario in which government can and would be truly abolished and unnecessary is one in which people are inherently "good" and without the need for coersion naturally abide by a common set of implicit principles which are just and fair.  Put another way, when people no longer require laws to behave in a just and fair manner towards others is when gov'ts would be no longer needed.

The only recourse I can see to address your issue in a truly anarchic society would be for a concerned individual/group to violate the abuser and perhaps liberate the child.

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#2) On June 04, 2010 at 2:51 AM, whereaminow (< 20) wrote:


Chapter 14 of Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty is a good start. 

My own feelings are

1. An abusive parent that does not allow a child a path to leave -run away - (i.e. locks him in a room until he starves) is violating his rights because the parent is not allowing a path of egress. 

2. Any kid over puberty is a man/woman.  If they want to leave, they should be able to, especially if the situation at home is intolerable.  (The despicable nature of State foster care and juvenile correction is not even worth consdering.)  They should also be able to work free from taxation, rent property (or buy it if they are wealth enough, etc.) and function in society as any other adult. 

"The standard line is that once Capitalism came along, we said "ok kids, everyone off to the mines!"  And before Capitalism, the kids danced in the meadows all day.  Nobody ever asks, 'why are the kids working?'  They are working because the nation's labor is so unproductive that the families would starve without it.  So what good does it do to prevent these kids from working?" - Tom Woods, paraphrased from Applying Economics to American History

David in Qatar

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#3) On June 04, 2010 at 8:33 AM, russiangambit (28.68) wrote:

The question is purely theoretical I guess. There cannot be a society without a power center. In the abscense of organized military power, people with raw power or best weapons take over (ALWAYS).

What you need is a society with set laws and small self-regulating government. Anarchy is a horrible thing, just look at Somalia.

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#4) On June 04, 2010 at 1:31 PM, whereaminow (< 20) wrote:


You and I agree on probably 98% of things in this world, so I'm not all bent up on changing your mind on this.

But I disagree that Somalia's problem is too little government and I'm still deciding whether or not an anarchical society can remain so.

First, Somalia has suffered abuses from governments - their own, neighbors, and foreign powers - for a long time, which produced their current horrible state of affairs.  It doesn't seem to me that they would be saying "our problem is not enough government."  

That being said, I am skeptical of libertarian claims that Somalia is going full anarchist right now and of libertarian claims that living conditions have improved there (centralization or no centralization) in the last decade.  It is kinda hard to find info on them.

On the subject of anarchy, defending themselves would not be a problem of firepower.  I think the Swiss proved in WWII that you can find ways to prevent a dominating foreign power from attacking you.

The problem is knowledge. Had the Arawak Indians known that Christopher Columbus came to enslave them, and not to trade with them as they wanted to do, would they have acted differently?  They had no idea that there might be governments out there in the rest of the wold that seek to oppress and enslave.  We do, howvever.  That's a huge difference.

See these guys.  They're not prosperous or private-property-respecting libertarians by any means.  But they have managed to stay in anarchy for a long time in a world where that seems impossible.  I'm looking forward to reading this book (just ordered it) and whether or not it provides any hope, it should at the very least be quite interesting.

David in Qatar

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#5) On June 04, 2010 at 1:56 PM, FleaBagger (27.54) wrote:

russiangambit - What if one person has the best weapons, but is vastly outnumbered by those who have weapons that are almost as good? And is a society with a number of competing warlords, each ruling over his own subjects, really an anarchist society? Is it even really a society anymore? Somalia shows us what happens when governments go too far: not a reversion to anarchist society, as people keep labeling it, but precisely what we have come to expect from the influence of big government: perpetual war.

mhy729 - I believe that we will probably never have an anarchist society of any great size or duration; however, not because it is impossible, but because people are unwilling. I think in almost every time, and in almost every place, the majority will crave the power over their fellowman that democracy promises, and the wealthy will try to rule over their fellowman through either democracy or mercantilist plutocracy with a monarch figurehead. We all want to have control over our own lives, but, being greedy or fearful, many of us want to extend that control over others, just in case.

When you talk about lawlessness, that is not anarchy. Anarchy is a society where no coercive force is condoned, and violence is sanctioned only in self-defense. In an anarchist society, to be sustainable as an anarchist society, people attempting to rule others would be ignored until they try their hand at coercion, at which point they would be rebuffed by violent force. Meanwhile, the same people who abide by the laws of "Do not steal," "Do not kill," "Do not cheat" today would still abide by those laws without government, because the market is self-regulating: nobody who cheats his customers is going to continue to have customers. Nobody is going to get away with very many murders in an armed society. Nobody who steals will have a reliable long-term income in an armed, alert society that has not been lulled to sleep by government. So an anarchy has laws. It has all the good laws and none of the bad laws.

I am grieved in my spirit when I consider such questions as I brought up (or think about child abuse at all), but it seems to me that whatever society is like, there will be evil exceptions to the rule that people love their children and want to take care of them. I think that in a society where everyone is responsible for himself, people are less likely to be perverted by the influence of government.

So while child abuse may exist in an anarchy, it also exists (obviously) in a democracy, in a totalitarianism, and in any other society; the difference is that anarchy would not, like governments do, abuse those who survive troubled childhoods and reach adulthood. Also, as David points out, governments sometimes abuse children through dreadful foster care systems, and juvenile detention centers.

The long and the short of it is, while anarchy would not be perfect, it would, as far as anyone can tell, be at least as good in every conceivable way as government.

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#6) On June 04, 2010 at 6:43 PM, mhy729 (30.27) wrote:


Although my knowledge on the subject of anarchy is somewhat limited, I do not conflate the concept with the idea that the general public seems to hold of it (i.e. that it means a society completely out of control).  How you described anarchy above is roughly how I understand it to mean from a libertarian perspective.  Perhaps it was not clear from my original comment above, but when I referred to the lack of "laws" in an anarchist society, I meant "laws" to mean societal rules enforced by a governmental apparatus through punitive means.

I definitely agree with this:  So an anarchy has laws. It has all the good laws and none of the bad laws.  It is just that I have used the term "common set of implicit principles" instead because of my differing definition for "laws".  And I would also agree with both you and David regarding governments when it comes to the treatment of children.

Thanks for the exchange.

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