From the Vaults: Murray N. Rothbard on the Feeding and the Selling of Babies

Regular readers of my posts to this blog will realise that I take an interest in political extreme movements, organisations and ideologies. One area that I have not particularly focussed on here is that of libertarianism/anarcho-capitalism. I believe that one of the most eloquent advocates of these ideas was the late Murray Rothbard. In 1982 he had published what I perceive to be a work of brilliance: The Ethics of Liberty. The 1998 edition of this book is available free on line (PDF).

Rothbard was no fan of the State.  Because taxation is compulsory, it “is therefore indistinguishable from theft.” Consequently “it follows that the State, which subsists on taxation, is a vast criminal organization far more formidable and successful than any ‘private’ Mafia in history.” (p.166).

He comments (pp.173-4):

The grotesquerie of the typical conservative call for the government to enforce conservative definitions of “morality” (e.g., by outlawing the alleged immorality of pornography) is therefore starkly revealed. Aside from other sound arguments against enforced morality (e.g., that no action not freely chosen can be considered “moral”), it is surely grotesque to entrust the function of guardian of the public morality to the most extensive criminal (and hence the most immoral) group in society—the State.

The main area that I wish to bring to the attention of readers of this blog post is Rothbard’s opinions about the rights of children that he discussed in Chapter 14 of The Ethics of Liberty. I nearly fell off my chair when I originally read some of his arguments:

The Ethics of Liberty

Murray N. Rothbard

New York University Press, 1998

Extracted from pages 100-104.

….[I]n the free society, no man may be saddled with the legal obligation to do anything for another, since that would invade the former’s rights; the only legal obligation one man has to another is to respect the other man’s rights.

Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive….

[T]he child has his full rights of self-ownership when he demonstrates that he has them in nature—in short, when he leaves or “runs away” from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to runaway and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own. Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return. The absolute right to run away is the child’s ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age.

Now if a parent may own his child (within the framework of non-aggression and runaway-freedom), then he may also transfer that ownership to someone else. He may give the child out for adoption, or he may sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract. In short, we must face the fact that the purely free society will have a flourishing free market in children….Allowing a free market in children would … allow for an allocation of babies and children away from parents who dislike or do not care for their children, and toward foster parents who deeply desire such children. Everyone involved: the natural parents, the children, and the foster parents purchasing the children, would be better off in this sort of society.