login about faq

There is a large body of Objectivist writing on the proper role of government for adults. What about towards children? Or more specifically, adults who are raising their children? Since the children are presumed to be in the sole and total care of their parents, what role would government have to protect the rights of children in an Objectivist society? What exactly are those rights?

A parent may believe they are acting in the best interest of their child. Or they may not be putting much thought into it at all...at what point would the State have the right to interfere? What principles should guide these laws and actions?

There might be clear principles of physical life-threatening harm to a child. What about threats to the mind of a child (which is his or her basic tool of survival after all.) If a parent has a pattern of action or abuse or disinterest that can objectively be shown to permanently sabotage the growing mind of a child, does the state have the right to remove the child from the parent's custody?

If anyone can provide links to existing Objectivist essays on the role of government vis-a-vis parenting, that would be much appreciated.

This question is prompted by the question and subsequent discussions circumcision for a minor .

asked Jun 20 '11 at 00:02

QEDbyBrett's gravatar image

QEDbyBrett ♦

edited Jun 20 '11 at 09:59

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

This is an excellent question. I do have an objection, though, with its formulation. The initiation of force is always evil. So, this question should instead read: "In an Objectivist society, when would the State be justified in using force against parents while raising their children?" Presumably in any acceptable case, the parents will have already initiated force against their children.

(Jun 20 '11 at 08:02) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I edited the title, because the question is clearly asked within the context of the government's role of using retaliatory force.

(Jun 20 '11 at 10:02) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Fair point and correction, probably. We can think of cases where the government would take retaliatory action on behalf of the children who can't do it themselves. But I also wanted to address situations where a parent's lack of action may justify intervention. For instance, would extreme failure to feed or bathe a child constitute initiation of force? What about leaving a toddler locked up at home alone while a single parent goes off to work? Many questions...I'm eager to learn the principles that should guide the answers.

(Jun 20 '11 at 21:13) QEDbyBrett ♦ QEDbyBrett's gravatar image

My three-year-old son has rights. But he doesn't have the capacity to exercise them, yet. I am charged with the role of exercising his rights on his behalf. I have voluntarily taken on the responsibility of feeding him, clothing him, providing him shelter, and preparing him to be able to exercise his own rights someday. I clearly cannot morally use force against him, and starving him or otherwise not providing his basic means of survival would clearly fall into that realm. Objectivism says that the mind is man's basic means of survival. But my son is not yet a man.

(Jun 21 '11 at 00:47) lysander lysander's gravatar image

What constitutes a threat to a child's mind? Forcing him to read nothing but Kant? Taking him to church? Sending him to a public school? By whose standard is such a thing to be judged? The state's? I think the state telling me what I must do regarding my child's mind is a violation of my right to exercise his rights on his behalf.

(Jun 21 '11 at 00:49) lysander lysander's gravatar image
showing 2 of 5 show all

The question asks for "links to existing Objectivist essays on the role of government vis-a-vis parenting...." For a concise, essentialized statement of applicable philosophical principles by Ayn Rand, the two best references that I know of appear in the book, Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 3-4. In a 1962 radio broadcast, Ayn Rand was asked, "Does the state have a right to interfere with parents who abuse their children?" Ayn Rand devoted most of her answer to physical abuse (including gross neglect), and explained that it's "an issue of protecting individual rights" and the fact that a child, by its nature, must depend on its parents. (Not mentioned but also applicable is the fact that bringing a child into the world imposes chosen obligations on the parents, just as entering into a contract imposes obligations on those who have chosen to accept the contract. Objectivism classifies unilateral breach of contract as an indirect form of physical force.)

The end of Ayn Rand's 1962 answer also mentions "intellectual issues" and emphasizes that the government has no proper role there. (Not mentioned but also applicable: a child has free will and can eventually reject whatever intellectual mis-guidance he receives from his parents, as long as he hasn't been physically traumatized, i.e., subjected to abusive physical force going far beyond the bounds of reasonable discipline or restraint.)

Twelve years later, in 1974 (Ford Hall Forum), Ayn Rand was asked, "How do the rights of chidren differ from those of adults, particularly given a child's need for parental support?" She answered by explaining that children and adults alike have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but the implementation of these rights depends on one's faculty of reason and one's level of knowledge. Ayn Rand's full answer is primarily aimed at delimiting alleged "children's rights" going beyond basic support and sustenance. By implication, the role of government is to protect the rights of children as well as adults, to the degree and in the form that rights apply to children.

If the broad philosophical principles are unsatisfying as to details, remember that there is a division of labor regarding philosophy. Philosophy sets the broad principles, but the details of their application need to be worked out by specialists in other fields such as law or philosophy of law. This is true of indirect physical force, too, as Leonard Peikoff explains in OPAR, pp. 319-320:

The task of defining the many forms of physical force, direct and indirect, including all the variants of breach of contract, belongs to the field of law.

There is also a very recent reference specifically on circumcision: Leonard Peikoff's 4/25/11 Podcast, which can be located on his website under choice. He explains very forcefully why circumcision of a child has no rational merit whatsoever and should be outlawed as utterly unjustifiable physical abuse.

answered Jun 21 '11 at 01:36

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

As human beings, children have the absolute right to life. Implicit to that right is the right to live free of physical and/or mental assault. One of the few fully justified actions of a government is to protect members of its society from such assaults.
Children occupy a special subset of society in that they are the wards of their parents or legal guardians who are responsible for educating them into the ethos of the society. That includes social norms, religious (or lack thereof) education, social responsibilities, and so forth There is an ongoing debate as to where physical discipline (e.g., spanking) becomes physical assault. Government needs to insure the right to life of children by defining what forms of discipline are allowable and what constitute illegal injury. It then is accountable for identifying those children endangered by their parents/guardians and taking action to protect the children. In those cases where the child has been injured, a crime has been committed as surely as when an adult injures another adult by physical battery. These adults should then be dealt with through the criminal judicial system.
Given the above paragraphs, it should be no surprise that I believe government is not only reasonably able to interpose into protecting abused children but that government is accountable for taking protective action. Failure to do so is negligence on the part of the government.
I have avoided getting into the discussion of when physical discipline becomes abuse. That is a topic for a separate discussion and debate.

answered Jun 23 '11 at 21:32

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

how does a government finance, support and maintain this kind of "protective action"? Is this a division of the police or a new government agency ?

(Jul 19 '11 at 15:04) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

If this action is deemed valid for the government, funding comes from taxation revenues. Some Objectivists believe government funding should come from voluntary donations. However, I believe that our government should impose sufficient taxes to fund those activities that free citizens agree are valid and of value to them. Protecting the rights of the society's members is a valid function of government and should be funded. In my own experience, protecting children from parental neglect/injury was managed best through cooperative work of health care and police and judicial actions.

(Jul 23 '11 at 12:01) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Jun 20 '11 at 00:02

Seen: 2,823 times

Last updated: Jul 23 '11 at 12:01