At least the beginnings of one. A difficult task – what rights does the child have under the non-aggression principle? Of course, a child has many of the same rights as the adult – not to be murdered, not to have his stuff stolen, etc. The difficulty comes in the relationship between parent and child. Michael Rozeff offers a starting point on this topic:
In the Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard argued that parents have no legal obligation to feed their children that can be derived from the theory of rights of self-ownership.
This inference is, I believe, faulty.
Rothbard suggests that having to feed the child is a positive obligation, and libertarian theory holds no room for such an obligation. I, of course, disagree with Rothbard on this issue of feeding a child, and I also disagree regarding positive obligations…well, not exactly, but bear with me.
The more specific point: I find it perfectly consistent with libertarian theory to hold specific performance clauses in contracts as valid and enforceable. There are many libertarians who do not: in their view, the only valid and enforceable contract is a contract for an exchange of property. I have written on this before – a post based on Walter Block’s views on this matter, where Walter also agrees as to the enforceability of a specific performance contract.
Rozeff concurs, albeit not using the phrase specific performance. When dealing with a way out of this issue of positive obligations vs. starving a child, he offers:
The way out is through the idea of self-limiting one’s rights by willingly choosing positions of responsibility, such that abdicating that responsibility causes aggression.
One can commit to perform an act – in fact be obligated to perform an act – based on one’s voluntary prior action. Call it voluntarily taking on responsibility – after which one is obliged to fulfill the responsibility. Of course, under the NAP, one is free to take on responsibility; if another depends on your fulfilling this duty – even to the point of life or death – well, they have the right to hold you to this duty.
The parents limited their own rights when they made the child and brought it into this world.
When does this obligation end? It is easy to say that it ends when the child reaches adulthood. But when is that? Rozeff offers an answer (although in a slightly different context):
The obligation may be understood by custom, common sense or by formal legal code.
There can be no one uniform answer – each child is different, as is every parent. But society has developed a general understanding of this matter, and the understanding has been free to evolve over time – or at least would be absent any laws.
Now…does the parent also have an obligation to feed the mind of the child? To train the child in ways that will make him acceptable to society? Or is keeping the child in a cage – fed, for sure, but in a cage nonetheless – sufficient to have fulfilled one’s obligation?
Look, it wasn’t the child’s choice to come into this world. Whoever brought him to the world inherently carries a responsibility – one voluntarily accepted: to prepare the child to live properly in it.
One can apply this same thinking to abortion, although some would argue that there was no child with which to make a deal when John and Jane were doing their thing. I have, of course, dealt with this also – a reward contract, which is also a type of specific performance contract, is a perfectly valid tool within the libertarian toolkit.
The individual who claims the reward need not have been known to the individual offering the reward; he need not even have been alive…or conceived at the time the reward was offered.