Saturday, November 5, 2016

Walter Hits One Out of the Park

I am quick to pounce when Walter Block writes something with which I disagree.  In my more than six years of writing at this blog, I can think of maybe three or four topics where this has been the case (abortion, open borders, and paying public library fines come to mind).

Given how prolific Walter is at writing, if I wanted to give a shout out every time I agreed with him…well, let’s just say my family would go hungry.  I couldn’t keep up. 

But on several occasions, Walter offers a profound (to me) insight in such simple terms.  This could be described as a meaningful subset of the dozens (or hundreds) of topics in which I find myself in agreement with Walter.

He has done so today, here.  The topic is spanking children, which Walter suggests is not a violation of the NAP.  However, Walter doesn’t jump off the cliff by taking on spanking as his first step in his explanation; instead, he slow-walks the reader toward a conclusion that I find difficult to disagree with.

Forget about spanking for a moment. Spanking is only one small aspect of raising children. There’s also grabbing, physically compelling, holding against the will of the “victim,” assault and battery, etc.

In other words, forget spanking – let’s discuss the dozens of other ways in which every parent violates the NAP when it comes to raising their children.

Walter offers an example of changing a diaper at a time when the baby (or senile adult) in one’s care clearly does not want this “trespass” on his person.  Is it a violation of the NAP for the adult to force the issue via physical aggression, or is it a violation of the NAP to leave the baby (or senile adult) in one’s care to wallow in excrement for a day or two?

After reading his blog post, while walking through a shopping center I noticed a father walking with a child in his arms.  The child was quite content.  No NAP violation here, it is clear to me.

Later, I witnessed a similar scene with the child screaming to be put down – the child clearly not in control of any physical or mental rationality.  The father used force to keep the child in his arms.

Being a shopping center adjacent to a busy driveway and parking lot, I wondered: which is the violation of the NAP?  For the father to hold the child against his will, likely protecting him from running in any and every direction including the parking lot, or for the father to stop “aggressing” and allow the child the freedom from coercion and force?

Later still, I saw a content child walking next to her mother.  This child insisted on crossing the driveway on her own – without holding mom’s hand.  You can imagine the NAP violations the mother imposed on the child in order to cross the street safely.

Does libertarian theory offer that it should be a crime (or violation) for a parent to forcibly prevent his child from running into a busy parking lot?

My walk through the shopping center gave Walter’s words impact and meaning – and demonstrated the wisdom in the simplicity of his answer.

Walter does not dodge the question; he offers an example where spanking might be considered the last resort – and given the consequences in his example…well, who am I to argue?

Spanking a child might be obscene to you personally, but it can be only because of personal reasons and beliefs; this conclusion cannot be reached by application of the NAP if one grants that initiating aggression in order to prevent a child from running into a busy parking lot is acceptable under the NAP.

The NAP cannot tell you where to draw this line.


  1. You and Dr. Block conflate firm but gentle-as-possible force with punishment, to prevent a child from running into a busy street.
    If the NAP allows threats of bodily pain or actual infliction of pain to coerce the behavior of a toddler, when does it limit similar punishment of any other person?

    1. Children aren't adults. The relationship of parents to their children is not the same as the relationship between two adults.

      One can reach many conclusions based on these realities, and one is even free to reasonably disagree with the other's conclusions.

      But the difference is indisputable. Therefore, in your question, why do you conflate the two relationships - that of parent/adult to child and that of adult to adult?

    2. "Children aren't adults. The relationship of parents to their children is not the same as the relationship between two adults."

      Yes. This. This has been the key to a libertarian position on children. I'm glad we're starting to accept this, for the most part.

  2. I could see instances of choosing to violate the NAP if one wants to accept the consequences for doing so. Should one use force to prevent an adult from committing suicide? Yes, if one accepts the possibility that the adult will not be grateful and may thus elect to press charges.

  3. I wonder if further developments in thought will drawn a different distinction about where rights come into play for the child. The major argument as it applies to abortion is birth vs conception, or coming up with some point between. Perhaps the mark should be even later than this, like once an infant learns to walk, or to talk, or speak in complete sentences.

    I read about this topic wherever i stumble on it, because i think it's somewhat fascinating how emotional people get over their position. I don't have kids, so my opinion is moot anyway, but I generally think in terms of property rights, as long as the child lives under the parent's roof, spanking is fair game. Unfortunately the law doesn't allow children to leave home.

  4. " Is it a violation of the NAP for the adult to force the issue via physical aggression, or is it a violation of the NAP to leave the baby (or senile adult) in one’s care to wallow in excrement for a day or two?"

    I specifically thanked Block the other day for the part of the argument dealing with senility- it was excellent and let's face it, defending "spanking" isn't something anyone wants to be a position to have to do(and I'm 'pro' spanking).

    I treat the argument in the same fashion that I treat the argument as to why animals aren't entitled to the NAP. You have to be capable of entering into such a societal contract before being able to enjoy it's terms.(the NAP)

    Someone who is senile most likely isn't, & children develop rationality and the ability to abide by the NAP terms as they age, but they like that for some time during their development into adults. Once they able to function consistently rationally and "homestead" themselves, they get to enjoy the NAP.

    If an animal can one day rationalize with me, & understand/elucidate the NAP to me I'll be happy to extend it to him.