The Proper Libertarian Position on Child Licenses

Folks at Bleeding Heart Libertarians are debating whether to make parents have licenses in order to raise children (III). It is a strange debate for a number of reasons, but one major one is that it operates on the assumptions that child neglect is wrong and that the welfare of children is any of the state’s business. But, as libertarian Murray Rothbard explains, those assumptions are clearly wrong. A proper respect for personal liberty demands that parents be allowed to neglect their children, even to the point of death:

No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced. […] As a corollary this means that, in 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. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.) This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g., by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (Though, as we shall see below, in a libertarian society the existence of a free baby market will bring such “neglect” down to a minimum.)

I am not sure why libertarians are debating about child licenses when Rothbard already disposed of this entire topical area so majestically. Any other regime than the one articulated in the blockquote above, including requiring a child license, would violate the non-aggression principle, and is therefore not properly libertarian.