Take Back Our Kids

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One month ago,
my wife and I had our third child and first son. (Okay, my wife
had the child; I mostly stood around and said important things like,
"Keep pushing!") As incredibly joyous and awe-inspiring
as childbirth always is, the event was blemished — if only in retrospect
— by the intrusion of the State into the delivery room. The parental
instinct is to protect your offspring — especially newborns — from
all threats, so it was with more than a little dismay that I stood
by helplessly and watched Leviathan sink its hooks into another
one of my children literally moments after he left the womb.

Don't believe
me? Let's walk through a day in the life of a newborn.

In New York
as in most other states, if you give birth at a hospital and there
is no medical emergency, the first thing they do after cutting the
umbilical cord — even before "allowing" the mother to
breastfeed her child — is take the baby over to an examination table
and drop some ointment in their eyes. In the old days, the ointment
was silver nitrate, which often burned the eyes of the newborn.
Now, they mostly use erythromycin, which is less caustic but still
causes frequent irritation and even infections.

The drops are
a "prophylactic" against blindness caused by venereal
disease, and the law mandates them. Sure they cause intense discomfort
to a helpless baby who, all things considered, would rather give
that breastfeeding thing another go. On the other hand, it's a small
price to pay to save the child's eyesight. Just one problem — neither
my wife nor I have any history of venereal disease. In a free and
sane society, parents would be left to consider their own sexual
history in consultation with their doctors and decide for themselves
where it's medically necessary to inflict this painful treatment
on their newborns.

The next thing
they do, after wheeling the mother from the delivery room and checking
her into the most expensive bed-and-breakfast in town, is hand one
of the parents a form to obtain the child's birth certificate and
social security number. You're supposed to turn in the form before
you check out of the hospital. As my wife is usually busy resting
or feeding the baby at this point, it has always fallen to me to
fill out the paperwork. As an anarchist libertarian, I always cringe
at this distasteful task — even more than at changing diapers filled
with multi-colored newborn poop. As with the birth of each of my
kids, I entertained fleeting fantasies of tossing the form in the
garbage. I'm not going to voluntarily enslave my son to the state!
He'll be a free, unnumbered man! He'll thank me for not selling
him out to Leviathan in his first hours of life.

But then reality
sets in, and I picture a pissed-off teenage son unable to get a
part-time job or driver's license because his old man was a stubborn
ideologue. More shamefully, I picture myself missing out on a dependent
deduction on my income taxes, or having to shell out cash for every
doctor's visit because my insurance won't cover a dependent without
a social security number. So I sheepishly fill out the form and
insert it in the little wooden box by the nurses' station.

On and on it
goes. Over the next few months, we'll start the battery of mandatory
vaccinations against long-vanquished diseases, many of which vaccines
have been linked to occasional severe side effects. With each of
our first two children, my wife and I convinced ourselves that we
were choosing the vaccines based on the best medical wisdom, not
because we were selling out yet again to Leviathan. There is some
truth to that — because we homeschool our children, the threat of
denying them admission to the K-12 government indoctrination centers
means little to us. On the other hand, the state's tentacles reach
even to backup daycare centers and summer camps requiring proof
of vaccinations.

And then there
is school. As I mentioned, our kids are or will be homeschooled,
but even so, we'd have to be blind to think our kids will go unexposed
to the statist propaganda machine simply because we're taking charge
of their education. Yes, they'll get far less propaganda under our
care than at the youth internment centers, but the statist quo insinuates
itself into virtually every type of media, from home-education workbooks
to "educational" software to DVDs to popular children's
books to television. The Marxist-environmentalist dogma alone permeates
most pop culture consumed by youth.

Moreover, I
simply think it would be a mistake to shield my children from every
harmful idea out there, even if I could. The very notion strikes
me as Orwellian. The best defense against bad ideas is better ideas,
not censorship. I'm sure there are some parents who homeschool because
they want to limit what their kids are exposed to, but I prefer
it for precisely the opposite reason — because I believe my wife
and I can offer our children exposure to so much more than
the government schools ever could.

The secret
to raising libertarian children in an unlibertarian world is not
to hide them from the influence of the state, when the state already
has had their hooks in them from the moment they left the womb.
No, the answer is to counteract the collectivism around them by
ensuring their exposure to pro-freedom, individualist ideas on a
regular basis. Think of it as an equal-time provision for individualism.

Now, it would
be wonderful if children would read Human
Action
, but as accessible as that classic tome is, it's
really meant for grown-ups, or at least teenagers and up. Similarly,
it is unlikely that any child will cheer when you pop a Nathaniel
Branden lecture into the car stereo instead of a Wiggles CD.

No, children
— even more so than grownups — are creatures of pop culture. If
we want them to absorb the ideas of freedom, we have to deliver
those ideas through entertaining books, movies and TV shows. Fortunately,
there are plenty of libertarian gems to found among the collectivist
garbage, and the best of them are a pleasure to consume for kids
and their parents alike. The following are some of the best children's
books on freedom I have encountered as a parent (and former child).

For pre-schoolers
(the statists start early, so we must start early too), Dr Seuss
authored such anti-government classics as Yertle
the Turtle
, in which the eponymous king is overthrown by,
well, a burp. As far as I can tell, the turtle pond government is
ultimately replaced by an anarchistic utopia:

And today
the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

For a good
anti-war Seuss book, I recommend The
Butter Battle Book
. Written at the height of the cold war,
it tells the tale of an arms race (between the butter-side up Yooks
and the butter-side down Zooks), which escalates into the threat
of mutually assured destruction.

Unfortunately,
the great Seuss sometimes missed the mark. In particular, I'd steer
clear of The
Lorax
, which evokes the "save the earth" hysteria
of the early 1970s. Your kids will be exposed to more than enough
environmentalist extremist propaganda on their own.

As your kids
get a bit older, they definitely should take a look at the great
Little
House
books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although pre-teens are
probably the target audience, my five-year-old and I have been reading
them together each night, and she absolutely loves them. We've finished
Little
House in the Big Woods
and Little
House on the Prairie
, and now we're working on the third
book in the series, On
the Banks of Plum Creek
. That's the book that will be most
familiar to fans of the 1970s Little House television series, as
it brings the Ingalls family to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and introduces
everyone's favorite adolescent villainess, Nellie Olsen. Truthfully,
these books don't have an overt political message, other than to
affirm an ideal of rugged independence and self-sufficiency. Longer-term,
however, as kids develop a lifetime fondness for Laura Ingalls and
then her daughter Rose, they may eventually want to read the latter's
The
Discovery of Freedom
, one of the most compelling libertarian
polemics of all time.

Robin Hood
is a children's story I recommend with reservations. The ancient
outlaw tale can be read as either a socialist or libertarian allegory,
depending on who is doing the reading and who is doing the telling.
The cliché is that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave
to the poor; in other words, he was an early practitioner of "redistribution
of wealth" for "social justice." But that interpretation
does Robin a disservice. When you think about it, he stole from
the tax collectors and returned the money to the taxpayers, who
were its rightful owners. His Merry Men were literature's first
anti-government militia, and they brandished assault weapons to
do battle with the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John. There
are dozens of versions of the Robin Hood tale in print, and many
of them lean toward the socialist interpretation. The Scholastics
Junior Classics
edition by Ann McGovern seems to get the
pro-freedom message right: "High taxes, outrageous rents, and
fines made the poor even poorer as they tried to scratch a life
out of the fields…" (page 6).

Probably the
most famous libertarian children's book (among libertarians) is
The
Adventures of Jonathan Gullible
by Ken Schoolland. One of
the marks of a truly successful juvenile book is that it can be
enjoyed by adults as well as children, and on that count Dr. Schoolland
has clearly succeeded. In fact, I suspect that Jonathan Gullible
has probably been read by more grownups than kids. Each chapter
addresses a commonly misunderstood economic or political concept
and humorously lampoons the conventional wisdom.

Those are
my personal favorites among the freedom literature for children,
and I know I left out some worthy titles. (The anti-authoritarian
themes in the Harry
Potter
books alone probably merit their own article. My libertarian
sci-fi friends tell me Robert Heinlein's juveniles are outstanding,
but unfortunately the only Heinlein I've read is The
Moon is a Harsh Mistress
, which is definitely an adult book.)
However, the genre is definitely finite, and much smaller than that
of adult books on liberty.

My
own humble contribution to the body of libertarian literature for
young adults is The
Walton Street Tycoons
, recently published by East River
Press. I wrote it because, as a parent and an activist, I saw a
need for it. By the time our kids reach adulthood, it may be too
late to expose them to the ideas of liberty. Also, as a capitalist,
I saw a niche that I could exploit for fun and profit. What kid
wouldn't want to read about other kids striking it rich and thumbing
their noses at authority? Surprisingly, I have very little competition.
That may be good for my bottom line, but it's not so good for the
future of freedom.

January
17, 2007

Jim
Lesczynski [send him
email
] is the father of three children and the author
of The
Walton Street Tycoons
.

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