Child Abandonment, Positive Obligations and Libertarian Theory

From: E
Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2019 11:51 AM
Subject: On child abandonment….

Dr. Block,

In your discussion on Lew Rockwell, you state that the parent has no obligation to feed or even keep their child alive. You state that the parent does have anobligation to notify someone that they have no desire to care for the child, and you gave examples of the parent bringing the unwanted child to an orphanage or hospital. So the parent in your opinion is not obligated to care for the child, but is obligated not to abandon it.

I think I understand your premise here: A parent should not be forced by rule of law to take responsibility for his or her child, but it should be in Rothbard’s words, “a positive obligation” to care for the child. It seems to me a whole lot of hair splitting going on here. I would contend that the parent “only has a moral obligation to their children” is sadly deficient and defective.

Something that I have observed in this theory of Rothbard’s and now also yours, that a parent has a right to abandon his child is incomplete. Where does the concept of parental authority come into play? How about parental duty to the child? Where do these concepts come in when we are discussing the “rights” of a parent or for that matter a child?

A gentleman I happened to be discussing the abortion issue with introduced me to an old French law code tracing back to Napoleon, which states that parents have authority over children. He stated “they prefer the concept of authority to responsibility.” He went on to say: “This authority carries with it the duty of care. They go together in that law…This gives rise to what we in America tend to call responsibility, not authority. But it’s of interest that the French law has this doctrine linking the two: authority(responsibility) and duty. In many other situations, people have authority in jobs and duties come with it. Hence the French application to parents and children is not exceptional.”

In summary, it seems to me that leaving out theses key concepts of authority (responsibility) and duty, when it comes to the nurturing or not nurturing, as the case may be, of our children gives us a flawed perspective of the issue.

Regards, E

Dear E:

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I regard the no positive obligations as an integral part of libertarianism. You, I think, don’t.

You might want to read this, in which, I think, I fully respond to your very valid and very important concerns:

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Forestalling, positive obligations and the Lockean and Blockian provisos: Rejoinder to Stephan Kinsella.” Ekonomia Wroclaw Economic Review.

Best regards,



4:26 pm on April 13, 2019