Children and Rights; The Blockian Proviso

From: I
To: Walter Block
Subject: RE: Question on Libertarianism

Hi, I’m a libertarian Jewish teen living in the United States and recently I was disturbed to read in Murray Rothbard’s book “The Ethics of Liberty”, chapter 14 “Children and Rights”, that parents have a right to starve their children to death. I searched around on the internet and found that Doris Gordon and Stephen Kinsella attempt to solve the obvious moral problem here, by disagreeing with Rothbard and saying that since parents give birth to their children in a state where they are not self-sufficient they are obligated to support them until they become self-sufficient. However, Gordon and Kinsella did not solve the core problem here as their solution only works in some cases. For example, if A takes B on a boat ride and in the middle, decides to through him off the boat thus murdering him, Gordon and Kinsella would say he can’t, because he put B in this situation. But if B hides in A’s boat and pops out in the middle of the ride, Gordon and Kinsella would have no problem with A throwing him off. Because in this case, A didn’t put B in this situation. B did it to himself by hiding in the boat.
If we think about this a little, we quickly realize that in most cases the problem still exists. If B runs on to A’s property to escape a fire Gordon and Kinsella would allow A to murder B by throwing him off his property – right into the fire. How can it be morally justified to murder people because of property rights?
The thing about parents having a right not feed their children comes from Murray Rothbard’s book “The Ethics of Liberty”, page 100, where he writes:

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.

In an article in Mises Daily Stephan Kinsella wrote:

Finally, and to me most decisive: the libertarian could argue that the parent has various positive obligations to his or her children, such as the obligation to feed, shelter, educate, etc. The idea here is that libertarianism does not oppose “positive rights”; it simply insists that they be voluntarily incurred. One way to do this is by contract; another is by trespassing against someone’s property. Now, if you pass by a drowning man in a lake you have no enforceable (legal) obligation to try to rescue him; but if you push someone in a lake you have a positive obligation to try to rescue him. If you don’t you could be liable for homicide. Likewise, if your voluntary actions bring into being an infant with natural needs for shelter, food, care, it is akin to throwing someone into a lake. In both cases you create a situation where another human is in dire need of help and without which he will die. By creating this situation of need you incur an obligation to provide for those needs. And surely this set of positive obligations would encompass the obligation to manumit the child at a certain point. This last argument is, to my mind, the most attractive, but it is also probably the least likely to be accepted by most libertarians, who generally seem opposed to positive obligations, even if they are incurred as the result of one’s actions. Rothbard, for example, puts forward several objections to such an approach.

Doris Gordon proposed the same thing here.

I also saw a paper in which you addressed this problem and there you say that when someone abandons something, they must first let other people know, and the chance that nobody will adopt a child that is being abandoned is very low.

However the core of the problem, namely that sometimes the non-aggression principle can cause innocent people to die, is still not completely solved. Because all that Kinsella and Gordon have said, is that if one person puts another in a situation where he needs to be helped, he is obligated to help him. So if A takes B for boat ride, he cannot just through him off the boat. Because A willingly let him on. But if B hides in a closet in A’s boat, A would have a right to through him off – even in the middle of the Atlantic where he will certainly die. This is because A did not willingly let him on, and he is not obligated to let B use his property (his boat). So my question is, how is this moral?

Thank you very much, I

Dear I:

I agree with Murray Rothbard. The parent has no obligation to feed the child, keep him alive. But, does the parent have an obligation to notify others of that decision? I argue that he does, and that this does not comprise a positive obligation. Do let me know what you think of my argument:

Kinsella, Stephan. 2007. “The Blockean Proviso.” September 11;;
Block’s Proviso:

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

Best regards, Walter


8:40 pm on September 12, 2017