Starving Child, Part III: Spanking Children

—–Original Message—–
From: JH
Sent: Saturday, November 05, 2016 8:26 AM
Subject: Spanking and the NAP

Dr. Block, In your discussion with “JWM” you added an eye-opening exception—immaturity—to the non-aggression principle. I hadn’t realized children or other less-than-mature individuals were fair game for aggression. Are there other exceptions for which you would argue? This strikes me as a case where you are trying to have and eat your cake at once. On the one hand, you revere the NAP. On the other, you believe that spanking may help children. So you try to square these opposing values by highlighting maturity differences between adults and children. But even among adults, maturity varies widely. Because of injury or disease, some adults operate at the level of children. They must be minded to prevent them from running into the street, etc. Is spanking such adults permissible on account of their immaturity? If you could sustain the argument that spanking is necessary to the raising of good children, you might have a case, but you can’t. Many people have raised good children without spanking them, and thus while honoring the NAP. In fact, my wife and I both considered the NAP in deciding not to spank our children. Now 16 and 13, respectively, they are wonderful, young men and don’t seem to have suffered for our lack of aggression against them. I love your work, but you’ve gotten this one wrong, in all due respect. With admiration and appreciation, JH

Dear JH: 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. Let’s take some cases. A 20 month old boy (a senile old man in a nursing home), refuses to allow you to change his diaper. He wants to lie in his own filth. You are the guardian. Are you allowed to forcibly compel this diaper change? How can you do that? Why, by holding down that person, against his will, cleaning him up, and placing another diaper on him. You interpret the NAP of libertarianism such that such a caretaker would be a criminal? No, no, no. Yes, I do indeed want to have my cake and eat it too. I desperately want to cleave to the NAP, since it is the very core of libertarianism. The NAP is the very essence of our philosophy. I will concoct all sorts of weird things to protect it (see my work on the Blockian proviso: Block, Walter E. Forthcoming. “Forestalling, positive obligations and the Lockean and Blockian provisos: Rejoinder to Stephan Kinsella.” Ekonomia Wroclaw Economic Review). But I also want some sanity in our movement. To think that it is a criminal act to forcibly compel a baby (or a senile old person) to have a diaper change is insane. Of course we libertarians have to incorporate this phenomenon into our understanding of our philosophy. How else can we do so other than to take note of maturity levels? Children (and the mentally handicapped, the senile, etc.) are not yet (will never be, unless somehow cured) full rights bearing human beings. It is licit to use force, violence, whatever, “against” them, for their own good, of course. To not do so is to abnegate parental, guardianship obligations. If a parent leaves his baby in a dirty diaper, he is guilty of neglect, of child abuse. He is the real criminal. If you never, ever, used violence against your children, you are either lying, or they are not members of the human race (maybe they are angels?). Paternalism is illegitimate for adults. But it is justified for helpless immature human beings. Now, let us return to spanking. There is a three year old toddler. He loves to walk, run, into traffic. You’re afraid he’ll kill himself. You try to reason with him. It fails. You read him stories to this end. It fails. You try to punish him in a way that if you did it to an adult, it would not constitute assault and battery. For example, you withhold his allowance. You don’t let him have desert. Whatever. It fails. He keeps trying to play in traffic. Finally, horrors!, you spank him (if you did this to a mature adult, you would indeed be a criminal). It works. You are telling me that the parent who does this has committed a crime? If so, all I can say is that we two will have to agree to disagree. We have a very different view of what constitutes libertarianism. For more on this, see my debate on this matter with Stephan Molynuex: December 9, 2013. Debate: Walter Block and Stefan Molyneux, Freedomain Radio on spanking children.;


11:04 am on November 5, 2016