Blog Image

The London Libertarian

About the blog

Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

Anyone can make individual contributions on any subject covered in this blog by emailing

age of criminal responsibility

Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 14:17:48

age of criminal responsibility The age at which a *person is liable for any *crimes he commits. There seems no sound reason that this should differ significantly and without explanation from the *age of majority; whatever that should be in any, possibly individual, case. It seems a practical inconsistency and unjust to declare that someone is mature enough for *libertarian adult responsibilities (such as paying full *restitution for crime) but not mature enough for similar adult *rights (i.e., rights not to suffer *proactive impositions; not rights to any benefits or advantages), and vice versa. However, the age at which one ought to know right from wrong in certain basic cases is plausibly somewhat younger than the age at which some other skills are likely to be attained.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

age of majority

Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 14:15:48

age of majority Though this expression refers to age, as being a rule of thumb, the real problem is finding the correct criteria for deciding that someone is mature enough for adult *rights and responsibilities for, most, legal purposes. This is problematic for all *ideologies, and there is no reason to think it particularly acute for *libertarianism.

Perhaps some rough criterion of a libertarian restriction on rights and responsibilities is possible here. Given that a child is not *proactively imposing on others, what is it likely that the, possibly untypical, child would agree was an acceptable restriction when he becomes clearly mature (insofar as he is likely to do so)? We might call this a Projected Maturity Criterion (PMC). Difficult cases might sometimes have to be decided in private courts, and would probably remain open to later revision. This standard should rule out for most *children what most adults would find unacceptable to have been allowed to themselves when children. Details might vary, though, with individual children and different social customs even within libertarian *societies. And people might consider that maturity is sufficient for some activities earlier than others. Thus the *age of consent is often distinguished from and set lower than the age of majority.

Thus there are two distinctive aspects with this particular libertarian approach: 1) the focus on not restricting a child’s rights and responsibilities except by reference to the PMC, and 2) that a child’s current view, in proportion as he approaches being that particular mature person, is more likely to be listened to (though not necessarily to be decisive). These should be an improvement in terms of overall, mature, *liberty and *welfare.

However, in the context of dependency, parental or guardian rules for children are broadly *contractually libertarian given that the child freely chooses to live with his parents or guardians (assuming that the child’s acceptance of those rules pass the PMC: to rule out sinister manipulation of the immature). And whether a child should be allowed to leave or stay should also be subject to the PMC.

See *age of criminal responsibility; *circumcision, infibulation, etc. of children; *consent.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children

Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 14:11:03

circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children What are parents and guardians entitled to do to their offspring and wards in ways that alter their natural bodies? As with the issue of the *age of consent, a useful *libertarian criterion might be that something is acceptable if it is likely that the *child would be grateful to have had it once he is clearly an adult. This sometimes leaves opposite possibilities open depending on the (sub)culture that the child is then to be raised within. In the UK, males that are not Jewish or Islamic but were circumcised might resent it. In the USA male circumcision remains the, declining, norm; possibly because doctors can claim the extra expense from *health insurance. *extreme interferences can appear normal in some cultures. Foot binding or infibulation can be not merely acceptable but socially required. Even if any of these practices can pass tests as libertarian, that does not imply that a libertarian must approve of them.

With the most extreme infibulation, this involves clitoridectomy, excision of the labia minora, and cutting and stitching together of the labia majora to form a cover over the vagina. So we have to be sure that the endorsements by the female children’s adult selves are genuine. Are they being frank or lying because of social pressure? Do they really prefer that their younger selves had their genitals severely mutilated without anesthetic while they screamed for mercy? Even if they appreciate the often high risk of death or disease that ensues with this in some parts of the world? The evidence is that women in such cultures are now, at least, increasingly seeing it as barbaric and saying so.

Can a parent or guardian therefore impose by not having some body-altering operation performed? No, because that is usually withholding a (possibly dubious) benefit, and not failing to perform a *contractual duty; though some conceivable special, social, circumstances just might make it a duty of care. And in some cases the child could simply opt for the operation when it is older; but not all, such as foot binding.

If the very young child is only a potential *person, how can any act by the parent conflict with its *liberty as a person? We have no obligation to conceive and raise children, but given that we do give them the gift of life we cannot set this gift against some mutilation and claim that they benefited overall. We have a libertarian duty not to *proactively impose on them, unless to protect them, even if the imposition causally antedates their becoming persons. By analogy, we ordinarily have no libertarian duty to save a drowning person. But if, ad arguendo, we were intentionally to mutilate him in the water (maybe while he is unconscious) and afterwards save him, then we are liable for *restitution or *retribution for the separate act of mutilation despite the overall benefit he receives from us.

See *acts and omissions; *eugenics.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

child labour

Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 14:07:35

child labour How splendid if we could have tomorrow’s progress today. Splendid but counterproductive if we attempt to bully this progress into being. That is what *statists are in effect doing when they see some desirable trend in the *free market toward such things as declining *child labour (or fewer working hours, or better working conditions, etc.) and then attempt to hasten the process by *politics.

Child labour is not an evil in itself. It is a good in the circumstances where it is chosen. It is only that it is even better to be able to afford child *education instead. Child labour tends to disappear with rising incomes, and will largely disappear at an *economically efficient rate if only allowed to do so. As the market becomes more productive it bids up wages enabling parents to afford not to send their children to work. And some businesses wish to employ somewhat more-educated labour, though most businesses will likely always need no more skills than can best be learnt on the job (see *qualifications).

In some *less developed countries, where politics is more than averagely *corrupt and diseconomic, it is not economic for the vast majority of children to be given *schooling when they are needed by their parents to help with the family income. And *state schools, which are often the alternative that is being advocated by critics of child labour, are rarely efficient educators. Long hours for low pay may be all that the *economy can as yet support (i.e., labour productivity is low), though the pay can usually go much further there (e.g., food is much cheaper). Such countries’ economies can grow only by going through the various stages of industrialization that more-developed countries have already passed. But they can achieve these fantastically quicker if the free market is operating and transnational companies can move in to *exploit the cheap labour, thereby bidding up wages in that region.

Where child labour is officially banned, many children end up in a hidden economy with worse jobs and worse pay, and so they and their families suffer. Fewer children are born or survive, as they have been turned into more of a burden instead of a blessing by preventing them from working (see *population on the advantages of having more people). Or if businesses are forced to pay the children more, they will substitute children with adults or more *capital, and thus children overall will again be worse off.

See *minimum wage legislation; *sweatshops.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 14:03:46

children Children are developing into *sovereign individuals. Children are not the *property of their parents, so they cannot be sold as chattel. But the *right to raise them can be sold.

Other things being equal, parents have the *libertarian right to raise their own children because of the *proactively imposed *cost on parents, and probably children, that would be caused by not allowing this *natural activity. But we assume a duty of care by taking on a child when there are others who would have looked after it. So if we change our minds we need to discharge the duty by handing it over to others if they exist. Not to do so is somewhat like agreeing to be a lifeguard but then doing nothing when the need arises.

As parents have this right to raise their children, they can give or sell it to others who wish to raise them; and thus there will probably be more children and in better homes than if this transfer were not allowed. Selling this ‘right to raise’ is not selling the child as a piece of property, as some detractors depict it. And neither the parents nor any *contractual guardians have an absolute right to raise the children. This is only a prima facie right that can be overridden by sufficiently clear, dangers of, abuse of the child; where the child’s opinion of the matter will become increasingly weighted with its development and where his likely eventual opinion as an adult will have weight otherwise.

This raises an obvious question. Given the almost universal economic dependence of children, and the right to exclude people from *private property, how can children be protected in a libertarian *society? Anyone has the right to protect (if only by simply calling a private *police service) anyone else, including children; and no one has a libertarian right to exclude a rescuer from entering his property to prevent a likely *crime more serious than the trespass. The cost of a successful conviction would be passed on to the guilty parties. Given the strong sentiments that people have toward protecting children, *charities are likely to be available to supplement the funding of this protection if necessary. Any abusive imposition on children would be severely deterred, much more so than by the current *state system, by the usual force of libertarian *restitution and *retribution.

What will not happen, is that children will be abused within *tax-funded institutions, or that protesting children will be in effect kidnapped and sexually molested (in the name of a medical inspection) when a mere suspicion of abuse within the *family arises in the mind of some state official, or that real abusers will escape proper restitution and retribution; all of which often happens in many state systems of child ‘protection’.

See *abortion; *age of consent; *age of majority; *child labour; *circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

act-omission doctrine

Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 13:58:47

act-omission doctrine It is a matter of debate in *moral *philosophy, whether there is a real moral distinction between acting and failing to act when the outcome is the same. For instance, is there a difference between pushing someone into a river so that he drowns and failing to throw him a lifebelt so that he drowns? The act-omission doctrine is simply that there is a significant moral difference.

*Libertarians are often sympathetic to this distinction, and can see it as always permissible not to act in the sense that one is merely not getting involved. However, mere physical action and inaction cannot seem to capture the idea that libertarianism itself requires. One can, for instance, fail to act and thereby break a *contract, which cannot be libertarian. Thus a contract can morally, and legally, override any physical difference. In whatever way the physical distinction is worded, it seems to fall foul of some such *criticism.

There is, nevertheless, an *objective and moral distinction that is often detectable in many such examples: that between merely withholding a benefit and *proactively imposing a *cost. In fact, interpersonal *liberty can be defined as the ‘absence of proactively imposed costs’. This is a more abstract distinction than the act-omission one, though, and so more open to debatable interpretation than that merely physical distinction.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 13:55:40

abortion Abortion is *libertarian for two separate and cogent reasons, as well as being *utilitarian: 1) though a *person in the sense of being a member of our species, the unborn human is not a person in the *morally relevant sense of intellectual development; 2) the unborn human is not *proactively imposed on when someone stops giving the gift of life-support.

1) The unborn human being, at whatever stage of development and given whatever technical label, is not a person in the intellectual-attainment sense—because not yet capable of *critical-theorizing—that is necessary to give normal human beings their peculiar moral value. It is a potential person, but then so are any sperm and ovum that could be conjoined; or even any food that could eventually be converted into a person (the *Scholastics distinguished active potential, requiring action to stop it, from passive potential, requiring action to start it; but this appears to involve the ultimately incoherent *act-omission doctrine). If it is not inherently immoral to kill a non-person, as most *animals are, then it is not inherently immoral to kill an unborn human. Neither is it inherently immoral to kill an infant not yet a person, though there might be bad social side-effects of one kind or another (such as greatly upsetting some people who might also resort to violence); it is probably best to draw a line for infanticide, erring on the side of non-personhood, maybe sometime in the first year or two after birth and always well before speech indicates personhood. And the agreement of any parents or guardians would be necessary and sufficient, as they have *property *rights in the non-person.

It might be suggested, as a reductio, that by this standard an unconscious or comatose person is only a potential person, and so morally on a par with an unborn as regards killing him. But, as long as consciousness can be recovered, it looks far more reasonable to see this as a person whose consciousness is temporarily interrupted, and so full rights remain.

2) Even if an unborn human were a person in the intellectual sense, it would not be infringing his *liberty, or negative rights, to withdraw the uncontracted-for support of the womb so that he perishes. This is merely to discontinue giving a gift. It might be suggested that, at least if it is a person, there is a (quasi-)*contract between the mother and the unborn human to bring him to term. But there is no kind of offer or acceptance of that offer (or any quid pro quo), which contracts require. There is just support given and then stopped. It is like starting and later stopping a bank order that *charitably supports someone in genuine *need; or throwing a drowning man a rope but then not pulling him all the way to safety. See *act-omission doctrine. (However, merely to abandon one’s child when he is older so that he suffers would be proactively to impose on him: we caused that suffering. So we have a *duty to ensure his continued care in some way. But that duty does not arise through contract either.)

As for utility, forcing women to bear unwanted *children cannot plausibly increase overall welfare compared to allowing them to bear children when they wish to do so.

People who accept *religion, are particularly likely to deny either or both of 1 (insisting, or merely presupposing, that human beings cannot conceptually or practically be separated from intellectual personhood) or 2 (insisting, or merely presupposing, that there is some kind of contract to support the unborn that is created by its mother, and possibly father too; or that to fail to support is here somehow equivalent to killing). What they often also believe, is that the unborn has a personal soul that has been called into existence, and so the unborn cannot morally be killed or even abandoned. In such cases, this underlying metaphysical belief is what has to be criticized.

If people feel strongly that abortion is murder, then they can choose to live in *private-property areas, or join any private *organization, where abortions are contractually proscribed on pain of whatever penalties they wish (including a no-opting-out clause if they want it: see *specific performance).

However, what we do to the unborn where they later go on to become persons can proactively impose in the same way that what we do to children can (see *age of consent; *circumcision, infibulation, etc. of children). Though the outcomes to the child be the same, there is a crucial causal and moral difference between *proactively imposing a *cost (which is unlibertarian) and merely withholding a benefit (which is libertarian); but which is which is less clear with an unborn because it is both dependent and a potential person.

On a related issue, where the man provides his sperm freely and without contract during sexual intercourse, he cannot have any rights concerning the unborn. And in the same way, a woman who freely chooses to risk unprotected or imperfectly protected sex without a contract does not have any rightful claims over the man if she becomes pregnant. To gain any such rights a contract is required.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 12, 2014 13:49:11

cannibalism People can engage in cannibalism on a completely *libertarian basis: someone volunteers to be dinner (a recent German example made the mass media), or donates some body part (an hors d’œuvre in the same German example), or buys an *aborted foetus, etc.; or someone is *justly sacrificed as part of libertarian *retribution for some heinous crime. As no one is *proactively imposed on thereby (a mere feeling of revulsion, after freely choosing to think about cannibalism that is occurring somewhere else, is trivial) and it would certainly proactively impose—and reduce want-satisfaction *welfare—to prevent it (for the proactive *coercion to ban it would be a serious and unignorable imposition), such cannibalism must be *tolerated.

There is no libertarian reason that any *private property owners need to accept it on their property. Nor is there any plausible reason to expect cannibal restaurants to become fashionable eating-places. And it is a mere horror fantasy that, having acquired a taste for human flesh, people will then slide into unlibertarian cannibalism—especially given libertarian *restitution.

It is as well to face up to such extreme possibilities as occasional cannibalism to affirm that they must be tolerated and remind ourselves that ‘disgusting’ activities that are victimless are a touchstone of a free society. Only *extreme libertarians are likely to affirm such cannibalism as being genuinely a part of *liberty. However, this is not to say that they must approve of it; they can even consistently object and campaign against it within libertarian limits. If cannibalism, or any particular aspect of libertarianism, is ‘completely unacceptable’ to you (i.e., you want it universally eradicated by proactive coercion) then you cannot be completely libertarian. But that is no reason to reject libertarianism generally. And merely to accept overwhelmingly more of libertarianism than any other *ideology makes it reasonable to call oneself a libertarian.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

Next »