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
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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

Next »