This seems to be a tough issue for libertarians to reconcile. On one hand, to say that parents actually own their kids throws out entirely the libertarian philosophy of self-ownership. If we are to argue that a child is a child because they are incapable of reason, and therefore cannot be bound by contracts and need their parents, etc. then the whole system falls apart. Why then should a government not test its citizens to make sure they know how to reason, before permitting them to engage in contractual agreements?
It is clear though that the parent has a role of authority over their children. But how far does this role go? Should parents be able to spank and ground their kids? I think so. But should they be able to hit their kids with full force, or lock them in cages in their basement? absolutely not. Then, if kids are permitted to refuse being locked in the basement, should they also be permitted to refuse "reasonable" disciplinary action?
The point is, child rearing has to be included in the philosophy of liberty, and I am not sure a theory of property is sufficient in doing so. What do you think?
The scope of the concept of liberty covers the relation between individuals and government.
The line is vert easy to draw. If you believe in Natural Rights as interpreted by John Locke in his two major works in particular A Treatise of Two Governments he clearly sets out how a individuals in general are not subject to a ruler, a sovereign. Locke holds that since Natural Rights are inalienable nobody can own anybody else. The foremost argument for a sovereign ruler to have absolute power was that his rights came from God and he ruled his subjects as a father would rule his children. This paternalistic view had to be broken. Locke did that by going to Natural Rights that were inalienable.
From this Lockean argument follows that as little a king has sovereignty over his subjects so little rights has a parent.
Lock explained in The Treatise of Two Governments what the power a parent has over a child. This right is nit absolute it is a temporary right that is on place until the child has enough education so he can fend for himself and make informed decisions. This power a parent only has as long as he does not abuse it, by abuse Locke means physical abuse, lack of food as well as lack of education. If these are lacking the parents temporary guardianship is voided and the child has to be protected.
Locke does not talk about how and under what precise circumstances a child is to be allowed to break the guardianship or who is going to be the arbiter. However it is clear that the child is s supreme individual and it's rights trump the parent, guardians rights
Kris, perhaps the problem is that, when speaking about liberty, we are speaking about the interaction of adults.
Most cultures recognize the role of parents with regard to children. Unfortunately in the US today, the increasingly totalitarian government absorbs daily more of the roles once reserved to parents. The relationship between parent and child is not one of "ownership", since children are not property.
As far as the question of when a punishment reaches the point of becoming a crime, it is when harm is done to the child. A slap does not harm, but a broken arm would be considered harm. Part of what is missing in society today, where government has gained too large a role in society, is a proper place for customary law (as opposed to civil law), which is based on natural law, and relies on a free market system of judges. This kind of law deals with the subtleties of such distinctions as when a parent's act of punishment goes too far. Such a question cannot be answered definitively in a vacuum, which is what you seem to be seeking.
We seem to be unaware often of how much the massive role of government in our lives effects us. It greatly reduces the other normal functions of family and voluntary organizations within a healthy society. Instead, we continue to see things as always bound up with legalities, about what government diktats will or will not allow. People who lived in the early years of the US republic, such as when de Toqueville wrote his "Democracy in America", experienced a much richer social environment, one we seem to have difficulty even imagining.
I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves... on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves... Benjamin Franklin
As a teacher, I tend to look at this from a developmental point of view. If we can agree that rights are something with which you are born then, by definition, children have them. I have seen evidence of natural rights in very young children, so it is conceivable that they may actually be naturally-occuring (i.e. not requiring specific instruction). However, like anything children experience, there is also a question of social norms that help shape our understanding. That is something that typically requires (or at least involves) parental influence. For example, property rights... Children learn very early on what belongs to them and what doesn't. (My daughter, at the age of 3 knew where every toy she owned was in the house at all times.) However, children first encounter issues when it comes time to share these things. It is at this point that parents can put things in context. What I find interesting is that no matter how much one may try to convince a child that everything is "communal property", they naturally gravitate to private ownership. (I myself try to respect that between my two kids because I want sharing to be voluntary.) I don't think any research exists to back me up on this, but neither is there any which would seriously refute this premise: children instinctively develop an awareness of natural rights. I believe the role of the parent, therefore, is to provide a function of "limited government" necessary to resolve disputes that involve things like fraud (lying, stealing), etc. The question, therefore, is, "At what point can we conclude that a child no longer needs this government?" After all, this is not government by consent; it's government by genetics. Traditionally, children became self-governing as they entered their teenage years (before the advent of extending childhood through the term "adolescence"). Hence, the practice of bar/bat mitzvahs and, to a lesser degree, confirmations. These practices themselves may be rather arbitrary, but on the average, they do seem about right for establishing the individual as a self-governing member of society. I teach at the middle school level, which is usually the stage in life that kids are the most "difficult". Why are they so difficult? Because we treat them like kids instead of extending them the rights they naturally feel - the things that make them feel respected. As soon as I began treating my classrooms as exercises in liberty and self-governance, things improved dramatically. True, I don't have kids sitting in nice, neat little rows, quietly doing worksheets. But then I'm not trying to train the next generation of mindless automatons either (go figure!) So, maybe this approach sheds some light on things. It's arguably neither philosophical nor scientific, but from my experience (both for my own children and those that I teach) it does seem to hold true.
John S:As a teacher, I tend to look at this from a developmental point of view...
As a teacher, I tend to look at this from a developmental point of view...