Mises Daily Articles
But What About the Children?
Christopher Ratte, professor in the department of classics at the University of Michigan, was recently turned into a jailbird and had his son taken away from him, all in the name of protecting the child from the father. He had taken his 7-year old son to a baseball game in Detroit and ordered him lemonade. What was served up was a "Mike's Hard Lemonade," which his son prepared to drink. Suddenly security arrived.
"You know this is an alcoholic beverage?" the security guard asked.
"You have got to be kidding," responded the professor. And before the professor could examine the bottle, the guard snatched it away, and the boy was taken to the hospital where no traces of alcohol were found in him. The boy was then promptly put in foster care. It was two days before the mother, a professor of architecture, was allowed to take him home, and a full week before the father was allowed to come back into the home again.
The case provides a remarkable look at the workings of bureaucracy. The Detroit Free Press interviewed all the people involved. It turns out that no one was happy about what happened, but the gears of the bureaucracy ground away, ruining people's lives for no good reason.
The cop on duty thought it was a mistake, but his supervisor was insisting that he act. When Child Protective Services came to take the child into their cruel foster care, the police objected. But CPS was just doing its duty. It had no choice but to take the child since the police had requested a court order — also triggered by events — to remove the child. Observers who know the system say that the only surprising aspect to this case is that the child was returned so quickly. Had the couple been poor, uneducated, and unconnected, the case might still be tied up in the courts.
The lesson many people draw from this is that social workers are being given too much authority, that governments need to be reformed so that they do not take extreme measures too hastily, that cops need to use good sense before busting up families, etc. The problem is that all of these reforms ultimately depend on the state to use its discretionary power judiciously.
The real issue concerns the locus of the control. Does it belong to the family or the state? When there is a dispute, to whom does the presumption of innocence belong? It is not enough to say, here is a bad family environment, so of course the state should control the outcome. When it comes to the power of the state over the family, there is no such thing as a judicious use. The state has every reason to invent excuses to destroy families, and the families themselves have no choice but to crawl and beg.
State campaigns for the welfare of children have long been a major justification for the expansion of Leviathan. This is the primary basis for the war on drugs, which has robbed us of so many civil liberties. It is the basis for the nationalization of education that is taking place, administration by administration, in the name of preventing any child from being left behind. If the Internet is ever regulated in the United States the way it is in China and parts of Europe, it will be in the name of protecting the children. Indeed, it is possible to erect a totalitarian state in the name of helping the children.
So it was in Texas, when the state swept in to remove 416 children from their mothers. The police were responding to a call claiming abuse, but there was no other basis for this incredible action than the desire to crush a religion completely. The state decided the dissident church shouldn't exist, and so it claimed all power in the interest of the children. The state could count on sympathy from mainstream American culture, which disapproves of polygamy and underage marriages. And that is precisely why the group separated themselves completely from the rest of the culture. See if you can watch this video of mothers speaking out against the action and not conclude that the case for the invasion was at best ambiguous.
Should people be free to set up cults, to live undisturbed to practice their religion, to deviate from mainstream ethical codes? Certainly if we believe in freedom, people should be able to do this. In fact, the group was already under a great deal of pressure to reform from the outside and inside, with former members of the group reporting despotic control by the leader and many men who had been excommunicated putting pressure on those inside to leave. We don't know whether the entire matter — if indeed abuse was taking place — might have been handled in this way, because the state intervened to impose the cruelest possible solution, namely, taking children from their mothers' arms and putting them in the hands of government social workers.
In the name of protecting children, the state already runs a huge program with government officials posing as teenagers seeking sex and arresting those who fall for the scam. By itself, this is very strange, with government becoming a source for the very problem that government is trying to correct. Meanwhile, a February-March 2008 report from the American Psychologist reports that the fears about Internet predation are wildly exaggerated and do not reflect the facts. This is hardly a surprise, since the state has incentive to exaggerate the pathologies of society as a means of getting a claw hold over every independent sector.
The goal of the state is to find some practice that is universally reviled and pose as the one and only way of expunging it from society. The best example today is child pornography, a grim and ghastly industry that every decent person would like to see eradicated from the earth. But in the name of doing so, the state invades everyone's privacy, controls speech, interferes with families, and otherwise uses the issue as a wedge to eliminate every freedom.
Thus do we see what is wrong with statements such as the following:
We have an obligation to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse, and we can do this by increasing communication between state and federal agencies to help combat this repulsive industry. While privacy rights should always be respected in the pursuit of child pornographers, more needs to be done to track down and prosecute the twisted individuals who exploit innocent children.
Do we really want to unleash the state to solve this problem? Not if we understand the dynamics of statism. The power will not be used to solve the problem, but rather to intimidate the population in ways that people will find difficult to object to. The trouble is that the above words were not written by the typically naïve do-gooder, social worker, or Justice Department bureaucrat. They were penned by a spokesman for the Libertarian Party.
Thus can we see the power of propaganda — and its uses. Not even self-identified libertarians can see that state authority over the family is a basis for the loss of liberty in our time, and that the state always poses a greater threat to society than whatever problem it purports to solve. There is a further problem: to concede that there are social problems that cannot be corrected without the state is to give up the entire argument over the future of liberty itself.