This is a guest post by Garden Mole
It’s interesting to ask what is the craziest position taken by libertarians. Perhaps it’s their opposition to all government aid to the poor. Perhaps it’s their call for legalising fatal neglect by parents. Or maybe it’s the proposal for a free market in nuclear bombs. But to my mind it’s their line on the sexual abuse of children.
One of the major intellectual heroes of modern libertarians is Lysander Spooner, the 19th century anarchist. Spooner is the author of a famous essay entitled Vices Are Not Crimes in which, inter alia, he specifically condemns the use of coercion to protect children from vice. He elaborates:
To have carnal knowledge of a woman, against her will, is the highest crime, next to murder, that can be committed against her. But to have carnal knowledge of her, with her consent, is no crime; but at most, a vice. And it is usually holden that a female child, of no more than ten years of age, has such reasonable discretion, that her consent, even though procured by rewards, or promises of reward, is sufficient to convert the act, which would otherwise be a high crime, into a simple act of vice.
Yes, Spooner really is saying that children aged ten should be “free” to engage in sexual relations, and he really is proposing to give legal protection to adults who lure them into doing so. And Spooner’s views are moderate in comparison with those of his libertarian admirers.
Take Murray Rothbard, anarcho-capitalist ideologue, doyen of the Austrian school of economics, co-founder of the Cato Institute and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and guru to a generation of libertarians. In 1972 Rothbard gave his own analysis of the status of children under libertarianism. According to Rothbard, “the child can own and regulate himself” upon leaving the parents’ household, which means that “the child must always have, regardless of age, the absolute freedom to run away” – and at that point the child “becomes a self-owner.” (Kid Lib, in Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000, p. 147)
For Rothbard, children who leave home at any age automatically become “self-owners” with the same legal status as adults. The children have the “right” to become alcoholics or drug addicts, to work in sweatshops or coal mines, or to sell themselves into pornography and prostitution. Adults who abuse them for such purposes have complete legal immunity and can’t be charged with any crime in Rothbardland, which would in practice be nothing but a giant replica of the streets of Bangkok.
But this is just one man’s foolishness, you say? Perhaps Rothbard – “Mr. Libertarian,” “the greatest libertarian theorist of the 20th century” – doesn’t speak for all libertarians on this issue?
Well, there is also Richard Slomon, described as a leading libertarian anarchist and the head of the Abolitionist Caucus of the US Libertarian Party. Slomon asks:
why should the dependent young, or, in colloquial terms – children, not have the right to determine their own sexual choices? And why, objectively, shouldn’t those choices include interaction with members of their own families. In rational terms, there is no reason why young humans as soon as they are disposed to making a choice should not enjoy all the fruits of life available from voluntary transactions. There is also no rational reason for anyone to feel offended by the sexuality of young humans or of incestuous relationships. (Children’s Rights and Incest Decriminalization, Versus State, No. 4, January 1978, p. 15)
Slomon does not shrink from the real-world consequences of his advocacy. He glories in the growth of child prostitution:
In spite of the enormous machinery of youth repression, a growing and quite successful sexual rebellion has flourished in the US over the last few decades. Prevented from effectively competing in the labor market, hundreds of thousands of young boys have turned to homosexual prostitution for economic and sexual liberation. A growing documentation of this trend shows that most boy prostitutes enter the trade with considerable sophistication and aggressiveness. The traditional taboos and masculinity-loss stigmatization no longer prevent an estimated 300,000-600,000 boy prostitutes from eagerly plying their trade. (Ibid., p. 39n15)
Then there is Jim Peron, the former president of Laissez-Faire Books, who was barred from New Zealand after his contribution to a magazine for pederasts became public knowledge. Peron’s article criticised gay activists for their “politically correct” reaction to child abuse:
Throughout the gay community, pompous, politically-correct fools, some elected, spout off about “abusing” children. They disassociate themselves from boylovers. They repudiate them. They say, “there is no place in the human rights movement for these people.” Gay politicians throw boylovers to the lions every chance they get. All, they say, to prevent children from being abused. Enough is enough. (“Abused: One Boy’s Story,” Unbound, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1987, p. 25, quoted in Jim Peron’s Associations with the “Adult and Child Sex” Movement, Locke Foundation, New Zealand, 2005, p. 28)
Peron, who has also attacked feminists for portraying children as “sexless beings victimized by evil men,” is currently head of the libertarian Moorfield Storey Institute and a columnist for the Huffington Post.
But this is just a small number of extremists, you say? Surely no-one else in the libertarian movement has such vicious ideas?
Actually, the same sentiments have been expressed on our side of the Atlantic. For the UK’s Libertarian Alliance, Brian Micklethwait writes:
Libertarians believe that children should be allowed to go to work, earn money by the work they do, and spend that money the way they like… In a word, they should be free. Free to drag coal along a mineshaft, free to sweep soot out of a chimney or act in a pornographic film, if that is what they judge to be in their interests. (Freedom For Children, Free Life, Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1981)
The Libertarian Alliance peddles even more obscene arguments by one Max O’Connor:
Does it really matter whether the child has any understanding of sex? Sex is just another source of pleasure, a potentially potent source perhaps, but basically little different to any other. If there is nothing objectionable about an adult giving a child sweets or toys, why is giving sexual pleasure wrong? It is ludicrous to reply that the adult is “abusing” the child for his or her own pleasure. Such an attitude implies a hatred of all pleasure gained through voluntary exchange to mutual benefit… And why is it abuse? Below the age of twelve or so, a child may not be particularly interested in seeking sexual relations but that doesn’t mean he or she will not voluntarily accept and enjoy them. (Sex, Coercion and the Age of Consent, Libertarian Alliance, 1981, p. 1)
O’Connor (now known as Max More) has since offered a retraction of these remarks. The Libertarian Alliance has never apologised for publishing them.
But these are just isolated examples, right? They don’t represent the opinions of the official libertarian movement, do they?
In fact they do. The Libertarian Party has espoused this position in its past platforms. Until public outcry forced the removal of the relevant planks, it openly advocated (emphases mine) “the repeal of all laws regulating or prohibiting the possession, use, sale, production, or distribution of sexually explicit material,” “the repeal of all laws that restrict anyone, including children, from engaging in voluntary exchanges of goods, services, or information regarding human sexuality,” “the repeal of all laws establishing any category of crimes applicable to children for which adults would not be similarly vulnerable,” and the repeal of child labour laws, which “infringe on [children’s] freedom to work or learn as they choose.” Not for nothing have fellow libertarians described the LP as the Molestitarian Party.
Consider also the case of Mary Ruwart, a well-known libertarian author and activist who ran for the LP’s presidential nomination. During her campaign, statements in one of her books came to light:
Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well, even if it’s distasteful to us personally. Some children will make poor choices, just as some adults do in smoking and drinking to excess; this is part of life.
When we outlaw child pornography, the prices paid for child performers rise, increasing the incentives for parents to use children against their will. (Short Answers to the Tough Questions, SunStar Press, 1998, p. 43)
What happened next reveals the state of mind prevailing in the libertarian movement:
The party’s executive director, Shane Cory… rushed out a press release titled, “Libertarians call for increased communication to combat child pornography.” Cory was attacked by hardliners who saw the release as an endorsement of increased federal prosecuting power. The party refused to vote on a resolution asking states to strongly enforce existing child porn laws. Cory resigned in protest… (Can the Libertarians Go Mainstream?, Time Magazine, May 21, 2008)
Even libertarians who balk at legalising child pornography or child prostitution are prepared to justify child rape in certain circumstances. Walter Block, prolific economist and stalwart of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, contemplates the following scenario (which would not be uncommon in a libertarian society, as libertarians want to eliminate the entire government safety net for the poor):
Suppose that there is a starvation situation, and the parent of the four year old child (who is not an adult) does not have enough money to keep him alive. A wealthy NAMBLA man offers this parent enough money to keep him and his family alive – if he will consent to his having sex with the child. We assume, further, that this is the only way to preserve the life of this four year old boy. Would it be criminal child abuse for the parent to accept this offer?
Not on libertarian grounds. For surely it is better for the child to be a live victim of sexual abuse rather than unsullied and dead. (Libertarianism vs Objectivism, Reason Papers, Vol. 26, Summer 2000, p. 58)
Block’s justifications of rape are not limited to cases of the abuse of starving children. His anarcho-capitalist utopia would also enforce contracts for the sexual enslavement of the mothers of starving children:
there can be no such thing as “involuntary intercourse” for the female slave whose owner is a pimp. In her slave contract, she has already agreed to alienate her body for such sexual services. Yes, it is indeed, and only, rape if her owner does not consent to this sexual intercourse. And, if the woman in question objects, which she has no right to do, ask her if she really wishes she had not made the contract in the first place, and instead allowed her child to die. (Illiberal Libertarians, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 22, 2011, p. 551)
The depravity of the libertarian movement is no secret in free-market circles. Thus Peter Schwartz of the Ayn Rand Institute, citing actual quotations from libertarians, imagines the horror of a typical day in a libertarian world:
Your seven-year-old daughter describes to you an episode of her being sexually molested; the police say she was merely exercising her “right to noninvasively reject our culture’s morality.” … On the street a pimp offers her candy and toys and gets her to come live with him and to perform for some of his special clients; a judge tells you that pimps are “more honorable than many other brokers” and that children “have a right to seek other guardians.” (Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty, Ayn Rand Institute, n.d., p. 63)
In light of the above, one can only agree with another critic of libertarian ideology who cautions:
If you leave your child with a Libertarian you’d better think twice.