Rights Theory, Liberty

Matt Walsh on Homeschooling

Some politicians want to make it harder to homeschool your children. Others want to outright ban homeschooling, and some countries already do. Matt Walsh as a strongly worded response:

There is no power the state doesn’t have if it has a power over your children that supersedes your own.

Let me put it still another way:

If you do not have the right to teach and raise your own children on your own terms, then you don’t have the right to free speech, religion, association, or privacy, and you are not protected from unreasonable government intrusion into your personal life.

Much of what Walsh has to say in the rest of his article strikes me as reasonable, but the quotation above seems not merely hyberbolic, but false.

I don’t have any particularly well fleshed-out theory of children’s rights. Probably you don’t either. But I bet you accept that children have some pretty extensive set of negative rights as well as some strong positive rights held against their parents. We owe our children a sufficiently high level of care, and owe it to them not to harm them or mistreat them in various ways. If we fail to discharge these duties, then we can forfeit whatever presumptive right we have to be guardians of our children. If you abuse or neglect your children, then someone else can take them away from you. So, for instance, suppose Bob intends to sexually abuse his daughter. If I know he’s about to do that, it’s permissible for me (or a cop) to break into his house and stop him, using violence if necessary.

Your rights over yourself are much stronger than your rights over your children. I should be allowed to smoke cocaine if I want, but I should not be allowed to have my toddler smoke cocaine. Walsh has things backwards.

You have a presumptive right to parent your children only if you provide well enough for them and don’t harm them in certain ways. Otherwise you forfeit that right. Now, this leaves open some hard questions: Just what is the standard of care? What counts as harm? What level of harm can you inflict before you forfeit your rights? Can you regain your rights after forfeiture? Etc. A full theory of parental rights and duties would answer all those questions. But here are some positions that a libertarian could take: You owe it to your children not to brainwash them into a cult. You owe it to them to provide them with a decent level of education such that they have a good enough shot to make it in the real world. You owe it to them to teach them how to reason and think, rather than to stunt these capacities. Etc.

Walsh’s real complaint is that governments do a bad job educating children and parents do a good job. He might be right in general, and he’s certainly right in some cases. And whenever he’s right, that’s a reason to favor homeschooling over public schooling. But the issue here isn’t about some fundamental right to raise your kids how you please. As a parent, you may not raise your kids however you please. Rather, you may raise your kids however you please provided you discharge your duties to avoid harming them and to provide adequately for them


  • Sean II

    That fish is dead in the barrel.

    “There is no power the state doesn’t have if it has a power over your children that supersedes your own.”

    I don’t think there is anything redeeming in that sentence, nor anything that could added to redeem it. It’s just wrong beyond all hope of editing.

    Let’s be charitable and assume Walsh meant to say something like: “Given the love parents feel for their children, proposed state intrusions into the parent-child relationship should be carefully scrutinized.”

    • martinbrock

      What power does the state have over my children that I’d want to supersede my own? The state may beat my children more benevolently than I? It may fuck them more prudently? It may march them into a hail of bullets more righteously? I suppose no one has these powers, so I suppose no power exists to supersede. I’d never march my children into a hail of bullets under any circumstances. Let every other child on Earth die first. Is your state more holy for this reason? Why is it not more demonic?

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    Jason perhaps what you say is correct. But the presumption that parents know what is best for their children over that of some bureaucracy ought to be an extremely high presumption.
    Even when talking about being brainwashed into a cult you are on thin ice. Scientology is certainly a cult, is there any evidence that John Travolta’s children have been so brainwashed that they cannot function in society? Is there any evidence that members of unorthodox religious sects are on the whole unhappier than the general population?

    • Sean II

      “Is there any evidence that members of unorthodox religious sects are on the whole unhappier than the general population?”

      I propose we survey the 14 year old girls of those communities – we can start with FLDS, Shiites, and Wahhabists – to see what they think.

      My guess is the modal reply will be 1) “[muffled scream]”, followed closely by 2) “Oh please God, make him stop…”

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        You are talking about blatant abuse, but I don’t think anyone disagrees that is wrong.

        At any rate Islam is a major religion not an unorthodox sect. At various times Quakers, Jehovah Witness, and various others have come under government scrutiny even though there is no widespread accusations of child endangerment.
        And even when there are accusations, what the government does is often worse. Like when they gassed, burned, and killed all those people, including children, at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          And if you are wondering why I am making a distinction between a major religion and a small cult it is because Governments are not likely to run roughshod over the rights of a major organized religion who can legally fight back, but the misunderstood small religious group can often be attacked blatantly with a majority of people approving.

        • Jaylib

          “Child abuse” is the standard smear that the state (and some highly influential “anti-hate” hate groups) deploys against non traditional religious sects.

          • good_in_theory

            Child abuse has also been a standard practice of some non-traditional (and traditional) religious sects.

          • Sean II

            Couldn’t agree more. It’s difficult to think of a religion that doesn’t engage in child abuse, and not merely as a bug, but as a crucial feature of the system itself.

            If only there was a way to quantify it, I’m quite sure the misery caused by Catholic teaching about masturbation would weigh heavier in the scales of human suffering than all the screams of all the children molested by Catholic priests.

  • There is an unstated assumption in this post: That the entity best-suited to enforcing and safeguarding children’s rights is the state. Clearly Walsh is of the opinion that parents (as a generalized group) are better-suited to that task than states (as a generalized group).

    So what Brennan sees a hyperbole, I see as a real ideological divide between Brennan and Walsh. Maybe not, though.

    • Jason Brennan

      Nope, thats not the difference.

      • Maybe I just got the wrong impression then.

      • adrianratnapala

        Then my guess is that you are reacting to Walsh’s well over the top hyperbole and there is no substantive difference between you.

        The law that is causing the trouble was a proposal that parents need to ask for permission to home-school their kids, and to first submit to an examination. That law does not recognise any “presumptive right” to educate your own children. And neither do outright bans on homeschooling.

    • Phil

      You’re way off. There’s no assumption like that in Brennan’s post. Rather, Brennan is rejecting Walsh’s claim that the right to raise one’s child on one’s own terms is a necessary condition for one’s own basic rights (privacy, religion, etc.).

      Suppose there were some ideal rights enforcement agency, a private one that was perfectly just. Brennan is arguing that there are rights that children have against their parents, and a just rights enforcement agency has the moral permission to enforce these rights (negative rights to not abuse, positive rights to feed and educate, etc.). This is not an infringement of the parent’s basic rights.

      I don’t believe in rights.

  • Steven Horwitz

    I have written a bit on the parental rights issue, though nothing extensive that’s been published (yet). I think Jason has it right here. I would argue on Hayekian grounds that the intimacy of the family provides parents with a deep,
    and often tacit, knowledge of their child that can be deployed in finding the
    most effective ways to transmit social rules and norms. No one knows their children better than do parents, so even if their judgment about what’s best for their kids is imperfect, in general and over time, it will be better than anyone else’s. The knowledge that would be needed by others to know what’s best simply cannot be obtained by them. In addition, at least in healthy families, the parents have the best incentive to make sure that social rules and norms are learned, as the family remains a major site of social interaction where appropriate behavior will make such interactions smoother, and because other family members may suffer negative external reputation effects due to the misbehavior of children. Children who do not learn the rules of social interaction will cause their parents to suffer both directly and indirectly, thus providing parents with an incentive to ensure that such rules are learned. Where responsibility for parenting is diffuse, and where those in charge lack the necessary knowledge and incentives, we would expect the same sorts of problems with common property we are familiar with in other realms. Allowing “the village” to raise children is no more likely to succeed than has allowing “the village” to run agriculture or industry, Elinor Ostrom duly noted.

    As Les says below, this means the (rebuttable) presumption in favor of prarental rights is a strong one. We also have to engage in serious comparative political economy: “parenting failure” is not an ipso facto case for government intervention any more than it is for market failure. The state is notoriously bad at dealing with neglected kids. We need to think more about civil society alternatives, along the same lines as Ostrom’s work and the sorts of things David Beito talks about (and Danny notes in his post the other day) with respect to helping the needy.

    The case for the state taking away one’s kids, or even directing how they should be raised, has to be very strong to overcome the presumption of parental rights.
    Justice McReynolds writing in Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of
    Jesus and Mary (1925) captured it nicely: “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

    • jdkolassa

      Love me some David Beito. I first heard of his work when reading David Boaz’s “Libertarianism: A Primer”, which was the book that made me understand I wasn’t alone in thinking my libertarian thoughts, and via Beito also gave me a pretty powerful reason for it. Shame he doesn’t get more traffic.

    • good_in_theory

      “No one knows their children better than do parents, so even if their judgment about what’s best for their kids is imperfect, in general and over time, it will be better than anyone else’s. The knowledge that would be needed by others to know what’s best simply cannot be obtained by them.”

      What a load of bunk. At best it is the case that most primary care givers know those whom they give care best. Saying that every parent “knows” their child better than anyone else is obviously false. And the leap that whoever is most familiar with a child is also accordingly most capable and capable of exercising the best judgment with respect to the kid is just more bullshit. “Experience with” does not perfectly predict “judgment regarding.”

      Any relation between familiarity and competence (of judgment) is stochastic. There are no doubt extremely competent parents who would have no problem outperforming extremely incompetent but thoroughly familiar parents if given a fraction of the time experienced with the child.

      Caregiving is not some magical process that is a unique snowflake of a skill in every instance. Rather it is perfectly possible to categorize some people as having shitty (parenting) judgment and some people as having good (parenting) judgment, just as we can do with most other varieties of judgment – at the very least at the extremes, if not across the board.

      You can’t just wave your hands over some balderdash about the superiority of local knowledge and erase the reality of generalizable competence and knowledge. (and its mirror: generalized incompetence and ignorance)

      • Phil

        Agreed. Thinking that every parent knows what’s best for his or her child is kind of like thinking that parenting is like knowing what kind of ice cream your child likes. There’s obviously something good about each parent taking care of his or her own child, since we have evolved to care more about our kin than about others. But knowing how best to raise or educate a child is a different matter, and I suspect there are studied methods that are better than others.

      • Sean II

        Obliged to agree with you, once again.

        1) It seems clear enough that most parents are not very good at being parents, in the sense that they don’t approach the task thoughtfully, but instead simply mimic the behavior of a) their own parents, and/or b) their current peers.

        That doesn’t mean the state (or any other entity) is necessarily better. It just means “Let’s not go hanging our hats on the claim that parents typically know what the hell they’re doing.”

        2) You are absolutely right that familiarity does not = skill. I, for example, am intimately familiar with my wife, but this does mean I would be a good choice to perform Mohs surgery on her.

        The only way to defeat that analogy is to deny that teaching is a specialized skill. Let us note…no author on this blog is in a fit position to do that.

        3) The status of children is a serious problem for any political theory, and for libertarianism more than the most. I’m all for the superiority of local knowledge when it comes to labor prices, car safety, health insurance, etc.

        But here we’re talking about people. True, they are small people, and sometimes terribly annoying, but they are people still. We can’t just econ our way through this one.

      • Jameson Graber

        I agree with your critique, but I feel someone needs to insert a reply. One thing that bothers me about this discussion is that no one seems to be mentioning the obvious and most important factor in parent-child relationships: *love*

        I know, it’s pretty cheesy to bring up *love* when talking about big, abstract philosophical considerations, right? And yet, claims put forth by Horwitz and others really do fall flat because they completely miss this most fundamental point that we’ve known since pretty much the dawn of time: parents are, on the whole, instinctively inclined to love their children. The general desire to protect and nurture one’s children is seen not just in humans but in all kinds of animal species. And there is at least several thousands’ years of experience in human civilization to indicate that it is difficult to imitate that instinct: no matter how altruistic you are, you will simply never love other children the way you love your own.

        Love, to me, far more than competence, is the reason why we should count on parents to raise their own children. This seems good enough to establish at least a general presumption in favor of parents’ rights to raise their children after their own choice.

        One final point: parenting is not synonymous with caregiving. One perfectly reasonable parental choice might be to outsource caregiving (or, for that matter, education), which is not necessarily a sign of lack of love for the children.

        • jdkolassa

          That would be great, aside from all the cases of parents killing their children, child abuse, neglect, or just having kids in order to get more $$$ from the state.

          Look, I don’t fundamentally disagree with you, but you are making a generalization that parents love their children. Most do. Regrettably, some don’t.

          • Jameson Graber

            Somehow, I feel like you’re missing the point of “general presumption.”

          • jdkolassa

            The problem though is that, while there may be a general link, it’s pretty weak. Whether that is because of science (i.e., biology/psychology), government actions, societal changes, I don’t know. But to say that parents are, in general, loving, I think ignores a great deal of problems arising within families and with parents.

            Good_in_theory has wrestled with you a bit over this, so I’ll leave it there. I’m just saying that, even in “general” terms, I don’t think it is as strong as you think it is.

        • good_in_theory

          Funny thing, apparently relatively recently it was a common belief that love and affection were not, in fact, good for parent child relationships – 1 kiss per year was thought to be an appropriate level of affection. Cocktail party fact comes from the prologue here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/317/unconditional-love

          As far as the instinct to love children goes, perhaps it’s the case that biological affinity has some direct causal effect on feelings of love. But it’s also clear that humans and some animals have a tendency to care for the young independent of any direct kinship link. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were little to no significant different between intensity of feeling compared between biological parents and purely legal parents – especially in cases where the parents/chlildren were not aware the relationship was a legal fiction and hence were not impacted by the cultural baggage attached to biological relationships.

          Parenthood and caregiving aren’t synonymous. Parenting isn’t strictly synonymous with caregiving, but it’s pretty much equivalent over a limited scope. And in a case where “parenting” consists in hiring someone else to do pretty much the entirety of the caregiving, I would bet on the caregiver being a more capable parent to the child, controlling for differences in economic resources, pretty much every time.

          • Jameson Graber

            Love is not “intensity of feeling,” but rather motivation to nurture and protect. If multiple people here are seriously denying that there’s a *general* link (let’s not lose the meaning of the word “general” here, people) between biological parenthood and desire to nurture and protect, then no wonder the discussion on this topic is so bizarrely off-balance.

            Just how far are you willing to go with your “general feeling” hypothesis? Are you saying that it’s literally completely arbitrary that we give bigological parents a presumptive right to raise their own children?

            People on this thread appear to be reasoning from exceptions toward a change in one of the most foundational rules for our entire civilization. I’d be pretty careful with that.

          • good_in_theory

            I’m not reasoning towards anything, just away from falsehoods.

            I was not suggesting that love is just “intensity of feeling”, unspecified as to any particular type or mode of feeling – that it’s just “intense feeling” tout court. Love is a particular intensity of feeling about nurturing and protecting, and other things. When I talked about “intense feeling”, I was specifically hypothesizing that, for example, controlling for the appropriate confounding factors, a solely legal father unaware his kid was not his genetic offspring and a biological father would feel the same amount of love towards their respective kids.

            I don’t know what you mean by “general.” I’m suggesting that there is not a genetic or biological mechanism by which genetic affinity produces love, though I’d accept evidence to the contrary, but would doubt any such evidence would demonstrate any effect large enough to withstand actually engaging in the practice of parenting from birth.

            I don’t have a “general feeling hypothesis.” I haven’t talked about “general feelings”.

            I have not said it is “completely arbitrary” to give biological parents presumptive control. But that doesn’t mean that “a parent’s love” is some special result of genetic affinity.

      • Theresa Klein

        My response is that maybe the child themselves might know better than others what is best for them.

        Or at least that the child might have something to say about it, that the law should recognize. The current argument seems a lot like having an argument over whether a woman’s husband or father should have more say in deciding what’s best for her.

  • Ben Kennedy

    “Walsh’s real complaint is that governments do a bad job educating children and parents do a good job.”

    I don’t think that is his complaint at all. I think he is saying that this kind of legislation effectively removes whatever presumptive rights parents have over their children. It is fine for abusive parents to lose their claim to their children, it is tyranny when that claim is preemptively taken away by the state without any evidence of mistreatment

    • Sean II

      I think you’re assuming what’s in dispute here.

      If you believe that “democratic socialization” is one of the main purposes of education, and if you (quite correctly) observe that many parents who choose homeschooling do so precisely to resist such socialization, you simply need to define that resistance as a form of abuse or mistreatment inflicted by the parent on the child.

      Now, Walsh’s opponents can simply say: “Why, I don’t wish to remove the rights of parents to raise their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. We both agree that those rights are forfeit in cases of abuse. I am merely suggesting we intervene to stop homeschooling, a hideous and crippling form of child abuse that deliberately manufactures social outcasts.”

      You see what I’m saying here? Once you grant an abuse exception to the presumptive rights of parents, you end up with a serious problem about how to define abuse. Homeschooling opponents believe that it falls within the definition, and a separate argument is needed to answer them. You can’t just invoke the presumptive rights of parents.

      • Jameson Graber

        “You can’t just invoke the presumptive rights of parents.”
        This echoes those discussions on the non-aggression principle. Just as you can’t just invoke the presumptive right against aggression in order to prove libertarianism…

        Still, I hope you’re not actually agreeing that homeschooling is in itself a form of child abuse.

        • Sean II

          I don’t of course, but once upon a time I did and I can certainly remember how senseless and exotic and weird homeschooling seems to someone who’s still caught up in the consensus.

          And to be fair, have you not heard fellow libertarians say: “Sending a kid to public school is a form of child abuse”?

          Shit, I still say that raising kids to fear and despise their own genitals (as required by most of the major religions) is a no-joke, hope-they-burn-in-hell-for-it, form of child abuse.

          This is one of those cases where you have to actually be right, to be right. There is no: “I disagree with the way you’re raising your kids but I’ll fight to the death for your right to raise them as you please.” Not when “as you please” can include things like clitoridectomy, or forced marriage at age 12, or denial of treatment for meningitis, etc. No way. No fucking way.

          • Jameson Graber

            “There is no: “I disagree with the way you’re raising your kids but I’ll fight to the death for your right to raise them as you please.””
            You say this, but then the examples you use to support it are pretty extreme (relative to Western culture). In reality, I think you’d have to acknowledge there is a rather large range of tolerable parenting. For instance, you’ve alluded to religion–do you honestly think the state should have the right to confiscate children on the grounds that their parents teach them to believe in God?

          • Sean II

            The thing is, who just teaches their kids to believe in God? It’s not like minimal deism is sweeping the nation.

            It’s always “God + no tattoos or you can’t get buried next to Zaida”, or “God + if your hymen is broken before marriage you’re a filthy, worthless WHORE!”, or “God + nearly everything fun is sinful in one way or another, so just go ahead and feel like a guilty piece of shit from now until the rest of your life”.

            Is that child abuse? Er…it is, kind of. I’ve helped a few people overcome that type of upbringing, and the damage is real enough. I’m sure they would be happy to go back and take a few simple ass-whoopings in lieu of a lifelong battle with low self-esteem, brought on by the impossible demands of an all-seeing monster in the sky.

            Doesn’t mean I want the state to start confiscating kids, but the choices are not a) Plato’s Republic or b) Fuck it. Do whatever you want with these little animals, because let’s face it, you own them.

          • Jameson Graber

            “Doesn’t mean I want the state to start confiscating kids”
            Well, that’s already a pretty important precision! I hear what you’re saying, but it worries me, because sometimes I’m honestly not sure whether you’d consider me a child abuser or not. I would never say the things you mentioned, but since you said belief in God *always* goes with such things, I admit I’m a little uncertain about what boundaries you would actually draw.

          • Sean II

            Surely I am unfit to draw such boundaries. But let me lay out my beliefs on this matter, to see if there is any point on which we actually disagree.

            1) The states sucks at just about everything except killing, therefore not a good candidate for remedial child care.

            2) There is no bright clear line between “child abuse” and “child rearing”, since all child rearing involves doing things that children will subjectively experience as abuse (i.e., being made to do homework, or go to the dentist, etc).

            3) The above problem cannot be solved simply by defining all physical punishment as abuse, since the case against spanking/corporal punishment is far from closed.

            4) Any reasonable definition of abuse must include a concept of emotional cruelty or psychological stunting (i.e, a child who experiences intense shame as a result of wet dreams, because he was taught that they are both deeply evil and entirely his fault, is pretty clearly a victim of abuse – though we may argue about the severity of it, the remedy if any, etc.).

            5) None of the above problems can be solved simply by declaring that parents own their children, since the result of that is so morally repugnant as to be absurd.

            6) Our current approach to these problems sucks, and is totally incoherent. For example: people tolerate the deliberate cultural and technological retardation of Amish children as an example of religious freedom (even when this has serious medical consequences), meanwhile if an 18 year old touches the genitals of 14 year old, we ruin his life and make him a sex offender, on the grounds that he outraged the sanctity of childhood.

            7) Even if we can’t quite define child abuse or separate it from child rearing, we nearly all look back on parenting, roughly say, pre-1960 and cringe at the things that were considered normal or healthy.

            Put that way, is there anywhere we really disagree?

          • Jameson Graber

            “Put that way, is there anywhere we really disagree?”
            I suppose not, actually.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I usually find myself in general agreement with your comments, but I really don’t think its “always…you’re a filthy worthless WHORE!” etc. Not in my faith community, and I’m a reasonable observant Jew, though not Orthodox. There are nut-jobs in every faith and amongst those with none. This is just painting with way too broad a brush, and sadly borders on anti-religious bigotry. You disappoint me.

          • Sean II

            I disappoint you? What are you, looking over my report card here?

            Try reading the comment again. You’ll notice that I very conspicuously marked out the Jewish guilt trip as the least horrible of the three examples. Hence, the “zaida” thing.

            The lunatic obsession with intact hymens is not a Jewish trope, nor is it any longer a Christian one (save Mary’s). That example was for Islam – and I absolutely stand by it.

            That faith is still, and long has been, creepily obsessed with the social control of pussy. About the only way to make a Freudian interesting is to drop him in Tehran or Riyadh. Then, when he tries to tell you “it’s all about sex”, there’ll be something to it.

            But my main point stands: there really isn’t any religion that just teaches kids about the existence of god. It’s always god + follow these highly specific rules or else god will be disappointed in you.

            As if I didn’t have enough disappointment on my hands, at the moment!

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, thanks for the clarification, but perhaps I might be forgiven for missing the apparent roadmap you provided in light of this: “Shit, I still say that raising kids to fear and despise their own genitals (as required by most of the major religions) is a no-joke, hope-they-burn-in-hell-for-it, form of child abuse.” (two comments ago). What religions are you talking about? Is Christianity included in this? If you want to talk about Islam, maybe you should expressly talk about Islam.

            There may be Christians who attempt to indoctrinate as you describe, but I believe they are a small minority. This is certainly true of those committed Christians that I know personally. BTW, if you are Jewish under Jewish law, you can be buried in a Jewish cemetery, tattoos, piercing, not withstanding.

          • Sean II

            This gets us into interesting territory, namely…that what makes modern Judaism and Christianity less awful than Islam is merely the fact that most of the adherents in our little north-west quadrant of the globe are, thankfully, big time hypocrites.

            But this is a recent development. Go back to, say, 1960 and no exaggeration is required to say that Catholic boys were raised to fear their own cock and balls like a burden dragging them towards hell. Go back before the reform movement in Judaism and, clearly, despite a small dose of pain taken upfront by the boys, it was bad news to be born a girl. Everybody laughs watching Fiddler, but let’s not forget Tzeitel came this close to being raped by Lazar Wolf, with the approval or her parents and nearly everyone else in the shtetl.

            So okay…Judaism can now beat Christianity which can beat Islam in a least-morally-ugly contest. Somehow this leaves me feeling uninspired.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You seem very confident in your ability to distinguish the right cultural values (the modern ones) from the wrong ones (the traditional). I guess I’m a little bit less sure of my own judgments in this area. I look forward to your explanation of how you can be so sure.

            Consider this. The Orthodox teach (both genders) that sex outside of marriage is sinful, as is masturbation (NOTE: this is a far, far cry from telling sinners that they will burn in hell for their sins). These teachings are part of a complex web of values that promote marriage and large families. You seem to find these values hideous.

            But, every child in this community not only knows who there daddy is, but sees him every day. If you don’t consider that important, ask a child who doesn’t. The divorce rate in such communities is very low. If you don’t think that is important, ask any child who has gone through a nasty divorce. In such communities, because of the extended family structure, Grandpa and Grandma aren’t abandoned in low-class nursing homes where they die of bedsores brought on by wallowing in their own piss and shit. If you don’t think that is important, well I hope you never get old.

            I’m not saying that such communities are paradise on earth. Utopias only exist in books. But last time I looked, the secular world hadn’t solved all its social problems either. All I’m suggesting is that you be a little more tolerant of values that seem strange and foreign to you, but which may have virtues that you can’t see.

          • Phil

            My suspicion is that proponents of “traditional values” have trouble separating claims of the form “X is disgusting to me” from claims of the form “X is morally wrong”. It may be the case that all morally wrong actions are disgusting, but it’s not necessarily the case that all disgusting actions are morally wrong. Many proponents of “traditional values” seem to be the worst kind of cultural relativists, because they don’t admit to themselves or others that this is what they are. Instead they pretend their morality is absolute and objective.

            The worst part of it all, in my opinion, is that the culture from which they pick their morals is from thousands of years ago when some of the most ignorant, primitive people lived. But I guess I understand if you think they had some special, revelatory source of knowledge. What a lucky coincidence that the all-knowing source of that knowledge happened to share some of the same prejudices that the backwards people living at that time had.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Gee, thanks for stopping by and offering some stray thoughts about religion and the religious. Sadly, I can’t see how they relate to anything I actually said. One way you might be able to see this (for future reference) is to try quoting some paragraph of mine and then provisionally making a comment to it. Then you can determine whether there is any connection between the two.

            But since you took the time to comment, let me thank you. In all the years I’ve spent thinking and reading about religion, and debating it with others, I have never heard such a deep, penetrating, and sophisticated critique. Wow, I never thought about such things! Let me suggest that you write it up a little more fully and submit it to a leading philosophy journal. I can assure you that they will be delighted to publish it, and you will make quite a name for yourself.

          • Phil

            “If you don’t think that is important, ask any child who has gone through a nasty divorce.”

            I’ll ask myself. Things are way better since they got divorced. Keeping angry and unhappy individuals together with Bronze age fables is silly.

            “The Orthodox teach (both genders) that sex outside of marriage is sinful, as is masturbation”

            The Orthodox should grow up and promote moderation instead of making people feel guilty for what is for the most part natural and harmless fun. But I guess they’re too holy and wise for that. After all, they have magical books and staffs and hats and temples and chants and rituals.

            I agree that talk of children and family values is a great way to rationalize one’s disgust for alternative lifestyles.

            And philosophy doesn’t need my help in abandoning religious nonsense. They’re doing just fine without me.

          • Sean II

            Part of what makes me so confident is foot-voting: one population I’ve observed throughout my life are the children of Muslim, Jewish, and Asian doctors. I notice that, given a choice, they nearly always reject the traditional values of their parents to become hedonistic American bourgeois, complete with recreational drug use, pre-martial sex, adultery, divorce, family planning, pursuit of individual happiness, non-attendance at mosques, synagogues, temples, etc.

            True, the contest is not simply a walk-over. Many seem to pass through a period in their early-to-mid 20s where they make big promises about eventually settling down to follow the old ways. But almost nobody ever makes good on that cheap talk…and next thing you know, they’re happily divorced at 35, playing poker with me as we enjoy a deliciously abominable lobster roll. And all this, somehow without neglecting their kids or letting their bubbe wallow in piss and shit!

            What makes me so suspicious of “traditional” societies is that, in the absence of coercion and in the presence of real choice, nobody sticks around for long. Even the allegedly heart-broken parents, who whine about these crazy kids with their pop culture, don’t actually do anything. They could put the whole family on a plane and go someplace where old-timey values hold sway, like Karachi, Algiers, or Bnei Brak…but they never do, Mark, they never do.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Just a quick, friendly suggestion. Google “Chabad.” What you will find is that there are literally hundreds of Chabad centers in this country (many more internationally) doing outreach, connecting completely assimilated (and Reform) Jews to the laws and customs of traditional Judaism. There are literally hundreds of thousands of Jews affiliated, more or less seriously, with these centers. I am one.

            Of course, only a small minority of these affiliates go “the whole hog” (a rather inappropriate expression here), and become fully observant, but thousands do. Of perhaps greater significance, most become more observant than they were before coming in contact with this movement. These facts seem rather inconsistent with your experience, no?

          • Sean II

            I’ve actually heard of Chabad…incredible enough for one who was described by a childhood friend as the “goyest of goys” (standing side by side, I’d make Ryan Gosling look like Rebbe Nachman).

            Of course I would answer that the very existence of such a movement – aimed at pulling secular Jews back toward observance – proves my point, that the wider Jewish community is drifting away from observance.

            I mean, if we want to capture the scope and trend direction of alcohol consumption in a city, we can’t just look at the AA meetings. We have to look at the number of thriving bars, nightclubs, liquor stores, breweries, etc…and we have to remember that the AA meetings exist because of these. So it goes, I think, here…

          • Theresa Klein

            I like what you say Sean, but the fact is that although such upbringings may be “damaging’ from your cultural perspective, they aren’t the kind of thing that the child, now adult, cannot overcome.

            That’s different than not feeding them so they grow up with brain damage or health problems from malnutrition. Or beating them so they have broken bones.

            That said, I would love to have a law that says that kids over the age of 5 or something (maybe put the cutoff somewhere between 5 and 12) can voluntarily leave their families and ask to be placed in a different home. There’s enough children who grow up in crazy religious families who know well enough that they want out by age 12.

          • Sean II

            Example: the lovely Rose McGowan, who escaped from a cult that grew specifically by using its female members as sexual servants to attract new converts.

            True, McGowan later went on to have consensual sex with Marilyn Manson, so perhaps “escape” is too strong a word…

      • Ben Kennedy

        I get what you are saying, but it really isn’t about the challenges of defining abuse, which are cluttering the discussion. Consider the case of simple regulation in states that are not hostile to homeschooling, where nobody (parent or government) has any inherent issue with homeschooling or thinks it is abuse. About this, Matt Walsh says:

        “This proposed piece of legislation, or any law in any state that regulates or oversees how parents teach their children, has the effect of giving the government a claim to your child”

        That is the crux of the matter. By placing the final “a-ok” stamp on your child’s education, it is asserting a de facto claim of ownership. Protection from abuse may not even be the primary goal, the state may, for example, insist on minimum standards of education because of negative externalities associated with low education.

        Of course, Walsh’s opponents won’t *say* they are attempting to take ownership of your child. Nor will proponents of conscription *say* that the state owns your life and therefore your life may by expended in some foreign war. The assertion of ownership is just a logical consequence of the control they are claiming they have

        • good_in_theory

          Walsh’s assertion of ownership over his child, of course, is a-OK.

          • Ben Kennedy

            We’re not talking about chattel slavery, we’re talking about standing before society to exercise basic parental rights. I can set my ward’s bedtime and control what they eat, my next door neighbor may not

          • Sean II

            That’s just it. You can’t simply “control what they eat”.

            If it turned out that you were feeding them nothing but turnip soup laced with arsenic, that would not be within your rights, and eventually other people would notice and intervene (probably they would do this even more quickly in the absence of a state).

            Your control over what your kids eat has limits. Outside of an actual famine, you have a positive obligation to feed them in a quantity and a nutritional variety sufficient to keep them alive and growing.

            That obligation is enforceable, and since the kids themselves cannot enforce it, someone else must.

            It’s not just a bad example, Ben, it’s a bad premise

          • Ben Kennedy

            Well, I disagree – what I am talking about is the parental right to offer food. You keep coming back to abuse. Abuse is not the issue. I am not claiming parents have the right to give their kids arsenic. I am claiming parents have the right to be the primary “food gateway” to their children. Consider the following scenes:

            A) I see a mother standing at a check-out, with her young child next to her. She is distracted. I offer her child a lollipop, the child who doesn’t know any better accepts. When the mother see her child with the lollipop, the child points to me – the mother becomes rightfully angry at me for presuming to give her child candy

            B) Same scenario – but I tap the mother on the shoulder and ask her permissions. She sizes me up (maybe I have my kids with me), says OK, and I give the child the lollipop

            This illustrates the parental prerogative with regard to food – the action of giving a child a poison-free lollipop is the same in both circumstances – but in the first case, I have trampled on the rights of the parent. In the second case, I have respected the right of the parent to be the “food gateway” to the child.

            Now imagine if the state passes a law that requires parents to tap the state on the shoulder asking for permission to feed their child yourself. Plus, the state requires you submit meal plans if you don’t send the child to the state cafeteria. Furthermore, if the state doesn’t like your meal plan, they can take your child away. Additionally, all if this happens with zero actual evidence that you intend on neglecting your child. Substitute “school” for “food” and you have described the public school system as perceived by homeschooling parents. Is it any wonder that they feel their parental rights have been usurped by the state?

            Yes, children should be protected from abuse. So should dependent elderly, and the mentally ill homeless. That doesn’t mean the state ought to be able to give lollipops to children without permission from their guardian

          • Phil

            “That doesn’t mean the state ought to be able to give lollipops to children without permission from their guardian.”

            Agreed. But the state, or any rights enforcement agency, ought to be able to give food and education to children without permission from their guardian IF their guardian is denying them these basic necessities. Just like we can use objective medical standards of what is adequate nutrition for children, we can also use objective standards of what is adequate education for children.

            I am only talking about what is right or ought to be the case in theory. I’m fully aware that the current state may be totally wrong and harmful about what they think these standards are.

      • aikimoe

        if one (quite correctly) observes that many parents who choose homeschooling do so precisely to resist such socialization…

        Define “many.” I know lots and lots and lots of homeschool families, none of whom do so to “resist socialization.” They choose a different kind of socialization (one that freer and frequently more varied than the kind usually offered in schools), but they always choose to embrace and pursue socialization.

        Do you know of any evidence to suggest that homeschool families have a higher rate of poorly socialized kids?

        • Sean II

          You got the wrong guy, buddy. You seem to think you’re arguing with an opponent of homeschooling. You’re not. You seem to think you’re arguing with a fan of “democratic socialization”. You’re not.

          • aikimoe

            Sorry, it must be the light in here.

          • Sean II

            How can we be expected to see anything without the luminescent glow of state-monopoly education?

  • MingoV

    Child-rearing creates one of the biggest conundrums among libertarians. It is hard to determine where parental rights end and child rights begin. Run-of-the-mill home schooling certainly is a parental right. But, what about home schooling that teaches intolerance, hatred of anyone who is ‘different’, that genocide can be appropriate, that violence is the best method for solving problems, etc. If someone learns of such teaching, should he report it in order to remove the children from an ‘educationally abusive’ home? If you believe that child rights trump parental rights in this situation, then the answer is yes.

    I’m as libertarian as anyone I know, but my proposed approach to this problem is anti-libertarian: parenting licenses. Society requires objective evidence that a person can drive with reasonable proficiency, can practice medicine with reasonable proficiency, can fly an airliner with reasonable proficiency, etc. Raising children certainly is at least as important as those other skills, but, as of yet, we require no evidence that people will raise children with reasonable proficiency. This pre-childrearing licensing approach makes more sense than continual assessments of children to ensure that their rights are not being removed or restricted.

    • JAB

      MingoV, I loved this suggestion. I worry all the time about children in foster care. I see their parents getting to stay in the original home and become acclimated to not seeing their child, and so it goes.. the children are truly damaged by this broken relationship and the parents get no better, of course. I would have been skeptical, but it does seem like they have clear results on how parenting training can improve some behavior in terrible parents.) Is there anyway the children could have rights to the original home? After that, all the ways I can think of instituting this start to get confusing. But I wonder if you (or Jason or any of you) have thoughts on this?


    • SimpleMachine88

      I’m really hoping that this was like Penn & Teller’s water tank trick.

      So I’m going to the first one to shout “no, that’s evil!” on the assumption that’s what you were looking for. Two hours.

  • SimpleMachine88

    No, you’re misrepresenting him. The statement makes perfect sense, and it’s really quite insightful, actually,

    The State doesn’t have more of a right to teach your kids than you. The State also doesn’t have more of a right to abuse your kids than you. Kids just shouldn’t be abused. The State also doesn’t have more of a right to indoctrinate them into a cult, or deprive them of an education, or any of the other things you bring up.

    That parental rights over children are greater than the State’s interest is completely consistent, despite what you’re saying. Also, the implication is that there should be the presumption on the parent. If the State says “we’re going to teach you’re kids, not you”, the onus should be on them to prove that them teaching is substantively different, and substantively better. Err on the side of parental rights.

    Really, it should have to prove neglect, in court, before a jury. Abuse is a reason to override parental rights. Yours was a straw-man argument.

  • martinbrock

    As a libertarian, how do I know that I’m not brainwashing my children into a libertarian cult, especially when all these public school teachers keep telling me that I am?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      You and your damn Bastiat and Hayek are ruining America’s youth.

    • Phil

      If you are asking yourself that and care about the answer, I’d say odds are you aren’t.

      • martinbrock

        The question is rhetorical. I’m really asking Jason to define “brainwash” and “cult” precisely enough to exclude his own assumptions, methods of persuasion and preference for communicating with people who reinforce his assumptions by taking them for granted.

        Your reply suggests that a true libertarian ignores the claims of libertarian cultishness from statists, but excommunicating people with conflicting views is also the hallmark of a cult.

        One may claim that some views are simply stupid and don’t merit a reply, and I might agree, but this agreement on my part does not imply any precise distinction between simply stupid, cultish propositions and other propositions, so how can i know the difference?

        • Phil

          What I meant by my reply was, I think that the people who are clearly indoctrinating children never stop to worry about whether or not they are. They are too sure about having a secret source of absolute knowledge to think about objections to their own view.

  • StephenMeansMe

    There are probably very good reasons for it, but people who otherwise blindly champion free-market principles have a definite blind spot when it comes to raising or educating children: isn’t biological-parenting-by-default sort of like central planning? Who says the biological parents are inevitably going to be better at that service to the children, than some other person?

    There are many possible valid objections (the moral cost of forcible redistribution in the face of widespread emotional resistance might be too great; biological parents may have an irreproducible edge e.g.) but otherwise it seems like a point in favor of some form of boarding houses. Yet that would be a pretty fringe position to advocate for.

    • JayLib

      “isn’t biological-parenting-by-default sort of like central planning?”

      Well, perhaps if one posits God (or “Nature,” if you prefer) as the planner. I’m not aware of any evidence that humans could or would do a better job at assigning children to parents. Are you?

      To his credit, God designed childhood to be relatively brief (12-14 years). It’s we humans, most notably via the state, who have steadily lengthened it, and thus, increased the potential harm of bad parenting.

      You’re right, boarding houses is a fringe position for good reason. It’s a statist’s (not to mention many a pedophile’s) wet dream.

      • StephenMeansMe

        Are you saying a marketplace for caregivers or teachers wouldn’t work? Maybe, maybe not. Clearly some people think so or else there wouldn’t be such a large push for private-school vouchers and “school choice”… it wouldn’t be anywhere near a mainstream argument.

        What I’m positing is that some adult humans are better than other adult humans at caring for or educating children (a “proper education” being a somewhat socially constructed package), yet we sort of ignore that in favor of rather unfair teacher distribution in the public schools (rarely are the best teachers paired with the neediest students), or assertion of bio-parental superiority.

        On less broadly philosophical note, education of children seems like a prime example of the principal-agent problem: you rarely hear arguments about education that really put the child’s interests first. It’s more often the parents’ or the teachers’ interests… and often to the detriment of the child.

      • StephenMeansMe

        Well, one could perform a thought experiment with a marketplace for childcare… I mean we do have some already but one could imagine an extreme form. It’s a classic principal-agent problem, though: parents are the economic actors, but the beneficiaries are the children.

        This probably explains why so many arguments around elementary education are usually centered on the parents or the teachers (though often couched in ‘for the good of the kids’ terms).

        I’m not sure what you mean that childhood is 12-14 years… implying that a human should be considered adult at 12-14 years of age…?

        I’m also not sure that the case against boarding houses is so obvious. Now, there are good reasons to want lots of transparency and accountability, but to some extent shouldn’t we expect that for ANYONE who raises a child, even the biological parents? There are plenty of sketchy or downright monstrous parents.

  • Jameson Graber

    A few things:
    1) I think it’s hilarious that you take Matt Walsh seriously. Granted, I find his writing entertaining (even when it’s offensive), but I think that’s all it really is: entertainment.

    2) I also think you’re taking this quote too literally. Don’t read it as a logical deduction, but rather as a sort of *abductive* reasoning: if the state even has the power to determine your children’s formation, then what power doesn’t it have?

    3) Points 1 and 2 notwithstanding, I think in challenging Walsh on this issue, you’re missing one of the most crucial points, which is not simply *quality* of education, but the *worldview* which structures that education. I would love to see Kevin Vallier weigh in on this point, because I suspect he is the most likely on this blog to take it seriously. Education is inseparable from our cultural assumptions about truth and meaning, and parents have the right to decide how to transmit their culture to their children. I agree that there are certain limits to this–some cults are simply too damaging to allow parents to destroy their children with indoctrination. But I’m a little worried about reasoning solely on grounds of quality. There’s much more at stake than how well parents’ children do on the SAT.

  • martinbrock

    The conventional debate between proponents of public, private and home schooling seems increasingly archaic. Technology will soon increase the productivity of educational resources so much that educating the young requires far less teacher labor and far less costly and centralized educational infrastructure.

    If you want your child to spend a few hours learning each day with minimal distractions and maximal attentiveness, you’ll sit him down, wherever you please, put a virtual reality helmet over his head and lock it on. He’ll then be sitting in the classroom of the most successful teacher money can buy, and he can’t even turn his head away. This teacher will have hundreds, even thousands, of students, without any brick and mortar classrooms or libraries or administrative staff.

    Never mind your home. The kid could be sitting in the back seat of your car or beside you in your office. Very little technological progress is necessary to reach this goal. It’s already possible, so the only question is: why are we still charging children and their parents many times the cost of this alternative for an inferior product?

  • ThaomasH

    It’s interesting to wonder where the hyperbole like Walsh’s comes from.

    • Sean II

      No doubt his hyperbole comes from a simple hunger for clicks, traffic, etc.

      The question is: why does it work so well, with so many people?

      • Phil

        I’d say because people like to watch cartoons.

  • Theresa Klein

    This is full of subjective value judgements. What counts as a cult? What’s a decent level of education? What exactly good reasoning and thinking?

    Let’s take the Amish for example. Whole groups of children being raised in an environment where they aren’t exposed to modern technology. How could they possibly survive in the outside world? Indeed most don’t. They get like a year to go explore the “real” world, and then they have to decide if they are going to join the Amish cult.

    And yet, the Amish live pretty decent lives and are in fact rather wealthy by contemporary standards (sitting on a lot of fertile land on the East Coast will do that – as will running artesianal cheese businesses within range of NYC).

    It’s not really our place to judge whether someones religion is a cult or not.

    The one right, I think is that if a child wants out, regardless of age, they should be allowed to get out. A child should have the right to go to the government and say “I don’t want this person to be my parent anymore, please place me in a foster home.” From like 5 and up, even. Conversely, if the state wants to take a child away the child should be permitted a voice in whether they stay with their parents or not. I realize this is a radical concept, but maybe we should treat kids as *somewhat* autonomous beings.

    • Phil

      What counts as aggression? What counts as just compensation for acts of aggression? What counts as mixing one’s labor with natural resources? How rational and intelligent must a species be before having a full set of rights and responsibilities?

      There are quite a bit of what you call ‘subjective value judgments’ in every philosophy.

  • Jano Szabo

    As soon as a cause is targeted by master planners it must be redefined in narrow managerial terms that lend themselves to the master plan – leading to the replacement of ends with means.

    The political purpose of school is to counteract fee speech by putting the language of children under control of master planners. Home schooling, at its worst, just brings the state propaganda machine into the home.

    See “Deschooling Society” and “Vernacular Values” by Ivan Illich.

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