Schlueter quotes Rothbard on the issue of what determines the extent and duration of parental guardianship or “trustee” rights over their children:

Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own.

Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return.

The absolute right to run away is the child’s ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age. (EoL, 103)

But Schlueter does not seem to understand the argument, commenting, “Rothbard exemplifies the remorseless logic of strict contractarianism. Unless we are prepared to regard all parental authority as slavery, we must acknowledge that at least some forms of authority are legitimate independent of consent.” (36)

That parental authority is slavery does not follow from Rothbard’s ethics.

Parents enter into an implicit but definite contract with their children. Children benefit from parental care but, since they live on the property of the parents, are obliged to obey the rules of the house. This is no different from the fact that a customer in a grocery store must heed the store owner’s policies or be kicked out. But, just as with the store, a kid who runs away from home has terminated the contract. He no longer takes anything from the parents but also, since he lives on his own, is unbound by the parental will. Parental authority is not slavery, because children stay in the parents’ house voluntarily but have vast exit options. A worker is not his employer’s slave for a similar reason, i.e., because of the vigorous competition between business firms for labor. In comparison, government authority is much more like slavery, because of the limited number of exit options.

Schlueter is well aware of this, as seen in the previous post: “the costs of emigration — one’s family, friends, language, property, life — are high, as they usually are.” (35)

It may be objected that the costs to a small child of leaving his family are also high. But this is so only because the parental authority bestows benefits which the child is unwilling for the time being to do without. In contrast, the behavior of the government authorities, far from a reason to stay, is precisely the reason to move out. The real cost is losing the social ties from rootedness in a place, not state protection and care. Hence the analogy fails.

In other words, it is perfectly meaningful to say, “I love America but hate the government.” But this sentiment cannot be adapted to the family.

Parental authority for Rothbard is based entirely on property rights, as is his entire system, though not rights or “authority” over children but merely rights over the house in which the children live (and over all the money parents expend on their kids).

Of course, a family is bound by love, and blood is thicker than property rights. But I see no contradictions in Rothbard’s treatment of this aspect of family law.


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