The Natural Rights of Children

Document Type: Debate


1 Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, USA

2 2120 Pulpit Hill Road, Amherst, USA

3 Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business, Loyola University, New Orleans, USA


What does libertarian theory, Murray Rothbard’s theory in particular, tell us about the rights of children? The two foundational principles of Rothbardian libertarianism are the sanctity of private property and the rule of non-aggression. Persons, including children, are “self-owners”. Yet children, at a young age, are not yet capable of functioning fully as “self-owners.” They must be cared for, and the caring will necessarily involve some degree of aggression in the form of supervision and restraint. Parents and other caregivers play the role of trustees; and just as the beneficiary of a trust has the right to petition a court to change trustees or terminate the trustee relationship, so a child, able to express his preferences when it comes to the nature and degree of supervision and restraint to which he will be subjected, should equally enjoy that right while, in terms of property rights, a biological caregiver may have better “title” than an adoptive caregiver to be the child’s “trustee” given the child’s inability to express a preference for one or the other. What may seem to a contemporary sensibility as an extreme degree of childhood independence in the choice of caregivers and other freedom from supervision and restraint was common in pre-industrial America and continues to be the rule in some native cultures.


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