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On Smacking

Patrick Crozier, writer of the excellent blog UK Transport finds the issue of how parents treat their children a complex one for libertarians

On television (Powerhouse, Channel 4) just now were calls for banning parents smacking their own children.

I have to say I find myself divided on this issue. I used to just accept it as one of those things that parents needed “just in case”. But there has recently been a debate in libertarian circles – largely ignited by a talk Sarah Lawrence gave at one of ‘Brian’s Fridays’ (a monthly libertarian meeting in London hosted by regular Samizdata contributor Brian Micklethwait).

Sarah says that children are people too and are entitled to exactly the same rights as adults.

“Ah” I say “But what if a child is determined to cross the road and get run over? Got you there.” Apparently not. After all, if an adult stepped in front of a bus most of us would make some attempt to stop them. The more I heard about this line of thinking the more I liked it. It would no longer be possible to “send” children to schools – so no more juvenile prison camps. Would we end up with a generation of illiterates? Probably not. Those children who are home schooled tend to do very well. And anyway, the present system needs little help in raising children who can’t read.

But back to smacking. If it is illegal to hit an adult it should be illegal to hit a child. Unless, of course, it is consensual. Boxers knock seven bells out of one another but no one gets arrested. Likewise sado-masochists. OK, so some of them do get arrested but they shouldn’t.

So, do I think children will consent to boxing matches with their fathers or engage in sado-masochism? Probably not.

But there is an issue here. If children have rights so do adults. One of these is to throw their children out on the street. In fact this is about the only fallback that parents have if children have rights. This is pretty unpalatable – especially for parents. This is where smacking in a consensual form may come in. Rather than throw the child out the parent could offer a compromise in the form of a consensual punishment. Of course, it doesn’t have to be smacking or even physical but the point is that in a libertarian world smacking could exit.

This is not, by the way, what the anti-smacking brigade want. They do not want parents to have the power of eviction. They are quite happy to force parents to house, clothe and feed little hooligans. Indeed, it may well be the intention.

Patrick Crozier (London)

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