We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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“Minister, what were ‘families’?”

I have always endured a distinctly uncomfortable ambivolence on the subject of the physical chastisement of children. My rational inclinations are to disapprove of it as a whole. The law protects adults from being physically assaulted by other adults and I find the arguments that seek to exempt youngsters from this law to be flawed and unpersuasive.

That said, I know that there are many good and loving parents who sometimes smack their children out of frustration or a temporary flare of temper. It may not be beneficial thing but, rarely does this cause any real harm. Consequently, I view the engagement of the machinery of law enforcement with family life with the utmost trepidation:

Parents in England and Wales who smack children so hard it leaves a mark will face up to five years in jail under new laws in force from Saturday.

Mild smacking is allowed under a “reasonable chastisement” defence against common assault.

The purported distinction is not one in which I have any degree of confidence. Law enforcement in this country is often patchy, capricious and incompetent. I expect that truly serious abusers will slip the net while normally conscientious parents who lash out once in a moment of uncustomary anger will find themselves facing a custodial sentence and ruination.

Even if that were not the case (and it is very much the case) the new laws will result in an entrenchment of a culture of fear and suspicion. Children contrive to harm themselves all the time by flying off of their bikes, falling out of trees and sticking themselves with sharp implements. I have already heard far too many plausible accounts of parents who are scared of taking their wounded charges to a hospital in case they are accused of abusing them

In another age and in different political and legal circumstances, I would not be too concerned about these new laws. I may even (cautiously) approve. But it is not possible to see these developments as anything other than another step in the process of the gradual nationalisation of the family.

Nor will anyone’s life be improved by this legislation. It is enacted, in part, because it serves the interests of the professional welfare classes whose wealth and status is entirely dependent on this kind of state activism and partly because of the unfortunately fashionable view that people cannot be trusted to arrange their own affairs in a satisfactory manner without the external discipline of regulatory control.

None of this means that I necessarily approve of parents who smack their children. Generally, I do not. But just leaving matters be is probably the least worst solution. Over the coming years, that object lesson will be driven home.

56 comments to “Minister, what were ‘families’?”

  • Verity

    While I don’t believe in beatings and thrashings, an occasional clip round the ear or on the back of the legs strikes me as perfectly normal and all higher mammals who care for their young chastise their young physically occasionally. Cats give an occasional kitten a sharp nip, or sometimes they cuff it. I’ve seen bitches nipping a particularly irritating puppy. No one seems damaged by it. I haven’t been around enough monkeys (of the tree dwelling variety) to have observed their family life, but given the explosive environment in which monkey colonies live, I would guess that little monkeys endure an occasional sharp slap.

    Of course, that’s not your argument, I realise, David, and I agree with you about the nationalisation of the family. Melanie Phillips spotted this latest sinister development about a year ago. But I would argue that occasionally getting frustrated with a child when it has been constantly disobedient or has done something childishly ill-judged, like running onto the road, is not abnormal. The socialists are trying to brainwash people, and succeeding, into thinking that occasionally whacking a naughty child on the back of the legs is the moral equivalent of serial paedophilia.

    Sadly, the great judgemental British neighbour will, by and large, be only too pleased to have one more thing to go down the town hall and “speak to someone” about. (“I just thought you ought to know …”.) Again, this slots right into the Stalinesque plan of getting everyone to report on everyone and creating suspicion and division. They know their own people, all right.

  • Jacob

    “will face up to five years in jail under new laws …”

    Isn’t depriving a child of a parent for five years a very harsh punishmnet (of the child) ???

    Under the current PC rules one isn’t allowed to discipline a child, the only politically correct method is to drug them with Ritalin. Drugging children – good, smacking them – verbotten.

  • Verity

    Good points, Jacob. But the Gramscians are attempting to leach normal parental behaviour, which is protective, out of society and impose their own ‘protection’. The government will take care of you … Don’t worry …

  • veryretired

    Every conceivable aspect of human life has a group of activists whose entire universe is to promote some kind of law, program, or scheme for the alleged improvement of our lives. They are relentless, consumed by the need to save the children, the whales, the seals, the trees, the ozone, the working class, and on and on ad infinitum.

    As with so many causes, the proponents are never satisfied—there is never enough money, or the statute is too weak, or the penalties are too light. Since the situation can never be resolved to their satisfaction, the campaign never stops. No matter what is done, there is always more that needs to be done, and it is always crucial and critical that it be done now, right away, before any more damage can be done.

    Ordinary people, whose lives are not devoted to some cause, find the pressure of these relentless demands impossible to ignore, and try to agree to some modest steps to alleviate the problem, not understanding that the nature of these crusades is that they will never be alleviated. Even if polio is eradicated, there will always be birth defects.

    Nothing is off limits when the good of the children is involved. It’s even better than the working class.

  • Veryretired: that’s a very important observation.

  • I fully support the sentiment that in the current, nanny-state climate, even reasonable-sounding policies that seem to leave room for mild, corporeal punishment must be viewed with prejudice.

    What’s equally disturbing, the phrase ‘”reasonable chastisement” defence’ implies an onus on a parent to prove the ‘assault’ was reasonable. Do I understand that correctly?

    Finally, ‘good and loving parents who sometimes smack their children out of frustration or a temporary flare of temper’ certainly aren’t child abusers per se; but it doesn’t sound like they are helping their children much either.

    My opinions about and experience with corporeal punishment is indirect, and comes mostly from being friends with the Catholic kids on my street, so bearing that in mind…

    Any punishment (corporeal or otherwise) is most effective when served cold. Children who are disciplined (physically or otherwise) out of uncontrolled anger are liable to learn the wrong lesson (that they can best avoid punishment by monitoring, and later, manipulating, their parents’ emotional state) rather than the correct one (that certain conduct results in punishment because the conduct itself is wrong).

    Just some thoughts. Your mileage may vary.

  • John H – You’re absolutely right. I’m not a parent, but I like to think I know enough about kids (having been one myself and such) to realize that letting them get a rise out of you is never productive. I am absolutely against physical punishment, and I honestly don’t think there’s any excuse for it in light of the fact that 1) the parent is supposed to be the mature adult, and part of being an adult is maintaining your self-control, and 2) there are so many other ways to punish that are more likely to send a clear and unconfusing message to the child. I have found through my own experience and observation of others’ that it’s far more effective to punish through temporary deprivation (of sweets, toys, friends, whatever fits the crime best), manual labor (making them write lines, clean things, or some other boring and un-fun task), etc. Physical force is only warranted in cases where the child is behaving very violently themselves and can’t be subdued any other way.

    That said, I agree with David Carr that this legislation is something to be wary of given the current social climate in the UK. More than likely this law will be disproportionately applied to the minor offenders.

  • GCooper

    veryretired rites:

    “Every conceivable aspect of human life has a group of activists whose entire universe is to promote some kind of law, program, or scheme for the alleged improvement of our lives.”

    Thank you! I am relieved to see someone else picking up this point.

    It is at the essence of a personal war I’ve been fighting with BBC News for some years now (though it applies, almost equally, to newspapers). Single Issue Pressure Groups (SIPGs) aren’t new (what else were the Suffragettes?), but their domination of late 20th-early 21st century politics has grown beyond control to become an exceptionally malign influence, the evidence of which can be seen daily in everything from the absurd rules and regulations being forced on household rubbish collection, to employment law, criminal justice, food legislation and just about everything else. Almost no sphere of human activity in the West is not now conditioned by the agitation of people whose sole focus is on a single issue, to the absolute exclusion of all other considerations.

    SPIGs, unelected, funded from who knows where (Transport 2000, in the UK, by the bus companies, but that’s just a passing swipe for a particular hate-object of mine) find instant acceptance for whatever message they peddle by the popular media, eager for a ready-made story that requires no work.

    The influence of these organisations has grown out of all proportion to their importance and now threatens to undermine the very basis of sensible, consensual government.

  • Leo

    My father always was of the opinion that, when speaking with children, “First, you have to get their attention.”

    That being said, the possibility of corporeal punishment often means it won’t be necessary, once the child reaches the age of reason. Before that, we are animals, after all.

  • Pete_London


    While I don’t believe in beatings and thrashings, an occasional clip round the ear or on the back of the legs strikes me as perfectly normal and all higher mammals who care for their young chastise their young physically occasionally.

    Perfect, simple summary of truth.

    But the Gramscians are attempting to leach normal parental behaviour, which is protective, out of society and impose their own ‘protection’. The government will take care of you … Don’t worry …

    Well waddya know, that repulsive bag of puss Roy Hattersley recently let slip the Gramscian agenda in this area. How sick is that headline?

  • veryretired

    I am a firm believer in the idea that somewhere in everyone’s life there is a point upon which that person’s life pivots, and they live out the rest of their life working out the meaning of that significant element. It might be an incident, a person, a book, an idea, a war, a good thing, a bad thing, there is no way to tell.

    As I am the luckiest man in the world, my moment was when I met my wife. Since then, I have been focused on the family we have made together. Some, however, meet a cause. The rest of the world is fortunate when that cause is using their personal talents to overcome some scourge of humanity, like my mother’s personal hero, Dr Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine.

    There are those unfortunates, poor souls, who are caught by the cultlike call of political action or religious fanaticism. (There is very little difference between the two). The damage done by these obsessed crusaders, acting either alone or in concert, has been monumental down through the ages.

    I despise and fear fanatics of this kind. They can often discard their normal human feelings, especially the ability to perceive others as distinct individuals possessing lives of their own, while pursuing the fantasy of power or salvation that drives them every moment of their lives.

    One of the major reasons I advocate a limited, restricted form of state power is because these are the types that flourish when there are no limits. And people like me, who only want to live their lives and raise their families, perish.

  • Personally, I believe in the “two brick” method of raising children.

    Whack ’em with a brick to get their attention.
    Tell ’em what you want them to do.
    Whack ’em with a brick to drive it in.

    Raised three thru to productive stable adulthood. They tell me they don’t ever remember getting whacked much. Probably because they were afraid of the bricks.

    Obviously raising children in England would not have been possible. I also beleved in giving them shooting lessons before kindergarten and getting them motor bikes and firearms before they were 12.

    All three have made me inordinately proud as adults.

    You guys have it rough.

  • John H:

    I must utterly disagree with you about smacking in anger as opposed to after “cooling off”. I don’t think there’s much that can frighten a child more than seeing a perfectly calm parent whacking him “for his own good”. Chastising, physically or verbally, in anger is natural, understandable and teaches the valuable lesson that it’s not good to get people angry with you who are bigger and stronger than you are. A child, especially a very young one, just cannot understand physical punishment without an immediate reason. It is “abuse” NOT to correct a child physically when he needs it. The government pushes these tyrannical laws on the idea that parents are too stupid or lazy to punish properly and would rather let a certified psychologist who’s never actually raised a child decide the proper course for them. Unfortunately they’re far too often right. Far too many parents, when faced with a fractious child, would rather throw up their hands and let the state deal with him rather than carry out their parental responsibilities.

  • One would think that a magistrate would be able to interpret and apply any such laws with an eye towards the rational, but that would be completely ignoring the fact that so many magistrates seem to be hopelessly out of touch with what constitutes reality.

    I don’t agree that the status quo is suitable, however. I can advance no more practicable or workable solution, but I can confidently state that things could be improved.

  • Robert

    Whackin a kid on the butt never hurt (so to speak). Little kids are dumb, so teaching lessons, or lessons that require curbing bad behavior, will require the litlte bastards to endure the periodic sore ass. Not that I would recommend using spankings exclusively. Spankings followed up with a talking to are probably best. Curb bad behavior and stimulate that thing sitting above the sore soft bit.

    With all this in mind, I would like to announce that in order to get around these new laws I am hereby setting up shop in Britain as a professional disciplinarian specializing in the beating of children when they become unruly. We will fully comply within the boundries of the law and your kids won’t hate you for the rest of your life. Just warn them that if ever they behave bad that the big scary man with the rough hands will show up and punish them:).

  • Robert Speirs: excellent point. I’d just like to add that physical punishments should be used very sparingly, when all else fails, (the same is true for yelling, BTW), otherwise they quickly become ineffective, and they actually can denigrade into child abuse.

  • Julian Morrison

    Smacking’s an animal trick. A cuff and a growl is the usual way animals discipline their young, or drive them back from an unrecognised danger. For young humans who’re still thinking like an animal, it’s the right tool for the task. (And no longer is, once they aren’t!)

    IMO a lot of people misunderstand the actual function of smacking. Considering animals as our analogy, the typical things one of them would do range from a mild slap, to a claws-out slash for extreme provocation. In every case the function is information to an ally. It’s immediately coupled in time to the offense, and no more hurtful than is enough to make the point. The cub learns, the matter is dropped.

    Plenty of humans by contrast see smacking as punishment torture. It’s used as the topic of threats which are set hanging over the child’s head, a way to terrify an adversary into taking orders. Notice how the smacking in this case is explicitly not informational. The child is supposed to obey, rather than learn a mistake and think for themself.

    If you tried to train a puppy that way, you could get anything from an unpredictable biter to a cringing cur, you’d be unlikely to get a trained puppy.

  • Verity

    I agree with Julian Morrison. Very young children are animals and do not understand reasoning. They only understand consequences. “I did that and now the back of my legs sting.” Punishment – or information as Julian rightly calls it – has to be immediate to be linked to the wrongdoing in a small child’s head. All well-adjusted animals have had a nip or a clout from their mother from time to time while she was getting them ready to function safely in the world by themselves.

    I think John H’s solution is horrible and sadistic: “Any punishment (corporeal or otherwise) is most effective when served cold.” I’m sure it is, but how nasty and calculating to punish a little child coldly. They understand the heat of the moment, and although they may burst into tears at the unexpected assault, they seem to understand the purpose in some basic way, especially if they get a cuddle a few minutes later.

    What hasn’t been mentioned above is, being smacked sharply also trains us to relate to others. We don’t smack other children or animals because we know it hurts.

    When they’re able to reason a little bit, there’s no point in chastising them physically any more. Saying, “If you do that again I’m taking away your computer privileges for two days” would strike the right note of terror. (Most children would rather be slapped than not be allowed on the computer.) But very young children need a slap or a cuff every now and then. And shouting too, Alisa, done at the point of offence, is also effective.

    Children raised under the iron-fisted sadistic socialist method probably won’t be well-adjusted adults.

  • Julian Morrison

    “…most effective…” I’d actually dispute. Most terrifying, yes. But that implies you have bought into the adversarial model – which can easily fail. Children with the wind up and a sense of righteousness on their side can absorb an awful lot of pain and spit it back in your face. Or escalate it to the point that they can wield the law as a weapon on their side, and force you to back down**. That’s the way to make enemies, not independent and reasonable adults.

    (**I did this. It worked.)

  • Verity

    I’d also like to bring to the discussion Labour’s intention of upsetting the social order with their new law. A parent who leaves a red mark on a child’s skin – and some very fair children mark extremely easily – is to go to prison for five years, have his/her family broken up and the children deprived of a parent during five years of their growing up time, and life ruined.

    By contrast, we have the people responsible for allowing the tragic little Victoria Climbie to be tortured to death, suffering no punishment at all. Hmmm. Slap, five years and life ruined. Ignoring torture, no biggie.

    The “parents” if one can use that term in this context, who adopted that lovely little 4-year old boy and then murdered him through forcing him to consume enough salt to kill him because he failed to live up to their expectations – have just been sentenced to five years in prison. For murdering a helpless child.

    Murder – five years in prison. Slapping a naughty child – five years in prison. This government is terminally wicked, corrupt and foetid. And still the British people are supine. I just don’t understand why you’re not all queued up outside the American Embassy and the Aussie and Kiwi High Commissions.

  • JuliaM

    What a wonderful piece of new legislation…

    Now I can enjoy my trips to the supermarket even more, knowing that the usual ineffective parent (“No, Tarquin, don’t do that….That’s naughty…. Tarquin, PLEASE….Tarquin, Daddy will be cross when he hears…) now cannot admonish the child properly (“Christ, lady, just slap the little b*****r!”) without the law bearing down on her. I can see this only producing more of the ‘urban savages’ the media are currently obsessing over.

    Got to stop now – I sound like my mother. (But how right she was….).

  • Verity

    JuliaM – Well, you’re right, too! Like mother, like daughter! Your point about the production of yet more hordes of urban savages was interesting, because now that you mention it, I think this might be the intent. The bricks are being removed one by one from Britain’s civil society.

  • JuliaM —

    Because, after all, there is absolutely no other way of disciplining a child other than smacking it.

    Come on.

    Can you spell false dilemma?

    Any of you?

  • Jacob

    Children (and adults) learn by a feedback loop. Stick a fork in an electric outlet and you get a shock, and learn never to do it again. Put a finger into a flame or into an oven and you get burned, and learn to stay clear from danger in the future.
    These external feedbacks might be dangerous, so a good parent gives his child a preemptive, parental, (harmless) feedback – a slap – so the child gets educated, while being spared the dangerous consequences of the external feedback.

    The biblical saying – he who saves his whip hates his child – is correct. The parent who fails to teach and guide his child exposes it to external feedback, which might be disastrous.

    If a youth behaves in school like a ‘urban savage’ he gets expulsed or drugged with Ritalin, or beaten up by some other savage. A few parental slaps and smacks here and there earlier on, might have prevented this.

    The legislators and do-gooders, either have no children, or never bothered to spend some time with their children and educate them. But that’s par for the course, politicians usually don’t understand anything, no matter what the subject of the legislation.

  • Taking a somewhat different tack, nobody seems to have considered that being able to physically chastise children is an affront to the “monopoly of violence” any state seeks to maintain. If you can hit someone without retribution from others, you are, to a very small extent, sovereign. I would suggest that taking away that small bit of sovereignty is what is behind much of the Labour impulse.

    For the record, I’m raising three (oldest 5) and I believe in physical punishment when absolutely necessary. I found it impossible to keep my son away from electrical danger without it. As a toddler as he had a fascination with wires and outlets as a toddler.

  • Denise W

    I agree that parents shouldn’t allow themselves to get out of control with their anger. There is such thing as over doing the punishment. But I believe a good spanking once in a while is absolutely necessary sometimes. I get so irritated at parents who say, “I never spank my child.” Usually those are the children who break things in someone else’s home or tear things up in public stores, running around and throwing tantrums, acting like a spoiled brat, while the parents do nothing. The child then learns that he or she is in control of the parents and can do whatever they want. Then the parents have the audacity to wonder why their child has such a disiplinary problem when he or she becomes a teenager. The parent is supposed to be the boss. Not the child.

  • Uncle Bill

    I despise and fear fanatics of this kind.

    I despise and fear fanatics of any kind.

    Eric Hoffer’s “The True Beliver” addresses this issue.

  • Denise W

    Verity, I agree with something you said earlier. When you spank a child for wrong doings when they’re really young, it usually isn’t necessary when they’re older. That’s the way my mother raised me. When I got older, she simply took my privileges away.

  • Lee Moore

    It’s unusual to find a gaping logical hole in a samizdata post, but there is one in David Carr’s.

    “The law protects adults from being physically assaulted by other adults and I find the arguments that seek to exempt youngsters from this law to be flawed and unpersuasive.”

    Leaving the law on one side, the moral principle that requires adults to refrain from assaulting other adults is no more complicated than respect for the liberty of person. You may not strike another adult (without his consent) because what happens to his body is for him, not you, to determine. But that principle doesn’t apply if the adult has (partially) forfeited his liberty over his person, by being convicted of a crime for which the punishment is, say, chastisement. (We will assume that the crime is one that libertarians are generally willing to accept ought to be a crime, and which deserves such punishment.) In such a case there is no moral offence in the chastiser chastising another adult. The principle that adults should not strike each other is not unconditional.

    In the case of children, parents have the right and responsibility to exercise some degree of control over their activities. Children are not (yet) persons with unfettered liberty of person and parents are not required to have recourse to the criminal law in order to exercise control of their children. So in exactly the same way that the properly constituted authority – the criminal law – may chastise an adult for a transgression, there is no objection (on grounds of liberty) to the properly constituted authority – parents – chastising children. In each case, of course, the authority is limited. There may also be other objections to the chastisement of children, but they certainly don’t have anything to do with the principle that adults should refrain from assaulting each other.

  • Verity

    The point is, this malign and foul government is intent on abnormalising the normal. Parents have been bringing up children for hundreds of thousands of years without the help of Tony Blair and his cabinet of vicious moral incompetents. This government is pulling another one of its Gramscian fast ones. Mandate that the normal be abnormal and make the abnormal normal. Voila! A society shakey on its pins and punch drunk from having its values, established over thousands of years, ripped out from under it. A society with no self-confidence is weak and very easy to control. Especially if you are in at the start – controlling the children. It worked in the schools. Now they’re seeping their poison into the sanctity of the family. Apart from anything else, the sheer impudence beggars belief.

  • Jacob

    ” I get so irritated at parents who say, “I never spank my child.” ”
    Those parents are usually too busy to spend any time with their children. It’s the nanny that does the spanking. They have no idea how their children are brought up. They should consult their nanny before embarking on absurd legislation.

  • Chas Tisement

    I like this from No Smack

    If You Chastise Your Wife, Read This

    Many husbands in our culture use corporal punishment (chastisement) as a form of marital discipline. Excessive corporal punishment of wives is the most common form of spousal abuse.

    The American Academy of Family Counselors has established the following guidelines for husbands who choose to corporally punish their wives, to prevent chastisement from becoming spousal abuse.

    Only chastise a wife with your hand. Never use a paddle, belt or other object to chastise your wife. Never use your feet, fists or teeth to chastise.

    Only chastise on the hands, thighs or buttocks. Chastising a wife on the head or face can cause extreme physical and emotional harm.

    Only strike once – The purpose of chastisement is to get your wife’s attention so you can talk about the behavior and use other methods of correction. Don’t chastise your wife to diffuse your anger.

    Only chastise your wife in the early years of marriage, before she understands what is expected of her. Women who have been married for three or four years no longer need chastisement on the hands or buttocks to get their attention. By then they are mature enough for husbands to get their attention verbally.

  • Arfa

    I am an adult and occasionally get into a bit or arggie barrgie at closing time and I do got go blubbing off to the old bill if I get the worst of it. Sometimes in the real world, a smack in the chops is the only way for adults to get their point across so the occasional kick in the arse for Junior is hardly th end of the world, unless you are beating the little lad black and blue, at which point it is well out of order. But life in the real world aint the same as the Guardian would have you think

  • Verity

    To the wittily named Chas Tisement: “No Smack, which I like” with its substition of adult women for tiny, unformed, beloved children learning, within their own families, how to be in our world, revealed more about you than you perhaps wanted revealed. If you think this was clever, which you obviously do, you have unresolved issues about women and should seek help.

    This post gave me the creeps. How do the other women posters on this thread feel?

  • The government of course is being hypocritical and putting itself in the same relationship with the parent as the parent is with the child.

    Five years in jail,if you spank your child the government will spank you, a muddled sense of proportion there.

    How will this affect communities where corporal punishment is part of the culture?

  • It will have no effect at all on those “communities” which are the politically correct darlings of the month and which the hypocritical government will go out of its way to cosset and indulge. Only a really blatant case would get them off their duffs. They only pick what is considered easy meat, and we all know exactly what and who that means.

  • Bullshit like this makes me incoherent with rage, but I’ll try to be as coherent as possible now.

    There is a huge, enormous, massive difference between child abuse and physical chastisement.

    Like the judge sais about pornography, you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.

    What pernicious laws (like this one) are designed to do is simple:

    1. Intrude into the family life and remove the main authority figures (parents) and substitute with [guess whom?]
    2. Make the difference between law-abiding and lawbreaking deliberately vague, so the interpretation is decided by [guess whom?]
    3. Remove the parent from the equation, and substitute as a parent [guess whom?]

    The poxy statists have done it here as well — it’s been a cornerstone of Hillary Fucking Clinton’s proposed policies forever — but fortunately, it’s not quite as bad as in the U.K. — yet.


  • DM

    A friend of mine in the police told me that if you use a cushion, it doesn’t leave a mark.

  • DM

    Actually, that was in poor taste. My apologies.

  • speedwell

    THIS woman, who in the past was both a spanked child and an abused wife, didn’t see any difference between the two. You’re sorry and scared because you did something that got the big angry person mad at you, and then you get hit. No fucking difference, lady.

  • ThePresentOccupier

    Actually, I found it quite telling – not of you, but of the attitude of the police. *YOU* will obey the state, the police will continue to flout the laws as they are the ones who enforce them.

  • Verity: I think you may have misunderstood the guy: he was trying to show that chastising a child is just as immoral as “chastising” a wife. It goes without saying that I certainly disagree.

    Speedwell: “THIS woman, who in the past was both a spanked child and an abused wife, didn’t see any difference between the two.” I do hope, though, that you can see the difference between a spanked child and an abused one?

  • Verity

    Alisa – No, I understood what he was essaying, and I thought it was repellent to draw a comparison between a perfectly normal, loving parent occasionally giving a child a whack across the back of the legs and groups of people who write manuals on wife-beating. Smacking a child is done in the heat of the moment to discipline and is instinctive in all higher mammals. There is no lesson to be drawn by substituting for a loving parent people who coldly study manuals of how not to leave marks when beating their wives.

    I liked your comment to Speedwell and second it.

  • The Great Escape

    The UK is fscked. That’s all there is to it. When they start taking apart your family, it is time to leave. I’m just guessing, but I think there would be lots of people willing to help pro-liberty individuals escape. Some ideas are more radical than others…

    My girlfriend and I were half-joking the other day about how we could marry and later divorce some liberty seekers from abroad so they could become U.S. citizens and escape their socialist hellholes. Maybe she and I should stop joking. Free State Project, anyone?

  • Amazing that the parent is expected to reason with the child but the state will not reason with the parent. After all we don’t incarcerate our children for misbehaving.
    Some friends child was bitten but they couldn’t find out what, so they took it to hospital,the doctor asked him “What bit you” in that confidential manner that doctor have,”A frog” answered the child.
    That how far we are from five years.Out of the mouths of babes and into the cells of Blairitania.
    Still it will keep us out of the way of burglars

  • Euan Gray

    marry and later divorce some liberty seekers from abroad so they could become U.S. citizens and escape their socialist hellholes

    People do this in Britain too. They tend to get jailed for it.


  • Freefire

    Lee Moore:

    Parents are not the “properly constituted authority” for the control of children in the same sense in which the criminal law is the “properly constituted authority” for the control of adults. Parents properly exercise control over children only on an everyday level, whereas the ultimate controlling authority over children is the same as for the rest of us – the criminal law. The role of parents is not fundamentally one of control but of nurture. What properly limits parental control is the criminal law and what properly limits the criminal law are principles of justice.

    Yet parents who assert their parental rights to physically punish their children are claiming that children are exempt from a fundamental principle of justice: freedom from physical attack. It may be a justified exemption – but exemption it is, since parental rights are subordinate to principles of justice. Any suggestion they are not reminds me of the old view (once respectable) of the family as a unit in which the head of the family has absolute authority over the other members – which, incidentally, was used as a “natural” justification for an authoritarian state (see Filmer’s “Patriarcha”).

    Individual rights are fundamental to justice – the right to freedom from physical attack the most important. Individual rights should in principle apply generally to everyone, and any exceptions to their application should be well understood and clearly justified. Justifications suggested here have been e.g. bad motives of lawmakers, the possibility of bad enforcement, effectiveness of physical punishment, that physical punishment is necessary. The only one of these that seems sufficient for an exemption is that physical punishment of children is “necessary”. In the case of children who have reached the age of reason the evidence suggests this is not the case. In the case of younger children it is arguable (so this should be where the debate should lie).

    While the current political and legal climate may make the pronouncements of professional interferers nauseating and the prospect of enforcement very worrying, in the long term, upholding children’s rights to be free from any form of physical attack rather than upholding the rights of parents to contravene this in the name of the child’s own good, will help the cause of individualism and non-coercion much more. It seems to me that if you really want a libertarian world then it will only arrive with an understanding and respect for the fundamental principles on which libertarianism is based. Indeed, arguably, as long as children are brought up not having the most basic individual right of freedom from physical aggression … will we ever reach such a world?

  • Sue

    “upholding children’s rights to be free from any form of physical attack rather than upholding the rights of parents to contravene this in the name of the child’s own good, will help the cause of individualism and non-coercion much more”

    Hear hear!

    Some of us have already reached such a world, Freefire.


  • Of course jailing parents for five years is a very libertarian action.

  • Mary in LA

    Sue, do you have any kids?
    If so, how did they turn out?

    I’m asking those questions seriously. My husband and I have been trying for children for the last two years, so far without success. So I don’t feel qualified to give any advice on child-rearing, but am always searching for the same, in case we should be so fortunate as to become parents.

  • Verity

    Mary in LA – Are you absolutely certain you are on the right blog?

    I don’t mean this unkindly and I honestly wish you and your husband success – but we are talking about the intrusion of an ever-more confident authoritarian Blairesque SS sending ever more creepers into private families in Britain. This is a political blog.

  • Huw Jenkins

    First of all, Verity is wrong in saying that there is nothing wrong with an occasional clip around the ear – this is HIGHLY dangerous. My mother lived with her aunt for a period when young – whose favoured method of punishment was a clip around the ear. As a result, my mother is deaf in one ear and has had serious (and painful) mastoid problems for much of her life.


    The problem with the law on serious chastisement and the government’s amendment of it (which incidentally would not have protected my mother – which demsonstrates its absurdity) is that it explicitly interferes in the family, by providing an exemption to the normal laws protecting individuals against assault. What was needed was simply the repeal of this law.

    If the law was repealed, the argument of those who say that “banning smacking” is the nanny state would be negated – simply because no new law would have been introduced, just an anomolous one removed.

    Originally the ‘reasonable chastisement’ laws also covered wives as well as children. Does anyone now seriously argue that it should be re-extended to cover wives because it is unwarranted government interference in the family not to allow a man to physically chastise his wife? Does anyone think that wives should be exempt from the normal protection of the law.

    The other problem of the law on reasonable chastisement, is that if a parent is prosecuted, the prosecution has to demonstrate that the parent could not have *believed* what they did was reasonable chastisement. The defendent has only to argue that “I thought it was reasonable” even if by most people’s standards it demonstrably was not.

  • Lee Moore

    Hi freefire

    “Yet parents who assert their parental rights to physically punish their children are claiming that children are exempt from a fundamental principle of justice: freedom from physical attack”

    But parents who seek to exercise control over (or nurture) their children also trample upon children’s other freedoms :

    Freedom of association – “no you may not go and play with Terry”
    Freedom from imprisonment – “go to your room”
    Sanctity of property – “I am going to confiscate that train”
    Property in one’s own person – “You will wash behind your ears, or I will do it for you !”
    Freedom of expression – “Do not call your sister a fat slag”

    All forms of parental control and discipline are infringements of what would otherwise be fundamental adult freedoms. And they are all perfectly reasonable and acceptable, and nothing special at all, because children do not have the same rights to exercise those freedoms as adults. Because they are children. Their parents are entitled – as part of the nurturing process – to exercise controls on the exercise of those freedoms, in the child’s interests (as determined by the parents, not the state.)

  • Freefire

    Lee Moore:

    All those infringements must be ultimately justified somehow. Different freedoms are of different importance – freedom of person the most fundamental, freedom to hold property less so, and freedom of conduct (e.g. association, expression) less so still. And freedom of person is essentially different from any other types of freedom – any breach of freedom of person is direct coercion whereas breaches of other freedoms are not (though they may be enforced by direct coercion) – they are merely e.g. laws/rules/spoken commands. Direct coercion (when not directly protective i.e. where any individual understanding the situation would thank you) is a physical attack – you have no choice – you can’t disobey – it’s not merely an attack on the way you are allowed to live your life but an attack on your very being.

    So infringement of freedom of person needs a much stronger justification than others. As for infringements of freedom of conduct (the main form of parental discipline) – these don’t generally arise from parents having “parental rights” over “children” – they usually arise, justifiably, from the practical fact of “dependants” having to rely on their “carers” e.g. freedom of conduct for children may conflict with rights of parents in their own property (a child shouldn’t necessarily be able to do whatever they like in your house or with your money), and the fact that a child is receiving food and shelter from their parents may mean that some limits on their conduct are a fair exchange (though of course any particular limits here aren’t necessarily nurturing). Anyone who’s dependent for their means of survival on another may justifiably have to submit to that other’s rules of conduct – but in no circumstances should they be forced to submit to physical aggression.

    Freedom from imprisonment is a type of freedom of person (imprisonment itself involves direct coercion – at the very least it involves physically barring a person’s way). But being sent to your room is not imprisonment – being locked in it is.

    From what Huw Jenkins says above it seems the line has already been drawn against any physical aggression against children – by the common law according to principles of justice … but the state has overridden it!

  • Mary in LA

    Verity, thanks for your good wishes. I think I’m on the right blog — I’ve commented here before. It’s just that I would have felt better able to evaluate Sue’s comments on the politics of parenting if I had known their practical results. I’ve seen the results of giving children no limits, and they’re not pretty, but as a non-parent myself, I don’t feel qualified to pass judgment on anyone’s parenting practices except by evaluating the young adults they turn out.

    If children have the right not to be spanked, but not being spanked makes them worse adults more likely to infringe the rights of others and less likely to be able to exercise their own rights productively, which infringement is worse? I don’t see a perfect solution here, if the problem of rights is the only one considered. But then I’m not a libertarian. I would have to call myself a utilitarian.

    In any case, it appears that my question will remain unanswered, as Sue appears to have gone away and this is a dead thread. Thanks, though.