A Libertarian Defense of Spanking

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

This is my long overdue conclusion to the series I started back in the summer about spanking. Work has been terribly busy lately, and I have been very tired and not had a lot of energy to write. Plus, I’ve been doing a lot of debating on Facebook lately which is of dubious merit, and that has sapped a lot of my juices on this issue. Add to that the fact that I did NaNoWriMo this year, and my writing momentum for this blog has almost vanished. Oh well. I did post my critique of Dr. Clauson, and that seemed to have gotten things going again!

Well today, I want to complete my series on spanking. I’ve written two parts already in which I defend the practice of spanking from the Biblical Worldview. Today I want to tackle this from a different angle. I want to defend against the allegation that comes from certain Libertarians, Stefan Molyneux being the most prominent, that spanking is a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle, and therefore it is immoral.

In order to do this most effectively, I want to divest myself of the Biblical worldview temporarily. It’s not because I don’t think the Biblical worldview has anything to say on this, nor is it that it I don’t think it is an authoritative – or the authoritative – voice on the subject. In fact, I won’t really be leaving it behind at all. I just won’t be appealing to it, but to certain truths supported by it that are held by my opponents in order to be most practically persuasive.

So for the sake of pragmatism, I want to argue this case from a strictly anarcho-capitalist worldview, which is the worldview held by many prominent Libertarians such as Larken Rose and Stefan Malyneux.

Now I could argue from Scripture here, but I’ve already done that. I want to take a completely different approach, because I know my audience (who I doubt will actually read this) rejects Scripture as an authority in their worldview. But why bother? Shouldn’t we be debating about presuppositions with them? Indubitably, but I don’t think that means there is no merit in the kind of apologetics I’m going to do today. I think it is valuable to take on your opponent’s way of thinking and show him where his own worldview is inconsistent and/or points to Biblical truth, because ultimately all worldviews do point to Biblical truth in one way or another – most of them simply mix it with a bunch of error.

So I could say, “thus sayeth the Lord,” and while I would be ultimately right and justified in doing so, they would simply whisk it away as superstition and a deus ex machina to prove a point they think I can’t possibly prove otherwise. So rather than getting caught in a stalemate over presuppositions, I’d like to actually succeed in convincing them. Falling that, maybe I can at least lay the groundwork for an ethical argument we could possibly use to defend ourselves from those who would come crashing down our door in the name of rescuing our children from the use of illegitimate force against them (not that I think they would ever resort to such totalitarian, statist means). 

So what I mean by all this is that my terminology will be their terminology. In other words, I will refer to the stewardship discipline of self-government as self-ownership without worrying about the theology going on in the background. Whatever you call it and whatever it’s philosophical undergirding, the logical outworking for society and government is the same. So I will make my argument from within their own framework in order to show that even within their own presuppositions, it is consistent to accept spanking as a legitimate form of discipline in child rearing.

I will argue this case from property rights in two senses. First is that you, as a the head of household, own your home and your stuff. You therefore have the authority to set the use rights for your home. Everyone in your home who doesn’t own the home and hasn’t contributed to it in any way does not own the property, and therefore has a duty to obey your rules. Second is that while your child does own himself, he is not fully capable of governing himself due to his immaturity. Because of this, you, as his parent, have been set in a stewardship role over him on his behalf in order to develop him into a person who is able to govern himself so that you might hand him back to himself as the best, most well rounded person he can be. This task necessarily involves a certain amount of coercion.

So I want to start by first asking the question of whether I have any legitimate authority over the children in my house. Larken Rose is fond of saying that authority is a superstition, and while I will agree with him in the political realm, I disagree with him about the authority of a father in his household, which I will defend.

After answering that question, I will ask the further question of, assuming I do have legitimate authority over the children in my house, what is the nature and purpose of that authority, and what means are at my disposal for the administration of that authority. Here I will argue that spanking is not only the most effective means of coercion, but also the most ethical.

Do I have authority over my children?

I think it would be helpful to approach this question from a non-standard perspective. It’s too easy to just jump straight into the parent/child context and miss some key groundwork. So let’s step back and ask a more foundational question first.

If this child were an adult house-guest living in my home, would I have any authority over him? If so, where does that authority come from, and what is its nature?

I think we can say right away that the answer would be, “Yes.” Your authority comes from your property rights. All authority ultimately comes from property rights. Larken Rose speaks out against the superstition of authority, but that is not to denounce any and all authority in any form it can possibly be found or imagined. It is to say that there is such a thing as legitimate authority, and that it comes from property rights. Each person owns himself. Nobody claims greater ownership over a person that the person himself can. The person, therefore, has the authority to set the use rights for himself. This is the basis for his liberty, and his right of self-defense. He has the authority to say what others may or may not do with his person. If we don’t believe this, the Non-Aggression Principle is a bunch of meaningless hogwash.

This authority also extends to your stuff. As the owner of your house and your belongings, you absolutely have the authority to set the use rules for your stuff and your space. If you have an adult, free-loading house guest squatting in your home and refusing to obeys your rules for your stuff, he is an intruder. He has outstayed his welcome and has become an invader. You most certainly have the right to expel him, violently if necessary. You might decide not to out of gracious hospitality, but you nevertheless have the right and the authority to do so.

What makes this different from the standard theories of authority is that this right of yours is tied directly to your property and ends at the doorstep or the front gate. You do not have the right to pursue him elsewhere and bully him on some other property. You may tell him he may not smoke in your living room, but you may not tell him that he may not smoke in the street corner.

Given that this child is not an adult, does the fact that he is just a child change anything in my analysis? If so, what is the true nature of my relationship to this child?

So understanding that you do indeed have authority over your own home, what do we make of the fact that this child is not an adult free-loader, but is indeed just a child. He is helpless and has nowhere else to go. Does my right of authority over my household and the people in my household change when they are children?

Of course it changes, but how does it change? In one sense it doesn’t change at all. Your child owns himself, but he does not own your stuff. He doesn’t own you. You own the house and your possessions. Your child does not own them, so he is still bound by your rules the same way the adult is.

Yet there is a key way in which the arrangement does change, but it does not lessen the child’s duty to obey. In fact it enhances it. Not only is this person still a guest living on the property you own, but you also have a special relationship with this person. Now I don’t mean that in any sort of ushy-gushy romantically nonsensical way. I have a definite meaning behind those words.

Indeed you do not own your child. He is not your property nor your slave. But you are in a special position of authority over him that is greater in degree and scope than the authority you have over your adult house guest by virtue of the fact that you are the steward of the child himself until the time when he becomes an adult.

Your child is not born into this world capable of governing himself. It takes roughly 15-20 years for him to mature to that point. Until such a time, you are his caretaker, tasked with the solemn responsibility to his future self to oversee his growth, education, character development, and maturity so that you may stand him up and return him to himself as the best possible man he might become.

This task will necessarily require certain amounts of coercion.

There are many ways in which you will need to coerce your child in order to fulfill this duty. You will need to bathe, dress, and change your infants and toddlers whether they like it or not. Now this is where things get interesting, because opponents of spanking often suggest talking to the child as an alternative. Like we haven’t ever thought of that before. Oh really? I can talk to my kid? I don’t have to just smack him around all the time? Well I’ll be. I never knew!

This example really highlights the absurdity of the peaceful parenting position. Have you ever tried to reason with a screaming infant? You tend not to get anywhere. “Ok little Johnny. You’re really dirty, and you really need to take a bath, so please get into the bath tub so you can be washed.”

Yeah, right. No amount of this is going to convince Johnny to get into the tub, or to stop fighting you when you try to put him in there. Regardless of his motives for resisting you, he is resisting you. If he is going to take a bath, then at some point you are going to have to pick him up and put him in the bath against his will, totally violating his autonomy and self ownership, right?

Well, no. Because he is not the governor of himself in his childhood state. You are. And you as his governor have decided that he needs to take a bath. You have the authority to do this by virtue of your fiduciary duty to him. So when you say he needs a bath, if for no other reason than so that he doesn’t get sick, you have the authority to carry it out. You’re doing this for his own good. Now I know that phrase causes people’s toes to curl up. “I’m doing this for your own good,” because it’s often used by those who want to claim authority they don’t really have, but that doesn’t mean there is never a sphere in which it’s a legitimate reason for coercion, and here it is.

Another reason you might need to coerce your children might be to teach them good personal habits so that they learn work hard, take care of themselves and their own property, and respect others and their property so they don’t become leaches to society and instead invest in and apply their own human capital so as to contribute to society through voluntary exchange and reap the benefits that go along with that.

You will need to restrain their liberty at times to keep them from making short-sighted foolish decisions that will harm them either temporarily or permanently. You will need to stop them from doing things that they are doing out of an ignorant lack of wisdom to understand that their actions might have consequences and what those consequences might be. You’ll need to teach your young children not to play in the street. Wouldn’t it be better to spank them for this than for them to be run over by a car? You may need to ground your teenager when you fear he is about to go do something extremely foolish that might cause them to wind up dead or in juvenile detention. You do this so that he actually reaches adulthood alive and well without his life cut short, or permanent injury to his body, or a criminal record dogging him around.

Finally, you will need to impart wisdom to them, and so they need to be learn the discipline of listening to wise counsel. This is so that when they become an adult they will make good and wise decisions. This means you will need to force him to listen to you, because he’s not going to want to. He’s going to roll his eyes at you and shrug his shoulders and go, “Aw mooooooom!” But he needs to hear what you have to say because he will need to know it some day.

Now good parents will try to make these ministrations as minimally coercive as possible. More importantly, they will recognize that this arrangement is temporary. They will administer their authority in such a way as to cultivate the child’s self-government by teaching him responsibility, wisdom and character.

At the beginning, you start out by having complete, totalitarian control over him, but as he grows and develops abilities, and demonstrates responsibility, you gradually cede this government back over to him so that he might claim what is rightfully his and might practice the discipline of self-government as a teenager in such an environment as to have a mentor there to help him through the process.

But this relationship will not be a mentor/mentoree relationship if the child was raised to think that he has no need for your counsel and that rules don’t apply to him. His desire for autonomy will drive him to foolishly reject your wise instruction and he will rebel to his own temporal and permanent hurt. This is why it is critical to teach them to submit when they are young – not because submission is so inherently right on the basis of the fact that you are some higher being than them, but because you have a job to do and they need to let you do it.

And if you can do it and do it well , your child will reach a point somewhere in his late teens when he is ready to enter society as his own free-standing moral agent. Sadly many children are not held to standards. They are not taught anything but entitlement, and they wind up still being children at age 30 or older. You can see these people on Reality TV all the time. These peoples’ parents bear some of the responsibility for failing them in this regard, because they neglected their stewardship responsibility.

In a sense this arrangement is analogous to if I knew I would go temporarily insane for some period of time – let’s say 30 days. And in that time, I was also in a state where, left to myself, I had the ability to do tremendous damage to myself, and I don’t want that to happen. I want to wake up in 30 days just as alive and well as when I went crazy. So I ask you to please watch over me while I’m crazy, and use whatever means necessary to help me recover and reach the end of my insane spell without doing any harm to myself. You would therefore be authorized to use force against me if I were about to do something to harm myself, like walk out into the street, or jump off a building, or shoot myself.

Isn’t This a Nanny State?

Now I know what you’re thinking, because these “I’m doing this for your own good,” and “I’ve got a job to do and you’re not letting me do it, stop rebelling against my authority,” lines I’ve used have probably got you all in a huff because these are phrases used to justify the State. But there’s a critical difference between the parent/child relationship and that of a Nanny State to its subjects.

What makes parenting intrinsically different from the Nanny State is that in the Nanny State we’re not dealing with children, or temporarily insane people, we’re dealing with adults who, by all rights, ought to be treated as rational, sane people. Instead, the government insists on treating us like children and insane people entirely against our will because that’s really how they see us. The ruling class sees us as a bunch of children who need to be put in their place by their fathers.

But we aren’t children. We’re adults; free-standing moral agents capable of governing ourselves, and responsible for our own choices. We don’t need to be bullied about by a Nanny State who has not been given a fiduciary duty to steward us for any length of time, and who has does not own the property we occupy. And the Nanny State doesn’t just want to take care of us until we learn to take care of ourselves or recover from some temporary inability to take care of ourselves. They want to control us for the rest of our lives.

So ultimately the objection on the basis of the comparison to the Nanny State falls apart by looking at the pejorative label we use for it: The Nanny State. A Nanny was a steward set over children. By calling it a Nanny State, we are pointing out the fact that they are treating us like children, relying on the public’s inherent underlying understanding that, while children ought to be treated this way, adults may not. There is a fundamental difference between children and adults.

This Sounds Like the Social Contract!

Well now hang on! This sounds a lot like the social contract. After all, this child was born into this contractual arrangement against his own will. There was never a time when he voluntarily agreed to be stewarded by an adult until he grew up. Why should we just accept that this is morally right? This whole stewardship arrangement has been illegitimately forced on them.

Well there’s not really much to say other than that I’m sure that they would not much rather starve. I mean that’s the alternative here, right? If a child isn’t raised in this type of arrangement by somebody, they will be left to wallow in their own filth until they starve to death. Here again, I go back to the example of bathing an infant. You cannot bathe an infant without coercion. It’s just impossible. So no matter what your intentions, when you have a child you will come to a point where you will have to decide between allowing the child to wallow in his own filth unto death or to commit some coercion against him to clean him up or feed him. Coercion is unavoidable in the case of trying to help helpless people. Our case against the Nanny State is based on the fact that adults are not helpless people.

Now even if you leave a child all to himself without coercing him and he does somehow survive and manage to raise himself on the streets, or with complete autonomy in your home – like a cat really… you just set food out for him and hope he comes and eats it – there are still a number of terrible outcomes that might befall him because he is wandering through life without your guidance, naively thinking he has everything figured out. He might get run over by a car while playing in the street, or be beaten to death because he picked a fight with someone bigger, or any number of dangerous outcomes, the worst of which would be to be raised to one day be a layabout with an entitlement complex, or an aggressor against others who must be hunted down like a wild, dangerous animal.

Now, I know. They didn’t volunteer to be born. But for that matter, with some exceptions, they usually didn’t ask us if we wanted them to be born. This whole arrangement is inherently involuntary on both sides from the beginning. Yet in the midst of it is this wonderful gift of life and the grace of one who has been invaded raising this child to adulthood rather than executing it (not that I would say you have the right to that, which is a whole digression).

Ultimately I don’t think there is an adult alive who would refuse to consent to such an arrangement if they had the choice, assuming the parents were just and careful rather than abusive in their discipline. I know this “you would have consented” thing is often an argument used for the social contract by the statists, but here again we are trying to compare a situation where some people are permanently forcing their will on other adults for the purpose of subjugating them as opposed to someone standing guard over another to help them survive and grow out of their temporary helplessness.

What should children be disciplined for?

So before we discuss means of discipline, let’s ask another question. What should children be disciplined for? I offer three broad categories and leave the specifics up to you:

Children should be disciplined when they disregard the rules you set for your property.

These would be your basic house rules. If I say, “don’t slam the door,” I have the authority to require that my child not slam the door. It’s my door, not his. If he doesn’t obey my wishes, I have the right to stop him, using force if necessary. I am defending myself and my property from his aggression. Now obviously, I should make sure he understands the rules first and what the difference is between slamming and not slamming, but if he understands these things and does it anyway, he deserves to be disciplined.

It is totally legitimate to require children not to break your things, or not to get into things you have made off limits, or to clean up after themselves. These are your things. They have no right to mess up your house, just like you have no right to mess up mine. This is your house, and you are within your rights to set the standards to which the house will be kept, and to expect that they obey. If children do not obey your house rules, they are disregarding you and your property. They need to be disciplined.

Now you might object that it would be virtuous of you to patiently tolerate your child’s behavior, and I’ll admit a certain amount of that is warranted, but this doesn’t mean they have the right to walk all over you and your stuff, and they need to be taught this. What better opportunity do you have to teach them the concept of respect for other people and other people’s belongings than this?

Children should be disciplined when they strike or bully other people, including other children – i.e. their siblings.

This one is probably the easiest or most obvious. In the home, you serve the role of avenger to mete out discipline when, for example, the older son is beating up his younger son. Yes you are a monopoly on this service. Deal with it. Consider yourself your house’s Batman. Your children will take turns being The Joker, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, The Riddler, and countless other roles. In any case, your job is to provide that just response when one of your children treats another person (usually a child) with disrespect through hitting, biting, hair pulling, bossing, or any of a number of ways they might bully each other around. If your older son strikes his younger son, he should be disciplined because he has no right to treat his younger brother so.

Children should be disciplined when they disrespect you and reject your instruction.

This one might seem the most controversial, and it is hard to grasp because it relies heavily on that unique nature of the parent/child stewardship relationship in which you do have legitimate authority over the child, and the child does have a duty to obey you. This is not because your authority is inherently legitimate in the sense that you are a higher class of person than him and that the rules of morality apply less to you than to him. It is because a) he’s in your house and therefore he must live by your rules, which we’ve already touched on, but also b) that what he is doing by rebelling against you is resisting your efforts to fulfill your stewardship responsibility to his future self. This is ultimately an attack on himself.

Therefore, in order to fulfill your stewardship responsibility to him – a responsibility that carries with it the authority to act on behalf of the master – you must correct him when he resists this. I know this seems backwards, but I think I’ve already demonstrated that the fact that this child is not fully capable of governing himself due to his maturity, he not only may be disciplined, he needs to be. Doesn’t the child own himself? Well… no… The child doesn’t own himself. The child’s future adult self owns himself. For the time being, he has been placed under the fiduciary care of you his parent until this future adult self arrives and lays claim to take full possession of himself. Your discipline and instruction must be aimed at developing your child into the best person he can be so that when he takes possession of himself he will find that he has been well served by your stewardship. If you are to do that, you must be obeyed. When your child resists this, he is not really so much resisting you as he is resisting himself.

Some Objections to Spanking.

I’ve already dealt with the statist argument objections to the very idea of having authority over your children. I don’t think there’s any real question about that any more. So now we need to begin considering the means by which we may enforce this authority on our children. I want to start by responding to some classic objections to spanking.

Doesn’t spanking teach kids to bully? Doesn’t it teach them that might makes right?

Well, no. It doesn’t have to teach them that. It certainly can, but it’s really up to the parents in how and when they spank. A father who beats his wife and kids into doing his will as an authoritarian dictator will teach this to his children, but a parent who calmly and rationally metes out appropriate levels of discipline in response to various forms of aggression teaches a very different lesson.

That kind of parent teaches his kids to respect other people and their property. If you don’t discipline children for disregarding others, you teach them that they are above these standards of morality and that they are the center of the universe. You teach them that they are entitled to things just because they want them, and that the rules don’t apply to them. Even if you disbelieve in a ruling class with the right to coerce and govern society, you still believe in moral principles. You have to, otherwise, why are we having this conversation? Why would I be trying to justify myself to you if you believe there are no rules for society? No there are rules for society. Just because we reject the State as the monopoly on the enforcement of these rules does not mean that there are no rules. Our children must be taught that there are rules and that they are not above them.

Kids don’t just figure these things out on their own, actually. Kids are self interested people, just like everyone else, only they don’t know the rules of non-aggression because they haven’t been taught to think of other people as people yet. It’s not a natural concept to them. But they are being taught things by their parents about the other people around them all the time, and when a parent overlooks a child’s act of aggression, it actively teaches the child that this act of aggression was morally permissible, and the child incorporates it into their repertoire of acceptable means by which they can get what they want for the rest of their lives. So by not disciplining our kids, by not teaching these rules to our children, we are actually sowing seeds that will bear fruit in them breaking them later in life, to their own hurt and to the hurt of those around them.

Doesn’t spanking teach kids to blindly submit to authority out of fear?

This is Stefan Molyeux’s entire schtick with his peaceful parenting. His whole philosophy is that using spanking against children teaches them to submit to authority out of fear, and that raising kids this way is why they grow up to blindingly and unquestioningly submit to government. Well, he may be half-right, but here again we have to say that this really depends on how the spanking was done. A parent who uses spanking as a bludgeon to force their kids into slave labor or to maintain order simply because that’s what the parent wants all the time does indeed teach this to their children. But spanking isn’t the only means by which parents may coerce their children into behaviors they want for their own selfish reasons that have nothing to do with fulfilling their duty to raise the child to become an adult.

Good spanking that is tied to objective moral principles of justice that are based on the absolute moral standards we try to teach them actually teaches them instead that disrespect and mistreatment of other people and their property deserves to be punished. Teaching this terrible awful lesson of blind sheepleness can be avoided by simply explaining these reasons behind the discipline as they get older. Explain property rights to them. Explain the concept of stewardship and that they will one day be an adult who will want to have learned the things you are teaching them.

I know it seems like a contradiction to teach children non-aggression while committing what we perceive to be aggression against them. That is why we must not use spanking as our only means of discipline. Discipline starts with communication. Spanking is only a tool for when the child willfully steps out of line in violation of the rules. We must teach them what the rules are, and why they are there. And we must be very careful in our administration of a spanking so that they understand that what they are being spanked for is an act of aggression.

Their disobedience of your house rules is aggression against you and your property. Their bullying of their siblings is aggression against their siblings. Their disrespect and rejection of your counsel is aggression against you and also their future selves. Therefore, they ought to be punished. They deserve it no less than a murderer deserves to be executed or a thief deserves to have the stolen property reclaimed. In this case, we are doing a disservice to them, their siblings, and everyone involved (ourselves included) to neglect disciplining them.

What is the difference between good discipline and bad discipline

Bad discipline is coercively done for the purpose solely of modifying behavior. Good discipline is done to teach lessons about the moral principles behind the situation at hand with the long term goal of instilling character.

Bad discipline is selfishly motivated toward the parent getting what they want out of the situation. Good discipline is responsibly motivated toward maximizing the situation to teach the best lesson to the child possible so that they advance in their growth and maturity.

Bad discipline is arbitrary, inflicted when the parent decides he has had enough and becomes fed up with the child’s testing of limits. Good discipline is objective and deals with the situation immediately so that the parent is under complete control. In this way the child understands that their discipline is done because of the facts of the case and not because mom or dad is fed up. It teaches them that there is an objective standard of right and wrong to which they will consistently be held and to which they must consistently hold themselves, rather than teaching them to just manipulate people and tip toe around them to get what they want.

Bad discipline is harsh and does not fit the crime. Good discipline helps teach the principle of restitution by not only making the punitive action one that fits the harm done, but also requires that the harm done by the child be made right if possible.

Bad discipline seeks to harm, manipulate, and control – in a word: coerce. Good discipline seeks to train, teach, and develop.

What are the effective and ethical means of discipline?

So having established that parental authority is legitimate, and that discipline is legitimate, I still need to satisfy two promises I made in the introduction. I said I would make two cases here. I said I would argue that spanking is the most effective means of discipline. I also said I would argue that it is the most ethical. Now there are other means of discipline, and I do not mean to discredit them entirely. There is certainly a place for things like timeout, reward charts, and other sorts of measurements and appropriate-to-the-offense sort of disciplinary measures. But there has to be a go-to discipline measure that serves as your last line of defense when your child has completely dug his heels in and stubbornly insisted on resisting your authority over him in a situation. This is the foundational, and fundamental necessity that must be in place for anything you do as a parent to be effective: your child’s willing submission to your exercise of authority over him. For this instruction, there is only one effective and appropriate means: Spanking.

Spanking is the only Effective Means

I won’t try to make an exhaustive list of alternatives to spanking here. Discipline can fluctuate based on the offense and the necessities of the situation, as I’ve said. There is room for other means of discipline, but ultimately they are all completely doomed to failure if they are not backed by the threat of a spanking. So you want to put your child in timeout? What if your child doesn’t go to timeout? Oh, you’re going to insist that he goes. What if he still doesn’t go? Will you drag him over there? What if he doesn’t stay there? At some point, on some level, if your authority over your child is going to have any meaning in this relationship, there needs to be the real threat of physical force that is not a bluff. Otherwise the child will very quickly get the idea that you don’t mean business. You can yell at your child all you want. They will learn very quickly that your bark is worse than your bite. You can put them in timeout, but if you have no intention to use physical force against him, he will eventually refuse to stay there, or simply refuse to go in the first place. He will disrespect you, and defy you to your face, because he has no fear of you.

Now fear is a scary topic for my audience (no pun intended). They don’t like it. But fear has a proper place. Fear of the retribution that will fall on me is one thing that keeps me from killing and robbing my neighbor (upstanding moral character helps too… that and besides that, I think his plastic flamingos are really ugly). Fear and force are the only things that can break through a child’s stubborn resistance to your authority. Try reasoning with a child that refuses to listen to you. It’s impossible. I go back again to the example of trying to get a screaming infant to submit willingly to a bath. It’s impossible. A child must be struck in order to inflict enough pain to call their attention to their rebellion. It is the only signal that will break through their foolish rejection of what they need most. Without doing this, they will not respect or accept any instruction, reason, or anything you try to instill in them. They will simply bide their time in your house until they can get out on their own.

A child who is not taught that if he resists mom and dad, and refuses to submit to the rules of the house and the instructions he is given, he will be spanked is a child who will be spoiled. That is to say that he will be raised to believe that there are no standards that apply to him and that he is entitled to things just because he wants them. He will be ripe to be a welfare recipient or a government official. He will not be a productive member of society who earns the respect of his peers and respects them in turn, and it will be your fault for not teaching him the way of self-government.

So no matter what other form of discipline you try to use, physical force becomes absolutely necessary when the child decides to test you. If they get a foolish idea in your head that they can defy you with no consequences, then they need to be shown otherwise.

And this is good. They need to learn that  when they do wrong, they deserve to be punished. They also need to learn the pragmatic lesson that if they mouth off to police they will get a beating. This is not to teach them that police have the legitimate authority to give out these beatings and abuse this power, but it is to teach them that if you stick your head in a lion’s mouth, he will bite you. That is a secondary benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.

Spanking is the Most Ethical Means

So given that physical force is necessary, it should be obvious that spanking, done right, is the most ethical means of using this physical force. When done right, spanking removes the child from the immediate circumstances and deals with the matter in private. It gives the child a chance to think things over and you a chance to calm down and make sure you have control of yourself and a correct understanding of the facts of the case (a little bit of due process). Then you go in and talk to the child. Allow him to hear the charges against him. Allow him to face his accuser. Allow him to speak in his defense. Then if you determine that punishment is warranted, you dole it out once, immediately, and briefly. After this, you hug your child and comfort him while he cries. You let him know that your relationship is whole, and then you send him on his way knowing that the problem has been dealt with and is over.

If we don’t use spanking, what other means of physical force are we left with? Punching? Kicking? Hair Pulling? Ear Pulling? These are all abusive because they don’t deal with a specific offense necessarily, they merely express the parent’s rage and displeasure at the child, which may or may not be just because the parent got fed up.

And we must use physical force. If not, what are we left with? Alternatives involve manipulation, pleading, bargaining, intimidation, or any of a number of means of coercion and bullying. They don’t help the children understand the true nature of what is wrong, but lets them think that obedience requires a good argument – that they should be convinced before obeying. Well that’s not right. Sometimes they shouldn’t need to be convinced. It’s not wrong to want to explain yourself to your child, but should you have to explain yourself when you want him to stop short of walking out into the street?

Or they will learn that they can disobey up to a certain point and get away with it. A child whose parents count at him all the time learns very quickly that he doesn’t actually have to obey until mom gets to two. He will learn not an objective standard of right and wrong, but what your buttons are, and how to read your moods. You’ll very effectively get what you want from him, but you won’t be teaching him any character. You will cause him to resent you and grow to despise you, reject your wise counsel and instruction and leave your house to go make foolish decisions.

So rather than using bullying tactics to try to coerce his behavior, it would teach him a better lesson to let him make his own choice and learn that there are consequences of those choices. This might seem a little nuanced, but there is a key difference. If you threaten him with your words, or your voice or your intimidating presence, but never bring any real consequence to bear, you teach him there are no consequences. He can do whatever he wants. And believe me, he will take advantage of this and push you as far as you will let him go. The alternative is not use intimidation at all. Don’t threaten. Don’t yell. Don’t argue or plead. Simply make the standard clear. Communicate the rule clearly. And when the child disobeys then deliver the just punishment. This doesn’t preclude warnings or reminders at times when they are appropriate, but at some point the child has had enough warnings and enough reminders that he knows better.

So I don’t know how well I’ve done. I’m sure they will still disagree with me, and I’m sure this needs further development. Ultimately, I hope it’s not hard to see that this is thoroughly compatible with the Biblical Worldview. It logically follows from property rights which are most surely founded on the Word of God. This should be expected because the Non-Aggression Principle is compatible with the Biblical Worldview and an anarchist view of government is consistent with Scripture. So what I’ve done here is not to step outside the Biblical worldview at all, but rather to descend down into it and discuss the logical outworking of one of the principles of the Biblical worldview without worrying about trying to prove that principle from the Word of God. After all, It should be expected that these truths would be logically derivable from this principle because the Scriptures attest to them. What is our worldview worth if it is not consistent with itself?

Anyway, that’s where I’ll leave it for now, I think I’ve said it about as well as I can. Let me know what you think in the comments.


One thought on “A Libertarian Defense of Spanking

  1. Your entire argument is resting on the fallicious statement that “the house guest” imputs zero-to-negligible effort into the home, therefor the authority is left to those that do. Namely, you. But where is the proof for this incredible statement? Also, who decides what actions equal value to a household? What if through their sheer presence, they add more value to your household than you add with your fleeting income source? You are the valueless one, and your children are the emotional bread-earners of your family.

    This is painfully obvious that you do not appriciate their existence as a true Christ-follower would.

    You are wasting valuable time putting crosses on others when you have been tasked with a leadership possition.

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