"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion." ~ Thomas Jefferson
Libertarians, Marriage and Children
Column by Bob Wallace.
Exclusive to STR
A pure, “Big L” libertarian doesn’t believe the State has any business being involved in anything. They’d like to see it gone because of the horrors it has perpetrated throughout history. Fair enough. It’s a legitimate philosophical position, and one that I am very sympathetic to. But I am more of a “Small L” libertarian, or perhaps closer to a classical liberal (which has nothing to do with the Commie liberals of today).
To a pure libertarian, especially the anarchist variety, the State shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all. A couple would merely have to say, “We’re married” and start living together. Why should anyone pay the State to get permission?
I can’t remember her name, or the exact quote, but a woman writer in the early 1900s said that if the State didn’t meddle in the relationships between men and women (such as Affirmative Action today), the sexes would fall into their proper roles socially and economically. Overwhelmingly, I agree with her.
But there is a problem, and that problem is unmarried single women with children. Specifically, women who decide to have children by themselves.
Under a pure libertarian society, would a woman be fully justified in having a child without being married? To accept such a thing is leftist more than anything else. A rightist or a “conservative” would disapprove of it. This split is one of the reasons there are right-libertarians and left-libertarians, although libertarians like to delude themselves that they’re “in the middle.”
History has shown the lifestyle of an unmarried single woman with children has been, overall, a catastrophe. These women have never been socially or economically viable in any culture in the world. They’re not today, in the United States.
Currently in the U.S. about 40% of children are born outside of marriage. Also currently, 25% of all children in the U.S. are on food stamps. So, it’s obvious there are a lot of single mothers on government-issued food stamps.
You can argue that in a libertarian society, food, clothing, housing and medical care would be given to them voluntarily by churches and other voluntary relief organizations, and this too is a legitimate position. But the fact remains these women are still being supported by someone else.
We also have to consider the fact that fatherless children, raised by single mothers, are susceptible to a wide array of physical, mental and emotional illness, such as early death, delinquency, criminality, addiction, incarceration, and dropping out of school.
To claim that some of these children without fathers turn out just fine is the Fallacy of Composition – assuming that what is true of a part is true of the whole.
How then, in a libertarian society, are these social problems of single mothers with children to be prevented? Predominately, by a married couple raising children together. How is this to be done? Denying welfare to all single mothers? No food stamps? No subsidized housing? No State-provided medical care? Is this not what would happen under a libertarian society? In the past, it would have forced the women into marriage, to be economically dependent on a man--not exactly the most ideal of situations.
In the not-so-distant past, men pretty much had control of a woman’s reproductive rights (although many women agreed with what was going on then). Abortion was illegal. In some cases contraception was illegal. If a woman got pregnant outside of marriage, the social pressure was so enormous she was sent away to have the child, which was given to an orphanage. In a divorce, the children were almost always given to the father.
All of it was to prevent single, unmarried women from raising children alone. The result of this is illustrated by the word “bastard,” which has a dual meaning – a boy with no father, and a cruel, heartless man. Which means it has been noticed for a long time that boys without fathers can often grow up to be cruel, heartless men.
That now-gone system worked, but it was imperfect and had many flaws. Those days are gone, with legal abortion and widespread contraception, and we’re not going back to them. What we have now is that women have complete control of their reproduction.
Unfortunately, there are flaws in that system, too. Is it actually a legitimate position that a fetus is only human if the woman wants it? If she wants it, then it is considered human. If she does not want it, then it can be aborted as an annoyance. Being human is dependent on opinion?
Fathers, legally, have zero rights concerning their unborn children if they are not married to the mother. The woman can abort the fetus with no input from him. If she decides to give birth, she can legally force him to pay for bringing up the child, or cut him off completely and give the child her last name.
None of it, in my opinion, is “libertarian.” If a woman had a child on her own, and there was no State assistance for her, and she could not legally force the father to pay any support, how then, could she support herself and the child?
In a libertarian society, she couldn’t--not unless she was rich and didn’t have to work. Should she work and give the child as soon as possible to a day-care center? This is exactly what Communists strove to do, and still strive to do. Get a poorly-paid nanny? (And who really wants child-care workers to cost a lot?) In other words, give children to be raised by others, as in socialist Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”?
You can argue that the father should be legally forced to provide for the child. Again, fair enough. But then, should he not have legal rights to the child since he’s paying for it? In a libertarian society, would not all fathers automatically have “property rights” in their children? Just as much as the mother?
I have seen what happens when parents who are not married fight over their children. Again, it’s a catastrophe, one that damages the lives of the adults and the children. And it goes on for years, if not decades.
Ultimately the question is this: What is the status of children in a libertarian society when the parents are not married? What are the legal rights of the mother and father towards those children? Can there be a theory in a libertarian society that satisfactorily answers these questions?