Libertarians and educating children

Back in 1966 Murray Rothbard reprinted a chapter from a book on education by Herbert Spencer who was a famous and respected 19th century classical liberal social philosopher. The book by Spencer was entitled “Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical” and the chapter Rothbard re-printed was titled: “Moral Education”.

I will quote a small part of Spencer’s work, but first I would like to point out that educating the young, both morally and intellectually, is perhaps the most important task assigned to any society. For nearly two million years the homo species has been on planet earth. Modern man is said to have arisen about 200,000 years ago and ever since has had to teach the young since we don’t come into the world with a complete set of instincts as the other animals do. We must teach our children if they are to survive and prosper. We must teach our children morality if society is to survive.

While it is seen that for the purpose of gaining a livelihood, an elaborate preparation is needed, it appears to be thought that for the bringing up of children, no preparation whatever is needed. In the absence of this preparation, the management of children, and more especially the moral management, is lamentably bad. Parents either never think about the matter at all, or else their conclusions are crude, and inconsistent. In most cases, and especially on the part of mothers, the treatment adopted on every occasion is that which the impulse of the moment prompts: it springs not from any reasoned-out conviction as to what will most conduce to the child’s welfare, but merely expresses the passing parental feelings, whether good or ill; and varies from hour to hour as these feelings vary. Or if these blind dictates of passion are supplemented by any definite doctrines and methods, they are those that have been handed down from the past, or those suggested by the remembrances of childhood, or those adopted from nurses and servants — methods devised not by the enlightenment, but by the ignorance of the time. ~ Herbert Spencer

By this day and age in America we see that bad parenting has nearly destroyed the American family; especially the families of the inner city poor. But this bad parenting is a direct result of the government’s welfare state along with the atrociously bad government school system. Thomas Sowell once wrote that centuries of slavery could never break the back of the black family but that the welfare state destroyed it in just a couple of generations. This destruction of the family is certainly not limited to blacks but is destroying the family of all races. The incentives to single parenthood, sloth, and all the rest are inherent in the welfare state.

As libertarians we know that when the state started taking over the “education” of the young we were faced with indoctrination and not education. This evil is on top of the evil incentives of the welfare state. Moral education in such a cesspool of pathologies becomes next to impossible.

Let us go on to consider the true aims and methods of moral education. When a child falls or runs its head against the table, it suffers a pain, the remembrance of which tends to make it more careful for the future; and by an occasional repetition of like experiences, it is eventually disciplined into a proper guidance of its movements. If it lays hold of the fire-bars, thrusts its finger into the candle-flame, or spills boiling water on any part of its skin, the resulting burn or scald is a lesson not easily forgotten.

Now in these and like cases, Nature illustrates to us in the simplest way, the true theory and practice of moral discipline. Observe, in the first place, that in bodily injuries and their penalties we have misconduct and its consequences reduced to their simplest forms. Though according to their popular acceptations, right and wrong are words scarcely applicable to actions that have none but direct bodily effects; yet whoever considers the matter will see that such actions must be as much classifiable under these heads as any other actions. Note, in the second place, the character of the punishments by which these physical transgressions are prevented. Punishments, we call them, in the absence of a better word; for they are not punishments in the literal sense. They are not artificial and unnecessary inflictions of pain; but are simply the beneficent checks to actions that are essentially at variance with bodily welfare — checks in the absence of which life would quickly be destroyed by bodily injuries. It is the peculiarity of these penalties, if we must so call them, that they are nothing more than the unavoidable consequences of the deeds which they follow; they are nothing more than the inevitable reactions entailed by the child’s actions.

Let it be further borne in mind that these painful reactions are proportionate to the degree in which the organic laws have been transgressed. A slight accident brings a slight pain, a more serious one, a greater pain. When a child tumbles over the doorstep, it is not ordained that it shall suffer in excess of the amount necessary, with the view of making it still more cautious than the necessary suffering will make it. But from its daily experience it is left to learn the greater or less penalties of greater or less errors, and to behave accordingly. And then mark, lastly, that these natural reactions which follow the child’s wrong actions, are constant, direct, unhesitating, and not to be escaped. No threats: but a silent, rigorous performance. ~ Herbert Spencer

There was one educator that I knew who ran a private school that liked to say to children that they would reap the “logical consequences” of their actions. If a child refused to do his homework then he would most likely do poorly on the test that would come later. If the child made fun of another child then that child and others who witnessed the action would most likely not think much of the offending child. The man was teaching Karma even if he did not realize it.


How is a child to learn the logical consequences of its actions if we deny the child (and adults) the freedom to fail? Libertarians, radical ones at least, know that the voluntary exchanges of a laissez-faire market and voluntary society can enforce a common decency as people learn from interacting with others. By the same token, we can allow our young to understand the logical outcomes of their actions by giving them the room in which to experience the world. Or as I like to put it, “little failures, big learning“. But if the welfare state and the re-education camps called “schools” try to make sure that no child suffers any consequences of its actions (or lack of action), then how is the child to learn how to act as a civilized human being? Where are the proportional and logical consequences of the child’s actions?

The latest fad in government school education is the concept that a child can not lose points on his grade if he does not do his homework, can not be graded on behavior good or bad, can not be graded on effort or lack of same, since only the “summative” assessments should count in the grade. And further, the “summative assessment” (you are not ‘cool’ if you call it a test) can be taken over and over until the child has the grade that he is satisfied with. Hence the child can be as disruptive and uncaring as he pleases and still find a way to make whatever grade he would like to have. It is the welfare state brought to the classroom.

The “summative assessments” are also being used in many places to make sure that it is the teacher herself who is blamed for all lack of learning on the part of the students. All responsibility for failure to learn has been removed from the parent and child. After all, why should be expect the child or parent to take any responsibility say these educrats.

What would Herbert Spencer say about our modern indoctrination system? One shudders to think about that. One also shudders to think of the words H.L. Mencken would be typing about now if he still lived.

As Americans see their scores on tests fall generation after generation, many still do not understand that the whole system is rotted and that sending your child off to a government indoctrination camp is perhaps the worst thing you will ever do to your loved one. But even more importantly, the morals of the child are to be put in grave danger if you believe that parents should not teach morality but the public schools should do that job. The schools do not allow for the sort of moral learning via “logical consequences” that Spencer was teaching us about.

A great advantage of letting children experience the logical consequences of their actions is that this is a natural system of discipline. It is a system of Karma or pure justice and will be recognized by every child as such. A child who suffers from his own misbehavior is apt to appreciate that he is the cause of the misfortune, but if artificial punishment is used then he is more apt to blame others for the consequences. Spencer used the example of a boy coming in the house after playing and getting mud all over the place. It is far better to make the boy clean up after himself — restitution — rather than some punishment like being sent to bed or a spanking.

Let the child suffer the logical consequences of his actions. As libertarians we understand that restitution is far and away the best way to deal with crimes great and small. The history of the anarchy in Ireland and its Brehon legal code was dependent on restitution rather than a prison system like modern America. Most radical libertarian theorists (like Rothbard for example) have always envisioned a real justice system where the individual was made to provide restitution to his victim if he was found guilty of aggression against another or another’s property. Raise your children by this doctrine and keep your kids out of the government indoctrination camps if at all possible.

Philosophy and Education

A few days ago I happened to read a few articles that tied together to emphasize a point to me, it happens like that once in a while. I was reminded in my readings that the state is a great propaganda machine that keeps the masses confused and misinformed. Most people get their “history knowledge” from the movies! if we love liberty and truth, we must move to fight that sorry state of affairs.

I would like to share those three things that I read the other day and what they said to me.

First, I read this by a young artist:

(5)  -Philosophy and education – As a society we have all been completely betrayed by the public education system and the mainstream media.  We have been given false values, irrational principles, destructive examples and have been led completely astray to the point where it is difficult to make sense of the world, which ultimately results in unfavorable and dangerous behavior.  A good many people in the world have fallen victim to this deception, but most people snap out of it quickly when they are able to make sense of reality.  This is where philosophy and education come in, because the damage that propaganda has inflicted on our minds is actually fairly easy to reverse, and today with the internet people are now able to teach themselves any subject, any time, at any age and usually for free.  So we do have that ability to advance philosophy and have widespread education even in this world today where we are still limited by the current system and its failures.

I mulled this over and realized that he might well agree with me that the forces of liberty are winning the war of ideas. We are winning the war of ideas due to the internet. Ron Paul helped a lot, but the internet is the super highway that we use to spread our ideas. We have huge and important sites like but we have millions of independent liberty lovers writing blogs or making tweets that teach and re-enforce the principles of liberty. We have to hope that the truth will win out if people can be exposed to it. Plus, we do have all sorts of internet based educational opportunities.

I was reminded of the quip attributed to  Mark Twain where he said that he did not let his schooling get in the way of his education. I hope a lot more people in our age do as Twain did and not let public schooling get in the way of their education. I also hope that a lot of people follow the advice of the Taoists and others when they tell us that a lot of education consists mainly in unlearning the false things we have in our head.

The same day I read the above quote by the young artists I happened to see a link in a tweet to another great internet resource for liberty,; where I read this by the always great David Gordon:

Murray Rothbard (1926–1995) based his political philosophy on a simple insight: slavery is wrong. Few, if any, would dare to challenge this obvious truth; but its implications are far reaching. It is Rothbard’s singular merit to show that rejecting slavery leads inexorably to laissez-faire capitalism, unrestricted by the slightest government interference.

If we reject slavery, then are we not saying that each person owns his own body? Just what seems immoral about slavery is that some people, the slave owners, have the right to control the bodies of those under their domination. The owners can tell the slaves what to do and force them to obey if they refuse to comply.

One might at first think that this point has little relevance to modern society. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States in 1865; surely it does not tell us very much of practical importance today to reiterate that slavery is wrong.

But are we not moving here too quickly? If the essence of slavery is forced labor for others, it is a very present reality today. When the government takes part of what you earn in taxes, it in effect forces you to labor for the state. Just as the slave does not get to keep what he produces but must surrender it to the master, so must the taxpayer give up part of what he makes to the government. One might object that someone can avoid being taxed by refusing to work, but this is hardly a viable alternative. A slave system in which slaves could refuse to work, at the cost of not being supplied with any provisions, would hardly strike us as much of an improvement over simple slavery.

And the income tax is far from the only area in which the state acts as a slave master. …

How can we compare a democracy with a system in which a master compels others to labor, regardless of what they want? In a democracy, an individual may not be able to do what he wants, but the majority of the people make the rules.Rothbard argues that this circumstance leaves the essence of slavery unchanged. In a democracy, the majority acts as the slave master. So long as the individual cannot exercise full control over his own body, he is to that extent a slave. The fact that he, along with his fellow slaves, has a share in determining what he will do still leaves him unfree. Democracy, in Rothbard’s view, is a system in which each person owns a share of everyone else. It is merely a variant of slavery. The choice cannot be evaded: one must either favor self-ownership or slavery.

In many books and countless articles, Rothbard carried out his defense of self-ownership to its full logical, if controversial, conclusion. If you own your own labor, you cannot be compelled against your will to support the state, even if it confines its activities to protecting rights—other than, of course, the rights it violates by extorting resources through taxation. Further, people in a free society are at liberty to establish competing agencies to protect themselves: they need not confine protection to a monopoly agency.

So far the self-ownership principle has been presented as an obvious truth of common sense, but Rothbard was not content to leave matters at that. In arguing for self-ownership, Rothbard relies heavily on a point of fact. Everyone is in reality in control of his own will. If I obey another, I must always make the decision to do as he wishes; and the threat of violence on his part should I follow my own course leaves the situation unchanged. I must decide whether to accede to the threat. …

Typical of Rothbard to cut to the heart of the matter. Governments are slave masters that convince their slaves that they are not slaves but that they want and need the masters to mistreat them. The rulers use all sorts of propaganda and their public schools to indoctrinate the masses to believe in the myth that governments are “good” or at least “necessary”. Rothbard did much to expand the political philosophy that it is always and everywhere illegitimate to aggress against the innocent.


And then on the same day I read the following quote by Hayek:

All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant.” ~ Friedrich A. von Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty

It is obvious that our job in this revolution is to spread truth and the ideas of liberty. We need to talk about the ethics of liberty, about political philosophy, about real economics, about morality, about our real history, and about tactics. Most of all we need to help people get interested in finding the truth themselves. There are many great writers out there writing today. There are many classics written by great minds in the past. People need to be induced to take the time to read and think — and I know that is hard in our fast paced world, but it is essential that people take time to think.

Many of my fellow citizens, educated in government schools, think that the argument for liberty is an argument against organization. They know well that our modern industrial world with 7 billion people has to have organization.  They have been deluded by the propaganda of the state. We are not arguing against organization but rather we are arguing against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization. The monopoly of the State in other words.

And why are we arguing against the monopoly on the legitimate use of force by the State? The State is nothing but force, violence, and oppression. The State in all its many forms is mankind’s biggest enemy. We have handed over power to the few who become the ruling class and that power corrupts. They grab ever more power over us and become ever more corrupt. We must break that cycle and use voluntary cooperation among humans. It is the only way to peace and prosperity.