“Peaceful” Parenting is the Libertarian “Safe Space” for Use of Force Issues

“The power, then, that parents have over their children, arises from that duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their off-spring, during the imperfect state of childhood.”

John Locke




Over these past few years, I have occasionally critiqued the relatively new fad of so-called “peaceful” parenting. Briefly defined, “peaceful” parenting is the attitude that views parents as equivalent proxies to government agents, based on the assumption that parents groom their children to reflexively obey “authority” without question; first, to themselves, and then later, to the State (beginning with the public fool system). “Peaceful” parenting advocates view the parent-child relationship as inherently coercive, particularly with regard to the act of spanking itself, which they view as an initiation of force.

Anyone who has read The Last Bastille Blog for any length of time (or has gone deep into the archives) knows that I’ve been quite opposed to “peaceful” parenting. While I have mentioned “peaceful” parenting ranging from passing references to detailed exposition, my fundamental judgments have remained steadfast; for convenience, previous references are as follows:

Needless to say, I’ve known about “peaceful” parenting for at least four years, and have been rebuking them for the last two years, even more-so this past March. I do so not for the sake of being a contrarian, but rather because I think that being a libertarian strategist entails promoting those methods that have proven their efficacy (or are even just experimental) as well as criticizing those techniques that are ineffectual, whether on empirical or a priori grounds.

Why do I say that “peaceful” parenting is the libertarian “safe space” for use of force issues? Otherwise credible libertarians advocate “peaceful” parenting as a solution to the problem of authoritarianism; simply put, they argue that abstaining completely from spanking a misbehaving child will eventually lead to the abolition of the State, given enough time. Of course, this entails that “peaceful” parenting is inherently a multi-generational project for securing liberty. As you can no doubt tell, this is not exactly a recipe for success, if success if presumably understood here in this context to be enjoying liberty within your lifetime.

The reason why I say that “peaceful” parenting is a socially acceptable use of force issue for polite discussion is that it completely dodges more pertinent applications of the non-aggression principle (aka, the NAP), such as when should you shoot a cop? Truth be told, there is a common fear amongst libertarians that whomever publicly speaks out about any use of force issue not limited to “peaceful” parenting will be unjustly profiled by the government police, or even prosecuted for sedition. This is why I’m arguing here that there is such a thing as the libertarian version of a social justice “safe space,” and it’s known as “peaceful” parenting.

As such, “peaceful” parenting is a use of force issue chiefly because it is hostile to the disciplinary method of spanking a child for acting like a brat. In short, “peaceful” parenting is largely dedicated to giving anti-spanking diatribes that equivocate the act of spanking as if it were a form of child abuse. Fortunately, I think that argumentation ethics can be used as the yardstick to determine, once and for all, whether or not spanking constitutes a violation of both the NAP and the self-ownership axiom, hopefully settling this question within the minds of libertarians, if not also parents who are currently struggling with the decision to spank, or not to spank, their children.

“Peaceful” parents, I am happy to concede, are correct in saying that (most) children enjoy self-ownership, yet, they are quite reluctant to acknowledge the self-ownership of parents. Once a child is able to engage in justificatory argumentation, his rights must be respected universally. Given that parents and children argue with each other whenever there is a dispute between them, each party is actively validating property rights, at least initially (“You said [fill in the blank]!”).

Obviously, many objections can be made to this observation by postulating hypothetical “what if” scenarios until the cows come home (such as what about infants, the retarded, children who are both mute and illiterate, etc.), but for the sake of simplicity, and absent a rebuttal, I will proceed on the conviction that self-ownership is validated by a parent and a child who argue with each other, regardless of the matter being argued; it is my intention here to abide by the adage of hard cases make bad law, not to waste “ink on the page” frivolously pandering to the exceptions to the rule instead of discovering the rule itself.

If indeed, parents and children who argue with each other intrinsically validate self-ownership, then would spanking be a violation of the NAP? To be clear, the act of spanking is a use of force; however, so is the act of killing. Murder and self-defense are two completely opposite types of killing, yet killing itself is ethically neutral, and is really only a descriptor for ending another’s life.

Would spanking, therefore, be roughly equivalent to killing in terms of its amorality? Naturally, spanking could be used to violate a child’s self-ownership (as the “peaceful” parents are quick to point out), yet is it also possible for spanking to be exercised as defensive force? Arguably, the latter case is less likely than the former, but that does not therefore mean it is impossible.

Children have been known to damage property and injure people, including other children. Bullying is an all too well known behavior that usually infringes upon self-ownership. Much like vandalism, bullying is an exertion of imagined “dominance” that inevitably violates the NAP, and is it the reason why the social norm of standing up to a bully is typically regarded as a courageous affirmation of defensive force. Given that dialogical estoppel is the enforcement mechanism for violations of argumentation ethics, then all spanking would be in this context is a form of dialogical estoppel.

Having said all that, when would a child deserve to be dialogically estopped, and thus worthy of being spanked as justifiable punishment? Just as an adult would be punished for theft, enslavement, rape, or murder, a child would be punished for infringing upon another individual’s self-ownership by violating the NAP through the initiation of the use of force. Such coercion is morally repugnant, and not exempt from punishment.

What could possibly be construed as an example (or two) of a child using coercion against their parents? Older children (especially teenagers) using their newfound physical strength to intimidate and harm their parents would be one, and another would be willfully breaking something belonging to their parents, like a vase or some fine china. Accidents and similar mistakes might justifiably incur restitution (like inadvertently breaking a window with a baseball), but retributive punishment, such as lex talinois, is solely reserved for grievous disregard of self-ownership as well as property rights.

Most of the time, I argue, disputes between parents and children can be resolved through negotiation (which I happily concede to the “peaceful” parents), as this is a skill set woefully underdeveloped in many individuals who find themselves thrust into parenthood. When negotiations break down or are otherwise not feasible, what recourse is available to parents? No one is suggesting here that children ought never to defend themselves from parental coercion (like when former Texas judge William Adams mercilessly beat his daughter Hillary with a belt), but that does not mean that children should be given free rein to destroy whatever they want.

Since the “peaceful” parents want children to be treated the same as adults, then they ought to be behave just as responsibly. Adults and children ought to live by the same behavioral standards; if adults can’t initiate force, then neither can children, and if adults enjoy property rights, then children do too. Criminality is intolerable, regardless of which type of human is committing it.

Again, questions of unusually difficult circumstances and similar minutiae are, quite frankly, unimportant in the big picture regarding the question of whether spanking is a form of child abuse. From what I’ve been able to infer and deduce is that spanking is morally equivalent to killing, in that both are ethically neutral; spanking can be used to forcibly punish a brat, yet spanking could also be used to coerce a fairly defenseless and otherwise innocent child. Equivocating spanking to child abuse is like saying killing is murder, which would mean that defensive force (self-defense) is impossible, yet this is essentially what the “peaceful” parents argue about spanking, whether they realize it or not.

Fundamentally, “peaceful” parents are pacifists simply due to the fact that they implicitly deny self-defense, and explicitly reject justifiable retribution and punishment, such as that along the lines of lex talinois. Pacifists, as a rule, are hostile to libertarianism, so why libertarians have since become the most ardent proselytizers of “peaceful” parenting is beyond me. The reason I refuse to tolerantly co-exist alongside the “peaceful” parents is because their understanding about use of force issues is highly prejudicial against parents, and since I’ve noticed that frequently they are themselves childless, their condemnation of spanking is evocative of ivory tower theorizing instead of being practically grounded in reality, which, by contrast, argumentation ethics and dialogical estoppel certainly are.

Although it is my desire to never mention the “peaceful” parents again, I have a hunch that they’ll be around for quite a time to come. Seeing as they like to spread misinformation, questioning the authority they place in various scientific studies might be worthwhile to examine separately in order to gauge whether there is a kernel of truth to those discoveries, or instead they mischaracterize the findings of those studies. Spanking is not an epidemic, so considering that the “peaceful” parents give the impression that it is, then it begs the question of what else are they and others peddling as fake grievances?

Ostracism, I think, is not too harsh a treatment for those who just might snitch on you to the government police should they catch you spanking your child for any reason whatsoever. Those practitioners of free-range parenting have already experienced despotic oppression, so they, more than most, understand that the State is horizontal, even if they only comprehend it intuitively. What I’m suggesting here is that free-range parenting is a truly libertarian parenting style that does not perpetuate de facto class warfare between parents and children like those “peaceful” parents do with their anti-spanking diatribes.

Propaganda cuts both ways, and I’ll be damned if I just acquiesce to a bunch of CPS apologists who demonize anyone who challenges their “safe space.” These pacifists ought to experience being rebuked for their diversionary divisiveness as well as their false moralizing about the realities of using force that they clearly don’t want to understand. I refuse to simply roll over and hand the world over to them, the oxymoronic “sovereign” citizens, or any other statist who seeks to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate both the meaning and application of libertarian principles.

8 thoughts on ““Peaceful” Parenting is the Libertarian “Safe Space” for Use of Force Issues

  1. “they argue that abstaining completely from spanking a misbehaving child will eventually lead to the abolition of the State,”
    If they actually do, that is pretty stupid. I can see how someone might think that was necessary, but not sufficient.

    I was looking forward to a good challenge to peaceful parenting, but I am disappointed by this article.

    Here is a book that claims that the scientific evidence shows that parental “style” has almost no effect, positive or negative, on children: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/633128.The_Nurture_Assumption

    • Dave, what were you disappointed by, specifically? Aside from the book you hyperlinked to, what do you think is a better rebuttal to “peaceful” parenting?

      • My main complaint: your characterization seems a bit exaggerated. I doubt that anyone who advocates peaceful parenting would endorse your definition of it or your version of their take on spanking. Maybe in some of your other articles you have established that the peaceful parenting position does entail such nonsense, but not in this article.

        I’m not sure I have a good rebuttal to peaceful parenting, or else I would have blogged about it. I think it is speculative and unproven, but so are many things that I want to try out. Does their critique of conventional parenting and spanking make sense? Maybe. Do they offer a clear and concrete alternative that solves all the problems they concern themselves with, a recipe for raising respectful children respectfully and without spanking or manipulation? Well, at best it is a work in progress, at worst a bunch of experiments, with perhaps many failing.

        Parent effectiveness training (http://www.gordontraining.com/parent-programs/parent-effectiveness-training-p-e-t/) may step in the right direction. I also want to read this book by Dan Siegel, which may give some guidance: http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/parenting_from_the_inside_out/

        On the spanking issue, I remain as neutral as I can while having chosen not to spank my children. I may be biased, but I think there are many ways to get spanking wrong, making it a challenge even if it can succeed.

        So I lean toward some version of peaceful parenting, but I value well-considered and well thought out skepticism on this issue. I appreciate the “loyal opposition.” I guess I was disappointed by your article because it did not take peaceful parenting very seriously. You interpreted their position uncharitably, similar to mainstream articles that criticize libertarians by exaggerating or misunderstanding their positions. In both cases, advocates can a easily say what they oppose, but may find it difficult to explain (or may have yet to discover) the specific alternative they would choose instead.

        • Dave, would you be interested in coming on LUA Radio and discussing/”debating” your ideas and concerns? I bet Shane Radliff would be open to it, if I had to guess.

          • Sorry for the slow reply, I wasn’t paying attention. Thanks for tHe invitation, that is very flattering. But I doubt my thoughts are organized enough to make it worthwhile. I just have lots of questions and biases and wishes that don’t add up to much yet. I have no message to deliver or solid criticisms to make. I just think it is interesting and wish it was more settled.

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