How Would An Anarchist Society Handle Child Abuse?

Posted: October 13th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

Mili Note: I don’t agree with all of this, but it’s a good look at how a stateless society would likely handle complex issues like child abuse and neglect.

by Walter Block and Michael Fleischer, LRC

Here is a series of letters between me and Michael Fleischer, concerning the propriety, viability, justice of the anarchist system, mainly as put forth by Murray N. Rothbard. I have slightly edited both his and my own contributions to this correspondence. If you are too busy to view the YouTube video he mentions in his first letter to me, or, have civilized sensibilities and do not want to view a cruel case of child abuse, do not look at it. I myself only viewed it for a few seconds, and then stopped in disgust. But, this description ought to put you into the picture as to what the two of us are talking about.


Subject: a question from someone struggling with the alternatives of minarchy versus anarchy….

I have spent several years reading deeply and broadly in the Austrian literature. I am a physician and father and husband and business owner. I am an investor with Peter Schiff and a supporter of Rand Paul. I am torn between the ideas of a minimal state versus what you and Murray Rothbard advocate: anarchy. And while there are many advantages I can see some pitfalls.

For instance watch this YouTube video and please tell me how this issue would be dealt with in a society with no central monopoly coercive body like a government.

How would a crime like the one shown here be prosecuted?


Private courts would deal very severely with this child abuser. See below for a bibliography on anarchism vs minarchism.

Anderson and Hill, 1979Benson, 19891990; Block, 2007DiLorenzo, 2010; Hasnas, 1995; Heinrich, 2010;Higgs, 2009; Hoppe, 2008; King, 2010; Kinsella, 2009; Long, 2004; Molyneux, undated; Murphy, 2005;Rothbard, 1973, 1998; Tannehill, 1984; Tinsley, 1998–1999. (Actually, I included several others on my list, books by David Friedman, Hans Hoppe and Ed Stringham, but I am mentioning, here, only those for which I have a URL.)


I have read some of these resources. I am particularly interested in Murray Rothbard’s perspective. The problem to me seems to be that if every individual is sovereign in a system of anarchy, a child abuser like this could claim that his minor children are in essence his property and he or she does not recognize the authority of a private court to adjudicate in the matter. This is true especially if the abuse in question occurred on the abusers’ private property and not as in the video example on someone else’s property. If I abused my own children on my own property, under anarchy, there seems there would be no recourse to a coercive state force to punish this.

It would be true most likely that such abuse would be much less common than today in our perverted welfare state where children’s lives are devalued. With private education and private medical care, no estate tax, everything private…people would value children far more. In a situation of increasing prosperity first of all there would be fewer children and more and more resources would be invested in making these children fully realized adult persons.

So I think under anarchy there would be far less child abuse and a far greater incentive to treat children very, very well but still in those cases were the helpless and powerless are abused there seems to be gap in the ability of anarchy to render justice to these people.


We libertarian anarchists are not Marxists. We don’t believe in “libertarian man” who will never commit child abuse. Even under full freedom, there will still be .001% of people who are child abusers. Can they hide behind “private property rights” in an anarchist society? Of course not. Well, maybe in David Friedman’s vision of anarchy. But in the Rothbardian version that I support, the private police will break down the door of property owners who are engaging in rape, murder, child abuse, etc.

It is simply not true that “every individual is sovereign in a system of anarchy.” Criminals are not sovereign. This applies, only, to non-criminals.

Please read up on Rothbard, Hoppe and other true libertarian anarchists.

May I please have your permission to publicize this correspondence? I can use your name, or make you anonymous, whichever you prefer. I think it important that others see this correspondence.


Certainly you may publicize this. I am Michael Fleischer, 26 Oak St, Tenafly. NJ. []. I am fascinated by the whole discussion and I have read your books and followed your appearances on Lew Rockwell and elsewhere.

I did not mean to imply some sort of Marxist interpretation. I am very familiar with Marxist thought and I reject it.

But when you say private police would break down the door of…etc., I’m not clear of where I’ve made a mistake. If I live in a community where all roads and security are private and I pay for the services of a private company say an insurance company as Hoppe advocates (and I have read Hoppe extensively), then, I ought to be immune from such invasions. If I systematically mentally and physically abuse a minor child in my home on my property, how are the private police that I privately pay for going to justify breaking down my door? On a tip from a neighbor? What if I have a totally individual private security force that I hire and pay for on a compound or an estate? Would another private security force invade my compound and claim I was abusing my children and fight my security force? Murphy’s article about warlords is apropos here. Where does a private security force, a group to which I do not subscribe, claim the right to break down my door?

When you say criminals are not sovereign well OK but this all hinges on the definition of criminal, and its not always so clear cut. Is a parent who denies food to a child for extended periods for discipline a criminal? Is he endangering the welfare of the child…well maybe or maybe not. Two days with no food might be OK, three? How much is too much? How much constitutes abuse? Is a parent who puts a child to work on a private family compound in our ideal anarchist society (a farm or a private factory) endangering that child in a reckless way? Maybe not to that parent but to another person quite possibly they are.

Once again I have read quite deeply and broadly in the literature and there simply are areas where claims that real anarchy would actually work really break down b/c of a seeming lack of an objective and enforceable code …a Rule-of-law so to speak. In some cultures (Hawaiian for instance) brother sister marriages were common in the aristocracy and lead to all kinds of health troubles. In native American societies infanticide of children with defects was accepted. In the Jewish tradition (of which I claim to be nominally part) the adherents of this stone-age cult claim that it’s their right to routinely mutilate the genitals of infant boys! Even in the US today with its huge disaster of a justice system, this practice is tolerated. I personally think this is child abuse (circumcision). If I was one of the Koch brothers in an anarchist society I would send my private police to break down the doors of anyone who was circumcising boys.

If we are to have a true anarchistic society then we of course must be prepared to deal with or tolerate practices and lifestyles that might seem bizarre and even dangerous and yes even abusive. Look at a group like the Shakers (the religious sect or cult)…and the whole host of these types of groups that sprung up in the US in the 1800s and persist to this day. Clearly these groups engage in psychological and often physical abuse of their members and it’s not so clear that all of it is voluntary. This behavior is tolerated in the name of religious freedom but other such behaviors are abuse.

Once again thank you for your time. The reason I even persist in this is that most of the libertarian minarchist argument makes complete sense and of course the Austrians are dead right. Mises and Rothbard were right. But I am interested in the fringes in the grey areas of this philosophy.


Thanks for your permission.

Will there be any unpunished rapes, murders, cases of child abuse, in the full free market? Of course. Perfection is denied us, even under libertarian anarchism. The real question is, Which system will minimize these evil doings, the evil state, or the free enterprise system? When put forth in this manner, the answer seems pretty clear to me.

The way you put matters, however, the private course under capitalist anarchism will not be able to stop any of these crimes, due to private property. This reminds me of a famous “libertarian theorist” (name withheld to prevent embarrassment) who said that if someone is shooting at you, it is impermissible for you to put up a shield to protect yourself against this onslaught, because, if you do, wait for it, I hope you’re sitting down when you read this, if you stop his bullets with his shield, you’ll be interfering with his private property rights in his bullets.

Now, I don’t say that your objection is as preposterous as that one; but, it seems pretty weak to me. Posit that 99.9% of the people in society oppose rapes, murders, cases of child abuse (if the overwhelming majority of people favor these depravities, no system can stop them). Under these conditions, don’t you think that the contracts written up by police forces, courts, road owners, would stipulate that when they occur, the forces of law and order may “trespass” on otherwise private property to stop them? It seems to me obvious that this is precisely what would take place.

Okay, so here’s the scenario. The cops break into someone’s house while he is committing one of these dastardly acts. They catch him red-handed. His “court-police” agency defends the criminal on the ground that the police violated their client’s private property rights, they kicked down his door, etc. Under my 99.9% assumption, no court police agency would take this view. If one of them did, it would be considered a bandit court, and would presumably, and quickly, go out of business, a point made very clearly by Hoppe, Rothbard, and other libertarian anarchists on my reading list; even David Friedman would agree with this, I presume.

All I meant by my crack about Marxism was that we libertarians, unlike those savages, take man pretty much as he is now, and do not assume that all will be goodie goodies under free enterprise. No, there will still be criminals out there, hopefully less than 1% of the population.

In rereading what I have written above, I think I’ve been too harsh on you. You are asking very important questions, and they deserve serious and sympathetic answers, perhaps better than I’ve been able to put forth. But, I’m doing my best. Please feel free to reply if you don’t think I’ve covered this matter adequately.


I heard Lew Rockwell say that in an anarchist or minarchist state the exceedingly small amount of private crime would vastly make up for the absolutely monstrous amount of public crime that now takes place in our leviathan state. I think also that the forces that drive people to abuse children (poverty, lack of support etc.) would be far less prevalent if one eliminated the welfare state. You are absolutely right that perfection is denied us but you are correct I think that your system would minimize the evil. That’s good enough for me. And I’m sure that such a free society would have mechanisms to deal with gross abuse of helpless children and others in positions of dependence like the disabled or the elderly.

VIII. Block

In rereading the above, I realize that I ignored several of your questions, challenges, etc. So, in this the last entry in our correspondence, I shall address them, and sum up.

For how many days, hours, must a child not be fed for it to be considered child abuse? This is a continuum problem, and there is no “right” answer to it. Surely, 2–3 hours is fine, under ordinary circumstances, unless it is a baby, in which case you feed it pretty much whenever it cries; if not, abuse. But, if the family is starving, then matters get more complicated. As I say, there is no definitive answer to this one. How far does my fist have to be from your nose before you are entitled to take aggressive action against me? What should be the cut off point in statutory rape cases? 15? 17? My co author Bill Barnett and I address this continuum issuehere. The solutions to all such problems cannot be inferred from the non-aggression principle, nor from “A is A.” That is why you need courts, private ones, hopefully. A similar response applies to issues of child labor.

At least in my interpretation of libertarianism, while non-coercive incest between closely related adults (how closely? first cousins? second cousins? this is yet another continuum problem) does not pass the test of morality, there should be no law proscribing such practices, since they are voluntary. They constitute “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” to use the felicitous phrase of Robert Nozick.

I have written on infanticide in my many publications on abortion (see herehere,hereherehere and here), and have come to the conclusion that it is justified only if there is no one else in the entire world who is willing to be the guardian of defective children. In my view, circumcision of males is justified on cleanliness and health grounds. People other than Jews now commonly engage in this practice for those reasons. Female circumcision is a different matter. The reason for this appears one of keeping women subservient, and is thus incompatible with our notions of freedom and liberty.

To conclude. I have tried to be as responsive to your very important questions and challenges as I can. If you are not satisfied, I suggest you enter the lists: publish your own views on these issues, criticize the perspectives of others such as me, if you still disagree. It is only through such back and forth dialogue, I think, that we can get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth.


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