To the Editor of Liberty:
I gather from your editorial that it is Anarchistic policy for neighbors to interfere if a parent is about to chisel off the third finger of its child's left hand, even if he proposes to secure a well-healed stump. I think I know you well enough to say that it is not Anarchistic policy for neighbors to interfere if the parent, otherwise sane, proposes to treat his own finger so. Now, where is the criterion of these two cases? Why should the child's physical integrity be of more importance to neighbors than the father's? Do we not recognize some substitute for or remnant of the law of equal freedom, restraining the parent's absolute control over the mind, body, and life of his child? "Not for the child's sake," primarily, because all sane altruism is rooted in egoism : but it is Anarchistic policy to recognize and defend the child's right to physical integrity, in extreme cases.
Again the reason why we draw the line of Anarchistic policy at interference with any but physical maltreatment is, if I am correct, that non-interference will result in disaster, too grievous to be borne, which will be an invasion of the equal freedom of adult neighbors,—all this only in the case of physical maltreatment. On this ground is laid down the general rule that mental and moral maltreatment of children by parents should not be met by neighbors with physical force. It seems obvious to me that this rule cannot be thus justified in considering the case of physical maltreatment instanced above, and the following case of mental-and-moral maltreatment: A parent, with the intention of ruining his child's future, surrounds it with temptations to debauchery such as will assuredly render it imbecile, if it survives to the normal age of maturity.—This seems to me more harmful to adult neighbors than even such mutilation as an eye put out.
To put my thesis most directly, I claim (I) to state the law of equal freedom as follows:
Every individual has a right to and must expect the results of his own nature.
Cor. 1 . Every individual must refrain from invading his neighbor's rights.
Cor. 2. Every child has a right to such sacrifice on the part of its parent as will enable it to arrive at maturity.
And I claim (II) that it is Anarchistic policy to use physical force to prevent transgressions of either corollary of this law, where such transgressions are clear and unmistakable. The Egoistic basis of enforcing Cor. 2 is, as your editorial implies, the fact that its violation will result in shouldering off upon others some unwelcome consequence of the parents' (propagative) conduct.
It is not always possible to apply the theoretical deductions of science; but that need not deter her devotees from trying to state and prove, as completely as possible, the results of science. Here we are, confronted by the "Cimmerian darkness" of one of the most important problems in social ethics. If the statement of Cor. 2 above is not accurate, I ask you, as my first instructor in this subject, to tell me where it is inaccurate, and why: if it is accurate, it furnishes a basis for the relation between Family and Society as firm and clear as the Law of Equal Freedom does for Society alone. And we can set ourselves calmly to write down the particular equations that represent the several phases of child-guardianship.
g. w. k.
My friend misapprehends me. When the interference of
third parties is justifiable, it is not so because of the superior