Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
First published in Issue Number 19, December 1, 1996
Childhood isn’t what it used to be—and neither is adulthood.
To justify its vicious, cloying, and illegal dominion over our existence, today’s American Security State makes the absurd claim that we’re all children who can’t be trusted, even to own and operate our own lives. We’re all too familiar with the terrible ramifications this has for grownups. What it does to kids may be even worse. They get shoved down a notch to make room for us.
They get infantilized.
Not long ago, small boys freely roamed the countryside, equipped with .22 rifles. If anyone thought anything about it, it was with approval. They were becoming self-sufficient. This, however, is a quality the American Security State desperately desires to stamp out. Now, if they kiss a little girl their own age, if they give her an aspirin, or if they’re caught reading books by Rush Limbaugh, they’re subjected by the vile minions of the American Security State’s compulsory indoctrination system to national humiliation and public ostracism.
As a longtime veteran of the individual liberty movement, I don’t believe that adults will ever regain their freedom (nor will they deserve to) without sharing it, by re-elevating children. Decades ago, in a sanguine Libertarian Party national platform committee debate, I insisted that the fact that kids sometimes have trouble exercising their rights wisely in no way separates them from adults, who often experience exactly the same problem. I also said (and this applies to grownups and kids alike) that you can’t expect people to learn individual responsibility by denying them every opportunity to exercise it.
Those who disagreed with me back then on the issue of kids’ rights, who feared embarrassment by what they felt voters might perceive as too wild and crazy a position, often willfully misunderstood and misrepresented what I had to say. I never proposed (as it was sometimes ridiculously claimed) that two-year-olds be given guns without supervision, or that they be exposed to recreational drugs. And since the American Security State hadn’t yet created kiddie porn, as a way to smear and destroy dissenters, that subject never came up.
My principal concern has always been for kids who find themselves trapped in the horrible chasm between puberty and majority, drifting in a limbo which is nothing but pure social invention (not to mention a damning indictment of the way this civilization elects to raise and educate its young). In a ritual dozens of centuries old a 13-year-old Jewish boy declares, “Today I am a man!” Way back then, that meant he was prepared to assume the responsibilities of adulthood, in a culture not a whit less complicated and difficult than ours, including property ownership and marriage. Today it means bupkis, thanks to intervention by the American Security State, acting for interests that stand to gain immensely from the artificial, and hopelessly unhealthy, extension of childhood.
But the essential point—and experience as a parent has only driven it home deeper—is that you can’t make any hard and fast rules regarding when the average kid is statistically ready to drive a car, join the Marines, or buy a pack of Marlboros. There’s no such thing as the average kid, and, as any good Austrian praxeologist knows—but even Libertarians tend to forget when formulating policy—statistics may not be properly applied to human beings.
So where does all this get us? Let’s dispose of voting. In general, I’m against it: I want to reduce the number of things people vote on to zero. But as long as the repulsive antisocial habit continues, I do favor giving the franchise to anyone tall enough to pull the lever or strong enough to push the thingy through the punchcard. What harm could it do? Could kids possibly do a worsejob than was accomplished by this nation’s adults, Tuesday before last?
What good would it do? I always thought a poster of an impossibly cute little girl in a voting booth, wearing saddle oxfords and lots of petticoats, stretching with all her might to reach a lever marked “Libertarian”, would be an absolutely splendid graphic. It would catch the eye, stir the heart, fire the mind—more importantly, it would be an investment. Once they were 18, kids would remember that we were the ones who wanted to trust them with the vote.
As to the rest, rid yourself of a “license” mindset. Nobody ever offered me a permit to own and operate my own life at what they deemed was a proper age—I’d have torn it up and thrown it in their faces. I began exercising my rights by asserting them effectively. The process, which has nothing to do with what you find in child development or sociology books, is piecemeal and essentially Darwinian in nature. My folks were strong people; it required character to face up to them. I drank alcohol when I decided I wanted to badly enough to withstand the inevitable confrontation. Similarly, I showed up with a cigarette burning between my fingers when I decided it was worth it. I acquired—and began carrying—my first gun under precisely the same circumstances.
All this came a bit later in life than that sort of thing usually happens today, but I’m not sure what argument that makes. In the nation where I spent the better part of my boyhood, kids start smoking when they’re seven or eight, and grow up to be perfectly fine, independent, decent individuals—or they don’t—like anybody else. Sex was the tough one; I had to assert myself more than once before my folks resigned themselves to the fact that it’s my life.
We recently adopted kittens from the same litter. At nine weeks, one’s tall and gangly like a colt, the other still little and round, but just as bright and healthy. They’re different, physically and behaviorally. They’re individuals. Zoologists observe more differences between individual humans than exist between whole species of lower animals. With that undeniable reality in mind, who the bloody hell dares to make prescriptions that work for everyone?
When is a kid ready? For what? How should I know? Which kid are you talking about? The thing to do is put these decisions back where they belong, in the hands of kids and their parents. Because the one thing we can say for sure is that sometimes they’ll be right, and sometimes they’ll be wrong, and that’s a better record than social welfare bureaucrats—who seek to control individuals politically by threatening to steal their kids—can lay claim to.
The only policy conclusion I can justifiably reach right now (aside from giving kids the vote) is that Colorado should have passed that initiative restoring to parents the right to raise and educate their children. If they get it on the ballot again, I’ll actively campaign for it, because its worst consequence—the occasional abuse or death of a child at its parents’ hands—is nothing compared to the current Hillarian effort to nationalize our children.
Also, we must re-examine the idea of “majority”, in favor of recognizing individuality.
For now, because I’m her daddy and it’s my job, if anyone offers my little girl sex or drugs, they’ll die horribly. Years from now, when I try to go on extending this protection to her under circumstances she feels inappropriate (which, loving her, I almost certainly will), she’ll tell me to go to hell, do exactly as she likes, and maybe we won’t speak to each other for a little while.
And she’ll either be right or wrong.
But she’ll be free.