Video: The Non-Aggression Principle and Children

This was an interesting event. I had feared before hand that it would be a long lecture about smacking that would bore the audience, who would all agree that smacking is wrong. In fact it was a short but interesting lecture about smacking, but the audience were really very divided.

Jan argued that while the state is put in charge of much of our lives, the family is often much more controlling and can even be more violent. I doubt for example, that 80% of us have been subjected to state violence (as opposed to mere threats, such as those implicit in the tax code) but Jan claimed that a stunning 80% or more of children have been subjected to corporal punishment by family; 53% using an implement such as a belt. He also powerfully explained that much more behaviour is prescribed or proscribed by parents than any western state has ever sought to control.

Jan went on to highlight the fact that the family is the most important conduit for cultural ideas, it’s the source of a large part of our own beliefs and is the institution most responsible for transmitting our values forward for the next generation. He made a well researched claim that this aggression has sad consequences for the lives of the children involved. They have lower IQs due to changes in brain composition, they experience depression and unhappiness and lower self-esteem. All things that are useful or even essential for a full flourishing life.

The next part of Jan’s talk was a little weaker, and there were a few interventions from the floor that may have even falsified his account. I think this is largely the result of a little speculation and some last minute embellishments that used Sweden as an example. The speculation was roughly that which he provided in his pre-talk notes:

People who grow up to be unintelligent, depressed and aggressive will not bring about [libertarian] change. […]

This seems compelling for at least two reasons:

  • Libertarian arguments are not intuitive for many and are relatively uncommon – they require an inquisitive mind to absorb. A bludgeoned and damaged mind is simply less able to handle that inquisitive process.
  • Children that are coerced from a young age may be pre-conditioned to accept authority blindly, and therefore relatively poorly motivated to question dominant paradigms.


Andy Bolton made a key intervention from the floor which used the examples Jan provided to work against his narrative. The US, Jan claimed, was more violent with respect to children and is the origin of the 80+% number. The value for Sweden was given as 22% yet Sweden is less individualistic that the US, not more so. Jan felt that since the experiment with socialism there was quite short that the treatment of children did not have time to be a factor. Some follow-up research is clearly going to be useful here as well as a bit more reading around the history of the Swedish socialist experiment.

A little Googling find us David Dieteman’s treatment of the Swedish example, which covers the 1930s eugenics program and other darker episodes, as well as some key economic facts and some dates which would have been useful during Jan’s talk:

With respect to claim that Swedish socialism shows the “success” of socialism, as O’Rourke notes, free trade reigned in Sweden from roughly 1846 until the Social Democrats were elected in 1932. After 1932, Sweden was helped by its neutrality in World War Two. Unlike Germany, Sweden’s major cities were not bombed flat. The Social Democrats, then, had a great deal of wealth produced by capitalism and undamaged by war to share as political spoils.

Incidentally, Yaron’ Brook also dealt with the end of the Swedish socialist experiment in his recent Q&A at the LSE [>47 mins in].

I will leave the resolution of this controversy to the comments section.

The Strategic Claim

Jan’s strategic idea was also described in those notes:

If you want the society to accept NAP, the most important thing you can do is to apply NAP to your own children and help others apply it to theirs. And one day there will be enough people on the planet capable of de-normalising state violence that voluntaryism will become the dominant social paradigm.

In other words, if you accept the idea that corporal punishment reduces the acceptance of libertarian arguments then for god’s sake stop using it on your own children. Help to educate them by practicing what you preach and maybe we’ll be able to tip the demographics in our favour.


The question and answer section was full of surprises. I have briefly considered publishing it here, but actually the content was also very personal. First, I was surprised to find the room starkly divided on the appropriateness of corporal punishment. Some defended the utility of it in emergency situations, others thought this was a way to gain the respect of children, or sought to cast it a non-political decision to be made by parents. Several participants spoke of being struck by parents (and even by girlfriends) and defended their “attacker” as justified in doing so. Those quote marks probably give you a clue about my own position, which is that this is most certainly not a political matter and usually not a criminal one. Having found a way to carve out an exception for criminal abuse, we ought not to have a vote on it, and tolerate no law banning it or endorsing it. I would even go so far as to say that libertarianism as a political grouping ought to avoid forming a policy on the matter.

I don’t like the idea of anyone getting struck physically for any purpose, and I have my own childhood recollections of very limited corporal punishment to reflect on as evidence that it is not a tool for day-to-day use. I agree with my wife (fortunately!) that there are better ways to approach problem behaviour; that a reliance on corporal punishment and coercion is a sign of failure; but this is a personal matter for us to decide on when we have children. Granted society has the vigilance to spot abuse (far more likely in a warmer more connected minarchic society), it is expressly a matter for the parents involved. Just as abortion, drug taking, and the correct allocation of economic resources are matters for the people involved.

Many questioners seemed to read into Jan’s aversion to corporal punishment the basis of a political policy. I do not think this was Jan’s intent, and if it were I would not support it. We should, however, consider carefully the idea that to bring up our children properly and to instill our own values successfully in them, we should avoid coercive force in our own households.

Thursday Speaker : Jan Iwanik

jan-iwankik-how-to-manage-market-risk-mises-polandDr Jan Iwanik is one of the “new regulars” at the Rose and Crown meetup and is a personable and well mannered guy. Like most people that come, he rarely speaks about his profession. There is an understanding, at our regular gathering, that arguments stand and fall on their merits not on the authority of the speaker. People don’t even from where you speak, only for more (or less) detail about your argument. It’s a job in itself to find out about people personally.

Jan can claim to speak authoritively on a couple of topics, and does so. He is a PhD in mathematics (earned at Politechnika Wrocławska west Poland, pronounced Vrotswaff) and has several years experience of property and casualty actuarial analysis. As such, he has spoken for Mises Poland on the management of market risk (in Polish), and penned two articles on insurance regulation and demographic change for (in English).

Jan is also a father, and this brings me to the topic of Thursday’s talk: the non-aggression principle and children, which Jan introduced on this blog a few weeks ago:

Children are semi-slaves. They eat, play, sleep, and spend their free time in ways chosen by their parents, often against children’s will. It is normal practice to ban children from certain activities and games. Children are forced to go to schools which they often hate and stay there to do things they do not enjoy. In the UK and US most children experience corporal punishment at home, something grown-ups have abolished for themselves long ago.

Jan also writes at about the nature and scope of aggression and it’s consequences, and believes that aggression should be defined to include all “unwanted interaction”.

A freelance actuarial, in his downtime, Jan likes to kite surf.

Non-Aggression Principle and Children

Libertarianism is based on a principle that it is not OK for institutions to implement social programs using force (the non-aggression principle). Surely governments are a major source of force against the individual. Steve Davies talked in June about close-knit communities being another one. And there is a third source of force – the family.

How universal is the libertarian requirement of non-aggression? Does it apply to people of all ages?

School Class

© Michael 1952

Children are semi-slaves. They eat, play, sleep, and spend their free time in ways chosen by their parents, often against children’s will. It is normal practice to ban children from certain activities and games. Children are forced to go to schools which they often hate and stay there to do things they do not enjoy. In the UK and US most children experience corporal punishment at home, something grown-ups have abolished for themselves long ago.

I believe that coercion against children is more important than most libertarians think. It is universal. It is applied to people during their most formative age. When internalised makes it easier to accept violent authorities in adulthood. People who grow up in coercive homes are perfect building blocks for a coercive political society.

On the other hand, force used against children is mostly within our control as parents. It is easier to start listening to your child than to abolish, say, the Bank of England.

So are young people exempt from the libertarian non-aggression principle or does it apply to all humans? Is it OK for libertarian parents to spank children? Shame them? Put them on naughty spots? Should we support laws banning spanking?



Jan Iwanik will be speaking on this topic at the Rose and Crown on September 5th.

This note, all links and all images were added by Simon.