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How Do Libertarians Help Dani?
Posted by: MichaelW on Wednesday, August 06, 2008

This is one of the most gut wrenching stories I've ever read. Over at ASHC, in a very long post, I essentially ask the question "what would a libertarian do differently to prevent and/or deal with this type of situation?" I offer a potential answer, although I'm not terribly confident it does much more than shuffle an already deficient deck. However, I'm still left wondering, what do we do?

In case you don't click through, Dani is a young girl who was so terribly neglected for the first seven years of her life that she never learned to speak, could barely walk, and was basically a wild animal when she was finally taken away from her mother.
She weighed 46 pounds. She was malnourished and anemic. In the pediatric intensive care unit they tried to feed the girl, but she couldn’t chew or swallow solid food. So they put her on an IV and let her drink from a bottle.

Aides bathed her, scrubbed the sores on her face, trimmed her torn fingernails. They had to cut her tangled hair before they could comb out the lice.

Her caseworker determined that she had never been to school, never seen a doctor. She didn’t know how to hold a doll, didn’t understand peek-a-boo. “Due to the severe neglect,” a doctor would write, “the child will be disabled for the rest of her life.”

Hunched in an oversized crib, Danielle curled in on herself like a potato bug, then writhed angrily, kicking and thrashing. To calm herself, she batted at her toes and sucked her fists. “Like an infant,” one doctor wrote.

She wouldn’t make eye contact. She didn’t react to heat or cold — or pain. The insertion of an IV needle elicited no reaction. She never cried. With a nurse holding her hands, she could stand and walk sideways on her toes, like a crab. She couldn’t talk, didn’t know how to nod yes or no. Once in a while she grunted.

She couldn’t tell anyone what had happened, what was wrong, what hurt.
Without getting any further into the gory details (and they are quite awful), I can't help but wonder how a libertarian regime would handle something like this. Could it have been prevented? Stopped earlier? I don't really know. But it bothers me that the statist, police power solution seems to be the only one.

If libertarianism is a viable political system at all, shouldn't it have some way of dealing with situations where people who are either too young or otherwise defenseless to care for themselves? Defense of others is a recognized extension of the principle of self defense, but that really only arises in times of imminent danger. At what point could a small-government, liberty-minded individual declare that Dani's life was in imminent danger? Six years old? Four? Eight months? Birth? Where does that line get drawn, how is it enforced, and what principles underlie the dangerously invasive and bold move a taking a child from her parents?

Unfortunately, all I really have are questions. I want to believe that there is a freedom oriented method for protecting the Danis of he world before they lose all that is human about them, or worse, their lives. But I don't know that would be.

If anyone "decided" that my children could no longer live with me because of the way that I was raising them, I'm quite certain that I would not handle that very well, and it's likely that someone (or many someones) would get seriously hurt. That's my family, and I recognize no authority outside that of my wife and I when it comes to their rearing.

Yet, reasoning behind the Rawlsian veil, if I was going to be as horrible to my children as Dani's mother was to her, I would want someone, even the state, to take them from me so that no further harm could come to them. Absent the muscle of the state, however, how does that authority get created in another, and how does the enforcement take place, before I can expressly agree to the arrangement? The current system has that authority and tacit agreement. What does a libertarian system have to deal with it?
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Previous Comments to this Post 

This is among the reasons for my rejection of libertarianism. The idea of government fitting a libertarian model can seem appealing, but it often feels completely self-motivated, with limited regard for others. While the answer of "when" in situations like this is never easy, couldn’t "when" have been "never", in such a scenario?

I think the best we can hope for is good judgment. While this too is certainly idealistic, I would like to think that people know when the tough decision has to be made, even if they don’t do it at the optimum time. It is a shame that this intervention did not occur until Dani had already passed the age of 7, but she has a new lease on life, and that is the most anyone could hope to give her.
Written By: CR UVa
Besides the pesky fact that you’re confusing libertarians with anarchists (or, alternatively, refusing to acknowledge the fact that most libertarians are actually classical liberals), one "helps Dani" precisely by emphasizing that a humane society does not squander its limited public resources (i.e., the finite capacity of a government of flawed human beings) in an attempt to "solve" too many problems.

One "helps Dani" by not having government try to "help" everyone else — in everything in every way — and instead focusing only on those who truly need literal paternalistic care — the objectively, demonstrably incompetent in the original sense of the word: orphans, the truly disabled, etc.

How that constitutes being a "cruel, selfish, libertarian bastard" continues to escape me.
Written By: KipEsquire
This is among the reasons for my rejection of libertarianism.
I think it’s part of a lot of people’s rejection of libertarianism, but I don’t think it has to be that way. Very few libertarians have ever tried to apply their principles to societal problems like that of Dani, but I don’t think that means there are none.

Heck, until Jon, Dale and McQ tried to rationally assay a libertarian foreign policy, none had ever really even been attempted. Indeed, a good many "libertarians" still think the only principled choice is to simply stay out of all foreign affairs, as if history had nothing to say on that topic.

So, just like there is a principled and reasonable answer to meddling with foreign countries, I have to think that there is a principled and reasonable answer to meddling with the lives of disfunctional families. What the answer is, however, is what I’m struggling with at the moment.
I think the best we can hope for is good judgment.
Unfortunately, I think that’s the answer many opt for, and yet it’s also the one that leads to the worst possible outcomes. It’s like the old saw from Milton Friedman about how careful he’d be in spending other people’s money — if I exercise judgment on my own behalf I’m much more likely to do it wisely than if I exercise it on behalf of others.

All that being said, however, I recognize that there is a hole in libertarian theory here, and I want to try and fill it. "The state can take care of it" just isn’t good enough for me.
Written By: MichaelW
One "helps Dani" by not having government try to "help" everyone else — in everything in every way — and instead focusing only on those who truly need literal paternalistic care — the objectively, demonstrably incompetent in the original sense of the word: orphans, the truly disabled, etc.
OK, Kip. I get that. By reducing the amount of useless (and often harmful) interference we free up resources to help those truly in need. That makes sense.

But how do we help? Using the same system we have now? What’s the libertarian justification for intruding on a parent’s rearing of their child, and at what point does the justification kick in? At the same time, how do we avoid situations like the 400 kids in Texas taken away from their families because of a phone call?
Written By: MichaelW
The question begs the answer: "if libertarianism is a viable political system at all"; the answer is ’no.’ The continuous effort by some libertarians to make their philosophy into a political ideology relegates Libertarians to the political fringe, grasping vainly for pragmatic human solutions to unsolvable human problems, because their ideology demands the ideals of ’purity’ and ’principle’ as standards; impractical standards where human life is not nurtured (’Purity’ is one the deadliest ideals ever conceived).

There will always be a Dani somewhere. Another Hitler was born yesterday. The next embrace of totalitarianism will likely be voluntary. The philosophy of freedom argues that life nurturance is, by its nature, correlative with freedom, not repression. Dani was repressed; her freedom was grossly violated. The anti-state bias of some Libertarians, then, falls like a house of cards in the calm breeze of organized state intervention required to protect Dani’s freedom, her right to a nurturing human life.

Large-L libetarians appear to be incapable of understanding, let alone appreciating, that the state in not an enemy. It is a POTENTIAL enemy, but then, every human construct is a potential enemy of humanity, including religion and the family. Arguably, humanity itself is the worst enemy of humanity. A caring system of governance is NOT simply the purview of freedom-loving libertarians, as any of the ideologies will attest. There is no libertarian answer to Dani if the crafted answer is to be ideological; if, instead, the question applied to Dani is philosophical, then resoundingly ’yes,’ libertarianism has the best answer for her question.

Forever for libertarians, we face two conundrums: The state which can threaten our liberties is the very state we demand protect our liberties; and the philosophy of devolving power is proving to be inadequate at educating some libertarians from their desire to acquire power.

Politics is pragmatics, not ’purity’ or ’principle.’ Dani, unknowingly, relies upon the pragmatic state. Neither libertarian ideology nor liberalism ideology nor conservatism ideology has anything to do with her nurturance; libertarian philosophy, in the pragmatic state, does.

The hatred of the state is grounded upon the fear of the state, just as the hatred of the individual is grounded upon the fear of the individual. Fortunately for Dani, ideological hate played no part in her rescue.
Written By: a Duoist

I’m not rejecting the possibility that the current system of state interference is the best possible one. It’s not good enough for me, but maybe it is all that we can truly expect.

What I’m looking for is the theoretical justification for why that might be so, or even better, for the theoretical underpinnings and practical solutions for another way. Just because a libertarian answer hasn’t been offered doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Written By: MichaelW
Just because a libertarian answer hasn’t been offered doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
But i do believe is has been offered. Gut wrenching stories such as Dani’s just make it harder to see. Replace the state sponsored security blanket with a true saftey net - let people suffer the consequences, or reap the rewards of their choices.

Synova mentioned extended families over at ASHC, a good start, but limited in scope by currently constructed societal norms. Hillary Clinton wrote a book, It Takes A Village, that was much maligned irrespective of the truism of title. We have lost the sense of village, in large part because the state has stepped in. Why should I worry about the mentally disabled woman trudging through the snow when I am relatively certain that the taxes I am forced to pay cover the cost of her care? Why should I concern myself with the dark eyes peering through the broken window when I am relatively certain that my town has a child protective service that says it prevents tragedies such as Danielle?

My cousin is probably going to kill himself a la Nick Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. He is 50, and there is not a damn thing anyone can do, lest the government come in and save him from himself. But everyone in my family, and all of his friends are waiting in wing, hoping for that real cry of help. But a 4 year old girl can not make that cry, and observant, involved, and unafraid villagers can and should step in. Unfortunately, the very government that is supposed to stop incidents such as what happened in Plant City Fl. has too often created the barrier to the hands on assistance and/or intervention a real village used to provide.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
I would like to think that creating a life also create an obligation to that child. Similar in effect to a contractual obligation. A libertarian government would have to codify what that obligation actually entails and should be able to enforce it just as any other contractual obligation can be enforced.
Written By: Dustin
URL: http://
Putting aside for the time being the notion that libertarians (be they big or little L) are incapable of grasping the excluded middle.

Thinking ’out loud’ here. Given:

Young children are physically and emotionally vulnerable and need a certain level of nurturing in order to grow into healthy, functioning adults. They have the right to receive that level of nurturing.

Parents have the right to determine how their children are raised.

Inevitably, there will be cases like Dani’s, in which these two rights come into direct conflict and need to be reconciled. And, IMHO, also inevitably it’s going to be the government doing the reconciling. From the libertarian perspective, the ideal is as little government involvement as possible, meaning the minimum number of instances of stepping in and the minimum actual interference when it happens. So what are those two minimums and how are they to be determined? That, I think, is the question.

Written By: Achillea
URL: http://
I agree with KipEsquire, there seems to be a confusion of libertarianism and anarchism here. There’s no contradiction with being a libertarian and intervening when completely neccessary, I mean, I believe in economic laissez-faire libertarianism, but I’d pull a child back from stepping out onto a busy road. Similarly, just because you might want a small government which has low taxes and privatises most utilities doesn’t mean that same government can’t arrest murderers or provide funds to emergency services.
Written By: Chris
URL: http://
I have no solution to offer up beyond what I think should be done to Dani’s "parents"...

And it is an extensive list. In Illinois, I’m pretty sure the most socially acceptable item on this list is a Class B felony. Two might be war-crimes.

Seriously, people like her parents are why I default to "Humanity sucks" so often.

I don’t even like kids, and I can not fathom ever doing this to a child. I just can’t.
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Unfortunately, the very government that is supposed to stop incidents such as what happened in Plant City Fl. has too often created the barrier to the hands on assistance and/or intervention a real village used to provide.
I think part of the problem, bains, is that society has trained us to not get involved... Liberals especially like to tell us that we shouldn’t judge people, lest we offend and insult them.

So we have generations being taught to not stand up and do something, anything about cases line Dani’s. We see it, think "Oh my god that’s horrible! ... But if I report it, and it turns out I’m wrong I’ll have people all over me... What if it’s some wierd offshoot of bhudism or something? Crap, i’d get sued for trying to infringe on their rights..."

And so we are trained little by little to do nothing, and we’re trained through fear.

Surely someone last year saw something at that house. Two years ago. How long had people seen something that seemed just wrong somehow, but did nothing for fear of repurcussions should they have made a mistake?

I certainly don’t know, and I really don’t know if I hope no one had seen anything or if they saw and said nothing. This...

Gah, I seriously need a huge fecking drink now...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
The problem as I see it is that Danielle’s case is one end of a continuum, and at the other end is me. Like abortion, this is an issue where reasonable people disagree where to draw the line between abuse and non-abuse.

It is definitely a judgment call— it’s abuse if a child is left to sit in his own feces, but is it abuse if a diaper goes unchanged? It’s abuse if a child is denied food, but is it abuse if the child is forced onto a strict vegan diet by his parents and not allowed to eat outside of defined times? An experienced parent will have better judgment to tell the difference, but a young twenty-something from an upper-middle-class background who just graduated college with a degree in social work so she could save the world will walk into a house and see that a kid is being fed lentils (LENTILS!!) for lunch and is given blocks to play with (no Playstation!) and homeschooled and that’s Just. Not. Right. Then here comes Dolores Umbridge into your house with a clipboard, exaggerating your every little flaw into an accusation of abuse. And there’s no oversight, no second opinions allowed.

Giving Child Protective Services enough latitude to make this judgment call gives them the power to intervene, but also the power to meddle. Not giving them this latitude means that borderline cases will be allowed to happen. It’s a choice between the lesser of two evils. I feel sorry for Danielle and wish to God I could invent a time machine so that I could slap her parents around the first time they laid hands on her, but I wouldn’t wish for a system that could help her at the expense of having the Sword of Damocles hanging over my family’s heads.
Written By: Wacky Hermit

Is there something like a ’spellcheck’ feature to determine which banned word is preventing a comment from being posted? In a perfect world, such as one where Anarchism/Libertarianism works, there would be.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Another brilliant, insightful, and world changing comment lost forever. Ah, well. Your loss.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Wow, lot’s of good comments, and that’s not even including the ones caught up in the spam filter! (BTW, sorry about that. Best advice is copy your entire comment before hitting "submit" and then you can email it to me if it gets caught up in the filter.)


I think we’re in agreement that a total hands-off approach will not work, and that at least some state meddling will be required. As Achillea mentions, what’s the least amount necessary to accomplish the stated goal of helping someone like Dani? We also agree about Synova’s comments regarding a family support system, and the fact the state has unnecessarily intruded into that realm, so much so that many take a "I gave at the office" sort of attitude. However, while recognizing those issues, I still believe that there is a potential libertarian/small-government solution.

So what are those two minimums and how are they to be determined? That, I think, is the question.
That is the question, stated much more succinctly than I was able to.

Similarly, just because you might want a small government which has low taxes and privatises most utilities doesn’t mean that same government can’t arrest murderers or provide funds to emergency services.
OK, good point. But the problem is with the level and type of government interference that we’ve seemed to just accept. In a libertarian world, government doesn’t just have these types of powers to disrupt and interfere with families, it must be justified on strong grounds. Clearly protecting Dani’s individual rights are where its starts, but at one point are they implicated, and then what’s the process for enforcement? Does it look like what we have now, or is there a means of harnessing private concerns to handle this sort of thing?

Having worked in the field, I can tell you from experience that one of the biggest problems is the fundamental misalignment of incentives between the state (social workers, et al.), the parents, and the children. On the state side, social workers are typically smart, caring and capable enough, but they are also able to go home to their own beds every night, and they can put the work issues away when they want to. Parents and kids don’t have that option (and when parents exercise it anyway, we end up with Danis). Also, social workers inevitably learn that doing too much for any one family/kid can lead to strains on their ability to help other charges, and can eventually subject them to serious liability. Sooner or later, they all begin working to the minimum of their responsibilities because (a) they get no reward for doing otherwise, (b) they become subject to serious liability if they miss something, (c) they have such huge caseloads that doing anymore than required risks shirking in other areas. What that means is that policies and procedures are followed to the letter of the law (e.g. 2 home visits per month for a family in Category A stress situation; 4 for category B; etc.), so it becomes inevitable that people fall through the cracks.

In Dani’s case, there had been several phone calls and "visits" over the years, but each time the agency policy of "leave kids with natural parents whenever possible" ruled the day, and better judgment was overridden by bureaucratic concerns. Keep in mind that, although this is the policy in every jurisdiction AFAIK, it wasn’t adhered to in the Texas case, because the alleged polygamists were weird to the social service workers, and they feared sexual abuse (which gets a girl out of the house every time, no questions asked). That these fears were found to be completely unfounded doesn’t mollify the parents who were separated from their kids for months.

So, given all the above, what’s the right level of government interference, so that protect the rights of both the Danis and Texas polygamists of the world?


Go read the story, and your questions will be answered. It’s very long, but it is compelling, and it has a pretty happy ending. Not to give it away, but the people who ended up adopting Dani should be nominated for sainthood. They are quite inspiring, as is Dani herself.

Wacky Hermit:

You’ve nailed it on the head. Those are exactly my concerns — i.e. I want the state (or somebody) to get involved to prevent tragedies like what happened to Dani, but I don’t want someone nosing around my house just because I think and act differently than they believe I should. Parents who home school have to deal with this a lot, I think.
Written By: MichaelW
Go read the story, and your questions will be answered. It’s very long, but it is compelling, and it has a pretty happy ending.
If I end up crying, I’m kickin’ yer ass...

Just so you know. :)
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
My biggest question is where was the landlord in all this.
The family had lived in the rundown rental house for almost three years when someone first saw a child’s face in the window.
The renters were pretty much destroying the value of his property by keeping it in the condition they were. So, there was a missed opportunity for intervention.

No system is going to catch 100% of the abuse of rights.

It’s interesting that some of the same people who say, better 10 guilty men go free so as not convict the wrong person, would also side with the state taking extraordinary measures in cases far less severe then this one.

I think that is part of the problem. Some people have taken the case of child abuse, and protecting children to extremes. They’ve defined child abuse down to where not giving the kid everything they want can be considered child abuse.

I don’t have any problem having the state intervene in cases like this. That child’s rights were abused. The state is there to protect rights and punish people who violate other peoples rights.
Written By: Keith_Indy
timactual - I’m going to guess you used the S’ word ie socia!ism. It’s got that wonder ED drug name right in the middle of it.
Written By: Keith_Indy
If I end up crying, I’m kickin’ yer ass...

Just so you know. :)
I don’t hit men who cry.

In all seriousness, read the whole story. It’s very good. You even learn that Dani’s mother is somewhat less of a monster than she is simply mentally handicapped (she was tested with an IQ of 77). That, of course, raises whole other issues of when does the state step in, but I digress.

Some people have taken the case of child abuse, and protecting children to extremes. They’ve defined child abuse down to where not giving the kid everything they want can be considered child abuse.

I don’t have any problem having the state intervene in cases like this. That child’s rights were abused. The state is there to protect rights and punish people who violate other peoples rights.
You’ve identified the two extremes (as have others), but how does a libertarian system draw the line, and what authority does it give either the state or someone else to intervene, based on what criteria?

Over at ASHC I suggested that private attorney general statutes may help to align the incentives of the parties by allowing those who bother to call in abuses, and/or the families that eventually take care of the kids in the system, to initiate the process. It greatly increases the number of potential good actors on the enforcement side (with the side effect of increasing community cohesion), and it involves the courts at the beginning instead of at the end of the process. I don’t know if it would work, but it was my initial thought.
Written By: MichaelW
You even learn that Dani’s mother is somewhat less of a monster than she is simply mentally handicapped (she was tested with an IQ of 77)
Sorry, but even people dead three years know better... a stupid monster is still a monster...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Back @ MichaelW:

Actually the FLDS/YFZ incident is a perfect case study of the point I’m trying to make: Since children have a right not to be abused by the parents (or by anyone else), the government has a simple, straightforward, unambiguous police duty (note: I did not say "police power") to protect that right.

And one can only wonder how "less badly" that whole affair could have turned out had the state not deemed itself the unchecked intervenor of first resort and had set a clearer standard of who needs real help under what circumstances.

I have a recent post on the subject on children’s rights versus parents’ rights here.

What I cannot abide, meanwhile, is the smarmy, arrogant — and uninformed — insistence (by some commenters here, not by you) that libertarianism is incapable of even approaching the question at all and has as its sole raison d’etre the elevation of greed and apathy.

Take your pick: (1) The truly incompetent have harmed no one and therefore are entitled not to be harmed. (2) A minimal social safety need is a legitimate public good, no different than national defense). (3) A social safety net generates positive externalities. Etc.

Bottom line: There are many entirely libertarian ways to reach the end point we’re looking for.

Failure to understand that is nothing more than a failure to understand libertarianism in the first place.

But "I don’t get it" is simply not the same as "It must be wrong."
Written By: KipEsquire
The problem with libertarianism (from my anarcho-capitalist point of view) is where to draw the line on government intervention. I can live with the night watchman view of libertarianism. This sort of ideology would allow the state to intervene in cases so extreme as the one of Dani. The problem is that there are too many busy bodies out there that will take the trivial and compare it to the extreme.

For example, little Joey drops an F-bomb in front of family and friends at the local cookout. Dad gives Joey a slap across the back and says, "Watch your language." Little Joey cries over his discipline but most people will shrug it off. It is just tough love. BUT, there are people out there that will compare this with the level of abuse that Dani was on the recieving end of. It is bullcrap but it exists and this is where libertarianism falls apart. There will be people who will say that little Joey needs to be saved from his oppressive dad as much Dani needed to be saved and that the state should step in for both cases. The problem with the limited government that libertarians persue is that no one can agree on where the limits should be place. This is why I turn to anarchy (not the black mask rock throwing type). Bad things will happen and I cannot be everywhere and everyplace to stop it. So why should I expect it of government? If I do want government to be everywhere and everyplace to prevent any possible transgression then I’ll end up with a police state.

Written By: tkc
URL: http://
I think many of you are looking through the wrong lens. Since when can Libertarianism or any political thought/system PREVENT tragedies? Unfortunately, tragedies are a part of our world and always will be regardless of the political jurisdiction those tragedies take place under. As horrible as this Dani episode is, and it is horrible, it is the exception...not the rule. And we start down the slippery slope when we start creating policy based on the exception.

Having said that, this parent has an obligation to provide nurishment for her child. If she couldn’t then she should have sought out help (ideally from a church or private institution). At some point she failed to meet that the extent that she physically abused her daughter. Under both the Judeo/Christian ethic and Libertarian thought physical abuse is punishable and grounds for intervention. In addition, we have been given the right to food and proper nurishment by our creator. Should anyone prohibit Dani or you or me from attaining that nurishment, then they are guilty, at the minimum-of theft. Again this is punishable and grounds for intervention. The danger from the libertarian mindset comes when the intervention is based on "abuse" that is not physical or physically verifiable.

The mother should and must be punished severly. That is the extent to which a libertarian can consistantly prevent a like tragedy in the future. Now, we as a community, and not our "state" should rally around Dani and provide for her needs as much as we can.
Written By: CubsFan
...but how does a libertarian system draw the line, and what authority does it give either the state or someone else to intervene, based on what criteria?
Methinks you are asking the wrong question, or rather asking for a theoretical government to provide a solution for the very real world that has rejected that theoretical system.

A libertarian system wouldn’t have this kind of problem. Necessarily, there would be many agents, of both private and public capacity who would have stepped in long ago. A population that choses a libertarian form of government would be inherently aware of, and vigilantly protective against any trampling of individual liberties.

But we are not governed by libertarian principles. We’ve a nanny state where both sides seek to limit individual liberties they find antithetical to their ideology.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
"then you can email it to me if it gets caught up in the filter.)"

Hah! You would like that, wouldn’t you? You can’t trick me into revealing that my comment was less than brilliant and sublime!
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Interesting post, though I wish that the circumstances were hypothetical and not horrifyingly real. Let me say that my obvious first response is to ask whether hanging is "libertarian", because it is clearly called for in this case.

But as to the question of striking the balance between a government that is powerless - indeed, disinterested - to stop this sort of thing and a police state that extinguishes the liberty of the society it is supposed to protect, let me try to work through it.

1. Is government with police power at all necessary, and if so, why?

Yes. In the words of the Code of Hammurabi, government exists "to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; ... and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind." [emphasis mine] (1) More succinctly, government ideally exists to uphold the rights of the people to life, liberty and property.

2. If government has a responsibility for safeguarding certain basic and inalienable rights, then it must have the power to do so. It is the sword and shield of the society that forms it. If the shield cannot protect, then the sword must avenge.

3. The power that the government has and the circumstances in which it should exercize that power are established by the people under the rule of law. Sir Robert Peel stated in his principles of policing that "the police are the public and that the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interests of community welfare and existence." (2)

4. Unfortunately, no system is ever perfect because no group of people, no matter how wise, can legislate and codify and regulate to prepare for every possible contingency (who would have believed that anybody could do such a thing to a child?). Some latitude must be granted to the government to deal with emergencies that have not been foreseen, else it is ineffective and anarchy reigns to the detriment of all but the strongest. We must trust that the government officials granted the power to act on our behalf will use that power wisely. We also have to accept that even the most efficient police force cannot stop all crimes; what happened to Dani might have happened even in a country like Oceania. The shield sometimes does fail; it falls to us to ensure that the sword does not.

4. The best we can do is grant the government the minimum power needed to enforce certain basic laws to help ensure that the strong shall not harm the weak. It is the role of the broader society to oversee the government and ensure that it does not become "the strong" that terrorizes its own people. Unfortunately, this is decided literally on a case-by-case basis. Should the police act to save a little girl from a life of horrible neglect? Yes. Should the police act to save a little girl from being fed trans-fats? No. Should the police act to save a little girl whose father is a drunk? Ummm... Well, it depends.

As I see it, unless "libertarian" is merely another word for "anarchist", the basic questions are the same ones that confronts partisans of ANY political system: how much power to grant the government and how to see to it that the power isn’t abused. Even the nazis and the soviets had some level of the rule of law and restraint on their odious police forces. Do we all agree that Dani’s rights were violated, and that it is right and proper to do something about it? If so, then you’ve answered the question.




Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
"The problem with libertarianism (from my anarcho-capitalist point of view) is where to draw the line on government intervention."

Bingo! That is the problem with every form of government. We are going to have a governmental structure of some type, even if it is only a tribal council. The line-drawing process seems to have been a never ending fight that shows no signs of ever ending until human beings change their nature. There is always someone who, for good reasons or bad, wants to ’improve’ the world by increasing government intervention. Whether they are right or not is a matter of taste.


Thanks. I will try it.

(Second try).

Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I read this as well and was absolutely horrified.

My solution? Part of the problem I have with the "nanny state" is that it is a direct application of positive laws (the "thou shalls" of this world) rather than negative laws (the "thou shall not" directives).

Even in a libertarian state, I would imagine there would be prescriptions against murder, theft, rape, incest, and all of the infractions of one’s personal liberty by another.

In Dani’s case, we have an instance where one’s liberty to raise a child as one sees fit was extended into license, which certainly infringed on Dani’s rights and isn’t a virtue of liberty at all.

So who draws the line? A neighbor? A mob? The state? One would argue the state... as the alternatives certainly don’t merit either sufficieint force or authority.

The state has a responsibility to act when individuals exercise license as a substitute for liberty. That’s my US$0.02.

Written By: Shaun Kenney
timactual - I’m going to guess you used the S’ word ie socia!ism. It’s got that wonder ED drug name right in the middle of it.
Is THAT the reason!??!?

LOL.....I was always wondering about that.

Written By: shark
URL: http://
The securing and protection of individual rights is at the core of Libertarianism, and the little girl’s rights were being violated in the extreme. It’s entirely appropriate for government to intervene in this case.

I think, and it’s been mentioned a few times, that Libertarianism is being confused with anarchy. It’s important to differentiate the two, as they are different.

Anarchism sees government as only evil, and any forceful interference as wrong.

Libertarianism views government as necessary evil, with both words being operant. There needs to be a legitimate wielder of force in human events, to secure and protect rights. That is what institution of government is for. That’s ALL it is for.

I think a quick review of the Harm Principle is in order...
The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right... The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

– John Stuart Mill
This was someone abusing someone else, not themselves. "Prevent harm to others". We might be able to come up with theoretical situations, or even real-life situations where facts are sketchy and untruths are clouding the picture, where an element of ambiguity exists as to what constitutes one person harming another, but this case isn’t one of them. It’s not even close. It is entirely appropriate for the state to step in to prevent an ANIMAL from this degree of treatment.

The more I think about it, the subject at hand is the result of little more than someone not understanding the definition of a word.
Written By: Augustus
URL: http://
Personally, I tend to be of the anarcho-capitalist variety libertarian, of the L. Neil Smith school... I’d love to see what LNS would make of this as it is an interesting conundrum...

My take...

1. Utopia is not an achievable goal! The current system didn’t work, and I can’t confidently say that ANY libertarian solution would always work better. I don’t like this, but I think it is the reality.

2. I agree with the earlier posters that said part of the problem is that we have been conditioned into a "Leave it to the Government" response, and to keep our noses out. (And if some private party with gonadal fortitude HAD intervened, who would be sitting in jail right now?)

3. I don’t know just what form an LNS style "libertopia" solution would take, but I would think something on the order of an individual (not a government employee) being convinced that "THIS IS WRONG!" strongly enough to personally intervene (probably physically), with some sort of (free market?) arbitration / court system to sort out the mess afterwards... This would presumably provide the feedback mechanism to prevent "Dani" cases, while still allowing for reasonable differences in child care approaches...

Written By: Arthur Torrey
To echo what Scott started to say, in the Old Days this kind of thing didn’t happen (so much, at least), because the neighbors knew you had a kid - and if they never saw that kid, and hadn’t seen that kid be actually crippled at home, you’d get shunned for that kind of insane action.

At worst, a group of burly concerned neighbors might come convince you that maybe giving up that child to someone else’s care would make everyone happier.

Even if this involved not so much "convincing" as "ensuring".

(The latter is at worst dubious by Libertarian lights, but theoretically can be defended at least as well as a defense of the child’s right to not be abused as it can be attacked as initiation of force. Guess which side I think has the far stronger moral argument, even from first principles?)

This sort of thing is not an indictment of libertarian theory, so much as an indictment of the changes in society that allow it to be detected only post-facto.

(Independence and privacy have their downsides as well as their up.)
Written By: Sigivald
URL: http://
This will sound like a pretty negative comment but here goes.

I don’t think that a more libertarian system can prevent this, but neither did the current anti-libertarian system.

The fact that this happened in the first place, in what is not a libertarian system, goes to show that this could not be logically used as an argument against libertarianism.

For it to be an argument against libertarianism we need to see an argument that shows libertarianism will actually handle this in a worse manner than the already shown failure of a large government. What this would amount to is an argument of "as bad as this is, it is better than the alternative" and that hasn’t been shown.
Written By: Jason Gonella
Why is almost everyone assuming that some kind of government intervention in this situation is the solution? If you start with that assumption, you run into the fact that there is no way to draw the line between "justified" intervention and tyranny. Everyone’s opinion will be different, but opinions mean nothing because they cost nothing.

The question to ask is how might society handle this kind of problem if there were no government (institution with a legalized monopoly on the use of violence) to get in the way.

Libertarian philosophy gives a guideline in teaching that children have the same rights as adults (not to be killed, robbed or enslaved), but parents have no additional rights except as guardians of their children’s rights. The presumption is that parents are the ones best qualified to act as guardians.

When that is not the case, as with Dani’s mother, it is easy to say "oh dear, poor thing, someone should do something." If you were free, you could be the one to do something. For example, you could go to Dani’s mother and offer to buy her guardianship, or you could negotiate whatever you think necessary to protect Dani from her mother’s neglect.

Considering how many people here are touched by Dani’s plight, wouldn’t a free society develop charities that could buy the guardianships of abused children and find homes for them? Our government makes buying guardianships illegal because it doesn’t want competition in its ownership of all of us, especially our children, but there are already private charities devoted to caring for abused children that have been taken by the state. How much easier and more efficient that process would be without state interference.

Another possibility in a free society is for anyone who cares about the child to simply declare they would be a better parent and seek mediation or arbitration from a mutually agreed upon judge to decide the child’s best interest. There would be no incentive for busybodies to interfere with parents who weren’t actually harming the child, but there would be incentives for parents to wake up to what they might be doing out of ignorance or their mental illness like Dani’s mother.

Whenever someone raises the question of what should the government do to solve some problem, the answer is always that free people can come up with better solutions voluntarily than anyone can impose by force.
Written By: Joyce Brand
URL: http://
Wacky Hermit—
Using "feeding a child a strict vegan diet" is probably not a good comparison, as doing so is demonstrably child abuse. There have been several instances in recent years of children actually dying of malnutrition due to their parents’ enforcing vegan beliefs on their children, when such beliefs happen to be greatly at odds with the actual nutritional needs of growing children. Malnourishment is the mildest result of feeding children a strict vegan diet, & death from malnourishment for this reason has happened. If I knew a child so purposely and dangerously malnourished by his parents, I would consider the child to be abused.
Written By: Heather
URL: http://

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