A few days ago, Melissa Harris-Perry was featured on one of MSNBC’s “Lean Forward” ads, in which she boldly proclaimed that children belong to their communities rather than their parents.
So far, there has yet to be anyone from the right who actually articulates why children do not belong to their communities, why they do in fact belong to their parents, or if they belong to anyone at all. Sure, there have been denunciations of her words as being outright communistic – all of which may be valid – but so what? Glowing Harris-Perry, framed by pink flowers dancing in the sun, conveys the goodness of collective thought in our education system clearly and concisely, and the right’s response is to flail and bleat that such a pleasant woman is evil? Really?
After all, not only will children outlive their parents, but they can choose to become independent, active members of their community as early as fourteen if they get a part-time job. The first eighteen years of a child’s life, training and education might completely determine how productive a citizen they will be in the future, so why wouldn’t the state take a more active interest in how one raises their child? Why wouldn’t you and I take a greater interest in how our neighbour raises their child?
The idea that a child in some sense belongs to his/her parent seems like common sense belief: a child is the product of their mother and father, and we own what we produce. This isn’t necessarily true, but even if it was, conservatives cannot simply rely on common sense beliefs to defend goodness anymore. For much of America, “Over-taxing the rich to feed the poor is good,” is a common sense belief. “Education is a right,” is a common sense belief. Yet if you’re a conservative, you know NONE of these are true, and you can probably articulate why.
So why is it untrue that a child belongs to the community or collective? Well, if one is a Christian (as many conservatives are), the answer is pretty simple; your children belong to God, just as you belong to God. Douglas Wilson, a well-know author and theologian, put it quite nicely when to defend anti-collectivist notions about people, he pointed to the instance in the Gospels when Jesus was asked whether or not it was good to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus famously states: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” But before he says this, he takes a coin and asks whose image is on it. Of course, it was Caesar’s, so it belonged to Caesar.
Wilson then asks us, “Whose image is on your children?” The answer: God’s image (Genesis 1:27). And so why don’t our children belong to the community or state? Because we are not permitted to give what is God’s to anyone but God – especially to Caesar. Children do not even belong to their mothers and fathers themselves! God merely gives the father and mother authority over their children to raise them for His work and Glory.
For conservatives and libertarians who are not Christian or for conservatives and libertarians who would rather not refer to religion to defend against the left, the answer is just as simple. Children cannot belong to the state because under collectivism, the state exists to serve itself, not to serve others. It will not take our children and produce self-reliant, thinking individuals because what it needs more than anything else are servants – dependent and unthinking. So if not the state (and if one rejects God’s ownership), to whom would our children belong?
Well, the notion that anyone could belong to anyone else contradicts individualism and self-determination. I assume that for most libertarians especially, not even a parent can rightly own a child. But we could view the relationship between parent and child not as one where ownership is involved, but one where merely authority and responsibility is involved. Though individualism mandates that we all be self-reliant, there is still a moral responsibility we have towards each other to insure that our actions do not infringe upon someone else’s pursuit of happiness.
Children are a direct consequence of their parent’s actions, and thus the parent has a moral responsibility to insure the pursuit of a child’s happiness is not diminished either by making poor choices in child rearing or through total neglect. Parents would not own their children, rather they would have authority over them and the duty of insuring their children receive the necessary discipline and education that will allow them to become productive citizens – not for the sake of the state, but for the child’s own sake.
It will be difficult to counter the idea that children belong to the state with the idea that children belong to God or their own selves because of the great gap stemming from ideological differences between the left and right. What necessarily follows from socialism and communism, collective ownership and working for the good of the state, is that people too belong to the state and each other. Unfortunately, conservatives will first have to tear down the collectivist wall shielding the liberal from basic truths before we can really address Harris-Perry’s words.
Avey Owyns | University of Windsor (Ontario) | @AveyOwyns