For the Children

By Madden, Russell | Freeman, July 1998 | Go to article overview

For the Children


Madden, Russell, Freeman


Most parents love their children and seek only the best for them. Indeed, the notion that the next generation should have better and easier lives is best illustrated by the countless immigrant parents who suffer backbreaking labor, long hours, and economic deprivation. That motivation is an integral part of the American vision.

The focus on children and their needs and desires permeates our society. Whether represented by a mother enduring long lines and jostling crowds to purchase this year's hottest toy or by indulgent grandparents spoiling their grandchildren, the trend seems to be intensifying.

As long as such activities are confined to the home, no harm is done . . . except, perhaps, to the family's budget or a parent's patience. Even childless people may gain some amusement, pleasure, or relief when observing the lengths to which modern-day parents will go to please their tiny alter egos.

Unfortunately, the boundaries of childcentered concern long ago expanded to include government action. The increasing politicization of the intimate bonds and responsibilities of parents to their children has restricted our freedom in innumerable ways.

Many of the policies designed "for the children" dovetail neatly with an odd fixation on "safety at any cost." The combination of these two rationales drives us inexorably down a dark road that is becoming increasingly diffcult to exit.

A desire for safety is, of course, no more inherently odd than is an interest in the development and well-being of one's children. Parents rightly seek to protect their children from life's multiple and endless hazards, provide them a secure and stable environment in which to grow, and ensure their general safety.

When those goals are achieved, however, by violating the rights of neighbors, the patina of respectability overlaying self-professed good intentions quickly chips away to reveal the corrosive essence of tyranny. Need can never be a claim on the wealth, property, or lives of one's fellow citizens.

Through increasingly restrictive and intrusive laws, regulations, and rules that strangle civil society, politicians offer bribes that few constituents can or will refuse. If challenged that their actions undermine freedom and install paternalistic control, the dispensers of largesse purchased at others' expense righteously reply that they are doing this "for the children."

Who could be against children?

The debate is thus skewed in favor of middleclass entitlements and protection dressed up as benevolence toward poor, defenseless children unable to care for themselves. The fundamental principles involved in this slowmotion takeover of American family life are lost in a political sleight of hand. Freedom, justice, and equality before the law become disposable abstractions.

A Transformation

The for-the-children mantra magically transforms acquisition of goods provided by unwilling others. Theft, robbery, and extortion become caring, compassion, and generous concern. Since few are willing to expose the sleight of hand, such assaults on our liberty continue.

A few examples make the point:

Government indoctrination, also known as public schooling, was imposed on our country ostensibly to ensure that our children did not grow up to become ignorant and incompetent adults despite any compelling evidence that parents had failed in their obligations in this arena. Even Thomas Jefferson advocated (limited) government support for nurturing students in their education. The consequences of losing autonomy in this single realm continue to reverberate in our country, providing a source of continual friction and contentious wrangling that hungrily gobbles up not only countless billions in wasted wealth but big pieces of our freedom as well. In a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, government-run schools make certain that children learn only the versions of history, politics, and economics that cast the current political status quo in a favorable light. …

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