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Andrew Lilico: Smacking, liberty and order

Lilico_andrew Dr Andrew Lilico is Managing Director of Europe Economics, a member of the IEA/Sunday Times Shadow Monetary Policy Committee, and author of more than forty articles, pamphlets and reports on political and economic questions

I, as, I suppose, almost all readers of this article, was smacked as a child.  And, like most readers, I sometimes smack my own children.  Yet in a number of EU Member States smacking is illegal, in 2005 New Labour restricted smacking in England and Wales, the Scottish Executive has recently come under pressure to tighten the law in Scotland (even to consider an outright ban, as was considered in 2003), and in New Zealand today, a bill is being debated that would ban parents from smacking.

Opponents of smacking offer a number of arguments.  Most are very poor.

Probably the poorest is that smacking is an ineffective disciplining tool and that children not smacked will grow up to be better balanced adults.  Why is this a bad argument?  Because surely the last thing we want is legislation that criminalizes people based on the latest fashionable fad in child-rearing!  Imagine if research said that using phonics was an ineffective way to teach people to read, so it was made a criminal offence for parents to teach their children to read using phonics?  Or if we made it illegal to give birth any way other than under water, on the grounds that research suggested that babies born under water were happier.  Research into the best way to rear children is very useful, and can be very helpful to parents.  But it is surely totally at odds with any notion of ordered liberty that legislation should force us to bring up our children only in the most "approved" ways?

The two key arguments are surely: First, that hitting adults is not permitted, so why is hitting children?  And, second, that it becomes more difficult to report child abuse when smacking is permitted.  It is to rebut these arguments that I am writing.

First note that if we considered the latter argument decisive alone, we would ban parents from cuddling and kissing their children, on the grounds that we would find it harder to tell when parents were sexually assaulting their children.  Why don't we?  Because parents have an especially intimate relation of touch with their children that they do not have with others.  I do not strike people other than my children. But neither do I kiss them, cuddle them, hold hands with them, roll around on the floor with them doing rough-and-tumble, or almost any of the other forms of tactile interaction I have, uniquely, with my family members.  This special interaction comes as a package.  I could no more comply with a law that forbad me from smacking my children than a law that forbad me from kissing my children or cuddling them.  My children know that Daddy hugs them when he is proud of them, kisses them to say goodbye, cuddles them when they are sad, and smacks them when they are naughty.  And smacks not as merely an instrument of discipline, but also an expression of love and an expression of the special relationship I have with them.

One could offer many other defences of smacking as a valid instrument of discipline.  But my purpose is not to argue that smacking is a Good Thing.  Perhaps the fashionable educational theorists are right?  Here, I want only to argue that smacking is not something that any believer in ordered liberty could want to ban.  For such a ban would not merely be a threat to liberty - to my freedom to raise my children as I think best, rather than as technocrats advise me - but also a threat to order - since no-one who, as I do, believes that smacking is as intimately a part of expressing love for my children as kissing them, could possibly obey the law.


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