Book Review: Children in Society - A Libertarian Critique.

Submitted by hadrian on Fri, 07/15/2016 - 15:29


The living anarchist movement has, since it's beginnings some two-hundred years ago, constantly tried to expand its scope. Where a Pierre-Joseph Proudhon could still write some of the worst misogyny in history, his contemporary, Max Stirner, already provided tools of analysis that could easily be used - and indeed are - to fundamentally critique sexism, racism, and many other forms of structural oppression. Since Emma Goldman, feminism has become generally accepted as a core component of anarchism and a critique on other forms of oppression have become common-place. Cullen argues that while there is an anti-racism movement, a labour movement, and a feminist movement, there is no children's movement. His short book, published in 1991, is rightly part of the Anarchist Discussion Series by Freedom Press. There have always been anarchist educators, but it is imperative to analyse the role and treatment of children in society.

The Problem

Cullen argues that children are, from an early age, forced into various routines by adults. In this process, the needs and opinions of children are consistently ignored. For example, the parents are advised to coerce children into a specific day-night rhythm. He mentions the widely read works of Dr. Christopher Green who suggests an ever-worsening system of torture for children who refuse to go to bed. However, Cullen also recognizes the difficult position parents have been forced into. After all, playing with one's child in the middle of the night might be a great bonding experience, but may leave one tired for work the next day. As such, we see that the needs of industrial capitalism have come to determine the needs of the parents. If parents were freed from the unreasonable demands of bosses, space would open up to allow parents to deal with their children in a more constructive and healthy way.

The first step would be to listen to children instead of ignoring their opinions and needs in favour of our own. "Because I tell you to" or "It's for your own good" are, after all, no arguments but simple cop-outs. What Cullen implies is that these cop-outs are used because parents are supposed to know more in society. This is likely to be true, however, but do these cop-outs not also reveal a deeper problem: parents simply don't know the answer to questions they are asked. A child asks a legitimate question when ey enquires into the reasons ey has to go to bed. It seems the answer may just be too confronting to the parents themselves. If we assume that parents are aware of the conflict of needs between themselves and their children, would it not be too painful to admit that they consistently put their own needs ahead of those of their children? However, these needs are created by our socio-economic position as workers. Is the abuse we wreak on children because of industrial capitalism not the best reason to fight against this inhumane system?

Parents aren't the only ones who harm children. Cullen also mentions the school system which is, again, based on ignoring the opinions and needs of children in favour of those of adults and, ultimately, industrial capitalism. Contrary to popular belief - which we were taught in schools - our education is not designed to provide us with knowledge or to allow us to grow into the human beings we would like to become. Young children, Cullen mentions, tend to be inquisitive and very curious. However, this curiosity doesn't usually fit within the tight school curricula that are forced on them. Instead of choosing what to learn themselves, children are told what to learn and, consequently, learn very little. Looking back on my own education it continues to baffle me how litle I was really taught in school in the fourteen years I attended elementary, middle, and high school - a normal amount of time in the Netherlands. Cullen calls to memory the real task of schools: to create obedient workers. The curious, free-spirited toddler that goes into the education system generally leaves an obedient and boring young adult who will do anything that ey is told. Often, these once free-spirited humans will also try to exercise power over others. After all, every relation the young adult has ever known was based on power, from the adults telling them what to do without explanation, to the teacher who has to act like a cop and judge just to keep 'order,' to the circle of bullies reproducing exactly those power relations.

Next to schools and the parental home, Cullen talks about the way children are taught to live according to the rules of the brutal market ideology. At one end, the child's imagination is colonized bytelevision which is interlaced with countless advertisements trying to get children to buy - or beg their parents to buy - stuff they don't need. This has an effect on their health as well, given the fact that more and more food products contain (potentially) dangerous additives.


Modern industrial capitalism, which is itself on the verge of collapse, has created roughly seven billion broken creatures. Children's minds have been inculcated with the dominant ideology built on obedience to markets, bosses, and their 'law and order.' The disorderly nature of the world today is a direct result of an ideology of power that is constantly looking for new victims. This ideology is colonial, and will colonize as many minds as it can. Cullen argues that, in order for society to heal, we need to change the way we relate to children. Instead of forcing them into systems of domination, we should cultivate their innate sense of freedom and curiosity. Children in Society: A Libertarian Critique is a short, 36-page booklet that provides an excellent introduction to radical analysis with regards to children. After all, we've been taught to think - in school - that things are the way they are because humans are innately bad. Cullen shows the damage done to children's freedom from a very young age. It is his contention that we need to start giving children the space to be children - I'm wondering, would children be able to show us our own will to freedom?

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