As libertarianism gains prominence, so the definition of it will broaden, in the same way that anybody vaguely Left Wing can call themselves a socialist. But for the uninitiated, libertarianism is a world view which puts the primacy of the individual over that of the State. The State is there for little more than to protect property rights and ensure nobody’s actions impinge on the rights of another. The freedom if the individual is the central tenant. If it can be summed up in a single phrase, it would be ‘mind your own business, and keep your hands off’.
As a natural extension to this, freedom of religious expression is also respected in libertarianism. But there is one aspect of religious expression that causes a paradox for libertarianism: circumcision for cultural and religious reasons. The crux of the problem is thus; which should take priority; the rights of the parents to carry out a cultural/religious act, or right of the child to keep their body in tact?
For libertarians who favour the former view, the argument is principally one of keeping the State in its proper place. Parents have the right to raise their children in any manner they deem fit. If the State is allowed to forbid circumcision, then a dangerous line is crossed and the State can interfere with pretty much any aspect of parenthood.
However the preposition for this view is a disturbing one; its basis is that a child has no rights of its own, that it is little more than an extension of the parents. The child is simply the property of the parents, to do with what they wish. And if this is going to be our view, are parents to be allowed to starve a child? Can they beat them, or abuse them? (And before the Statists pipe in about the benevolence of Big Government, these vile acts have been carried out in State run institutions too).
There is a very clear distinction between the State telling you what values to teach your offspring or how much salt to put on their food, and forcing them to endure an unnecessary operation with life long effects. Putting the rights of parents above an infant’s right to keep their genitalia in tact is to take ideological purity to an almost fanatical extreme.
After parents rights, the next argument becomes on of religious freedom. How can a libertarian wade into the practices of centuries old religions? But again, this is based on a false premise. The child is the one going under the knife, but the child has no religion; it was simply born into a religious family.
When a child is born to socialist parents, we don’t call it a socialist baby because we know that an infant cannot possible have formed an understanding of economics or the role of government in society. Why then, do we call a baby born to Muslim or Jewish parents a Muslim or Jewish baby? Do they understand the significance of the Seven Pillars of Islam? Can they recite passages from the Torah? Of course not.
When a baby is circumcised for non-medical reasons, it done to satisfy the cultural and religious requirement of other people. This classifies both as inflicting harm on others and forcing your views on others, neither of which is consistent with libertarianism.
Arguments will no doubt be made that there are medical benefits to male circumcision (as opposed to the various types of female circumcision* for which there are none). But if that is the case, why not allow the let them decide for themselves when they reach adulthood.
If libertarianism is minding your own business and keeping your hands to yourself, shouldn’t that extend to the most intimate areas of a baby who can’t speak for itself?
*Those wishing to learn more about female circumcision should check out the excellent Orchid Project