The One Cut Libertarians Should Oppose: Infant Circumcision


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.circumcision

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


  1. Very few men who were left intact as children will ever want or need to have his foreskin cut off, that should tell you all you need to know. Only ignorant or vindictive people would want to cut healthy tissue from other people, yes, children are people. Circumcision of male babies is designed to reduce sexual pleasure, to mark as owned by another, and to humiliate, and it always was. Rabbi Maimonides admitted that 800 years ago. I know the truth, it was done to me, and now I can’t orgasm.

  2. All of this would be a theoretical debate with no practical import were it not for the fact that, for whatever (mostly erroneous and in some cases, outright hideous) reasons it may have been instituted in the past, the practice of routine infant male circumcision (RIMC), especially in the States, where it is not uncommon and at one time was almost universal, makes money for those performing it. It is a fact that in the US States where Medicaid does not cover the operation and private insurance does not either, the rate is much much lower. Essentially, the hospitals tell the parents to do it because (horrendous play on words) it’s no skin off anyone’s noses if insurance pays, and they give the parents a song-and-dance about ease of cleanliness, how their boys will not feel “unusual” for being intact, etc etc. Of course, what they do NOT tell the parents is that there is a complication rate which is completely avoidable (and the complication rate, incidentally, is much higher than the rate of the problems RIMC is said to avert), and they do NOT tell the parents that the tissue removed is often sold to biomedical firms. Treatment for the complications, and the sale of skins, is– you guessed it– yet another moneymaker for the hospitals.

    There is a cynicism on the part of the medical establishment to the defence of the practice, and, sadly, many of those who oppose the practice are facing attack by the medical establishment on the basis of eccentricity (to put it mildly), based on, if they’re gay, being called “foreskin fetishists,” or as atheists/anti-Semites/anti-Muslim if they emphasise the religious aspects, and so on.

  3. Isn’t it a MOST fundamental right to reach the age of majority with all of one’s sensory system, with all of ones nerve endings with all of one’s erogenous tissue?

    One’s religious rights end where their knife touches another human’s body. The idea that another human’s ritual (rite) trumps ones right to ones OWN body parts is insane and creepy.

  4. Leading articles should not contain careless typographical errors. Good English does not compel the use of the wrong pronoun: it is not acceptable, to those of us who know better, to use plural pronouns for singular subjects. I know the difficulty [for those who confuse sex with gender in grammar] but there’s always a better way.

  5. There is no medical reason to circumcise a newborn. If he wants to be
    cut when he can decide, that should be left to him. It is not cleaner
    nor more hygienic, in fact a baby boy is easier to clean than a baby
    girl, no folds. Just clean the outside,
    never try to move the foreskin away from the head of the penis. In a
    newborn, it is attached like your fingernail to your finger. The only
    person who should ever touch his foreskin to move it is the boy himself.
    When he is old enough and retractable, a quick rinse in the shower is
    all he needs. Since the foreskin has 20,000 nerves, removing it changes
    his sex life forever. If you want your son to have his best life, and
    that includes his sexual life, do not circumcise him. ~ An RN and Mother
    of an intact daughter and son.

  6. Every person I know who is circumcised says that they are glad it was done the day they were born or they would not have done it, despite wanting to have it done. Most of the men I know who have not had it done say they are glad they are not cut. It seems everyone likes it the way they have it. I know many men who had it done after adulthood, and all of them wish they had had it done as a newborn when they have no memory of it. However I do not know any men who are circumcised and wish they were not.

    • I’m circumcised and I really wish I was not and so do millions of other men. Of course people are going to rationalize things that happened to them that they can’t change. Stop mutilating boy’s genitals. Just stop. Instead of making arguments for it, stop it. It shouldn’t be that hard, just like not raping, not killing or any other violent crime. DON’T DO IT.

    • The stupid is strong with this one.

      I’m a circumcised male who hates the fact that I was literally surgically raped by a so called doctor while I likely screamed in terror and agony and my genitals were damaged for life.

      Of course men say they are glad they are cut. We’re lied to about foreskin. We’re told it’s “just a piece of skin,” rather than the most sensitive part of the male genitals.

  7. Circumcision is religous branding. It’s wrong on a non consenting girl, it’s wrong on a non consenting boy. Men should have the right to grow up with their whole bodies and decide for themselves what they want done with their own penis when they are of age.

  8. I agree. A true libertarian would allow the owner of the penis the decision to get this medically unnecessary surgery. A true libertarian does not force body modification on children.

  9. It’s not a parental right to carve up your child’s genitals. It doesn’t infringe on your humans rights to be denied the option of having part of your son’s penis clamped off without his consent. No medical association in the world recommends circumcising children, male or female. It is totally unethical to remove healthy body parts from an unwilling person.

  10. Richard Carey: “The child has rights, but the parent has a responsibility to decide for the child until the child can decide for himself.”

    That would be fine if the parent could give the man back his foreskin on his 18th birthday, but the parent has no right to decide to cut a part off the adult man, and that is what infant circumcision does.

    And you say “parent”: what if they disagree? Only one person has any right to decide to cut a normal, healthy, functional non-renewing part off a person’s body, and that is the owner, when he or she is old enough. Such health benefits as are claimed are none of them urgent enough or major enough to demand infant circumcision (unlike infant vaccination).

    It shouldn’t take state intervention. Ethical doctors should simply refuse to do it, as they do if parents ask them to cut any other such part of the body, or of the other sex. Many do already.

  11. Good article. One quibble though. You say that the ‘benefits’ proposed for male circumcision don’t exist for female circumcision – this isn’t really true. And if you think about it never really made sense to consider male bits as filthy and women’s as made of sugar and spice…. We know women get smegma, and research in fact shows that the bacteria associated with it are 10x more common in the l*bia than on the p*nis. We know that vulval cancer is 2-3 times more common than its male equivalent. We know from research in India that poor female hygiene is associated with HPV – the cause of vulval cancer. We know that women are much more troubled with urinary tract infection. We know from research in Africa (where HIV is a mainly female disease) that cut women are substantially less at risk of HIV, even though they don’t have less sex. But no (Western libertarian) has ever looked at all the evidence of how filthy and bacteria ridden we women are and decided that our folds and flaps should be razored off to protect us from ourselves! And in fact inconvenient research suggesting female circumcision has a benefit – such as Stallings which found cut Tanzanian women, whatever their lifestyle, had 40% lower HIV – gets quietly shelved. Thank goodness I say, but what a double standard! I’ll bet you never even heard of this, and the other research I quote above. This is no criticism of you, I think it just illustrates how much we’re being manipulated by the powers-that-be.

  12. James,

    ” If a religion demanded the chopping off of an infant’s small toes, would that be acceptable? How about a bit of branding?”

    It’s a unique question. Medical opinion is somewhat divided as to its benefits, or the lack thereof, but few, if any, as far as I can see, assert that it’s positively harmful. Now, find me a doctor who will assert the benefits of branding or toe amputation, and the comparison might stand.

    I’m beginning to suspect that the problem a lot of you have is simply because it has religious significance, and this is the objection.


    “decision of such magnitude”

    Is it really such a big thing?

  13. Where do you stop? Small lobe ear piercings do not cause damage. Male circumcision does (to sexual feeling) and it’s practically irreversible. If a religion demanded the chopping off of an infant’s small toes, would that be acceptable? How about a bit of branding?

    These things must be considered outside of their religious context. If an action would be considered physical harm to a person under secular circumstances, then I fail to see why giving it religious significance should make any difference.

  14. From the OP:

    “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?”

    You are misrepresenting the presupposition. The child has rights, but the parent has a responsibility to decide for the child until the child can decide for himself. The child is not ‘simply the property of the parents’, nor do I think many people would claim this to be the case.

    Whereas I wouldn’t have a child of mine circumcised, and I can see that a libertarian may feel driven to campaign against the practice, the idea of a state prohibition, and what the policing of it would entail, and the implications with regard to other medical procedures such as vaccination, strikes me as far worse than the present situation.

    If male circumcision were as bad as female circumcision, it would be different, but as far as I know, it isn’t.

    • So if I decide that is’ best for my teenage daughter to have her breasts removed in order to prevent breast cancer preemptively, is that okay to? Because it’s the same damn thing.

  15. Children can’t consent to anything – piercings, operations, vaccinations – so the only question is who libertarians believe should make those judgements for the child – the parent or the State. I choose the parent.

    • Ah, so you’re allowed to mutilate their genitals because they can’t say yes to vaccinations? What a stupid remark.

    • There is no choice necessary. You’re entitled to your whole body, particularly your genitals. If you don’t have a right to access your whole body, you have NO rights whatsoever.

  16. I can’t agree. Circumcision and child abuse cannot seriously be compared. Also, you would have the State make the assume that circumcision is simply a cut; to the religious parent it achieves something sacred – it puts the child in a proper relationship with God. Banning circumcision is just State-dictated secularism not freedom.

    • Actually circumcision fits the definition of abuse perfectly.

      Tell me, is FGM abuse? If it is, then MGM is abuse.

      Actually, circ is literally the surgical rape of a baby boy.


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