What do you think the primary social evil of our time is? So many choices and so little time! I am torn between two possibilities that are perhaps even more evil than the state itself. On one hand there is the evil of envy which empowers the State and its many minions and leads us into many intellectual errors. On the other hand there is our the overwhelming lack of respect for self-ownership rights. Today I am going to pick lack of self-ownership rights — which is really just a nice way of saying we still believe in slavery as long as the State does it.
Lack of respect for self ownership rights underlies both private crime and institutionalized crime perpetrated by the state. We will always have private crime with us until someone figures out how to change human nature, but the overwhelming lack of respect for a person and his property rights encourages private crime.
However it is the State with its laws, regulations, and actions that are claiming that the state has the right to control how someone’s body is to be used that is the most objectionable. The state believes it owns its subjects. Now don’t mistake the fact that the term “state” is really just shorthand for all the individuals that make up that evil enemy of peace and prosperity. It is these minions of the power elite that have no respect for self-ownership and property rights or they would not be doing the evil that they are doing.
When the state arrests and imprisons a man for violation of its narcotics laws, it is assuming partial control of his body and that is contrary to his right of self-ownership. And then there are all the immoral actions by the state such as tax laws or fines for failure to comply with arbitrary state decrees that also violate self-ownership rights by assuming ownership of property owned by individuals. The individual is being treated as a slave to the ruling class.
It is the lack of respect for self-ownership that is at the root of our woes since, after all, one must own one’s self in order to own external things. Rothbard saw all rights as property rights and I agree with him. Self-ownership is rendered meaningless if the right to own private property is not also respected and it is self-ownership that is the very foundation of all rights. This is why Murray Rothbard insisted that all “human rights” are property rights: ownership rights in scarce resources, whether self-ownership rights in one’s own body or property rights in external objects.
All political theories advocate some form of property rights, even the socialists believe in certain property rights even if most property is “owned” by all jointly. It has been noted many times that state policies that tax, conscript, or imprison or fine individuals for failure to comply with various regulations in effect assign partial ownership in the subjects’ bodies or property to the state. The state has enslaved the individual by claiming at least a partial ownership right in him and his property. Just because they call this “taxation” does not alter the material facts at all.
Political systems always assign owners to resources according to some formula or the other. Libertarianism is unique in specifying that it is individuals that are owners of their own body and property; and not the collective — not the state. It is this lack of respect in our time for the sovereign individual to own and control his own body and property without aggressive intervention from the meddlesome state that is at the very heart of almost every problem that you can imagine in today’s world.
But how can I prove that my body is truly mine and not the property of others?
Hans-Hermann Hoppe once wrote:
The answer to the question what makes my body “mine” lies in the obvious fact that this is not merely an assertion but that, for everyone to see, this is indeed the case. Why do we say “this is my body”? For this a twofold requirement exists. On the one hand it must be the case that the body called “mine” must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or “objectify” my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. If, to the contrary, my announcements showed no systematic relation to my body’s actual behavior, then the proposition “this is my body” would have to be considered as an empty, objectively unfounded assertion; and likewise this proposition would be rejected as incorrect if following my announcement not my arm would rise but always that of Müller, Meier, or Schulze (in which case one would more likely be inclined to consider Müller’s, Meier’s, or Schulze’s body “mine”). On the other hand, apart from demonstrating that my will has been “objectified” in the body called “mine,” it must be demonstrated that my appropriation has priority as compared to the possible appropriation of the same body by another person.
As far as bodies are concerned, it is also easy to prove this. We demonstrate it by showing that it is under my direct control, while every other person can objectify (express) itself in my body only indirectly, i.e., by means of their own bodies, and direct control must obviously have logical-temporal priority (precedence) as compared to any indirect control. The latter simply follows from the fact that any indirect control of a good by a person presupposes the direct control of this person regarding his own body; thus, in order for a scarce good to become justifiably appropriated, the appropriation of one’s directly controlled “own” body must already be presupposed as justified. It thus follows: If the justice of an appropriation by means of direct control must be presupposed by any further-reaching indirect appropriation, and if only I have direct control of my body, then no one except me can ever justifiably own my body (or, put differently, then property in/of my body cannot be transferred onto another person), and every attempt of an indirect control of my body by another person must, unless I have explicitly agreed to it, be regarded as unjust(ified).
For libertarians it is simple, we believe in the non-aggression principle and we believe in self-ownership. From these two ideas flow the entire corpus of our ideology. It is for this reason that I believe that lack of respect for self-ownership is the primary social evil of our time.