Lessons in Liberty Podcast Episode 10, I explain the 3 principles of libertarian thought: self-ownership, non-aggression, and private property.
- The Non-Aggression Principle
- The Libertarian Implications of Argumentation Ethics
- Molyneux on UPB
- Hoppe’s Ultimate Justification for Private Property
Welcome to Episode 10 of the Lessons in Liberty Podcast. This is a show where we talk about matters relating to Austrian Economics, libertarian philosophy, and right-wing politics. Today is Wednesday January 31st, 2018. I did not watch the state of the union address last night. Judging by social media, it seems the public generally liked Trump’s speech. It’s always a good thing when a white Republican president can boast about higher levels of Black employment, much to the dismay of Democrats, especially the Black Caucus. Of course, it is not in the interest of politicians for the people to do well. Rising employment means less people dependent on the state. Democrats and neo-conservative Republicans (aka RINO) don’t like people being less dependent on the state. Trump might not be Ron Paul, but I do believe he is helping push the country in a better direction. Trump’s lack of ideology opens him up to embracing various policies that are sure to anger libertarians, but what do you expect from a liberal from New York?
Now, on to the three libertarian principles that I believe to accurately and concisely convey the basics of libertarian philosophy. Let’s start with self-ownership. This is simply the idea that all individuals have the sole claim to their own person and body. Self-ownership is justified in various ways, but I really think it’s common sense. When we talk about property ownership, we aren’t talking about arbitrary claims to property. I can’t just claim to own someone’s house. I haven’t built it or funded its construction, so I have no claim to it. If I discover unowned land and decide to start building a house, then I do have a claim to that land. This is called homesteading. In other words, homesteading is removing something from it’s natural, unowned state by “mixing labor” with the object. This doesn’t have to be literal mixing of labor. I can pay people to build my house without giving up ownership to the actual workers who build the house. Let’s take these ideas and apply to ourselves. Some people aren’t very fond of the idea of self-ownership because it implies humans can be owned. However, it’s actually the principle of self-ownership that stands in the way of slavery. If each individual owns their self, one can’t be owned by another except by consent. Because I own myself, I can trade my productivity and time for a wage or I can do my own production and be the owner of the product of my labor. If you say, “I don’t own myself,” you are using your body to achieve the end of claiming you don’t own your body. To say you don’t own yourself while having the sole claim to your body is a performative contradiction, just like if I were to say, “bachelors are married.”
Because we own ourselves, we own what we come to produce or otherwise homestead. The result is private property. If someone else has a claim to your property or products of labor, you can’t be said to truly own yourself. Of course, there is a caveat here. It’s perfectly acceptable to trade your time and labor for a wage. This does not violate self-ownership, contrary to what communists like to think. Self-ownership helps avoid conflicts between people’s bodies and private property helps avoid conflict between people and their things. Our ability to own property is what gives way to improvements of land. If I cannot have sole claim and responsibility to property I possess, then I have no incentive to maintain or improve that property. I have no reason to build housing if I a gang of thieves can come and take it from me. Besides the justification that if we own ourselves we must own what we come to possess through peaceful and/or otherwise voluntary means, there is another logical justification for private property.
We can say that all resources are in a natural state of being unowned until an individual homesteads a resource. It’s a logical imperative that the first person who comes, must be the first served. Otherwise, no one would have a right to do something as benign as picking a berry from a bush to eat. People less sympathetic to private property would say that people can’t own nature and that all resources are owned between all people on earth. This idea can be debunked simply by thinking about the logical implications. If all resources are owned by all people in common, what right does anyone have to help themselves to a berry from a bush, for example? Logically, if resources are owned in common, you would need permission of all other owners to consume said resources. Such a norm isn’t feasible. If one objects to the norm “first come, first served,” then do they suggest “second come, first served,” as an ethical norm? Why not “44th come, first served?” So, it should be clear that self-ownership and private property are logically consistent and valid principles. For more on this, see Hoppe’s argumentation ethics.
Lastly, we have the non-aggression principle. Some libertarians think the non-aggression principle is the foundation of libertarianism. However, I argue that the non-aggression principle is the logical conclusion of self-ownership and private property. To commit aggression is to interfere with another’s person or property. One can’t aggress on another without also violating their right to self-ownership, private property, or both. While it might be a little redundant, I think it is a good principle to advocate. It’s really not much different than what most of us are taught as kids: treat others how you want to be treated, keep your hands to yourself, and don’t take people’s things. For more justification of the non-aggression principle, see Stefan Molyneux’s Universally Preferable Behavior theory of ethics.
It’s important to understand that rights must be reciprocated. If someone rejects your right to self-ownership, it would be borderline suicidal to extend self-ownership to that person. Likewise, someone who rejects private property as an ethical norm can’t appeal to private property as a norm in their own defense. One who commits aggression can’t be extended the virtue of non-aggression without risking harm to yourself and/or others.
So, how do these principles relate to real life? What are the real world implications of these principles? Well, in a free society, these three principles must be recognized. Removing the government doesn’t guarantee a libertarian society. Rather, a libertarian society can arise from a society that values these principles. The idea of no government is pretty scary to some people. But, if a society values liberty and private property rights, then that society will create institutions to maintain a libertarian society and a way to enforce property rights. While the state is supposed to enforce property rights, it can only fund itself through involuntary taxation. Involuntary taxation is an obvious violation of self-ownership and private property.
A truly free society is organized by voluntary associations, not coercive taxation and forced association. This country was founded on the ideas of liberty and that all people have natural rights to life, liberty, and property. It should be understood that libertarianism isn’t an ideology that says “anything goes” or “do as you please.” Actions have consequences. Engaging in behavior that negatively impacts other people’s right to self-ownership and private property wouldn’t be tolerated in a libertarian community that values individual responsibility and rejects socialization of costs. So, while libertarians advocate for freedom, we also advocate for personal responsibility. For me, the goal of libertarianism is a cooperative society free of institutional coercion such as exists within a state. It is not an ideology to be embraced by selfish hedonists and nihilists who advocate freedom for the sake of freedom. The goal of libertarianism isn’t self-gratification. I see too many libertarians fall into this trap. If you’re opinions regarding public policy are developed in a vacuum of abstractions that doesn’t consider real-world implications of said policy, you are doing it wrong. Libertarians need to use our principles to advocate for rational, reasonable, and beneficial policy positions that will be stepping stones toward a free society.