This is the essay for the 1st week of the Tom Woods Homeschool Government course. In this blog post, I will be discussing two things:
1. What John Locke means by self-ownership and how people are able to gain property
2. How Murray Rothbard defends the idea of self-ownership
When you own something that means that you can exercise control over that thing. Self-ownership means that you own yourself, therefore you can exercise control over yourself. John Locke was an English philosopher who lived from 1632-1704. He wasn’t the first to think of the idea of self-ownership but he was the one who pushed it further. He says that private property is derived from self-ownership. His idea is that if you mix your labor with something that isn’t owned, then that thing becomes an extension of that person’s self-ownership. This means that the person who mixed his labor with that thing owns it and can sell it, give it away, etc. You only have to mix your labor with something that hasn’t been owned before. If you sell that thing to someone, then that person doesn’t have to mix their labor in as well because you owned it before them.
At the very beginning of human existence, there was a time when no one owned anything. This is what John Locke calls the state of nature. He says that in the state of nature people can have property rights, but it is precarious and insecure. This is because of the inconveniences of the state of nature, which are that there is no universally recognized law that can be appealed to. If this law existed then there would be nobody to enforce this law reliably. Locke also says that people are bad judges in their own cases. He says that for these reasons we give up a bit of the freedom that we would have in the state of nature to have civil government. This way we can enjoy the rights we have left securely. He also says that you agree for the government to do these things implicitly.
Murray N. Rothbard was an American economist who lived from 1926-1995. He argued against Locke’s principle that it is better to let the government take away a few of your rights to enjoy the rest of your rights securely. He says that the only defensible philosophical position is that you remain in control of all of the rights that come with the right to self-ownership. He gets this position indirectly by seeing if any other alternatives work and achieve the goal they were set out to achieve. If all of them fail to do this then the only system that works is where you have 100% self-ownership.
Rothbard gives three different alternatives. The first one is where nobody owns anyone, not themselves or anyone else. The second is where everyone owns a portion of themselves and everyone else. The third is where one group is partially owned by another group, which owns itself. In the first option, nobody would be able to do anything, they wouldn’t be allowed to eat or even breathe because they don’t own themselves and you’re not allowed to control something you don’t own. In the second option, to do anything you would need permission from everyone else, which becomes highly impractical in a large society. The third option is pretty much slavery in which one group owns another. This fails to answer the role it’s supposed to fulfill. The role it’s supposed to fulfill is a universal ethic for mankind that applies to everyone. Therefore the only option that is left is that everyone owns themselves fully, but no one else.
Rothbard says the state is violating the right of self-ownership. They are allowed to take away your money and call it taxation, but when you do it you’re thrown in jail. He says that even in the most minimalist state, whose only function is to protect you from other people using your money, is violating your rights. This is because it is funded using your money and only the state can hear cases and defend you. Rothbard’s idea of self-ownership is offering a very thoroughgoing version of libertarianism called Anarcho-Capitalism.