Voluntaryism Blog

Self Ownership

If I told you that you own yourself, would you disagree?

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to make the argument that, in the first place, we all own ourselves. In fact, if you disagree with me, you are only providing evidence that you do. From that point, I'll trace how, if we own ourselves, we must own our actions. Thirdly, if we own our actions we must own the results of those actions. In the end, if we are able to interact with each other, voluntarily, without resorting to coercion, everyone will find themselves in a better situation.

What does it mean to own something? If we own something we usually say that it's our property. For clarity I'm going to define property, simply, as “the right of exclusive control.” Would any sane person claim that someone else has the exclusive right to control their own body? The body is an easily and universally recognizable border. Hans-Hermann Hoppe has a theory called “argumentation ethics”. In short, “argumentation ethics” theorizes that “if you are able to present an argument then you are demonstrating your right to exclusive control of your self.” How would it be possible for someone to disagree with another and not concede that they are acting as an individual decision making unit? In fact, why would there be any need for discussion if we are not individual people with control over our own bodies, thoughts and decisions?

The idea of self ownership is important because, who else could possibly know better than ourselves what actions we need to take in order to simply survive? To take it to the opposite extreme would mean to think that we all belong to everyone else and it would be very difficult to complete even the simplest task while we waited for the entirety of the world's population to agree what action we should take. Therefore, I think the thought of conceding control of any decisions in our lives to others, only makes survival that much more difficult. Hence the anarchist streak.

Now that we've established who owns who. Let's move on to some action! Ludwig Von Mises, is considered the father of Austrian Economics. Mises put together a great work of knowledge called Praxeology, or the study of human action. In his book, by that title “Human Action”, he describes how it is that only the individual acts. This is “purposeful action”, not involuntary bodily actions like breathing. The basic premise of Mises' work is that only the individual acts to relieve the individual's uneasiness. That is not to say a person acts rationally, but that they would not act unless they perceived they would be better off after performing the action or by their inaction. From this, I take that I own myself and I own my actions.

Tax season has rolled around again, and I need to ask myself, “If I own myself, who owns the things I produce?” Now, I spend a good portion of my time working for a company. The understanding is that in exchange for me spending my time producing value for the company, they will compensate me with a previously agreed to amount of money. If I own myself and my actions, it follows that I own my life and hence my time. It is my decision to exchange my time with anyone for any kind of compensation. Is what I receive in exchange for what I had already owned not mine? I know of no reason to think it is not mine. Therefore, Lysander Spooner's statement about the highwayman holds true, “The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.”

What if I told you there is a system that exists that can make the most efficient use of the scarce resources available to us on this earth? Would you be interested in hearing about it? If so, I'd like to ask everyone to take a “NAP”, don't go to sleep yet. I'm talking about the Non-Aggression Principle or N-A-P. The Non-Aggression Principle according to Hans-Hermann Hoppe, simply states, “a person can do with his body whatever he (or she) wants as long as they do not thereby aggress against another person's body.”

Nobody threatens me or otherwise coerces me to go to work. I quite enjoy what I do actually. Nature, until we get to the supposedly scarcity free Star Trek future, requires me to compete with others for resources. This competition makes me strive to be the best that I can be. The initiation of force is completely unnecessary. In fact, life would be far more difficult if I had to use coercion. I'd have to keep finding another victim. It would be impossible for me to live a civilized life. However, thanks to the “miracle” that took me some time to realize exists, I can live a peaceful life. The miracle flows from the fact that human action naturally leads us, to trade with each other in mutually beneficial interactions. That is, we all make use of the division of labor, or the fact that certain people are better than others at specific tasks and that resources are not equally dispersed around the universe. The fact that humans are the only “intelligent” life we are aware of in the 4.5 billion mile radius of our sun, is an example of this. But, I digress, the fact is each person trading freely will be better off after the transaction, if these transactions are allowed to occur free from interference or coercion of any sort; there would be no losers in these exchanges. The greatest number of people possible would become richer and all the more efficiently the use of the scarce resources that we do have, would be used.

I hope I have demonstrated a solid basis for the idea of self ownership. As well as the ownership of our actions and the results of those actions. These ideas are important to demonstrate why liberty is important in each of our lives. In closing, I’d like to leave you with what Gustave de Molinari stated, “Anarchy is no guarantee that some people won’t kill, injure, kidnap, defraud, or steal from others. Government is a guarantee that some will.”