Ownership: Self-made or delegated?
The subject of ownership is right at the centre of everything libertarian. John Locke laid down the principle: He who first appropriates an unowned object is the rightful owner. This is incontestable, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe has elegantly shown with his argumentation ethics. Simply put: the denial of the homesteading rule entails a performative contradiction, because one has to use one’s own body to perform the denial and therefore performatively declares original appropriation of the body.
However, although it is impossible to argue against the homesteading principle, there is still a problem hidden inside it: Yes, with the argumentation theorem I can prove that no person has authority over the use of my body other than I myself. In that sense, I am the “owner” of my body. However, we “own” ourselves in a categorically different way than we own, say, a stick, a stone, a house or a field. These latter objects we can acquire, either by “homesteading” them and/or “mixing them with our labour” (Locke again) or by exchanging them for labour or something else we have previously acquired. Not so, however, our own body. We didn’t make it, nor did we find it. We know our parents “made” us. (Sniggerers go to the back of class … thank you.) And in that sense, for a while, THEY “own” us. However, they only did their small bit to “make” our bodies. They didn’t make the DNA. They didn’t make the rules and traditions that govern the way they brought us up. In that sense, our parents were only the channels, the tools as it were, with which we were made.
Come to think of it, we “own” the sticks and stones, but we didn’t “make” them either. We found them. They may not be owned by any other (human). But are they “unowned”? And: once acquired, we made something with them, but only after we “found” a use for them which benefitted us and (usually) others as well. So, we had an idea. But again: Did we “make” our cognitive abilities? We may have trained up the prior existing grey cells a little bit, but even that was partly, mostly or wholly instigated by others, usually our parents and a few more or less capable teachers.
As soon as we are born (and even before), we are bombarded by influences that shape our whole being: language, food, climate, technology. Not forgetting early traumatising events. Until we are of a certain age, we cannot “choose” these things, nor can we choose how we react towards them. We simply absorb them. They become part of us. So who can honestly say that he is in autonomous control of himself? Certainly not in a way we can control property outside our bodies.
Gary North has a different approach to property and ownership, because he starts from the belief that the universe was purposefully created. We are then not autonomous self-owners, but stewards of the rightful autonomous owner (this being God): “Each person owns himself, not as a primary owner, but as a delegated owner.” (G.N., The Covenantal Structure of Christian Economics, p. 130) “Self-ownership must be seen in terms of covenant ownership. It is delegated. It is not autonomous.” (ibid, p. 131)
On its own terms, the secular libertarian theory of property is irrefutable. However, as an argumentative weapon it is blunt. It has no effect in real life, because in real life everyone must (!) first answer for themselves the question: Chance or purpose. If chance, then you may consider yourself the owner of your body, but someone else (or indeed you yourself) may consider it “unfair” that you have a healthy body and someone else hasn’t. That X has more than Y. Objectively, chance has been unfair. Matter has been distributed unequally in the universe. Intelligence, ability and talent have been distributed unequally among humans. If we assume that we humans have been created by random chance – and this is the basis of the dominating religion of our time – and combine that with our observation that, with the help of our reason and intellect (also evolved purely by chance), we can rectify this unfairness, then a powerful, almost irresistible force drives us in the direction of a centrally planned society.
Some might say: OK, I believe in chance, and yes, the universe is unfair, but the market is a much better tool to accomplish fairness than central planning. I agree with the latter part of that statement. However, I would have to define “fairness”. Here I would apply the non-agression principle. Assuming this is accepted by the opponent (a very big assumption), another problem arises: there is no “outcome” for the market process, which by definition is dynamic and open-ended. A debate between a libertarian and a non-libertarian on these kinds of issues usually ends when the pro-market side says: for the poor and disadvantaged, there is charity. However, to rely on charity is not good enough for someone who believes in the autonomous rational being. Essentially, from such a person’s point of view, a believer in “fairness through free market” would be denying the possibility of a (rational) purpose. And the great attraction of the central planners is that they think they have discovered purpose in their autonomous selves. An individual with a sense of purpose for the collective (AKA the greater good) will argumentatively always beat a individual whose declared purpose is “only” to be left alone to pursue his own ends. At least in the arena of popular opinion, which is the one that matters in the end, he will be defeated.
The planners of the modern “therapeutic managerial state” (Paul Gottfried) believe we can rise above chance (i.e. chaos) and create order, fairness etc “rationally”. This “rational” order is the new greater good. This belief is the source of the “hideous strength” (C.S. Lewis) of modern enemies of freedom: You may own your body and whatever you make with it, but you first need to sacrifice it on the altar of the greater good. After that, you can do what you like. What, in concrete terms, is this greater good? That is determined by whoever is strongest.
Those who resist power while standing on the spiritual foundation of chance have built on sand. They have two choices: adapt or die. Adapt may mean join the ranks of the ruling class, or be ruled. OK, there are two more choices: Resist and run away. The latter is a manifestation of “escapist religion”. That will not help in the long run. Resistance will not last on the spiritual basis of chance. Unless the resistor is physically stronger, that is. Which in turn means following “power religion”. Maybe a different flavour from the one he is fighting, but that’s all. The “rational” “fairness” argument will always appeal to the masses and thus beat individualist “self-ownership”.
Individualist “self-ownership” opposition against those who would enslave us therefore must be based on a deeper level: on the prior decision for purpose instead of chance. Those who decide they have been given their body for a purpose, that they are a steward, i.e. that their individual purpose is embedded in a purposeful universe, one in which there are clear rules which apply to each and everyone, those are the ones who eventually “inherit the earth”, meek though they may be. Because they will find in themselves a strength to resist the temptations and oppressions of power. Their resistance stands on a foundation of solid rock. That doesn’t mean they will survive resistance (in this life). But I anticipate that effective resistance will survive them.