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Self-ownership, is the concept of property in one's own body, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity which means to be the exclusive controller of one's own body including one's life, where 'control' means exerting any physical interference and 'exclusive' means including the right to enforce a ban on other people controlling it. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] Self-ownership is a central idea in several political philosophies that emphasize individualism, such as libertarianism, liberalism, and anarchism. Since the definition of property title includes the implicit ban of other people (except the zygote[6]) claiming property title over the same resource at the same time, the right to control or interfere with one's own body in any arbitrary way is secured.

'sovereignty of the individual, 'individual sovereignty' or self-sovereignty is generally understood to imply one's property rights including self-ownership also called negative sovereignty, but also includes the rejection of or freedom from positive sovereignty where negative sovereignty includes property rights and positive sovereignty includes the right to subjugate people to command obedience or sovereign rule [9] [10] [11] or simply being endowed with the right to receive some economic good.[1] A view that is held by 'negative-rights libertarians'. Legal theoretically sovereignty is achieved by person A, the declarator, by applying a power norm on person B which does not require any declarative volitional behavioral act of B, where as a legal consequence B becomes the legal subject (of the obligation) meaning B receives a negative or positive obligation by a causal behavioral act of A's property, where property is just understood as the causal origin of one's actions e.g. a bodily act. Examples of negative sovereignty power norms are planting a flag or raising a fence on previously unowned land. Examples of positive sovereignty power norms are signing of the Constitution of the United States or pulling Excalibur from the stone. Positive sovereignty power norms violate consent (volition) of the legal subject in the sense of libertarian involuntariness, but the negative sovereign power norm does not by definition.[4]

In this article a person under legal involuntary servitude (servitude enslavement) is understood to mean a person under 'legal command subjugation servitude' according to the above positive sovereignty power norm, so involuntary servitude understands the will as consent (giving permission) and labor as any positive obligation where the libertarian concept of involuntariness is assumed. Examples of people that are often legal involuntary serves are children with respect to their parents, residents with respect to their sovereign state and conscript soldiers with respect to their superior officer. An example of a 'power norm' that imposes a negative obligation on others is the legal norm of original appropriation, which is a claim that results in a ius in re negative claim right called property title. Analogously, a promise to obey commands leads to a positive obligation, through application of a promise (contract) power norm and is not legal involuntary servitude. Human ownership and sovereign rule over human beings (enforcing legal involuntary servitude), both give the right holder the right to use violence to enforce their will, but with sovereign rule the subject has to fail a given command first for this right to happen. Conversely if a someone who is property i.e. chattel slaves or children, runs away, then the owner is still the first responsible for its actions if he maintains the ownership claim, but no legal case can be made against the chattel slave because property and its owner is the origin of liability for an offensive act.

Johannes_Voet originator of the Voetstoots acquisition norm which together with moral agency are elements of libertarian property acquisition theory.
Johannes_Voet originator of the Voetstoots acquisition norm which together with moral agency are elements of libertarian property acquisition theory.

The act of conception is legally a power norm that imposes the (positive) parental duty on the parents[12] which does not violate self-sovereignty or impose legal involuntary servitude because it was imposed on themselves by their own behavioral act of interference with a zygote as a negative claim right of the zygote to the parental duty which is an implicit obligation similar to a sanction norm in corrective justice.[13] One is obligated not to create a zygote by an act of pure interference or perform the parental duty which is a strict weakening of a negative obligation (called a pseudo-negative obligation) by assuming an implicit law on the zygote which is weaker than simply the loss of all inviolability as a sanction norm because of lack of moral agency. So the parental duty is not a pseudo-positive claim right meaning any claim right that is not pseudo-negative. Normally in libertarian theory the claimer of property implicitly immunizes all people from circumstances on the property at the moment of acquisition that were caused by an act of pure interference, which is also known as the Voetstoots assumption of property.

The 'right to property in one's person' is often understood as personality rights, and are just like intellectual property rights generally a violation of self-ownership or self-sovereignty. For example, the right to be forgotten bans any person from keeping reputation on other people. The right to life is sometimes named as part of self-ownership and is included in the above definition when understood as the inviolability to the purely interfering negligence tort of killing.

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Definitional issues

The self

American libertarian socialist Stephen Pearl Andrews frequently discussed the sovereignty of the individual in his writings. In The Science of Society, he says that Protestantism, democracy and socialism are "three partial announcements of one generic principle" which is "the sovereignty of the individual".[14] Andrews considered the sovereignty of the individual to be "the basis of harmonious intercourse amongst equals, precisely as the equal Sovereignty of States is the basis of harmonious intercourse between nations mutually recognizing their independence of each other."[15]

Discussion of the boundary of self with respect to ownership and responsibility has been explored by legal scholar Meir Dan-Cohen in his essays on The Value of Ownership and Responsibility and the Boundaries of the Self.[undue weight? ] The emphasis of this work illuminates the phenomenology of ownership and our common usage of personal pronouns to apply to both body and property—this serves as the folk basis for legal conceptions and debates about responsibility and ownership.[16][non-primary source needed] Another view holds that labor is alienable because it can be contracted out, thus alienating it from the self. In this view, the choice of a person to voluntarily sell oneself into slavery is also preserved by the principle of self-ownership.[17]

Labour markets and private property

For anarcho-communist political philosopher L. Susan Brown: "Liberalism and anarchism are two political philosophies that are fundamentally concerned with individual freedom yet differ from one another in very distinct ways. Anarchism shares with liberalism a commitment to individual freedom while rejecting liberalism's competitive property relations".[18] Scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood says that "there are doctrines of individualism that are opposed to Lockean individualism... and non-Lockean individualism may encompass socialism".[19]

Right-libertarian conceptions of self-ownership extend the concept to include control of private property as part of the self. According to Gerald Cohen, "the libertarian principle of self-ownership says that each person enjoys, over herself and her powers, full and exclusive rights of control and use, and therefore owes no service or product to anyone else that she has not contracted to supply".[20]

Philosopher Ian Shapiro says that labor markets affirm self-ownership because if self-ownership were not recognized, then people would not be allowed to sell the use of their productive capacities to others. He says that the individual sells the use of his productive capacity for a limited time and conditions but continues to own what he earns from selling the use of that capacity and the capacity itself, thereby retaining sovereignty over himself while contributing to economic efficiency.[21] A common view within classical liberalism is that sovereign-minded individuals usually assert a right of private property external to the body, reasoning that if a person owns themselves, they own their actions, including those that create or improve resources, therefore they own their own labour and the fruits thereof.[22]

In Human Action, Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises argues that labor markets are the rational conclusion of self-ownership and argues that collective ownership of labor ignores differing values for the labor of individuals:

Of course, people believe that there is an essential difference between the tasks incumbent upon the comrades of the socialist commonwealth and those incumbent upon slaves or serfs. The slaves and serfs, they say, toiled for the benefit of an exploiting lord. But in a socialist system, the produce of labor goes to society of which the toiler himself is a part; here the worker works for himself, as it were. What this reasoning overlooks is that the identification of the individual comrades and the totality of all comrades with the collective entity pocketing the produce of all work is merely fictitious. Whether the ends which the community's officeholders are aiming at agreeing or disagreeing with the wishes and desires of the various comrades are of minor importance. The main thing is that the individual's contribution to the collective entity's wealth is not requited in the shape of wages determined by the market.

— Ludwig von Mises[23]

Other scholars are critical of the idea of private property, specifically within anarchism. The anarchist Oscar Wilde said:

For the recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain, not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is...With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all".

— Oscar Wilde[24]

Within anarchism, the concept of wage slavery refers to a situation perceived as quasi-voluntary slavery,[25] where a person's livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate.[26][27] It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. The term "wage slavery" has been used to criticize economic exploitation and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops)[28] and the latter as a lack of workers' self-management, fulfilling job choices and leisure in an economy.[29][30][31] With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, thinkers such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx elaborated the comparison between wage labor and slavery in the context of a critique of societal property not intended for active personal use[32][33] while Luddites emphasized the dehumanization brought about by machines. Emma Goldman famously denounced "wage slavery" by saying: "The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves".[34]

Within left-libertarianism, scholars such as Hillel Steiner,[35] Peter Vallentyne,[36] Philippe Van Parijs,[37] Michael Otsuka[38] and David Ellerman[39][40] root an economic egalitarianism in the classical liberal concepts of self-ownership and land appropriation, combined with geoist or physiocratic views regarding the ownership of land and natural resources (e.g. those of John Locke and Henry George). Left-libertarians "maintain that the world's natural resources were initially unowned or belonged equally to all, and it is illegitimate for anyone to claim exclusive private ownership of these resources to the detriment of others. Such private appropriation is legitimate only if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if those who appropriate more are taxed to compensate those who are thereby excluded from what was once common property". This position is articulated in contrast to the position of other libertarians who argue for a right to appropriate parts of the external world based on sufficient use, even if this homesteading yields unequal results.[41] Some left-libertarians of the Steiner–Vallentyne type support some form of income redistribution on the grounds of a claim by each individual to be entitled to an equal share of natural resources.[42][43]


John Locke wrote in his Two Treatises on Government that "every man has a Property in his own Person". Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick interprets Locke as saying that the individual "has a right to decide what would become of himself and what he would do, and as having a right to reap the benefits of what he did".[44][45] Josiah Warren was the first who wrote about the "sovereignty of the individual".[46]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Block, Walter (1986). The U.S. Bishops and Their Critics: An Ethical and Economic Perspective. SSRN 1896495. Citation: "In classical philosophy, negative rights or negative liberty consist solely of the right not to have physical force, or the threat thereof, initiated against oneself. Each person, then, has the right not to be murdered, raped, robbed, assaulted, battered, etc. The doctrine of positive "rights," in contrast, typically holds that people have the right to food, clothing, shelter, and, depending on which variant is under discussion, to a reasonable lifestyle, to non-discriminatory behaviour, to meaningful relationships, to psychological well-being, to employment, to a decent wage, etc." Block assumes a positive right to mean a positive obligation that was imposed without requiring a declarative volitional act of the obligated like with a contract.
  2. ^ Homowy, Ronald (2008). "Individual Rights". The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. p. 246. Citation:"each person is born to a negative obligation to leave others in the peaceful enjoyment of their persons and their own property.. property rights are negative rights. In the absence of special complications, one’s property rights only impose on others the duty not to trespass and to leave one free to do as one sees fit with oneself and one’s own property"
  3. ^ John Locke (1689). "State of Nature (Chapter 2.6)" (PDF). Second treatise on government, Book II. Citation: "But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions." Locke understands liberty as liberty right instead of a physical freedom, for example freedom is bound by one's obligations (nobler purpose) like satisfying one's contracts, compensating for caused property damages and let the owner peacefully apply his purpose when he calls for it.
  4. ^ a b Thomas Hobbes (1651). "Of the first and second NATURAL LAWS, and CONTRACTS. (Chapter 14)" (PDF). Leviathan. p. 101. Citation: "And when a man hath in either manner abandoned, or granted away his Right; then is he said to be OBLIGED or BOUND, not to hinder those, to whom such Right is granted, or abandoned, from the benefit of it: and that he Ought, and it is his DUTY, not to make void that Duty that voluntary act of his own: and that such hindrance is INJUSTICE, and INJURY, as being Sine Jure; the Right being before renounced, or transferred." Hobbs introduces contractual claim rights analogous to Hofeld-Newcomb's liberty and claim rights. The logical existence of contract claim rights, in contrast to mere reciprocity, must presuppose some preexisting claim right (usually self-ownership) of the authorizing party of the contract (the obligated) that can be punished in case the contract is violated, which otherwise would be inviolable.
  5. ^ Murray Rothbard. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. Citation (p. 33) "The right to self-ownership asserts the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to 'own' his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference." Citation (p. 27) "..that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. .. 'Aggression' is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else therefore synonymous with invasion."
  6. ^ a b Murray Rothbard. Ethics of Liberty. Citation (p. 216): "..define negative liberty as the absence of physical interference with an individual's person and property, with his just property rights broadly defined." Citation (p. 215): "liberty is the absence of physically coercive interference or invasion of an individual's person and property." Citation (p.60): "The simplest case, of course, is property in persons. The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that each person must be a self-owner, and that no one has the right to interfere with such self-ownership. From this there follows immediately the total impermissibility of property in another person." Citation (p. 77) "To say that someone has the absolute right to a certain property but lacks the right to defend it against attack or invasion is also to say that he does not have total right to that property." Rothbard's and Berlin's concept of negative liberty corresponds to Howowy's and Block's negative claim right. Citation (p. 101): "Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so." Rothbard acknowledges that the zygote has inviolability rights not to be harmed, implying that the self-ownership property claim right on the egg cell or the sperm cell does not include exclusivity to all other human beings (the zygote at conception) to claim an overlapping negative right (freedom harmful interfering acts) by a naked legal fact/act (involuntary legal norm).
  7. ^ Lysander Spooner (1852). "Trial By Jury" (PDF). Let's Abolish Government. Citation (p179) "If one man commit a trespass upon the person, property or character of another, the injured party has a natural right, either to chastise the aggressor, or to take compensation for the injury out of his property."
  8. ^ Herman-Hans Hoppe (2020). Economics and Ethics of Private Property. p. 424. Citation: "In the same vein, the fact of self-ownership is a praxeological precondition of argumentation. Anyone trying to prove or disprove anything must be a self-owner."
  9. ^ Spooner, Lysander (1852). "Trial By Jury". Let's abolish government. p. 86. Citation (p.86) "The only real 'sovereignty' or right of 'sovereignty' in this or any other country, is that right of sovereignty which each and every human being has over his or her own person and property, so long as he or she obeys the one law of justice towards the person and property of every other human being. This is the only natural right of sovereignty, that was ever known among men. All other so-called rights of sovereignty are simply the usurpations of impostors, conspirators, robbers, tyrants, and murderers." Citation (p81) "What, then, is a 'sovereign' government? It is a government that is 'sovereign' over all the natural rights of the people. This is the only 'sovereignty' that any government can be said to have. Under it, the people have no rights. They are simply 'subjects' — that is, slaves. They have but one law, and one duty, viz., obedience, submission." Citation (p.208) "There is no particle of truth in the notion that the majority have a right to rule, or to exercise arbitrary power over, the minority, simply because the former are more numerous than the latter. Two men have no more natural right to rule one, than one has to rule two." Spooner understands sovereignty to mean the negative sovereignty of property rights but says that this is the only sovereignty, so rejecting positive sovereignty of ruling power.
  10. ^ Rand, Ayn (1988). The Ayn Rand lexicon: objectivism from A to Z. p. 204. ISBN 9780452010512. Citation: "the ruler of the individual — as a sovereign authority (with or without supernatural mandate), an authority logically antecedent to the citizen and to which he must submit. The Founding Fathers challenged this primordial notion. They started with the premise of the primacy and sovereignty of the individual."
  11. ^ Rand, Ayn (1982). "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made". Philosophy: Who Needs It. Bobbs-Merrill. p. 40. ISBN 0-672-52725-1. "Citation: this is in his exclusive, sovereign power. Man is neither to be obeyed nor to be commanded."
  12. ^ Edward Feser (2004). Self-Ownership, Abortion, and the Rights of Children: Toward a More Conservative Libertarianism.
  13. ^ Stephen, Molyneux (2013). "What Is True". On Truth: The Tyranny of Illusion, Free Version. p. 5. Ref: Freedomain radio show 2013, Molyneux: "The parental care duty is similar to the duty for a rental car."
  14. ^ Andrews, Stephen Pearl (1888). The Science of Society. Sarah E. Holmes. p. 155.
  15. ^ Andrews, Stephen Pearl (1938). The Sovereignty of the Individual. Freeman Press. p. 18.
  16. ^ Dan-Cohen, Meir (2002). Harmful Thoughts: Essays on Law, Self, and Morality. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691090078. JSTOR j.ctt7shdn.
  17. ^ "Toward a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability: A Critique of Rothbard, Barnett, Smith, Kinsella, Gordon, and Epstein". Mises Institute. 30 July 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2021.
  18. ^ L. Susan Brown (1993). The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism, and Anarchism. Black Rose Books.
  19. ^ Ellen Meiksins Wood (1972). Mind and Politics: An Approach to the Meaning of Liberal and Socialist Individualism. University of California Press. ISBN 0520020294. p. 7
  20. ^ Cited in The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. 2004. Blackwell Publishing. p. 630
  21. ^ Shapiro, Ian (2001). Democratic Justice. Yale University Press. pp. 145–146[ISBN missing]
  22. ^ Harris, J. W. (1996). Property and Justice. Oxford University Press. p. 189
  23. ^ von Mises, Ludwig (18 August 2014). "Work and Wages". Human Action (PDF). p. 628. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  24. ^ Danson, Lawrence (1998), "'The Soul of Man Under Socialism'", Wilde's IntentionsThe Artist in his Criticism, Oxford University Press, pp. 148–167, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186281.003.0008, ISBN 978-0198186281, retrieved 28 October 2021
  25. ^ Ellerman 1992.
  26. ^ "wage slave". Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  27. ^ "wage slave". Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  28. ^ Sandel 1996, p. 184.
  29. ^ "Conversation with Noam Chomsky". p. 2. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  30. ^ Hallgrimsdottir & Benoit 2007.
  31. ^ "The Bolsheviks and Workers Control, 1917–1921: The State and Counter-revolution". Spunk Library. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  32. ^ Proudhon 1890.
  33. ^ Marx 1969, Chapter VII.
  34. ^ Goldman 2003, p. 283.
  35. ^ Steiner, Hillel (1994). An Essay on Rights. Oxford: Blackwell.
  36. ^ Vallentyne, Peter; Steiner, Hillel, eds. (2000). Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  37. ^ Van Parijs, Philippe (2009). Marxism Recycled. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  38. ^ Otsuka, Michael (2005). Libertarianism without Inequality. New York: Oxford University Press.
  39. ^ Ellerman, David (1992). Property and Contract in Economics: The Case for Economic Democracy. Cambridge MA: Blackwell.
  40. ^ Ellerman, David (1990). The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm. London: Unwin Hyman.
  41. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. Atlantic Heights, NJ: Humanities.
  42. ^ Vallentyne, Peter; Steiner, Hillel, eds. (2000). Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1.
  43. ^ Gaus, Gerald F.; Kukathas, Chandran, eds. (2004). Handbook of Political Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 128.
  44. ^ Olsaretti, Serena. 2004. Liberty, Desert and the Market. Cambridge University Press. p. 91
  45. ^ Dan-Cohen, Meir. 2002. Harmful Thoughts: Essays on Law, Self, and Morality. Princeton University Press. p. 296
  46. ^ "Josiah Warren Manifesto". Retrieved 28 October 2021.


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