What is Austro-Libertarianism?

Thursday, Nov 26, 2009

Buried a few minutes into a discussion about intellectual property, Stephan Kinsella discusses, 'What is Libertarianism?', and it's pretty thought provoking. "Libertarians are the only ones who really oppose slavery, in a principled way. Nonlibertarians are in favor of at least partial slavery. This slavery is implicit in state actions and laws such as taxation, conscription, and drug prohibitions."

Every person has, controls, and is identified and associated with a unique human body, which is a scarce resource.

The libertarian view is that each person completely owns his own body — at least initially, until something changes this, such as if he commits some crime by which he forfeits or loses some of his rights.[18] Now some say that the idea of self-ownership makes no sense. You are yourself; how can you own yourself? But this is just silly wordplay.

To own means to have the right to control. If A wants to have sex with B's body, whose decision is it? Who has the right to control B's body? A, or B? If it is A, then A owns B's body; A has the right to control it, as a master to a slave. But if it is B who has the right to decide, then B owns her own body: she is a self-owner.

And of course, self-ownership is what is implied in the nonaggression principle. Ayn Rand famously said, "So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate.… No man may start — the use of physical force against others."[19] To initiate force means to invade the borders of someone's body, to use her body without permission or consent.[20] But this presupposes that that person has the right to control her body: otherwise her permission would not be needed, and it would not be aggression to invade or use his body without his consent.

So the libertarian property-assignment rule for bodies is that each person owns his own body. Implicit in the idea of self-ownership is the belief that each person has a better claim to the body that he or she directly controls and inhabits than do others. I have a better claim to the right to control my body than you do, because it is my body; I have a unique link and connection to my body that others do not, and that is prior to the claim of any other person.

Anyone other than the original occupant of a body is a latecomer with respect to the original occupant. Your claim to my body is inferior in part because I had it first. The person claiming your body can hardly object to the significance of what Hoppe calls the "prior-later" distinction, since he adopts this very rule with respect to his own body — he has to presuppose ownership of his own body in order to claim ownership of yours.[21]

The self-ownership rule may seem obvious, but it is held only by libertarians. Nonlibertarians do not believe in complete self-ownership. Sure, they usually grant that each person has some rights in his own body, but they believe each person is partially owned by some other person or entity — usually the state or society. Libertarians are the only ones who really oppose slavery, in a principled way. Nonlibertarians are in favor of at least partial slavery.

This slavery is implicit in state actions and laws such as taxation, conscription, and drug prohibitions. The libertarian says that each person is the full owner of his body: he has the right to control his body, to decide whether or not he ingests narcotics, works for less than minimum wage, pays taxes, joins an army, and so on.

But those who believe in such laws believe that the state is at least a partial owner of the body of those subject to such laws. They don't like to say they believe in slavery, but they do. The modern left-liberal wants tax evaders put in jail (enslaved). The modern conservative wants marijuana users enslaved.


Libertarianism on property: Rights in a sense originate in agreement: agreement among people to respect each others' rights. This is possible only among rational, conceptual beings. An animal such as a cow can't agree to anything. It's too stupid. Therefore it can be owned (that's not to say necessarily that it should be mistreated or killed).

Libertarianism is a political philosophy, and only a political philosophy. It is not a philosophy of life, indicating the best way to live, apart of course, from refraining from initiating violence against other people and their justly owned property. It asks but one question, When is force justified? And gives but one answer, Only in retaliation or defense against a prior use of violence. The rest is merely the weaving out of the implications of this question and that answer.