Rethinking Paradigms

The Case Against Self-Ownership

Mili Note: I don’t necessarily agree with this, but it’s thought provoking.

from GonzoTimes

RothbardAs Murray Rothbard explains in his Ethics of Liberty, complete self-ownership is absolutely essential to a propertarian ethics. This is precisely why I extend on my criticism against propertarian (specifically anti-state pro-capitalist) ethics on the point of self-ownership.

“If a man has the right to self-ownership, to the control of his life, then in the real world he must also have the right to sustain his life by grappling with and transforming resources; he must be able to own the ground and the resources on which he stands and which he must use. In short, to sustain his “human right.” – Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto


So from a Marxian perspective,  what is troublesome about the concept of self-ownership? After all, isn’t it axiomatic, as Hoppe and other Austrian theorists would contend?

As with all things, context matters. If the concept of self-ownership is applied to argumentation then a more acceptable standard would be not an axiomatic condition of self-ownership, but rather a recognition of self. I cannot own my arm because my arm is me. It is one part in a unique composition of physical elements and properties that define my being.

The real problem with self-ownership lies in the word ownership. I cannot technically ‘own’ my arm or any other part of myself because it is myself. Even on the most basic level, there is no agent to hold the ownership. In addition to the logical inconsistencies of self-ownership, it opens up a realm of ethics where even the most obvious and detestable exploitation can be masked by ‘rational’ self-interest.  The foundation of self-ownership allows Austrian theorists to construct a palace of socio-economic oppression and alienation and with a bit of moral ‘wiggle room’. Perhaps it is not the fact that Austrians seek to explain the nature of capitalism and all its strata that sparks my distaste for them. In this sense alone, their mission is not all that dissimilar from an individual who seeks to explain capitalism from a Marxian perspective (ignoring the completely different philosophical underpinnings). The threshold of my distaste is reached when Austrians try to justify the brutal nature of capitalism even to the point of moralizing the economic structure and its elements as ‘just’ and ‘natural’ (precluding naturalistic fallacy) or how they enshrine the entrepreneur as a hero among idlers. This twisted reasoning is why I have taken to describing all the branches of propertarian thought as suffering from the ‘poverty of ethics’. This attempt to understand human action divorced from context and material reality can only produce a blanket of petty moralization’s and lofty ideas.

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Militant Libertarian

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1 Comment


Doesn’t this entire line of argumentation rest on the idea of what ownership implies?

Ownership, as I understand it, implies an exclusive rights to usage. Who ought to be able to use “x”.

The author mentions the arm. Who ought to be able to use the arm? The Rothbardian, and consequently anyone subscribing to Lockean property rights would argue that the first user has the most objective claim.

The arm can be used. Therefore, it begs the question, who ought to have an objective claim to use it?

It’s not even worth addressing the, “brutal nature of capitalism” comment. How does the author define capitalism? Voluntary exchange is brutal? Odd….

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