The Problem with Self-OwnershipSubmitted by nolongerperplexed on Fri, 03/01/2013 - 12:39
I believe that localism represents the best chance libertarians will have of getting their philosophy implemented into practice. The most probable path to a libertarian government passes through Localism. That's because Localism is really just a framework for keeping smaller and smaller units of government free to organize as they see fit. It is designed to stop what Jefferson called "the natural order of things"- I.E. tyranny (the centralization of power) to grow and liberty to yield ground.
Localism is simply a container to protect against the centralization of political power. What is placed in that container is up to the people in each locality. Then the market will resolve what systems of government are attractive to people and which aren't.
With that said, let me begin to explain why I am not a libertarian by noting that of the three generally accepted libertarian pillars, the only one I agree with fully is the Rule of Law. The other two pillars are the non-aggression principle and Self-Ownership. As a caveat, I recognize that not all libertarians consider Self-Ownership to be an essential philosophical foundation of the creed- they would substitute other things. Those other principles have weaknesses that I will not delve into here. Self-ownership is considered foundational by many if not most libertarians, so let's talk about Self-Ownership.
Here is the definition from Wikkipedia:
Self-ownership (or sovereignty of the individual, individual sovereignty or individual autonomy) is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to havebodily integrity, and be the exclusive controller of his own body and life. According to G. Cohen, the concept of self-ownership is that "each person enjoys, over himself and his powers, full and exclusive rights of control and use, and therefore owes no service or product to anyone else that he has not contracted to supply."
Who could argue with that? Lot's of decent people, once you apply that absolute to some sticky situations. An example might be whether a man who got a woman pregnant had any obligation to pay child support. Insisting someone share the bill for national defense, or anything else with "free rider" issues, might be another example.
The great Scottish writer George McDonald, who wrote both Children's books and works on Natural Law, once said "The first principle of Hell is 'I am my own.'" Understand I am not saying that the state owns us, or that we own each other. My position is that God owns us, and though He has placed us in this world and granted us much freedom to become who we want to be, we are and will be accountable to Him for the use we have made of our freedom.
If I asked you why you thought you '"owned" your paycheck, you might say to me that your labor created the wealth that it represents. You might say that you made a voluntary agreement to exchange your efforts for the money and that you lived up to your end of the bargain. That is, you choose to do the agreed-to work and have therefore earned the agreed-on price. You may be able to think of other good answers. But I can't help but notice that the reasons we might give to say that we "own" our paycheck cannot be applied to make the case that we own ourselves!
If you think about it, it's really hard to make the case that we "own ourselves." We did not create ourselves. We did not determine when or where we entered this world, and we do not get to decide whether or not we get to stay in this world. Others did many things to us and for us- some with our permission, some without, which permitted us to reach adulthood. Each day a thousand things we cannot control in the heavens and on earth are necessary to sustain our lives. Nor can we stop the ravages of time in our own persons. Though we might live 100 years, still our destiny is a slow fade in this life as we begin our journey to the next. We can dye our hair, but we cannot really turn even one hair of our head white or black. Self-ownership does not seem a rational position.
A much better case for "self-ownership" can be made in any eternal afterlife that might exist. There it might be argued that our place of entry is determined by our own choices, that the being we have become is the result of our own choices. So while we may have had no hand in our own creation in this life, we would in the next. And the condition would be, unlike this world, permanent. What McDonald called "the First Principle of Hell" makes sense as a reality in Hell. In this life, if God exists, we can only be as children in the womb, preparing for the next life but no more "sovereign" in this one than children yet unborn.
The concept of personal sovereignty, in the absolute sense Libertarians present it, implies individuals get to determine their own morality (except for the few absolutes they attempt to impose such as the conditions under which force might be used). Again, measured against the vast scale of the cosmos, the enormity of time which has passed in all ages, and the value of wisdom which has endured for generations before us, the idea that the four pounds of grey matter in our skulls can be the final arbiter of right and wrong, even for ourselves, seems ridiculous.
We can try and discern right from wrong, and a worthy life will spend time doing so, but the idea that each generation, and even moreso each person, gets to re-write morality from a blank slate seems ridiculous. Any one of us is only a tiny part of the natural world. We remain in it only an infinitesimal portion of the total time it has existed. The idea that we can construct our own personal morality, to apply only to us, displays what seems to me an almost psychotic misinterpretation of our place in the universe.
That is why I am a Localist. Instead of fighting over who gets to hold the single gun that is pointed at the rest of us from sea to shining sea, the central government would get no gun for enforcing moral imperatives, be that gun libertarian, fascist, conservative, liberal, or whatever.
States and localities would, retaining their right to sanction moral behavior such as mandating child support. But let them be careful how they use such power! For in such an arrangement states who go too far (that is, impose rules for moral behavior outside the underlying moral reality of the universe or beyond the scope of government compulsion) are bound to lose productive citizens to states which do not. States and localities who did not go far enough would too. And in each case government would look more like what the citizens who live there would want government to look like,. Decentralizing power would make the government subject to the marketplace.
PS- This article is not in the book. The book is more prescriptive. I wrote the article so that people can see there are other perspectives to build societies around that could be just as valid as that of self-ownership. My goal was to make people more open to localism instead of thinking "there is only one just way to organize society and everyone needs to do it my way." Would you be satisfied as a goal for example if 20 states were organized on libertarian principles, with anarchists counties in them, 20 states were limited government conservative, and 10 were pretty much what we have now (though I don't think states as socialist as we have now could compete for long in a free-market of governments)?