A world without Private Property. Part 1

The majority of libertarian scholarly work is aimed at expanding on the implications of private property rights. While work in this area is far from complete, great strides have been made by influential thinkers such as Murray Rothbard and Walter Block. This piece undertakes a somewhat different task. By acknowledging the assumptions present in philosophies opposing libertarianism it endevours to critically appraise the results of such streams of logic.

Firstly it is important to clarify the nature of ownership that property rights signify. For this piece I argue that ownership bestows the holder of the property the privilege to exclude others from its use. Similarly, the owner may use his property to the ends he sees fit, including disposal or neglect. These rights can be voluntarily transferred to another owner, or renounced completely. While damage or confiscation of the owners property from an outside agent is seen as an illegitimate act.

Now, I hold that in dealing with philosophies based on the lack of private property rights, there are two major distinctions in thought. One being that,  “all property belongs to every man and that ownership is universal.” The other being that, “The concept of property is baseless, and shouldn’t exist.”

“there are two major distinctions in thought. One being that,  “all property belongs to every man and that ownership is universal.” The other being that, “The concept of property is baseless, and shouldn’t exist.”

The second distinction shall be dealt with first, as it most erroneous.

Putting aside observations of behaviour that could point towards the existence of primitive property rights in the natural world, logical criticisms may be leveled against this statement without resorting to empirical observation.

It is almost tautological to say: Since property rights do not exist, no one holds the rights to any property. Contrary to being a pointless musing, this statement reveals a pressing problem. If ownership over a resource or good doesn’t exist, then neither do the rights that that ownership signifies.

This means that no person is justified in the use or appropriation of any good or resource. Any acts of ownership are illegitimate. Nature must be left in a state absent of any human interaction. It is simple to deduce that under such a state, nature will not only be absent of human action, but also human life. Since actions such as eating, and drinking are manipulations of the world that require ownership of the products being consumed.

“If ownership over a resource or good doesn’t exist, then neither do the rights that that ownership signifies… It is simple to deduce that under such a state, nature will not only be absent of human action, but also human life.”

It isn’t necessary to delve much deeper into this stream of logic as it meets with an insurmountable problem from the start. If one believes that human life is precious and should be preserved, it is impossible to hold such an antithetical view of the world.

Seeing as a world completely absent of property rights is not in fact a world in which we can exist, it is time to look at the other statement.

If all property is held in common, and ownership rights are attributed to all. One can’t help but ask, if everyone owns everything, then who owns my body?

This question may seem somewhat unnatural to some, as it is common to base philosophies on the assumption that the concept of “me” includes ones body. However, this assumption doesn’t negate the question, if property as a concept in fact does exist- and it must as was shown earlier- then there is absolutely no reason why one can’t assume that this applies to ones body as well.

So the question stands, if everyone owns everything, who owns my body? Drawing from the proposed statement, the answer is that everyone owns your body.

If ownership of your body is universal, its manipulation requires universal consent. In other words, you can’t act till you’ve received permission from every other person. However, in order to give you this permission, all owners of your body need collective consent themselves, otherwise the act of giving permission would be illegitimate.

An absurd problem arises. One can’t do anything without first having everyone’s permission, while permission from anyone can’t be given without yet again first having everyone’s permission. An impossible logical circle is created in the form of a negative axiom. Acting without permission is illegitimate, while giving permission is in itself an illegitimate act.

“If ownership of your body is universal, its manipulation requires universal consent…An impossible logical circle is created in the form of a negative axiom”

For arguments sake let’s assume that the question of the right to self-ownership may not be posited, and that ones body constitutes a part of ones identity and not of the physical world. In short, let’s assume that questions of universal property rights only apply to objects external to a person’s body.

Before I continue I want to stress that it is fundamentally incorrect to extend ownership rights to objects only outside of ones body. If I control my movements and actions, I indicate ownership. In fact, to argue that one doesn’t own themselves is an act of ownership in and of itself. To challenge the statement is to enforce it. Therefore self ownership is an axiomatic truth. My ownership of my body can not be questioned, however, my right to that ownership can, and as was shown above, collective rights to the ownership of ones body is functionally impossible. So, for arguments sake we ignored the question of self-ownership rights. In reality though, it must be recognized that this means we introduce private property into the equation. Since neither universal nor non-ownership of oneself can exist, to ignore the matter is to essentially choose the third alternative, and that is private ownership of yourself. I find this to be a fatal blow to the philosophy of universal property, seeing as its case can not be argued without conceding ground to its antithetical philosophy. A paradox you won’t find in the philosophy of private property.

“If I control my movements and actions, I indicate ownership. In fact, to argue that one doesn’t own themselves is an act of ownership in and of itself.”

End of Part 1.

 

Part 2 will continue narrowing the analysis till we reach the philosophy of state socialism and its flaws.

 

 

 

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Sasa Kovacevic

Sasa Kovacevic is an official CFF author and founding member.

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1 Response

  1. Boris Borisov says:

    Interesting article, Ariel! I have to admit that the philosophical angle is still new to me. Great to see other perspectives, and moreover it will be great to see both perspectives to a single question /economics-philosophy/.

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