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Communist Stumbles into Self-Ownership

LRC post from 2008

Communist Stumbles into Self-Ownership

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on November 19, 2008 03:07 PM

On a recent episode of Free Talk Live (Nov. 18, 2008) [starting at about 1:45:35, and in particular starting at about 1:55:18] one caller says he’s a communist, and then struggles with whether a person owns his own body or not. He doesn’t seem to realize that rights in bodies are but a type of property right and, in fact, meaningless without the right to homestead and privately own scarce resources. Indeed, as Hoppe observes:

With this justification of a property norm regarding a person’s body it may seem that not much is won, as conflicts over bodies, for whose possible avoidance the nonaggression principle formulates a universally justifiable solution, make up only a small portion of all possible conflicts. However, this impression is not correct. To be sure, people do not live on air and love alone. They need a smaller or greater number of other things as well, simply to survive–and of course only he who survives can sustain an argumentation, let alone lead a comfortable life. With respect to all of these other things norms are needed, too, as it could come to conflicting evaluations regarding their use. But in fact, any other norm must be logically compatible with the nonaggression principle in order to be justified itself, and, mutatis mutandis, every norm that could be shown to be incompatible with this principle would have to be considered invalid. In addition, as the things with respect to which norms have to be formulated are scarce goods–just as a person’s body is a scarce good–and as it is only necessary to formulate norms at all because goods are scarce and not because they are particular kinds of scarce goods, the specifications of the nonaggression principle, conceived of as a special property norm referring to a specific kind of good, must in fact already contain those of a general theory of property.


even if we were to assume that we lived in the Garden of Eden, where there was a superabundance of everything needed not only to sustain one’s life but to indulge in every possible comfort by simply stretching out one’s hand, the concept of property would necessarily have to evolve. For even under these “ideal” circumstances, every person’s physical body would still be a scarce resource and thus the need for the establishment of property rules, i.e., rules regarding people’s bodies, would exist. One is not used to thinking of one’s own body in terms of a scarce good, but in imagining the most ideal situation one could ever hope for, the Garden of Eden, it becomes possible to real ize that one’s body is indeed the prototype of a scarce good for the use of which property rights, i.e., rights of exclusive ownership, somehow have to
be established, in order to avoid clashes.

Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, pp. 134-35; pp. 8-9. For further discussion of these and closely related issues, see my How We Come to Own Ourselves (and the references in the endnotes); for more on the importance of and reasons for first use being the touchstone of property ownership, see my articles A Theory of Contracts: Binding Promises, Title Transfer, and Inalienability and Defending Argumentation Ethics, esp. the section “Objective Links: First Use, Verbal Claims, and the Prior-Later Distinction”; and the blog posts The Essence of Libertarianism? and Thoughts on Intellectual Property, Scarcity, Labor-ownership, Metaphors, and Lockean Homesteading. For further discussion of the difference between bodies and things homesteaded for purposes of rights, see my A Theory of Contracts, pp. 11–37 (e.g., the “Property in the Body” section on p. 29). For more on the special link between a person and his body see my A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights, pp. 617-25; and Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, pp. 131-38.

Thanks to Manuel Lora for pointing me to this FTL exchange.

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