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Property Rights as Body Rights

In my paper What Libertarianism Is (in the recently-published Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe), I treat body rights and property rights distinctly–similar to how I treated them in How We Come To Own Ourselves. The basic idea is that we own our bodies because of the special link to them; but our bodies were never unowned, and thus never homesteaded; thus they cannot be simply abandoned (alienated) by “undoing” any previous act of appropriation. External things, by contrast, are initially unowned; are not directly controlled by us (are not part of one’s body); and can be abandoned by simply terminating the conditions necessary to own (intent to own). To appropriate an unowned resource, there must be a person already having a body; however, this is not the case for bodies themselves–one could never appropriate his own body since one does not really exist without one, and would need a meta-body to approrpiate it, etc.

However, the similarity is that in both cases the owner has the better claim to the scarce resource than others: for one’s body, the claim is better because of the direct and natural connection to one’s body (not to mention earlier possession; plus the fact that any outside claimant must presuppose he has rights to his own body). For external things, the claim is better because it is earlier.

Despite some differences, the connections between the body and external things is undeniable. As Hoppe has argued, “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”. (See Owning Thoughts and Labor; Communist Stumbles into Self-Ownership).

Roderick Long recently called to my attention Samual C. Wheeler’s fascinating article Natural Property Rights as Body Rights, which argues that appropriated external things can be thought of as extensions of or parts of the body much like one’s limbs or organs, and thus are just as much property as one’s body parts are. I think the analogy or metaphor of external objects being parts of one’s body is useful as far as it goes, but one has to be careful not to take it too far. The examples given by Wheeler (which remind me of some of the gedanken experiments in

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