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Anthony de Jasay, R.I.P.

Libertarian scholar Anthony de Jasay (1925–2019) has just passed away (the last significant libertarian scholars to die were Ralph Raico and Tibor Machan, who passed in 2016). Not very well known by non-academic libertarians, Jasay was the author of a number of important libertarian works, including Choice, Contract, Consent: A Restatement of Liberalism (1991), The State (1985), and Against Politics: On Government, Anarchy, and Order (1997). He was also the subject of a well-deserved festschrift, Ordered Anarchy: Jasay and his Surroundings (2007), edited by Hardy Bouillon and Hartmut Kliemt.

Hans Hoppe tells me he invited Jasay to speak at the Property and Freedom Society annual meeting a few years back, but he was too old and frail to travel to Turkey. Thus, alas, I never met or even corresponded with him. But I have drawn on his work, and wrote a long review essay 20 years ago, in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall 1998).

Jasay had important insights on a number of difficult libertarian issues, such as the Lockean Proviso and homesteading. As I pointed out in “What Libertariansim Is” (n 26):

“See also de Jasay’s argument (note 19, above) that since an appropriated thing has no other owner, prima facie no one is entitled to object to the first possessor claiming ownership. De Jasay’s “let exclusion stand” idea, along with the Hoppean emphasis on the prior-later distinction, sheds light on the nature of homesteading itself. Often the question is asked as to what types of acts constitute or are sufficient for homesteading (or “embordering” as Hoppe sometimes refers to it); what type of “labor” must be “mixed with” a thing; and to what property does the homesteading extend? What “counts” as “sufficient” homesteading? We can see that the answer to these questions is related to the issue of what is the thing in dispute. In other words, if B claims ownership of a thing possessed (or formerly possessed) by A, then the very framing of the dispute helps to identify what the thing is in dispute, and what counts as possession of it. If B claims ownership of a given resource, he wants the right to control it, to a certain extent, and according to its nature. Then the question becomes, did someone else previously control it (whatever is in dispute), according to its nature; i.e., did someone else already homestead it, so that B is only a latecomer? This ties in with de Jasay’s “let exclusion stand” principle, which rests on the idea that if someone is actually able to control a resource such that others are excluded, then this exclusion should “stand.””

I’ve also pointed out Jasay’s perspicacious comments about the nettlesome “Lockean Proviso” (see Down With the Lockean Proviso).
Jasay also provided compelling arguments in favor of the Lockean “first appropriation” or homesteading rule. As I pointed out in Mises, Rothbard, and Hoppe on the “Original Sin” in the Distribution of Property Rights:

those who object to the right of owners to first-appropriate unowned goods is incoherent. As I note in What Libertarianism Is (n.26):

See also de Jasay’s argument (note 19, above) that since an appropriated thing has no other owner, prima facie no one is entitled to object to the first possessor claiming ownership.

… [from n.19:] De Jasay’s argument presupposes the value of justice, efficiency, and order. Given these goals, he argues for three principles of politics: (1) if in doubt, abstain from political action (pp. 147 et seq.); (2) the feasible is presumed free (pp. 158 et seq.); and (3) let exclusion stand (pp. 171 et seq.). In connection with principle (3), “let exclusion stand,” de Jasay offers insightful comments about the nature of homesteading or appropriation of unowned goods. De Jasay equates property with its owner’s “excluding” others from using it, for example by enclosing or fencing in immovable property (land) or finding or creating (and keeping) movable property (corporeal, tangible objects). He concludes that since an appropriated thing has no other owner, prima facie no one is entitled to object to the first possessor claiming ownership. Thus, the principle means “let ownership stand,” i.e., that claims to ownership of property appropriated from the state of nature or acquired ultimately through a chain of title tracing back to such an appropriation should be respected. This is consistent with Hoppe’s defense of the “natural” theory of property. Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism , pp. 10–14 and chapter 7. For further discussion of the nature of appropriation, see Jörg Guido Hülsmann, “The A Priori Foundations of Property Economics,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 7, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 51–57.

Sadly, other than The State, most of his books are not available online, and many not even in ebook format.
The google translation of his obituary is pasted below:

Classic liberalism has lost a great thinker. Anthony de Jasay died yesterday in Normandy after a serious illness at the age of 94.

The death of Anthony de Jasay (1925-2019)
An obituary by Kurt R. Leube (ECAEF, Vaduz)

Anthony de Jasay: “A first step towards the adequate understanding of the state is to think about an environment without one”

Born in 1926 at Aba, a small settlement near Szekesfehervar in the Hungarian Landadel, Anthony de Jasay studied agricultural economics at the University of Budapest. Immediately after the Communist takeover in Hungary in 1948, he first fled to Burgenland in Austria and then in the gray post-war years, mostly in and around Salzburg, struck off with casual labor for more than two years. In 1950 he finally succeeded in emigrating to western Perth, where he began studying economics at the University of Western Australia. Winning a Hackett student scholarship in 1955 enabled him to continue his studies at Oxford University.

Thanks to the clarity of his thinking and expression, he soon became a Research Fellow at Nuffield College and was guaranteed a research position for the next 7 years. During this time, a whole series of theoretical works emerged that appeared in the major academic journals of the discipline. Dissatisfied with the more conservative atmosphere of Oxford, de Jasay decided to retire from university and began working in Paris in 1972, initially as a bankroll investment banker. After a short time he managed to become self-employed and was soon on his own responsibility so successful that he was able to withdraw from 1979 in the seclusion of Normandy. There he lived for 40 years as a “private scholar” with his wife Isabelle and devoted himself, despite his severe eye suffering, which led in the last 10 years to his almost complete blindness, almost exclusively his work on the problems of social and political philosophy.

Based on a solid epistemology, Anthony de Jasay’s main concern was to rewrite political and economic liberalism. For him, the individual is in principle free in his actions, as long as there are no justifiable objections. De Jayay’s social order is thus based on private property, on voluntary contractual relations, on individual responsibility and on the personal reputation that results from mutual trust. With sharp logic he thus proves the errors of reasoning of those politically inciting philosophies that see the state as an omniscient and necessary authority to enforce a vague “public interest”, an undefined “social justice”, or even supposedly “justified needs”.

Although the progressive decline of his eyesight severely affected his pace of work, de Jasay has left us with countless essays and a dozen great, trend-setting books. Many of his works have been translated into several languages. Among his most important books are u.a. “The State” (1985), “Choice, Contract, Consent” (1991), “Against Politics” (1997), “Justice and its Surroundings” (2002) or “Political Economy, Precisely. Essays on Policy that Does not Work, and Market that Do “(2009).

Although shamefully marginalized by the international academic establishment, Anthony de Jasay was one of the most innovative, interesting, and consistent thinkers of the day. He belonged to that small group of great philosophers who hardly ever quoted themselves or repeated their insights in new texts. The inner consistency of his ideas, the compelling logic and honest scientific nature, but also the clarity of his expression are unmatched. De Jasay’s elegant demeanor, his lovable nature, and his fine humor are legion. As a human, he certainly came as close to the gentleman’s ideal as humanity allows.

In the ECAEF book series, a large part of his German essays are united under the title “Liberal Reason, Social Confusion”. This collection was dedicated to him in 2008 in friendship and gratitude.

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