What is Libertarianism? – Part 2

Dave Killion — September 6, 2010

In my first post on this topic, I gave this definition –

Libertarianism is the recognition that individuals own themselves, and as such, have the right to live their lives in any manner they see fit, provided they don’t encroach on the equal and identical rights of any other individual.

The first step to fleshing this definition out is to examine what is meant by ownership.  Simply put, when one owns something, one has the right to control the disposition of that thing.  Say that you own a tea mug.  Of course you may use it to drink tea, but you may wish to give to someone, or perhaps sell it.  You may wish to store it for future use, or you may wish to destroy it.  No one may rightfully interfere with you in these matters, because you own your mug.

But what if you are angry with your neighbour and you want to use the mug to smash his car windshield with it?  Sorry, but your ownership of the mug doesn’t outweigh your neighbour’s ownership of his windshield.  The right to control the disposition of things you own does not extend to using those things to violate the rights of others.

In my next post on this topic, I’ll explain how we know that individuals own themselves.


CodeSlinger says


It is dangerously false to say “individuals own themselves,” because this presupposes that an individual can be owned. And of course, this is patently false.

Individuals cannot be owned.

If they could be owned, they could, among other things, be bought and sold. If you owned yourself, what would prevent you from selling yourself to me? Nothing. It is your right to use and dispose of your property as you see fit. Therefore you would become my property, to be used and disposed of as I see fit. But wait, what just happened to your rights? Oops.

Individuals have inalienable rights.

Well, either you have no inalienable rights, or you cannot be owned. You can’t have it both ways, otherwise your Libertarian philosophy is stillborn – it implodes under its own internal contradictions. So let’s be very clear about this:

Individuals cannot be owned. Property is owned.

Property does not have rights. Individuals have rights.

You see the difference.

— September 6, 2010

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