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.”
In my second post on this topic, I explained that owning something means having the right to control the disposition of that thing, and then I promised to explain how we can conclude that individuals own themselves.
The self consists not only of blood, muscle, bone, and other physical constructs, but also of intangibles such as talent, skill, innovation, and intelligence. Since the disposition of these tangibles and intangibles can be controlled, who has the right to control them? The owner does. But who is the owner?
There are three possibilities. First, everyone owns everyone. Second, one party owns another party. Third, individuals own themselves.
In the first case, I would own you and you would own me. That means I would own your food, and your bed, and your money, and vice versa. If I decide to eat my food and sell yours, we would have conflict. If you want to sleep in your bed and sell mine, we would have conflict. Ultimately, control over resources would default to the strongest or smartest or most violent. So the first possibility is actually an impossibility, as it must always default to the second possibility.
In the second possibility, I would own you, or you would own me. But since a right must be universal to all humans, it cannot correctly be said that one party has a right to control the disposition of another party without consent. So the second possibility fails on logic.
This leaves self-ownership as the only remaining possibility. Unlike the situation in the second possibility, the self-ownership of one individual doesn’t encroach on the self-ownership of any other individual, so the right is universal. Unlike the situation in the first possibility, since no individual has a right to another person’s property, there need be no conflict over the disposition of property.
So there you have it. Libertarianism – the natural state of humanity.
Jody Paterson continues to campaign for more government support for the less-well-off. In her November 02 post, she notes that Minnesota has recently expanded its program for supplying food to poor families, while the poor in BC may have to resort to food banks. I don’t like people being hungry, but I think Minnesota has made a bad decision.
We live in a world full of problems, and we have limited resources with which to tackle them. Paterson may place a high priority on social support for British Columbians, but some other folks are more concerned about protecting endangered species, or fighting AIDS in Africa, or providing education to women in less-developed countries. Since everybody only gives to charity either as much as they can or as much as they want, when group A is able to persuade government to force group B to support the causes A prefers, group B will provide less support to the causes they prefer. If Paterson has her way, I will give less to the Red Cross because I will be forced to give more to a cause that I think is less deserving. I don’t think this is what she intended.
Of course, government force often leads to unintended and perverse consequences, and Minnesota is no exception. This recent expansion of the welfare state is only the latest in a long line of bad policies that has led to a mass departure of people from New York, California, and Minnesota to better managed states like Texas and North Carolina. That’s not good for the poor in Minnesota, and it won’t be good for poor people in BC.
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” said Aristotle. He was incorrect in the realm of science but does it hold true in politics? The history of our world bares this out and it is a real problem for libertarians. We live among people who feel comfortable with political power. The majorities consent creates the conditions under which government intervention occurs. Étienne de La Boétie describes this phenomena in his work The Politics of Obedience (PDF): government power is derived from each individual who gives it authority – like a whole bunch of magnets aligning to reinforce eachother. If alignment changes so will those who rule.
Another example of this in history is the Israelites demanding a king – recorded in the first book of Samuel chapter 8. It was not God’s ideal for the Israelites to have a king. He was suppose to be their king. This is a story that has repeated itself throughout time with many peoples and places. A contemporary example can been seen in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union: most russians still wanted a strong leader to command them. The political change on the top did not bring about a change in the wishes of the people.
A great visual allegory for this can be found in one of Aesops’s Fable’s: The Frogs Who Wanted a King. Made into a stop motion animation by the Russian-born animator Ladislas Starevich The Frogs Who Wanted a King clearly shows the results of a society who would rather have authority over their heads than freedom:
So what does the libertarian do when they live in a society of frogs?