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August 22, 2012


Adam Bell

Of course, this would imply that adherents of right-libertarianism only really believe in self-ownership as applied to people in power, and less so in relation to people they might want to get to do stuff for them. Perish the thought.

Account Deleted

That would be the same John Locke who invested in the slave trade and was involved in the drafting of Carolina's slavery-friendly consitution.

Just as his theories on property conveniently denied rights to the land to Native Americans, on the erroneous basis that they did not "cultivate" it, so his theories on self-ownership assume we're talking about white men only. The "slavery" that he cared about was subjection to an arbitrary monarchy that trampled on the property rights of gentlemen. Real existing slavery fell outside his philosophical worldview.

There is nothing new in discovering that at the heart of liberalism is a monstrous hypocrisy.

Those on the left who reject self-ownership because of the company it keeps are addressing a strawman. The right doesn't really believe in it, any more today than 3 centuries ago.


Haha, Chris! Spot on!

A person's body and mind should be distinguished from commodities they own. A person's body and mind should be inviolate.

It stretches the point to extend the notion of self ownership to a person's commodities. Commodities, apart from labour power, have separate existence from the person and do not form part of the self. Violating someone's property rights is not equivalent to violating someone's person. Libertarians (perhaps deliberately?) conflate these two sets of rights.

The notion of forced labour was recently tested in the High Court, where two benefit claimants claimed that "work-for-your-benefits" schemes amounted to forced labour. The judge rejected this view and effectively applied a contractual paradigm to the claimants' case. That is, the judge viewed the claimants as having entered into an agreement whereby benefits were paid in exchange for their labour. They were free to terminate that contract, the only loss being the loss of consideration (their benefits). They were not obliged to work on pain of death or some other dire penalty. Had this been so then a genuine forced labour issue would have arisen.

I wonder whether Libertarians will henceforth apply the same contractual paradigm to their claims that tax is akin to theft or forced labour? They too are free to terminate their relationship with the taxman by either relocating abroad or by declining to engage in taxable transaction. VAT is not chargeable on food and so such a choice is not on pain of death.

It was most instructive to observe the glee that Libertarian tweeters and bloggers reacted when the verdicts of the forced labour case were announced. Can these be the same people who claim that paying tax is akin to forced labour and theft? Surely not!



Can't self ownerhship also be a seen as a tenet of Marxism (of the left).

I'm not an expert and I'm sure you could expand. But can the labour theory of value be seen as a recognition of self ownership?

Hopefully you can elaborate if you get the time.


@ Joe - Yes. One reason why many Marxists have thought exploitation wrong is that it steals workers' labour-time from them. In this sense, there's a parallel between Marxists' hostility to capitalist exploitation and right-libertarians' hostility to taxation.


Tim Worstall, arch classical liberal / libertarian, has ridiculed the labour theory of value on his blog.

How, then, can he and his fellow travellers believe that the tax man is stealing the fruits of their labour?

Luis Enrique

I confess I don't really understand this. There are other crimes, theft, assault, murder, which violate the inviolate. Yet we might talk of "gradations" in all of these, without equivocating about rights or rejecting self-ownership.

If you ask me, the real reason for resisting the idea of gradations in rape is that it opens the door to saying some rapes aren't so bad, in an absolute rather than relative sense. Otherwise there'd be no problem simultaneously holding all forms of rape to be absolutely beyond the pale whilst also regarding some as worse than others. I don't see it makes me soft on murder to say there are some ways of being murdered that are worse than others, but in the context of rape such claims to often seem to be part of an attempt to downplay rape.


I second Luis' post above - it is spot on.

What confuses me about the issue is that the commonly-argued 'rape is rape' is ambiguous, but none of the possible interpretations mean anything interesting. It could mean:

'All rapes are serious' - this is true, albeit that you might question situations where, e.g., a 16 year old boy has sex with his 15 year old girlfriend (consensually, in the normal sense of the word), and has legally committed statutory rape.

'All rapes are equally serious' - not true for the same reason that not all murders are equally serious. This is already implicit in the legal system of every country in the world by the fact that rapists get different sentences for different rapes.

'The word 'rape' means the word 'rape'' - treating the statement as a trivial tautology.

'I think rape is a bad thing and we should try to prevent it' - who doesn't?

All of the above seem completely uncontroversial. Is there another interpretation I have missed to explain why people keep saying 'rape is rape' as though it means something??

Account Deleted

@Luis, "there are some ways of being murdered that are worse than others". No, the outcome is the same: you're dead.

I assume you are referring here to a scenario involving the infliction of great pain (e.g. torture) followed by murder, as opposed to a clean kill-shot between the eyes out of the blue. The former involves two distinct, sequential crimes.

Rape is rape, and murder is murder. The punishment will vary because of aggravating factors, but these are usually crimes in their own right. Unfortunately, the justice system often conflates them, and even when they don't, the press do.

It is the "gradation" that this gives rise to that underpins the nonsense spouted by rape apologists such as Todd Akin and George Galloway. You've already had consensual sex, so humping a sleeping woman is not really rape. This was the same thinking that prevented rape within marriage being criminalised till 1991 in England.

The point about libertarians' claims in respect of self-ownership is that the right is presented as universal, natural (i.e. supra-state), and inalienable, yet the practice is conditional, relative and often arbitrary. The paradox that Chris highlights is a false one. The right does not believe in universal human rights.


The criticism of Locke applies to lots of people, J. S. Mill ran the East India company, so believed that the browns and blacks were "incapable of self Government" hence "On Liberty" need not be taken to apply to them. Yet he supports the rights of women; so that presumably is white European women but not the duskier versions. How you can justify that in theory is unclear to me. Nozick liked property rights until he found he could get his rent massively reduced via rent control Laws previously unforced until he got them applied. Stuff the Landlords rights!

Galloway is consistent in that he thinks brown dictators are bad but any attempt to remove them by the USA or Britain would be worse as white imperialism is bad while Saddams is not. Which is just J.S. Mill in reverse.

The Rape controversy arises of course as in practice women tend to fear Rape far more than men do as they feel more vulnerable to it. Drawing fine distinctions regardless of the validity of the distinction appeals to men who fear false accusations of rape but seems outrageous to women who fear suffering Rape. men and women are reacting differently as they have opposite fears and anxieties. The reaction of political parties to the controversy tells you whose anxieties are uppermost in the group they care about. So you are correct "It can't be that the right care more about the interests of rich men than about intellectual consistency, can it?" Yes rich men and their votes and money. Not a shock to me. While the left mostly think that men should be more sensitive to womens fears and men who are not are backward as are the parties that take their anxiety seriously.


Of course, people have always been very good at selectively applying principles. Blithely ignoring them when they conflict with their priors.

Luis Enrique


total offence =(undifferentiated offence + aggravating factors)

amounts to same thing as saying the offence comes in different types


Luis - but legally we (unlike US) *don't* have different gradations of murder. Instead we leave it to the court to take mitigating or exacerbating circs into account... as we do for all crimes. Why should rape be different?


Sorry - I think I misconstrued Luis' point - with which on more careful reading I think I agree.

It's obvious that there are gradations of rape in the same sense that there gradations of any crime - i.e. factors which make it more or less heinous.

But I took Tim Worstall to be arguing for "gradations" in a legal sense, for which I don't see any strong case.

Torquil Macneil

Yes, I have noticed this paradox before and mentioned it in a thread or two (but it didn't cause the intellectual stir that I anticipated). It operates in discussions on abortion as well, where the standard feminist line of a woman's right to choose (a line I support) also assumes a very strong position on self ownership which many femminists otherwise reject.

Luis, you can be pretty absolutist on rape and still accept that there are gradations in severity. Laurie Penny did just that in her recent article describing how she was raped. What Galloway and others want to do is claim that there are some circumstances when a man is entitled to have sex with a woman against her will or without her consent, which is different.

james higham

And this is where the irony enters. This right to self-ownership is typically associated with classical liberals and libertarians.

Right on the money, Chris.


Spot on, Chris! Excellent analysis. Especially your conclusion:
'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds' (Emerson) - or twats. How true.


"Can these be the same people who claim that paying tax is akin to forced labour and theft? Surely not!"

You enter into agreements to earn your income, and many poor have done hard labor to earn income to put into savings until they have enough to invest higher. Literally thousands of Cubans arrived in the U.S. during 1959 and the 1960s literally penniless. Literally.

Claiming you're not forced to engage in taxable agreements is now dead, as the thieving philosophy underlying the income tax has been exposed by John Roberts himself, a "rightist" exposed as "leftist" and wealth confiscator.

Claiming you can always leave the country is an argument from ignorance, because the U.S. makes claims on expatriate that reaches farther than almost all of them.

That's why taxes are theft. Try leaving without paying your fiefdom share of the crop to the "nobles" who expect it in return for all the blessings of government they provide.

Hence the title of Hayek's book "Socialism: The Road to Serfdom".


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