Liberty Isn’t Just Property—So What Is It?


Matt Zwolinski of the Bleeding Heart Libertarian blog suggests that his fellow libertarians abandon the “non-aggression principle,” as least as formulated by the late Murray Rothbard. David Gordon finds Zwolinski’s characterization of Rothbard’s position something of a caricature: “Rothbardian libertarianism is not the doctrine that each person is an absolute despot over his own property,” says David. “Neither is it the case that you are free to violate people’s rights, so long as you do so on your property.”

The question that immediately arises, though, is just what are “people’s rights” other than property rights? Libertarians who follow Rothbard subscribe to a doctrine of “self-ownership,” which they mean quite literally: you own yourself in much the same way as you own other property, except that you cannot alienate your own will. (This is why most Rothbardians don’t believe you can sell yourself into slavery: you can’t give up your volition and become in effect a robot subject entirely to someone else.)

Self-ownership means you have a property right that must be respected even when you’re standing on someone else’s land. Indeed, even a trespasser, in Rothbard’s ideal, cannot be assaulted, robbed, or killed—and he can only be removed from one’s property with the minimum necessary force. So that’s one thing David probably means by “people’s rights” on “your property.”

The trouble is, that might be the only thing a follower of Rothbard means. Rothbard was an anarcho-capitalist, and in general his disciples envision a world in which all land is privately owned: Disneyland or a shopping mall is sometimes invoked as a practical illustration of what a fully privatized, property-based community might look like. Gated communities are another example… 



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