Self-Ownership, Property Boundaries, and State Violence

Self-Ownership, Property Boundaries, and State Violence

Without the recognition and respect for boundaries civil cooperation is impossible and conflict is unavoidable. In order for society to achieve civil cooperation certain objective truths must be understood. There are certain laws of the universe that cannot be refuted, disproved, or conquered. If one attempts to refute the law of gravity by jumping off a cliff hoping to fly, for example, they will meet a solid disagreement. However, other laws aren’t so obvious. Many laws of the universe (natural law) have attempted to be conquered by man but none more so than that of self-ownership.


The great Ludwig von Mises said, “Only the individual thinks, only the individual reasons, only the individual acts.” Self-ownership is the idea that all individuals own and are in control of their mind and body. This means that individuals have the inherit right and ability to think, reason, and act and may use these traits to guide one’s decisions and life. The ability is unique to the self-conscious human species which separates us from all other living things. If an individual owns and controls their body certain truths can be logically deduced. If one has a right to life one also has a right to sustain that life otherwise all humans would be destined to starve before the possibility of movement or procreation (or to argue otherwise). In order to sustain one’s life an individual must use logic and reason then act accordingly. (Since the process of brain development takes years during childhood and adolescence the parents of children hold a temporary guardianship over their children. {The same could be said for individuals with intellectual and/or severe physical disabilities}) Using this unique human ability is the fullest expression of the human condition.

Great Libertarian Theorist and Austrian Economist, Murray Rothbard, on Self-Ownership and Human Rights as Property Rights

“The right to self-ownership asserts the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to “own” his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference. Since each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish, the right to self-ownership gives man the right to perform these vital activities without being hampered and restricted by coercive molestation.”

He goes on:

“(T)he concept of “rights” only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard.” (For a New Liberty: “Human Rights” As Property Rights)

He elaborates elsewhere:

“Take, for example, the “human right” of free speech. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is; Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is only a man’s property right; the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.” (Power and Market)

The Argumentation Ethic

To argue against individual self-ownership and property rights is a contradiction in action. Argumentation comes from a person’s ability to use their own reasoning and communicate their thoughts. Do they not control their ability to reach these conclusions implying their own thought process as a free and independent human being? For a person to even acknowledge the fact that different people have different opinions is to accept that others have the total control over their minds and own themselves. The process of conversation is, in fact, the recognition of exclusive control over separate bodies and minds. Self-ownership, and individual property rights can be demonstrated by the mere act of argumentation.

Social Order Theorist and Austrian Economist, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, explains:

“To recognize that argumentation is a form of action and does not consist of free-floating sounds implies the recognition of the fact that all argumentation requires that a person have exclusive control over the scarce resource of his body. As long as there is argumentation, there is mutual recognition of each other’s property right in his own body. It is this recognition of each other’s exclusive control over one’s body, presupposed by all argumentation, which explains the unique feature of verbal communication that while one may disagree about what has been said, it is still possible to agree at least on the fact that there is a disagreement.” (The Economics and Ethics of Private Property The Justice of Economic Efficiency)

Private vs. Public Property

Individual self-ownership includes the ability to sustain one’s life and the ability to own property. If a free individual wishes to continue living they must acquire food, water, shelter, and other means to survive. Property can be justly accumulated in three ways. The first is to mix ones labor with previously unowned property; this is the homestead or first-user principle. Any unused property is, in effect, unclaimed property and free to be claimed as private property. The second is by exchanging goods and/or services with another individual voluntarily. All property traded must have been acquired by the first user/ homestead principle. The third and final way to accumulate property justly is by receiving a gift of property, again, acquired through first-user/ homestead principles or through voluntary trade. The ability to own property is an extension of the self-ownership principle and is necessary for man to survive. Failure to identify and respect boundaries leads to social conflict; this is why private property leads to peaceful social cooperation and voluntary interaction instead of forced integration. It is clear that how property is owned and controlled is the most basic and definitive feature of how a society is to function.

Professor at Southwestern University School of Law, Butler Shaffer, on the Importance of Property Boundaries:

“Property boundaries are what make peaceful and productive society possible. They are a way of signifying to one another the range of our respective interests; telling us what it is over which each of us may “properly” exercise authority. In much the same way that the boundaries of a tennis court delineate the area within which the game is to be played – with each player staying on his side of the court and without trespasses from the fans – property boundaries describe the field within which owners may act without interference, or the necessity of securing permission from others.”

He continues:

“As decentralization expands the realms of our personal authority, we will find ourselves exploring radically new social assumptions concerning what it is appropriate for each of us to control, and how to freely cooperate and exchange with one another. We may then discover the informal systems of order and other spontaneous processes that work, beneath the surface of events in our lives, to instill the peaceful and productive conditions that make society decent. As we continue to explore such new territory, we may discover one another in totally new relationships, as well as the social harmony that arises as an unintended consequence of the pursuit of our respective self-interests.” (Boundaries of Order)

Public property, however, rests on the idea that some property can be owned or managed by a group which is inherently dysfunctional. The self-contradicting concept of public property guarantees disagreement and conflict between so-called “owners”. Control and use of public land can never be agreed upon by all leading to continuous conflict over “appropriate” land development and decision-making. If individuals were refrained from using property unless they had the consent from all of the public “owners” we would all literally be standing still unable to move. No individual would be able to occupy any space without the consent of all of society. Public property guarantees social conflict; private property promotes boundaries of order.

Butler Shaffer, on Private Property Order:

“When decision making is decentralized into a system of privately owned property, individual self-interest and cooperation coalesce to maximize personal liberty and social harmony. With authority diffused into the hands of individuals, each of us enjoys control over some portion of the world within which we can be as autonomous, spontaneous, arbitrary, self-indulgent, and as unanswerable to others as we care to be, without being subject to any coercive preemption by others. At the same time, cooperation with others is premised upon sharing or exchanging with one another that which belongs to each of us (e.g., our personal energies or our material resources).” (Boundaries of Order)

Social Cooperation and Economic Freedom

Individual property rights and the ability of a society to establish boundaries of ownership result in civil cooperation, healthy trade markets, and peaceful social order. For a society to be considered truly peaceful the initiation of violence must be understood as always illegitimate and unjustifiable. All things peaceful should not only be tolerated but encouraged. Peaceful human interaction leads to commerce, social norms, friendly relationships, and the development of unique culture and tradition. Additionally, for a society to be considered free and just, the ability of peaceful human action, which is to control the most basic form of property; mind, body, and time, is vital. This harmonious cooperation also creates a healthy environment for the single greatest contributor to the advancement of human living standards; the division of labor and capital investment.

 Ludwig von Mises on the Division of Labor:

“If and as far as labor under the division of labor is more productive than isolated labor, and if and as far as man is able to realize this fact, human action itself tends toward cooperation and association; man becomes a social being not in sacrificing his own concerns for the sake of a mythical Moloch, society, but in aiming at an improvement in his own welfare. Experience teaches that this condition – higher productivity achieved under division of labor – is present because its cause – the inborn inequality of men and the inequality in the geographical distribution of the natural factors of production – is real. Thus we are in a position to comprehend the course of social evolution.” (Human Action)

The division of labor and the ability of individual entrepreneurs and firms to accumulate capital is a direct result of economic freedom based on the recognition of natural individual self-ownership and property rights. The highest living standards in the world have been reached where there is the most economic freedom. This includes respect for individual property rights, the ability to trade openly and freely, the ability to establish contracts, and access to contract enforcement under the established laws. (Sound money is also of upmost importance) Where there is economic freedom, there is prosperity and growth; this is free market capitalism.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe on the Superiority of Capitalism:

“(C)apitalism is economically superior as compared to its alternative for three structural reasons. First, only capitalism can rationally, i.e., in terms of consumer evaluations, allocate means of production; second, only capitalism can ensure that, with the quality of the people and the allocation of resources being given, the quality of the output produced reaches its optimal level as judged again in terms of consumer evaluations; and third, assuming a given allocation of production factors and quality of output, and judged again in terms of consumer evaluations, only a market system can guarantee that the value of production factors is efficiently conserved over time.”

He concludes:

“Finally, in addition to the facts that only a market system can ensure a rational allocation of scarce resources, and that only capitalist enterprises can guarantee an output of products that can be said to be of optimal quality, there is a third structural reason for the economic superiority, indeed unsurpassability of a capitalist system of production. Only through the operation of market forces is it possible to utilize resources efficiently over time in any given allocation, i.e., to avoid overutilization as well as underutilization.” (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism)

Spontaneous Order

When individuals are allowed to live free from state-intervention there develops a “spontaneous order” or an “anarchy of production”; so to speak. Individuals, using their unique talents to satisfy their subjective valuations and time-preferences, will generally cooperate with one another peacefully. Cooperation is, definitively, an easier process of social interaction than noncooperation which includes disagreements, conflicts, and even violence which, inevitably, postpone urgent desires of those involved in the conflict. Peaceful cooperation is superior to conflict and the universal recognition and respect for self-ownership and individual property rights are essential in providing such social order.

A peaceful and voluntary social order can (and in many ways already does) meet all the demands of its mutually beneficial transaction; both parties have used their property to satisfy their personal preferences. This process of exchange promotes peaceful cooperation and civility. When this process is done on a large scale an economy is established allowing individuals to pursue their desired goals. Because of the possibilities in an open market system all areas of industry, business, and public service will be expected to meet consumer demand or go out of business. Since entry into any and all fields is open there is continuous competition between businesses making any “natural monopoly” an almost impossibility. However, the state is itself a monopoly of the worst kind; one that has been involuntarily granted total authority over a specific region and its inhabitants subject to virtually zero competition of services provided for the public.

Murray Rothbard on the Market vs. the State:

“(I)f one maintains that the State should not supply court services, and that private enterprise on the market could supply such service more efficiently as well as more morally, people tend to think of this as denying the importance of courts themselves. The libertarian who wants to replace government by private enterprises in the above areas is thus treated in the same way as he would be if the government had, for various reasons, been supplying shoes as a tax-financed monopoly from time immemorial.”…

He continues:

“The essence and the glory of the free market is that individual firms and businesses, competing on the market, provide an ever-changing orchestration of efficient and progressive goods and services: continually improving products and markets, advancing technology, cutting costs, and meeting changing consumer demands as swiftly and as efficiently as possible.”


“How can it (i.e. the government, the state) know whether to build road A or road B, whether to invest in a road or in a school – in fact, how much to spend for all its activities? There is no rational way that it can allocate funds or even decide how much to have. When there is a shortage of teachers or schoolrooms or police or streets, the government and its supporters have only one answer: more money. Why is this answer never offered on the free market? The reason is that money must be withdrawn from some other uses in consumption or investment… and this withdrawal must be justified. This justification is provided by the test of profit and loss; the indication that the most urgent wants of the consumers are being satisfied.”

He concludes:

“The profit-and-loss-test serves as the critical guide for directing the flow of productive services. No such guide exists for the government, which has no rational way to decide how much money to spend, either in total, or in each specific line.” (For a New Liberty)

Since self-ownership and individual property rights are universal, meaning they can be applied equally to all human beings, these concepts are just. Therefore, the counter-arguments against self-ownership and individual property rights must be recognized as unjust. For if one argues against self-ownership they are implying then that someone else must hold full or partial ownership over another individual; a soft form of slavery but slavery nonetheless. If I don’t own my body and I don’t have the natural right to use my unique ability to think, reason, and act, then who has ownership over me and how are they in control of my life?

The State

Murray Rothbard appropriately defines the State:

“The State may therefore be defined as that organization which possesses either or both (in actual fact, almost always both) of the following characteristics: (a) it acquires its revenue by physical coercion (taxation); and (b) it achieves a compulsory monopoly of force and of ultimate decision-making power over a given territorial area. Both of these essential activities of the State necessarily constitute criminal aggression and depredation of the just rights of private property of its subjects (including self-ownership). (The Ethics of Liberty)

The State as Totalitarian

But there are those who don’t accept natural law, natural rights, self-ownership, or the superiority of the human condition. There are many who view natural law, objective truth, and man’s ability to reason as mere fantasies or dreams. It is this type of thinking that has contributed to the nightmares of Collectivism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, and all authoritarian central planners. Stalin’s Soviet Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Mao’s China all disavowed any respect for self-ownership and individual property rights. The central state was God and any who challenged it were sent to the prison camps, tortured, or murdered. This is Totalitarianism where all inhabitants are subject to both economic and social oppression and human rights atrocities.

The Great, Ludwig von Mises:

“Totalitarianism is much more than mere bureaucracy. It is the subordination of every individual’s whole life, work, and leisure to the orders of those in power and office. It is the reduction of man to a cog in an all-embracing machine of compulsion and coercion. It forces the individual to renounce any activity of which the government does not approve. It tolerates no expression of dissent. It is the transformation of society into a strictly disciplined labor-army – as the advocates of socialism say – or into a penitentiary –as its opponents say. At any rate it is the radical break from the way of life to which the civilized nations clung in the past.” (Bureaucracy)

The State and Deception

But totalitarian institutions cannot gain control over night and they must retain some level of public approval in order to stay in power. For a central state (government) to gain and hold public approval it must operate in such a manner that a large portion of the population agrees with the state or the actions of the state results in them being recipients of special privilege, favors, or gifts. The majority, or a loud and pressing minority, must believe they are better off with aggressive government involvement in their affairs and no service currently provided by the state could be done otherwise. The public must not see the state for what it is; an expropriating “property-protector” which is a contradictory institution supported only by violence. Any challenge to state operations constitutes a direct challenge to their understanding of how a society is to function and certain order is to be met. But for one to hold such beliefs, that only a tax-collecting, rule-making, central authority monopoly can provide certain services like roads, pipelines, education, healthcare, and security, they have abandoned the principle of self-ownership and now inherently support violence administered on a grand scale.

The Solution

Hans-Hermann Hoppe on Private Law Society:

“If the state, and especially the democratic state, is demonstrably incapable of creating and maintaining social order; if, instead of helping avoid conflict, the state is the source of permanent conflict; and if, rather than assuring legal security and predictability, the state itself continuously generates insecurity and unpredictability through its legislation and replaces constant law with “flexible” and arbitrary whim, then inescapably the question as to the correct — obviously, nonstatist — solution to the problem of social order arises.

The solution is a private-law society, i.e., a society in which every individual and institution is subject to one and the same set of laws. No public law granting privileges to specific persons of functions (and no public property) exists in this society. There is only private law (and private property), equally applicable to each and everyone. No one is permitted to acquire property by any means other than through original appropriation, production, or voluntary exchange, and no one possesses a privilege to tax and expropriate. Moreover, in a private-law society no one is permitted to prohibit anyone else from using his property in order to enter any line of production he wishes and compete against whomever he pleases.” (State or Private Law Society)

Ludwig von Mises:  

“The issue is always the same: the government or the market. There is no third solution.”

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