Monday, February 19, 2007

On Avoiding Conflict Through Private Property

People often have trouble seeing from where it logically follows that there exists a right to self-ownership or a right to own anything at all. That is, just how, exactly, can we show that each person having an exclusive right to control himself or any other good is justified, and that slavery through kidnapping and initiated force cannot be justified and that there is truly and objectively such a thing as theft.

The right to own anything, including self-ownership follows from realizing that the act of denying that anyone has such rights results in a performative contradiction. This is because the person attempting to deny this right demonstrates through his very act of attempting to deny it that he presumes such rights for himself. Therefore, he refutes his denial in his very proposing it, thereby demonstrating the right to self-ownership and ownership in other goods as undeniable.

People sometimes presume that there are a large number of property norms available to us to choose from, and that they all have their various features to recommend themselves. Some also even go so far as to suggest no property norms at all may also be viable. In fact, there is only a very limited array of arrangements possible to allocate property, and property must be allocated if we are to avoid conflicts. This is because people will always have conflicting ends with which they will wish to control scarce means to achieve their ends. A property ethic is necessary to avoid conflict over these resources including our own bodies. A need for property rights is therefore unavoidable.

Universal rules over ownership of individuals can be thought of in only three pure forms:

1) We either have 100% exclusive ownership over ourselves;

2) We all have a 1/n the ownership in everyone and they in us;

3) A class of specially privileged individuals has 100% ownership over an unprivileged class.

The second scheme, if followed religiously results in a very quick death of the human race. The third scheme is feasible, but cannot be justified due to its violation of the principle of universalizability and also its tendency to encourage conflict. Only the first - right to property in one's self - can be justified via the universalizable homesteading principle and allows completely for conflict avoidance. There are essentially no other schemes of rights in property of one's self; they can only be hybrids of these three. Saying no one has any right to anyone or anything is simply to avoid reality. Because men can and must act, they will always control scarce resources starting with their own bodies to achieve their ends. To avoid conflict, universally acceptable rules of establishing rights to such property are required. So while scheme three would allow human survival, it would not be justifiable and would not help avoid conflict.

To reiterate, we need justifiable property rights rules in order to avoid conflict. Anyone who discusses the need or lack of a need for a conflict free ethic has already demonstrated a value for conflict avoidance. Once we see that all participants in argumentation implicitly demonstrate a value of conflict avoidance, we can see that an ethic that allows conflict avoidance is desirable and justifiable, and also that any ethic that encourages conflict is unjustified.

So the issue of a valid ethic is an issue of how to justifiably assign property rights: what is a universally valid system of property rules that allows conflict avoidance? It must be a system based on respect for the homesteading principle, ownership in all that is produced by one's labor and previously homesteaded resources, and also through other contractually agreed upon arrangements. No one who asks any question at all, or makes any proposition at all, can argue against granting such a universal ethic which he already must implicitly presuppose as valid in the act of asking the question or making the proposition.

Something that becomes apparent out of this is that there is no such thing as a just egalitarian system. The nature of man is that he is not equal to his neighbor. To attempt to make him equal requires aggression, confiscation and extortion against some men and unjust transfer of wealth to others. Such behavior encourages conflict, which is contrary to the goal of argumentation, and again, therefore is contrary to justice.

For a better and more complete elaboration of these ideas, see essays by Hans Hoppe on his Argumentation Ethics.


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