Absolutist Propertarianism Dissolves All Rights



In a strict propertarian view, all rights are property rights (and likely to be treated as commodities-in-themselves). In my view, property rights are an extension of (and inherently constrained by) a more general right of personal sovereignty. A claimed property right that isn’t consistent with respect for personal sovereignty in the first place is inherently null and void from my perspective. For a basic example, I don’t think that someone loses their right to life and liberty as soon as they enter someone else’s property – owning property does not grant one the legitimate power to murder and enslave people just because they are on your property. In this sense, the decision-making power granted by a property right is inherently not absolute.If we do take the view that property rights are axoimatic absolutes, I think that this practically reduces all rights claims to meaninglessness because the absolute authority of a property owner can override anyone else’s rights, leading to absurd scenarios in which aggression is actually being justified. It seems to me that property (including property as expressed in the concept of self-ownership, which I think is a propertarian misconceptualization of the right of liberty or personal sovereignty) is clearly not axoimatic or absolute in this way – it is constrained by respect for equal personal liberty in the first place, rather than being the foundation for the concept of liberty.The fundamental clash here is between a conception of libertarianism in which the concept of liberty is thought of as being derived from property and a conception of libertarianism in which the concept of “legitimate” property is derived from the concept of equal liberty. The former conception tends to lead to “absolutist propertarianism”, which is to say the notion that a particular conception of “property rights” is the foundation for everything else (even taken to the point of treating people as something to have exchangable property titles over) and the tendency to support absolute authority over other people based on territorial claims.

This is by no means a strictly left-libertarian vs. right-libertarian issue, since various aristotilean notions of libertarianism tend towards the latter view. Furthermore, there is an extent to which it is a matter of degree. While I do not strictly adhere to it (for example, I don’t think that the NAP is an axoim and I don’t use “self-ownership” as a starting point), I must admit that I find the Rothbardian conception of libertarianism much more sound than the Blockean conception. What it boils down to is that the Rothbardian conception is in some sense “thicker”. Block adopts a sort of “libertarian legalism” that I think clashes with Rothard’s notion of libertarianism.

While Walter Block talks about “voluntary slavery”, Rothbard would have rejected any slavery contract as inherently being null and void due to inalienability. However, I think that both Rothbard and Block are mistaken to the extent that they treat all rights as property rights, only Rothbard shied away from some of the conclusions from this that Block would endorse (I.E. “voluntary slavery” in particular). What I’d like to point out, however, is that the whole “voluntary slavery” notion logically follows from the error of treating property as the starting point in the first place. In this sense, Block is more consistent than Rothbard, but he is consistently wrong, whereas Rothbard is correct to not endorse such conclusions but it remains a fact that those incorrect conclusions should follow from his view that all rights are property rights.

I see the issue of “voluntary slavery” only arising if one treats the concept of self-ownership as an exchangable property title, while I think that personal sovereignty is immutable and does not function exactly like a property title. I don’t think it makes practical sense to concieve of rights as commodities in themselves; on the contrary, it seems to me that the function of rights would partially be as a pretext for having a freed market in anything to begin with. The opposite notion of an open-ended “free market in rights” being the pretext for rights seems to erode any consistency in the application of individual rights concepts and simply legitimizes whatever the whims of a territorial owner happens to be. In my understanding, individual rights need to be respected in order for the market to be free to begin with.

Leave a Reply