The Propertarian Double Standard

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From a reddit discussion I ended up discovering a post from Kevin Carson who expresses amazingly well the reason why I keep getting annoyed when discussing with propertarians of various forms. It’s the implicit double standard that is implied every time I’m accused of wanting to steal stuff, of having no respect for the capitalist’s “labour”, of being authoritarian. I’ll let Carson put it best.

Here’s an opposing case for you: Imagine I’m renting a house under a Lockean property system, and get permission to plant a garden on it. I invest a lot of effort in composting and green manuring, and even spend money on granite dust, greensand, rock phosphate and the like to improve the soil. When I get done with it, what was hardpan clay has been transformed into rich, black, friable soil. And when I cease renting, I lose the value of all the improvements I made. That’s the sort of thing that happens all the time under Lockeanism. But I suspect that Reisman would say that I made the improvements with my eyes open, and am entitled to no sympathy because I knew what the rules were. I certainly doubt that he’s shedding any tears over the invested labor that the South Central Farmers are in danger of losing.

The difference is, when it happens under the system he’s defending, it’s just life; when it happens under the system he’s demonizing, it’s an outrage.

And this here above is exactly the thing you get to hear all the goddamn time!

The wage-worker not keeping the full value of his labour or his labour not being enough to ensure his subsistence? That’s just life. A wannabe-capitalist not being able to extract a profit from his workers? Outrage!

A tenant-farmer’s labour not being enough to homestead the land he’s working on because a landlord has already a claim to it? That’s just life. Someone not being able to claim ownership on more land than he can possibly use himself? Outrage!

Capitalists requiring a special class of wealthy judges to interpret the “libertarian law” and a private defense complex to enforce them? That’s not a state, just life. Workers banding together and using means such as peer pressure and ostracism to enforce that nobody exploits and dominates anyone else? Outrage! Statism!

I could go on and on but you get the idea. It would be funny if it wasn’t depressing to have to argue against this so often.

This whole thing starts from the classic error of the propertarians taking their chosen system of ownership as given and a “natural law”. Once you start by assuming that Private Property is an objective rule set then it’s not difficult to jump to the conclusion that act that violates those rights is an outrage. The fact that it is not a violation when the whole system has been rejected simply does not cross one’s mind. It reminds me of some Liberal lawyers arguing that a violation of copyrights was wrong because it’s the law and not being able to grasp that we challenged the validity of the law in the first place.

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21 thoughts on “The Propertarian Double Standard

  1. I'm telling you, man… read more Carson. He really opened my eyes. Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective is genius and will give you all the ammo you need in debates.

    1. Heh, I have read the organization theory to a point and I do agree that he's got a great historical basis (and thus arguments). I still think that his solution is far from perfect though as it's based partly on Misean nonsense as well as seemingly on some other baseless principles such as self-ownership.

      1. I don't see that self-ownership is baseless. Don't you have complete control over your own body as an individual ? I'm all ears for your reply.

        As for the scare quotes around natural law, if different systems of property exist, then anarcho-capitalists propping up their way as the natural one is a fallacy of the same kind as painting homosexuals as abnormal. Is that a reason to reject natural law as such? I don't think so. Instead, I would say natural law does not say anything regarding people's sexual preferences. And the same for systems of property. This is a choice you make as communities. In fact, I would call statist anyone I find intervening in any economic arrangement by a free community; and this is how capitalism is fostered on us.

        1. I don't see that self-ownership is baseless. Don't you have complete control over your own body as an individual ? I'm all ears for your reply.

          The question is badly stated. There's no "you" external from you body to have control over it. You are your body. More on this here.

          1. I don't think the fact that I am my body disproves self-ownership; in fact, if I am my body, it makes the principle of self-ownership even more immediate, as it is obvious that I have a sole and complete control over myself. And how strange an anarchist you would be if you said otherwise. The way I've seen this principle defended here and there, it is very simply the foundation of liberty. You might not like the wording because of your preferred system, but it still is true that I am totally free to do anything I want with myself, and any other position is tyrannical. Self-ownership is what justifies the right to abort pregnancy. Again, I'm all ears as to why you would deny it, or how else you would justify it, if not by saying a woman had an inherent inalienable right to control her body! The implications of your position are infinite.

            I find that the discussion board points are not convincing, although I like the demonstration feel of it. Point 1 says it does not consider dualism, yet it talks of A and B as if they were separate, B being the body. Well, isn't that dualism from the start? Why didn't the author make the point by considering the case of "A owns A" then ? As for Points 2 and 3, I don't believe in dualism, and therefore I don't feel concerned by the points raised, although I agree with the conclusions.

          2. if I am my body, it makes the principle of self-ownership even more immediate, as it is obvious that I have a sole and complete control over myself.

            Who's "you" and who is "yourself" and how can you separate them?

          3. Did I separate myself in two entities ? I thought I was quite clear about rejecting dualism. I obviously do not believe that self-ownership splits people in two. Now why would I believe that? I have no idea. It just doesn't occur to me that a separation occurs because of self-ownership. Maybe you can give me reasons to the contrary (other than grammatical).

          4. When you say that "you" own "yourself" you imply two separate entities. One that is doing the owning, and one that is being owned. This is how the concept of ownership works.

          5. Hey. Hope you had a nice wedding. Self-ownership is another word for the inalienable liberty of each individual. Simply because matter is alienable, and ownership over matter always involves a subject and an object, it does not follow that it must be so in the case of individuals, and self-ownership would thus be impossible.

          6. but it still is true that I am totally free to do anything I want with myself, and any other position is tyrannical.

            You confuse self-ownership is a decriptive idea and self-ownership as a normative idea. The former says that one cannot hand over control of his body to someone else (barring sci-fi mind control schemes) and the later says that one should not hand over control of his body to someone else, implying that it is possible. Of course, in reality the later is simply talking about slavery situations but is using this terminology in order to jump to other conclusions.

          7. Which other conclusions ?

            As for the normative idea implying that one should not hand over control but could, I don't think this is correct. I think of self-ownership as an inalienable right, which precludes the possibility of handing over control of your body. And an inalienable right is by necessity a normative right, in the sense that it should always be respected everywhere around the world, regardless of the legislations. But you know all that already. Don't really know what to make of that description of a normative idea…

          8. An "right" is a normative proposition. Perhaps you're talking about descriptive facts, such as the fact that one cannot hand over control of his body to someone else like a puppet. This is not an inalienable right because it cannot be "disrespected", it is always true. To claim that this is a "inalienable right" is as silly as saying that the law of gravity is an inalienable right of things and should always be respected. We really have no choice in the matter.

            What you're doing then is confusing it with the normative proposition of whether one's actions should never be dictated by someone else. But you fist need to explain why this must be so. You can't just simply assert it and point to some imaginary Natural Law in lieu of argument.

            Which other conclusions ?

            The validity of Private Property for one.

          9. Hi again.

            I don't see that self-ownership leads to private property. Roderick Long, in order to make that conclusion, inserts the things once used into the boundaries of the self (…"by transforming external objects so as to incorporate them into my ongoing projects, I make them an extension
            of myself, in a manner analogous to the way that food becomes part of my body through digestion"…), but that is not necessarily true of anything that a person has once had a use for. How then, do you assess that a building is an extension of someone's self ? No evidence can be given of such a link. A past user, then, stands in the same relation to an empty as, say, a homeless person. Since no evidence of there being an extension can be given, the argument is purely philosophical and would have no use in court. Therefore there is no automatic conclusion, and a decision must be made by the community as to whether past use gives an automatic title or not.

        2. Instead, I would say natural law does not say anything regarding people's sexual preferences. And the same for systems of property.

          "Natural Law" is used as a way to circumvent the criticisms. If you reject that the ownership system falls under it then you still need to argue on why your chosen ownership system should be used instead of any other.

          1. I reject that any one particular ownership system falls under it, while all others are outside of it, as if they were against the law, as such.

          2. If we're talking about natural law, we're talking about what is externally right. If property is what is "right" then this is incompatible with another system, such a possession based one which would reject it.

          3. Some natural law theorists talk about cases where natural law is mute, yet requires that some decision be made, implyinh that the decision is up to us. Roderick Long and Charles Johnson use the example of the side of the road people are driving on. Natural Law might require that you drive on one side (so as not to crash and kill others) yet it doesn't really matter which particular side. (Please note that I said 'might', I don't particularly like this illustration, as it is perfectly possible to drive on the other side of the road without necessarily killing someone. It's extremely dangerous, but it's not automatically illegal. Nevertheless it does fill its role.)

            Similarly, natural law might require that men organize systems of ownership– so as to avoid conflict, without saying which particular one. In fact, I think the avoidance of conflict comes about, not because one system of ownership is better than all the other supposedly evil-confused ones, but because it has been ratified by the consensus of all involved, which is what is implied by the use of the word organize, as you must know.

            So, I would say the requirement for the legality of any ownership system, under natural law, is its voluntary basis, ie anarchy. And this is why it is not idiotic for anarcho-capitalists to say that the common enemy is the state. I looked at some other articles of yours, and although it's a lot of fun reading them, I find your rants completely patronizing and disturbing, in a way that someone who would hold property is "right" (as opposed to other systems) would be patronizing and talking out of his ass.

          4. So, I would say the requirement for the legality of any ownership system, under natural law, is its voluntary basis, ie anarchy.

            Voluntarism is not enough for Anarchy and even if it were, your Natural law does not really tell us much since the difference between systems based on Propertarian and Possessive ownership is immense.

            As such, the way you present Natural Law, you might as well be saying "I think" instead of "Natural law says"

  2. How is this a double standard? You can disagree with something without labeling it a "double standard." The simple fact is that the actions you're describing certainly can be understood as belonging to different categories of action. A clear standard has been applied to each by theorists. Argue with that admission. Doing otherwise seems dishonest and dismissive.

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