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Personal Liberty, Voluntary Exchange and Self-Ownership

by Rok SPRUK


In State, Anarchy and Utopia, Robert Nozick, one of the greatest philosophers of all time, developed the concept of self-ownership according to which individual are free to choose, live their own lives and in which nobody has an ultimate right to violate or regulate our living rights which we own. One of the reasons why some want to violate the rights of others lies largely in the fact that those individuals enjoy in controlling the rights of others. Conservatively emerged attitudes towards the limits of personal liberty in the name of morality and higher instances have never relied on empirical justification of their arguments. Instead, conservatism relies on a falsified framework in which denying liberty to individuals is legally and morally accepted. As a truly classical liberal I regard personal liberty based on self-ownership as untouchable and undeniable because, generally speaking, the question is which institution is accredited for limiting already limited personal liberty of individuals to live their own life, which essentially emerges from the principle of self-ownership.

The case for personal liberty begins with the question who or which higher organ is justified to violate the individual self-ownership. Taking individuals as sovereign in making decisions on their own together with the right to compensate in case of violation of those rights is there really an upward instance who limits our lives in accordance with their state of moral judgments and personal preferences. As a matter of fact, ideological viewpoint is unavoidable but the problem which emerges from the ideological set of values and preferences, is questionable when the one's view on valuable judgments and moral preferences is trying to use coercion in order to equalize individuals and force them to avoid enjoying their life by imposing certain features that correlate with the grounds of specific ideology.

Beginning with Karl Marx and continuing with Rousseau and Hegel, the viewpoint of liberty turned into the need for the so called positive liberty where a certain instance of authority aims to judge the justification of liberty of certain kind in specific fields. The proponents of positive liberty have always designed a theoretical framework in which the private property, its respect and the institution of self-ownership were largely erased from the basis of individual decision-making. There has never been greater violation of individual liberty than Hegelian and Marxist philosophers and ideologists have proposed in their efforts to brainwash the individual initiative and violate the self-ownership principle. Hegelian-Marxist philosophy has streamlined towards the fictive illusion where liberty is supposed to be unlimited but in the reality, the state and coercive institutions have taken a full control on the individual decision making. Marxist agenda has favored the elimination of private property, saying that it leads to wars and social conflict. In fact, there is no life and no liberty without private property. Sometimes, Marxists aimed fanatically to collectivize the means of production but today they aim to socialize the results of production. In this case, there is no economic liberty which means that then there is no liberty at all without private property as well. It is very hard to believe in Marxism when you review its legacy. Marxism dialectically opposed private property and thus explicitly supported the means of coercion to be exercised. In fact, with the confiscation of income and property Marxism has been the greatest violator of human rights and principles of free society and individual liberty. Coming to conclusion, positive liberty is a myth that has nothing to do with the appearance of spontaneous order that set grounds to the flourishing of exchange agreement and individualism.

The major source of objection to individual liberty means the lack of belief in freedom itself. Several issues and hot topics are put on table today. Sexual issues are among the hottest. First of all, sexuality is an explicit matter of private life and is thus one of the basic ingredients of self-ownership. If governments and policymakers deny the sexual freedom then they largely imitate Marxist philosophy and its principles. Denying sexual freedom means a source of collectivism when only one social norm is commonly allowed and where individual freedom to own your life and make your own decisions is ripped off. Another example of socialist imitation is denying individuals from being free to choose euthanasia as a way to end their life. Ending your life is a matter of choice, not a matter of collective decision undertaken by government. Further, drug war is the most obvious crusade of socialism. It is a vicious source of socialist enterprise. It is not the society that is poisoned by, say marihuana, individuals are. If they enjoy and not affect others to do so, then there is no reason to set sanctions against the use of marihuana for certain purposes. In order for certain drugs to be abolished, negative externalities have to be empirically proven. Drug market is not a market failure because markets themselves always do things perfectly. If both parties benefit from the purchase of marihuana and if transaction costs cause no problems, then there is no need at all for the government to exercise coercion and prohibit the use of marihuana. Drug wars have no empirical correlation with classical liberal tradition, not least with the principles of free society.

Collective bargaining is also a serious violation of the individual liberty since it is exercised through coercion and individually violent approach that forces individual agents in the collective bargain against their will because, in other case, they would loose certain gains and thus be less well-off. The violation of personal liberty is even more obvious when trade unions exercise politically granted power as a means of coercion. Personal liberty largely coexists with economic liberty. Without both, it’s impossible to have a free society based on individual initiative, free exchange entrepreneurship, limited government, minimal state and above all – personal liberty based on the principle self-ownership.

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Rok Spruk is a supply-side economist and a classical liberal. He lives in Slovenia where he studies economics and business. His fields of research and work are economic growth, international economics, macroeconomics, tax reforms, international competitiveness economic policy, financial markets, business models, strategic management, innovation and marketing. Rok works for the freedom of choice, economic freedom and individual liberty based on self-ownership. His ideas, views, analysis and observations are posted on his blog Capitalism & Freedom.
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