The False Libertarian Notion of Self-Ownership

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“This is the notion that each individual owns himself, just like one who owns a piece of property.”

Written by Michael Whitcraft*

Libertarians support the idea that a government’s only purpose is to protect life, liberty and private property. One way this is done is through an idea they call self-ownership. This is the notion that each individual owns himself, just like one who owns a piece of property. Thus, the government should have no say on what we do with ourselves.

David Boaz in his book, The Libertarian Mind, expresses this principle in the following way: “The right of self-ownership,” he says, “certainly implies the right to decide for ourselves what food, drink, or drugs we will put into our own bodies; with whom we will make love (assuming our chosen partner agrees); and what kind of medical treatment we want (assuming a doctor agrees to provide it).”



This idea of “medical treatment” would certainly include the right to suicide. This is very much of an issue for those living in California, since Governor Brown just signed an assisted suicide law there.

This self-ownership extends not just to our bodies, but to our minds as well. Thus, classical liberal author John Stuart Mills wrote: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Hence, they believe in absolute freedom of thought and freedom of expression, including the right to any form of pornography. The only limit to their view of freedom over oneself is when someone engages in an activity that denies rights to another person.

It should be mentioned that their notion of denying rights to others is very short-sighted. Who could deny that an individual who decides to become a drug user denies the rights of those with whom he associates? Think here of husbands, wives, children and family members who will have the weight of dealing with a drug user thrust on their shoulders.

This notion of self-ownership means that libertarians are very individualistic. For them, their self-interest is more important than the common good. That is why they are opposed to military conscription. They consider the draft to be a form of slavery.

Included in this notion is the idea that the only purpose of society is to help the individual. They have no concept of a higher purpose for society, of a society of greater value than the individuals in that society. If you disagree, they disparage you as a “communitarian.”

Boaz expresses this in the following words: “Communitarians in modern America” he says:Subscription1.1 “are people who believe that ‘the community’ should in some way take precedence over the individual.”

Thus, they harshly criticized John McCain when he called on Americans to serve “a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests.” Boaz even goes so far as to claim, “civil society itself is not an organization and does not have a purpose of its own.”