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8. Interpersonal Relations: Ownership and Aggression

W e have so far been discussing the free society, the society of

peaceful cooperation and voluntary interpersonal relations. There

is, however, another and contrasting type of interpersonal

relation: the use of aggressive violence by one man against another. What

such aggressive violence means is that one man invades the property of

another without the victim's consent. The invasion may be against a man's

property in his person (as in the case of bodily assault), or against his

property in tangible goods (as in robbery or trespass). In either case, the

aggressor imposes his will over the natural property of another-he

deprives the other man of his freedom of action and of the full exercise

of his natural self-ownership.

Let us set aside for a moment the corollary but more complex case

of tangible property, and concentrate on the question of a man's ownership

rights to his own body. Here there are two alternatives: either we

may lay down a rule that each man should be permitted (i.e. have the

right to) the full ownership of his own body, or we may rule that he

may not have such complete ownership. If he does, then we have the

libertarian natural law for a free society as treated above. But if he

does not, if each man is not entitled to full and 100 percent selfownership,

then what does this imply? It implies either one of two

conditions: (1) the "communist" one of Universal and Equal Otherownership,

or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another-a

system of rule by one class over another. These are the only logical

alternatives to a state of 100 percent self-ownership for all.'

Let us consider alternative (2); here, one person or group of persons,

G, are entitled to own not only themselves but also the remainder of

soci-ety, R. But, apart from many other problems and difficulties with

this kind of system, we cannot here have a universal or natural-law ethic

for the human race. We can only have a partial and arbitrary ethic, similar

to the view that Hohenzollerns are by nature entitled to rule over

non-Hohenzollerns. Indeed, the ethic which states that Class G is entitled

to rule over Class R implies that the latter, R, are subhuman beings who do not have a right to participate as full humans in the rights of

self-ownership enjoyed by G-but this of course violates the initial

assumption that we are carving out an ethic for human beings as such.

What then of alternative (I)? This is the view that, considering

individuals A, B, C . . ., no man is entitled to 100 percent ownership of his

own person. Instead, an equal part of the ownership of A's body should

be vested in B, C . . ., and the same should hold true for each of the

others. This view, at least, does have the merit of being a universal rule,

applying to every person in the society, but it suffers from numerous other


In the first place, in practice, if there are more than a very few people

in the society, this alternative must break down and reduce to Alternative

(2), partial rule by some over others. For it is physically impossible for

everyone to keep continual tabs on everyone else, and thereby to exercise

his equal share of partial ownership over every other man. In practice,

then, this concept of universal and equal other-ownership is Utopian

and impossible, and supervision and therefore ownership of others necessarily

becomes a specialized activity of a ruling class. Hence, no society

which does not have full self-ownership for everyone can enjoy a universal

ethic. For this reason alone, 100 percent self-ownership for every man

is the only viable political ethic for mankind.

But suppose for the sake of argument that this Utopia could be sustained.

What then? In the first place, it is surely absurd to hold that no

man is entitled to own himself, and yet to hold that each of these very

men is entitled to own a part of all other men! But more than that, would

our Utopia be desirable? Can we picture a world in which no man is

free to take any action whatsoever without prior approval by everyone

else in society? Clearly no man would be able to do anything, and the

human race would quickly perish. But if a world of zero or near-zero

self-ownership spells death for the human race, then any steps in that

direction also contravene the law of what is best for man and his life

on earth. And, as we saw above, any ethic where one group is given

full ownership of another violates the most elemental rule for any

ethic: that it apply to every man. No partial ethics are any better, though

they may seem superficially more plausible, than the theory of allpower-


In contrast, the society of absolute self-ownership for all rests on

the primordial fact of natural self-ownership by every man, and on

the fact that each man may only live and prosper as he exercises his

natural freedom of choice, adopts values, learns how to achieve them,

etc. By virtue of being a man, he must use his mind to adopt ends and

means; if someone aggresses against him to change his freely-selected

course, this violates his nature; it violates the way he must function. In

short, an aggressor interposes violence to thwart the natural course of a

man's freely adopted ideas and values, and to thwart his actions based

upon such values.

We cannot fully explain the natural laws of property and of violence

without expanding our discussion to cover tangible property. For men

are not floating wraiths; they are beings who can only survive by grappling

with and transforming material objects. Let us return to our island

of Crusoe and Friday. Crusoe, isolated at first, has used his free will and

self-ownership to learn about his wants and values, and how to satisfy them

by transforming nature-given resources through "mixing" them with his

labor. He has thereby produced and created property. Now suppose that

Friday lands in another part of this island. He confronts two possible courses

of action: he may, like Crusoe, become a producer, transform unused soil

by his labor, and most likely exchange his product for that of the other

man. In short, he may engage in production and exchange, in also creating

property. Or, he may decide upon another course: he may spare himself

the effort of production and exchange, and go over and seize by violence

the fruits of Crusoe's labor. He may aggress against the producer.

If Friday chooses the course of labor and production, then he in natural

fact, as in the case of Crusoe, will own the land area which he clears

and uses, as well as the fruits of its product. But, as we have noted above,

suppose that Crusoe decides to claim more than his natural degree of

ownership, and asserts that, by virtue of merely landing first on the island,

he "really" owns the entire island, even though he had made no previous

use of it. If he does so, then he is, in our view, illegitimately pressing his

property claim beyond its homesteading-natural law boundaries, and if

he uses that claim to try to eject Friday by force, then he is illegitimately

aggressing against the person and property of the second homesteader.

Some theorists have maintained-in what we might call the

"Columbus complex"-that the first discoverer of a new, unowned island

or continent can rightfully own the entire area by simply asserting his

claim. (In that case, Columbus, if in fact he had actually landed on the American

continent-and if there had been no Indians living there-could

have rightfully asserted his private "ownership" of the entire continent.)

In natural fact, however, since Columbus would only have been able

actually to use, to "mix his labor with," a small part of the continent, the

rest then properly continues to be unowned until the next homesteaders

arrive and carve out their rightful property in parts of the continent.'

Let us turn from Crusoe and Friday and consider the question of a

sculptor who has just created a work of sculpture by transforming clay

and other materials (and let us for the moment waive the question of property

rights in the clay and the tools). The question now becomes: who

should properly own this work of art as it emerges from the fashioning

of the sculptor? Once again, as in the case of the ownership of people's

bodies, there are only three logical positions: (1) that the sculptor, the

"creator" of the work of art, should have the property right in his creation;

(2) that another man or group of men have the right in that creation, i.e.

to expropriate it by force without the sculptor's consent; or (3) the "communist"

solution-that every individual in the world has an equal, quota1

right to share in the ownership of the sculpture.

Put this starkly, there are very few people who would deny the

monstrous injustice in either a group or the world community seizing

ownership of the sculpture. For the sculptor has in fact "created" this

work of art-not of course in the sense that he has created matter, but

that he has produced it by transforming nature-given matter (the clay)

into another form in accordance with his own ideas and his own labor

and energy. Surely, if every man has the right to own his own body and

if he must use and transform material natural objects in order to survive,

then he has the right to own the product that he has made, by his energy

and effort, into a veritable extension of his own personality. Such is the

case of the sculptor, who has placed the stamp of his own person on the

raw material, by "mixing his labor" with the clay. But if the sculptor has

done so, then so has every producer who has "homesteaded" or mixed

his labor with the objects of nature.

Any group of people who expropriated the work of the sculptor

would be clearly aggressive and parasitical-benefitting at the expense of

the expropriated. As most people would agree, they would be clearly violating

the right of the sculptor to his product-to the extension of his personality.

And this would be true whether a group or the "world commune" did

the expropriation-except that, as in the case of communal ownership of

persons. (In practice this expropriation would have to be performed by a

group of men in the name of the "world community.") But, as we have

indicated, if the sculptor has the right to his own product, or transformed

materials of nature, then so have the other producers. So have the men

who extracted the clay from the ground and sold it to the sculptor, or the

around it (or hiring others to do so), and thereby laying out a boundary for the area. In

our view, however, their claim would still be no more than to the boundary itself, and not

to any of the land within it, for only the boundary will have been transformed and used

by man.

men who produced the tools with which he worked on the clay. For these

men, too, were producers; they too, mixed their ideas and their technological

know-how with the nature-given soil to emerge with a valued product.

They, too, have mixed their labor and energies with the soil. And so,

they, too, are entitled to the ownership of the goods they produced.)

If every man has the right to own his own person and therefore his

own labor, and if by extension he owns whatever property he has

"created" or gathered out of the previously unused, unowned state of

nature, then who has the right to own or control the earth itself? In short,

if the gatherer has the right to own the acorns or berries he picks, or the

farmer his crop of wheat, who has the right to own the land on which

these activities have taken place? Again, the justification for the ownership

of ground land is the same for that of any other property. For no man

actually ever "creates" matter: what he does is to take nature-given matter

and transform it by means of his ideas and labor energy. But this is

precisely what the pioneer-the homesteader-does when he clears and

uses previously unused virgin land and brings it into his private ownership.

The homesteader-just as the sculptor, or miner-has transformed

the nature-given'soil by his labor and his personality. The homesteader

is just as much a "producerf' as the others, and therefore just as legitimately

the owner of his property. As in the case of the sculptor, it is difficult

to see the morality of some other group expropriating the product

and labor of the homesteader. (And, as in the other cases, the "world communist"

solution boils down in practice to a ruling group.) Furthermore,

the land communalists, who claim that the entire world population really

owns the land in common, run up against the natural fact that before the

homesteader, no one really used and controlled, and hence owned the

land. The pioneer, or homesteader, is the man who first brings the valueless

unused natural objects into production and use.

And so, there are only two paths for man to acquire property and

wealth: production or coercive expropriation. Or, as the great German

sociologist Franz Oppenheimer perceptively put it, there are only two

means to the acquisition of wealth. One is the method of production,

generally followed by voluntary exchange of such products: this is what

Oppenheimer called the economic means. The other method is the unilateral

seizure of the products of another: the expropriation of another man's

property by violence. This predatory method of getting wealth Oppenheimer

aptly termed the political

Now the man who seizes another's property is living in basic contradiction

to his own nature as a man. For we have seen that man can only

live and prosper by his own production and exchange of products. The

aggressor, on the other hand, is not a producer at all but a predator; he

lives parasitically off the labor and product of others. Hence, instead of

living in accordance with the nature of man, the aggressor is a parasite

who feeds unilaterally by exploiting the labor and energy of other men.

Here is clearly a complete violation of any kind of universal ethic, for

man clearly cannot live as a parasite; parasites must have non-parasites,

producers, to feed upon. The parasite not only fails to add to the social

total of goods and services, he depends completely on the production of

the host body. And yet, any increase in coercive parasitism decreases

ips0 facto the quantity and the output of the producers, until finally, if the

producers die out, the parasites will quickly follow suit.

Thus, parasitism cannot be a universal ethic, and, in fact, the growth

of parasitism attacks and diminishes the production by which both host

and parasite survive. Coercive exploitation or parasitism injure the

processes of production for everyone in the society. Any way that it may

be considered, parasitic predation and robbery violate not only the nature

of the victim whose self and product are violated, but also the nature of

the aggressor himself, who abandons the natural way of production-of

using his mind to transform nature and exchange with other producersfor

the way of parasitic expropriation of the work and product of others.

In the deepest sense, the aggressor injures himself as well as his

unfortunate victim. This is fully as true for the complex modern society

as it is for Crusoe and Friday on their island.

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is

impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and

robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. . . . I

propose . . . to call one's own labor and the equivalent exchange of one's own labor

for the labor of others, the "economic means" for the satisfaction of needs, while the

unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the "political means."