You Don't Own Other People
by Kevin Carson
Laws against peaceful, consensual activity always seem to be in the news. Dianne Feinstein takes a hardline stance against marijuana law reform. Raids on raw milk distributors are a regular occurrence. Every little while a story breaks about another “family values” politician soliciting a prostitute who turns out to be an undercover cop.
A sizable share of people in the criminal justice system is made up of those who ran afoul of some law commanding “Touch not, taste not, handle not.”
If you support such laws, there is no ground on which you can consistently do so without believing that other people are your property, or are your inferiors and subject to your command.
You may argue that “society” collectively decides what to permit and not to permit, based on some vision of the “common good.” But remember those high school civics texts with the stuff about government exercising only powers delegated by the governed, government’s function being to protect the rights of the individual, and all that? Well, you can’t delegate a power you don’t have. And government can’t protect a right, on your behalf, that you don’t possess as an individual.
So you can’t delegate to government the power to tell other people what foods or drugs to ingest, or whom to have sex with, unless you, as an individual, already have the right to boss other people around. You as an individual, or acting together with any number of other individuals, cannot delegate to government the power to boss people around against their will in regard to peaceful and consensual actions, unless you own them. “Society” has a right to criminalize peaceful, voluntary behavior only if each individual is the property of society as a whole.
Roderick Long of the Molinari Institute (the parent body of Center for a Stateless Society) describes it as a simple matter of equality. If other people are your equals in dignity, authority, and self-determination, you don’t have the right to tell them what to do. You can’t boss another person around about their food or drug habits, or their sexual practices, unless they’re your subordinate in some sense. You’ve probably seen a kid tell some bossy stranger, or remember telling someone yourself years ago, “You’re not my daddy!” Exactly.
We anarchists don’t believe other people are our property. We don’t believe we have the authority to tell other people what to eat, drink, smoke, or whom to have sex with. We’re not their bosses. We don’t own them. And we have no right to act through government to do things we have no legitimate authority to do as individuals. In other words, we anarchists actually believe the things the authors of your civics texts claimed to believe.
The big difference is, we’re consistent about it. We judge all groupings of individuals, even groupings that claim to represent a majority of people in a community and call themselves a “government,” by the same moral principles that govern individuals. The legitimate powers an individual possesses — the right to life, liberty and property, and the consequent power to defend those rights without harm to innocents — can be exercised cooperatively by any number of individuals in concert.
But even if they comprise a majority of people in a community, they have no rightful authority to bind those who did not freely join their cooperative venture. No group, including a group made up of a majority of individuals in a community, has any powers or rights beyond those already possessed by its individual members. Individuals cannot delegate any powers to a government that they do not possess as individuals.
Like any other association, a government exists for the ends of its members, and has no authority over anyone outside it. The state has no aura of majesty, and exercises no divine power. Like any other human association, it has only those legitimate powers which individual human beings can rightfully grant it in the first place.
If you, as an individual, go to your neighbor’s house and order him to stop smoking dope or parking his car on the lawn, and shove him around or take him prisoner for refusing to comply, you’re nothing but a thug. Your neighbor has the right to tell you to mind your own business and leave him alone, and to resist your aggression if necessary. If you and a large number of other people in the community do the same thing to your neighbor, under cover of a so-called “government,” you’re still just thugs — plain and simple. And your neighbor has just as much right to tell you all to mind your own business, or to resist if necessary.
As an individual, or as a member of a group of individuals — no matter how large — you don’t own other people.
C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.
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