Locke & Rothbard on Self-Ownership & Private Property

Government 1B: Lesson 5

In the first week of the Rob Paul Curriculum Government 1B, the issue of Natural Rights Theories was discussed. The phrase, natural rights, has been thrown around the political arena for years and most people, including myself, do not have a good understanding of what that means or where it comes from.

The phrase, natural rights or ius naturale, dates back to the 12th century, but it became more prominent when John Locke (1632 – 1704) brought forth his theory of self-ownership, government, and private property.

What does John Locke mean by self-ownership? How does he think goods in the state of nature come to be owned by individuals?

How does Rothbard defend the idea of self-ownership?

Self-ownership is a natural right which every single human being is born with. Nobody owns a portion of you and you cannot own a portion of anyone else. Locke defined ownership as something you have a range of control over. This ties in perfectly with self-ownership since everyone has control over themselves.

Now, what about private property? Locke derives this issue from self-ownership. No one has any individual claim on anything until he mixes his labour with it and then it becomes an extension of that person and he owns it. This practice only works at the very beginning of a new country, when the land hasn’t been claimed by anyone. There is no one to buy the land from, so you work the land and it becomes yours, after which you have the right to sell it, gift it, or whatever else you want to do with your land.

Locke also brings forth another theory called the “Inconveniences of the state of nature.”  He realized it would be very easy for natural rights to be taken away and that people are bad judges of their own cases. So, he remedied this with a civil government, in which the people delegate some portion of their rights away to the government so that they can enjoy their other rights freely and securely.

Murray N. Rothbard (1926 -1995) opposed Locke’s idea of governmental protection, stating that the only defensible philosophical position is 100% self-ownership. If we have a natural right, it is a right no one can take away, including the government.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s