[the title has been changed to something more inflammatory, as it seems like the only way to get attention on the internet these days]
For shits and gigs, I’m getting on my high horse.
Once upon a time I was a self-identifying Anarcho-Capitalist. Gone are those days. Long gone.
But the benefit of that little tryst is that I have gotten insider knowledge of how the theory operates and how fucked up it can get. What I have noticed, at least more recently, is that the very concepts and principles Anarcho-Capitalism (which includes anyone who identifies themselves as “Market Anarchist” or “Right-Libertarian”) use to provide foundation to their theory.
To give you a brief overview, the starting point for the whole thing starts with Self-Ownership. Everything else is derived from this. The much-loved “voluntaryness”, non-aggression principle, proportionality and how Anarcho-Capitalists understand property all find their beginnings in Self-Ownership.
The reason why I’m laying all this out is that I have been in a protracted technical debate over what is exactly meant by “self-ownership” and how this applies to so-called “Self-Sale” contracts. These are situations where a person may sell themselves into prostitution. For some Right-Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists, this is legitimate so long as it is “voluntary”. For others, this is not legitimate and those who see validity in these contracts are only “fringe”.
My problem has been that I can find nothing within Anarcho-Capitalism as a theory to invalidate these contracts and to prevent the situation from ever happening.
To be absolutely clear: I am not an Anarcho-Capitalist and my reason for posting this is to make some kind of clear challenge to Anarcho-Capitalism on the theories own terms in particular regards to Self-Sale contracts. For me this begins with the heart of the theory: Self-Ownership. Is it a property right? Or just some shitty metaphor for individual autonomy? If it’s the second, then the rest of the theory will have problems being conceptualised as nearly every key principle is derived from that concept and goes towards giving Anarcho-Capitalism its mystical “natural law” appeal.
If it’s the first, then this raises some serious problems for Anarcho-Capitalism in that it may work to make legitimate some evils like murder, slavery and rape.
I have not yet heard a convincing argument, on the theories own terms, that states why Self-Sale contracts are not possible and why these things will not eventuate. My position is that anyone who uses this theory needs to either rethink their concepts for them to ever use the label “Anarchist” with any seriousness, or accept that their theory is going to justify things toxic to any concept of “liberty” or “freedom”.
So what you are about to read is a brief amalgamation of my posts which doesn’t just say that Anarcho-Capitalism is bullshit, but why.
The question is whether the concept of self-ownership is, in theory and in effect, a property relation or whether it is just a poor metaphor for individual autonomy.
This whole argument proceeds on the basis that Self-Ownership describes an actual property relation where a person ownes their Self.
Property is not a single right, but a bundle of rights a person has to a thing. The “right to control” is an accurate description, but is too general to be useful. So otherwise, how do you identify whether a thing is property? You can (1) use and abuse it, you can (2) exclude others from using it, and (3)you can transfer ownership. These are what you are talking about when you talk about the “right to control” and “property”.
If it is alienable, or in other words, if you can transfer ownership or give away the thing, it is probably property. If you can’t give the thing away, it’s probably not property. The right to control, of use and abuse, is another one of these rights that identify whether a thing is property. Simply saying “it is mine, I control it, therefore it is property” is childish and not enough.
Next it is important to distinguish between contractual rights, which are relative and arise between two individual people, and property rights are enforceable against the world. Through contract you can alienate rights to use a thing or ownership of the thing itself. In the case of the former, ownership is retained. In the case of the latter, ownership is transffered and so the person making the transfer can no longer claim ownership when the transfer is complete.
To use a simple analogy, it is the same as what happens when you transfer ownership of a pear you’ve picked. You can’t ask for it back without striking a new deal and cannot complain when the other person eats it.
So, applying this to your Self, if it is property a person “voluntarily” alienates their Self via contract, they can do a number of things. On the one hand, they can alienate rights to their property, such as sell their time to an employer, divide the property right by selling/giving away a kidney, or allowing use by consenting to surgery. Alternateively, as a valid property right, a person may transfer ownership of their entire self and once the transfer is complete, the new owner has a proprietary right enforceable against the world, inclding the previous owner.
The first type of “Self-Sale” contracts are a problem, but I am only focussing on the second type, absolute transfer of Ownership, as it is what enables slavery, murder and rape to be justified.
So we have a situation where a person has transferred ownership of their Self voluntarily. This is all in accordance with Libertarian, Voluntaryist, and Anarcho-Capitalism theory. But what are the consequences of that theory?
The simple answer: slavery.
The new owner has a right over your Self in property. This includes, as outlined above, the right to (1) use and abuse it, to (2) exclude others from using it, and (3) alienate it. If a person transfers ownership of their Self, the new owner can do with it as they please because it’s their property. They can commit all sorts of atrocious acts against you, as their property, without fear of reprisal. They are merely exercising their right to use of that property. To interfere would be to violate their right of exclusivity.
If they decide to fuck their new property, they can. If they decide to kill it, they can. If they decide to torture that other person they now own, or let others fuck them or make them work or sell them again, they can.
There is no recourse to the NAP because the NAP, in this instance, is derived from the idea that you own your Self as property and no one can interfere with it except the rightful owner. Likewise, all notions of “voluntaryness” only apply to the entering into of the contract and not the on-going relationship between former and current owners, as the former owner has alienated the property rights to their Self which, conceptually, the entire theory is built on.
To say that this is unlikely to ever happen is a bad argument. It happened all the time during feudalistic societies where people would sell themselves into slavery or prostitution to pay off a debt — which would no doubt be considered a voluntary transaction. It still happens in many places today.
To say that “it is not voluntary” is not enough. A contract is not a unilateral affair. It is an exchange and if the parties which entered into it did so voluntary, it would no doubt be justified by many self-identifying Anarcho-Capitalists, voluntaryists and Right-Libertarians. The phrase “I don’t see a problem…” be repeated until someone’s head explodes.
“Voluntaryness” itself, in the context of Anarcho-Capitalist and derivative theories, is never well-defined. Or at least never defined to really consider the nuances of what does “voluntary” actually means and whether something can truly be considered voluntary.
The only possible argument that could be made to say that a Self-Sale contract which would see someone sell themselves into prostitution to pay off their debts is invalid and not enforceable, would be to analyse the quality of consent and the unequal bargaining power between the parties. However, as far as I know, this has never really been argued inside the theory and to do so is to go outside. In fact, all reference to power relations between parties is routinely derided as “Marxist” or “Leftist”.
Even if we consider a person’s will to be “independent of your body”, they will have transferred ownership over their Self and once the contract has been executed, they cannot back out of it without violating someone else’s property rights. To regain their Self, they would need to strike a new bargain with the new owner, but the new owner is under no obligation to enter into the bargain and can simply say, “no”.
From all this discussed, as a direct consequence anything that the new owner does to the sold Self is legitimate, so long as they do not violate anyone else’s property rights in the process (and just to emphasise the point: the person who transferred rights in their Self do not have any). If the new owner decides to kill the person, they can and it’s not murder. If they decide not to feed them, they can and it’s not murder or neglect. If they decide to fuck them, they can and it’s not rape. It’s all just a sanitised “use of property”.
And what’s even more hilarious is that this all the same thinking that was formerly used to justify slavery during the period of John Locke (gasp!) and Voltaire (double gasp!). Better yet, there is a certain irony in that the whole idea of Self-Ownership was supposed to begin from the premise that slavery was wrong.
A consistant application of the very principles this theory celebrates and founds itself on leads to making legitimate a whole tonne of evil to such an extant that “rape” becomes “not-rape”. So either a lot of people who use this framework for their politics need to come to terms with what it is their theory actually allows or some serious rethinking needs to be done on the question of whether Self-Ownership is actually a property relation or just a shitty metaphor?
And if it is just a shitty metaphor, what are the consequences for the rest of the theory?
How can you provide the same internal consistency (which is supposed to be the main selling point of the entire theory) without considering Property as a extension of the Self?