Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Designed Rights versus Natural Rights

Although many commenters in response to my defense of Ron Paul's decision to gain control of the web sites and claimed I did not provide enough information with regard to my distinction between "designed rights" and "natural rights" to argue against the post, James J. Miller in a thoughtful essay showed just how it can be done.

Though I believe that Miller's view is incorrect, it addresses the key foundational points of my view on rights and deserves a response, which I will provide here.

Miller writes:
Economist Robert Wenzel recently came to Paul’s defense by writing that the former Congressman is in the right because the use of his likeness is misleading. In the same post, he declares there are no natural rights, and therefore the internet should be governed differently.
Wenzel’s defense, while spirited, is mistaken. The owners of and came into possession of the domain sites through homesteading. Before being acquired, the sites had no owner- they were effectively unowned property.
Murray Rothbard describes the homesteading principle as
“the way that unowned property gets into private ownership is by the principle that this property justly belongs to the person who finds, occupies, and transforms it by his labor. “
Homesteading assumes that man owns himself before he can justifiably mix his labor with unowned property. If he does not rationally come to the conclusion that it is within human nature for men to own themselves, then there is no basis for his ownership of other parts of the natural world. 
Miller provides a sound succinct summary of  homesteading theory, sprinkled within a natural rights framework. But Miller's summary also provides the weakness in natural rights theory. Just how does one reach the conclusion that one "owns oneself,"  in some "natural" rights manner as Miller claims? I believe this contradicts reality. When we think of the word natural, what comes to mind is something that already exists in nature. Naturally curly hair, a natural blonde. The five definitions of natural as found at all seem to support this view:

1. existing in or formed by nature ( opposed to artificial ): a natural bridge.

2. based on the state of things in nature; constituted by nature: Growth is a natural process.

3. of or pertaining to nature or the universe: natural beauty.

4. of, pertaining to, or occupied with the study of natural science: conducting natural experiments.

5. in a state of nature; uncultivated, as land.

Thus, I  must ask, how can there be a "natural" ownership of oneself, when that "ownership" may not exist in the presence of

1. A slave owner

2. A cannibal

3. A murderer

4. A dictator, who throws people in prison

We may want to control, say, our body, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions.

Most of us would prefer to live in a society where we are not subject to the whims of slave owners, cannibals, murderers and dictators, that is, we would prefer to live in a society where designed rights provide for much freedom, but these rights are not "natural" as evidenced by the history of slavery, even in the US, and the history of brutal dictators, even in modern times, from Mao to Hitler to Stalin. Indeed, many have been born into such states never smelling freedom.

Rights are not natural. We don't get an understanding of rights, or rights themselves, automatically. They have to be thought about and debated as to how they should be designed. Then they must be discussed, promoted and sometimes fought for so that we can live in the types of societies that we desire.

It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss why I believe a free society like that promoted by Murray Rothbard (though he used a natural rights theory to get there) is most beneficial for nearly all in a society where "rights" are designed, but I do believe the best understanding of rights comes from understanding them as designed rather than natural.

That said, if one recognizes that rights are designed and not natural, the argument is pulled out from under those who claim that there is some kind of magical mixing of land and labor that always results in the best way to define property rights.

The rug can be pulled from under Miller in this manner. He writes:
With free will, ends can be found that conform to what is right. Since man owns himself and any unowned property he mixes his labor with, he has a right to do with that property what he will as long as he refrains from interfering with others.[...] It follows that the owners of and are indeed the rightful possessors as they, in effect, homesteaded the domain sites.

There are many problems here. First, Miller assumes natural rights. Second, he assumes that this somehow provides a justification for man mixing land and labor as the only way to justify property ownership. But I ask, why must this be so? What is it about the mixing of land and labor that MUST result in ownership? Why not the first to see land? Why not parcel new found land into separate equal size lots to all present? Surely, the "mixing of land and labor" provides an advantage to those with stamina and strength versu, say, a grandmother. Again, why shouldn't new found land be parceled out into separate lots to all present? If a grandmother does not have the strength to work land herself, she can always sell it or lease it out. What is "natural" about her losing out on gains from new found land?

I hasten to add that I am not here attempting to reject the mixing of land and labor as a possible method  in a society to determine ownership, but merely to show, it is not such a cut and dried affair as natural rights theorists often tend to suggest.

Without this "homesteading" peg, though, it is much more difficult for Miller to claim that the current owner(s) of and are the rightful owners. Under present law, which I could see evolving in a similar fashion in a designed rights society, it is illegal to use a name in a deceptive manner, relative to domain names. I use, again, as I did in my first post, the case of a restaurant named, Abe's Steakhouse, where someone else opens a restaurant in the same town with the same name. It is very easy to see a designed rights society not allowing situations like this where a second person attempts to use the same name for his steakhouse as the first person. Since, it could very well be that the second person is simply trying to mislead and take business away from the first steakhouse owner by using the same name.

In the same manner, it is not difficult to see a designed rights society develop internet domain name rights, whereby, if someone sets up a domain name address merely to traffic off of another person's name, then the address should be awarded to the person who has the claim that people are searching for his name rather than the current owner who is simply attempting to benefit from that.

Miller goes on:
In his blog post defending Paul, Robert Weznel argues that right [sic] are not nature [sic] but are rather “designed.” He states that “You can argue about who should design rights, how they should be designed, but they are nevertheless designed rights.” Immediately, Wenzel’s proposition leaves the possibility open to full-blown totalitarianism since government can become a designer of rights. 
Miller misses the point of his own argument. The real problem is that governments have designed totalitarian societies! There are no "natural" rights. Rights are designed. If they are designed poorly,  or not enforced, you are going to get a mess, including the possibility of you being murdered by the state, tortured by the state or imprisoned by the state.

Miller also argues that:
Perhaps more egregious is that a man such as Ron Paul is lobbying a governmental entity to do his bidding. Paul’s congressional career was highlighted by his refusal to engage in political corruption. His understanding of the cretinous disposition of the state is what made him a voice for liberty among the criminal class. Appealing to the World Intellectual Property Organization is the same kind of shameful maneuver that Paul honorably spoke out against for decades. It is a violation of the libertarian principles of peace, cooperation, and respect for property.
Here, Miller is simply assuming that we are already living in a private property society, as if Dr. Paul has an option to go somewhere else to claim the web addresses. Dr. Paul may rail against the United Nations all day long, but if it is the only organization in our current world that can enforce his claim to the web addresses, then he has no other option.

It is not any different from those who believe that in a private property society that there should be no government police or government courts. If some unwanted person moved into the house of a private property society advocate, the advocate would not in any way be violating private property society ethics by using government police and government courts to evict the person, if there is at that time no private property society! Shouts from Miller of "You are using the violence of the state," notwithstanding, such a person would be simply protecting his own damn property, in the only possible way at the time. Ron Paul is doing the same thing.


  1. Just putting it out there, but David Gordon is going to have quite a time with your book, IF it ever comes out.

    1. Looks to me like Wenzel has given this quite a bit of thought. I think you will lose for sure on the IF.

      And the logic he is spinning has some sense. What really is a "natural right" if you don't have it automatically?

    2. I kid. He's been promising it for some time now, so that's the only bit of snark.

      And I agree it is interesting, but it will be met with due scrutiny and I await the outcome.

    3. Oh yeah, you lose, so now you are kidding. Ha, ha.

    4. I have to disagree. JFF is taking a shot at Wenzel because, if you follow the blog, he has been talking about this book since 2009. Now I understand that it takes awhile to write a book and he has other things going on, but Wenzel has consistently used his book as a reason to not address what appear to be very valid points in the comments section.

      It seems to me that debating in the forums would be a good way to get your thoughts straight and test arguments in order to improve the book. Wenzel apparently doesn't think so and tells us to wait.

      He's fair game on this issue until the book actually comes out or until he starts addressing reader's concerns in the comments section instead of simply referring to a book that will exist at some point in the future.

    5. How can you possibly say Wenzel hasn't outlined his debate in the blog? If you go back to Tucker, he outlines much of his argument.

      It's kind of bizarre here that some attack him for taking his time to make sure he has the full argument down, while others attack him for not knowing enough about other arguments. Which is it, should he move faster or study the issue thoroughly.

      Further, he has written at EPJ that he developed his interest in rights as a result of his study on IP. That is this is a byproduct of study.

      Judging from what he has written above, it appears he has given the topic considerable thought and that what is above is just a teaser. I look forward to the book, when he has completed his research on the matter and not a day sooner.

      That said, it does appear by this post that he is willing to provide "stand alone" snippets relative to his thinking. I want to hear more on his thinking about natural rights. I am not convinced either way, but he might have a point that rights aren't "natural" in the way we normally think of the term.

    6. Robert Wenzel said:

      "I hasten to add that I am not here attempting to reject the mixing of land and labor as a possible method in a society to determine ownership ..."

      It seems that the fundamental error in your position on property rights is your belief that society, "the collective", is the source of property rights.

      But since societies are comprised of individuals, a societal structure is only as legitimate as its respect for the rights of each individual.

      As Bastiat said:

      The Law by Frédéric Bastiat

      "If every person has the right to defend—even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right—its reason for existing, its lawfulness—is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force—for the same reason—cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups."

      Robert Wenzel said:

      "Thus, I must ask, how can there be a "natural" ownership of oneself, when that "ownership" may not exist in the presence of
      1. A slave owner
      2. A cannibal
      3. A murderer
      4. A dictator, who throws people in prison
      We may want to control, say, our body, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions."

      There's a difference between ownership and the capacity to defend property.

      What follows from your view is that if someone is ABLE to kill or imprison you, then you really were never entitled to your life or liberty in the first place.

      So, it's not just that your view would enable tyranny, but that it wouldn't find fault with tyranny.

      On what basis, in your view of property rights, COULD you find fault with tyranny? Nobody has a right to their life in your view - they don't own it, it's not theirs; Therefore no one wrongs them when they are murdered, imprisoned, or robbed.

      Robert Wenzel said:

      "If some unwanted person moved into the house of a private property society advocate, the advocate would not in any way be violating private property society ethics by using government police and government courts to evict the person ..."

      Government can be justly used to defend private property rights, as Bastiat argued. But governments may not violate the rights of individuals on other people's behalf.

      I'll finish by saying that you and Ron Paul do great work, and I look forward to what both of you will do in the future.

      Vote "No" on Rand in 2016!

    7. You write:

      "What follows from your view is that if someone is ABLE to kill or imprison you, then you really were never entitled to your life or liberty in the first place."

      Yes, a Stalin a Hitler may do this to you. What does "entitlement" mean in this context? It is an empty concept.

      More than anything man does not want to live under such natural entitlement, where he loses his life or liberty. He wants to live where, for whatever reason, men respect the life, liberty and property of others, regardless of how they reach the conclusion to design such a free society.

    8. Robert Wenzel said:

      "More than anything man does not want to live under such natural entitlement, where he loses his life or liberty. He wants to live where, for whatever reason, men respect the life, liberty and property of others ..."

      Notice that, in your scenario, the "life, liberty and property of others" is necessarily prior to the society in which the person wishes to live.

      He must have already in place a concept of property rights in order to wish for this.

      But what gives him the right, outside of his realized society, in your worldview, to claim a right to property before a that society exists?

      Robert Wenzel said:

      "Yes, a Stalin a Hitler may do this to you. What does "entitlement" mean in this context? It is an empty concept."

      In that context, "entitlement" means that I am justified in using force to defend my property, whether or not I am successful.

      In your worldview, though, it follows that no justification is necessary for these acts, because no one has a natural right to their life.

      On the question of homesteading - why mixing labor with natural resources makes something property (though that wouldn't be the ONLY way, as you brought up), and why dividing land into equal chunks would not be a legitimate means of defining property:

      As Lee Doren has noted (just giving a nod to his work, here), nothing is a resource until we use it, so the objects that exist in the universe derive their utility from human action (my words, not his). Hold this thought.

      Now, no one has a natural right to tell me what to do with my own body (if I claim the same right over HIS body, then where are we?), and no one has a natural right to claim objects as property merely by virtue of fact that he says its his property (if two people are claiming it, what logic justifies the one's claim vs. the other's?)

      So, the natural state of things is that there are people who have a natural right over their own persons, and some unowned objects.

      No one owns the objects or other people, so no one has authority to tell others what to do with the objects, or to restrict what others do to these objects.

      But as soon as someone transforms an unowned object for his own purposes, something now exists that did not exist in the natural state of things (or, at least not THAT PARTICULAR thing). It has become the fruit, as it were, of someone's labor.

      In other words, someone has expended himself on an object [*snicker*] and the resulting creation has been mixed with someone's labor;

      No one having authority to tell another what to do with their own body, no one, likewise, may command another's labor for their purposes; Therefore, the unowned object becomes the property of the one who mixed his labor with it.

      Once owned, the owner may give or trade his property to another; The voluntary exchange results in new ownership for the objects which had been transformed through someone's labor.

      Etc., etc.

    9. Anonymous: I said precisely what I meant.

      Derrick: Thanks, you got it!

  2. So in other words..."might makes right."

    Ron is appealing to the mightiest he can find.

  3. "Thus, I must ask, how can there be a "natural" ownership of oneself, when that "ownership" may not exist in the presence of (slaveholders, cannibals, dictators, murderers)"

    Also: Airplanes fly, hence, there is no natural "law" of gravity.

    1. The amount of illogic baffles me.

      Planes shows just the type of natural physical law that contrasts from supposed natural rights.

      No dictator, commie leader etc. can reverse "natural" gravity, but they sure can stop a person from doinf supposed "natural" rights.

  4. seriously??!?! cannibals?!?! slaveowners?!? merely because those things exist donesn't mean your rights don't exist, anymore than property rights are extinguished by burglars.

    1. I think Wenzel is correct here.

      Property rights presuppose ownership. There is nothing "natural" about that. A dictator can own a chair or land but not do so through some natural rights mixing of land and labor.

      The same thing with a human, what is ownership of a body if it is controlled by someone else. You are sneaking "natural" ownership into your argument. It doesn't hold.

    2. Unfortunately most libertarians equate "natural rights/law" with libertarianism, forgetting that both Mises, Hazlitt and Hayek came along before Rothbard. It was Rothbard who built the natural rights ethical foundation.

      Now Hoppe has come along with his "argumentation ethic". It was Rothbard that praised Hoppe's new ethical approach, even though many libertarians are unaware of it.

      Rothbard on argumentation ethics of Hoppe

    3. Unfortunately, many libertarians think the only ethical foundation is "natural rights", yet Mises, Hayek and Hazlitt (among others) were before Rothbard. It was Rothbard who advanced the natural rights ethical theory. Why shouldn't people give Wenzel's view a look?

      Hans Hoppe developed his "argumentation ethic" which was praised by Rothbard as a tremendous advancement, even though most libertarians aren't even aware of it.

      Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide

      As Rothbard's student, Hoppe noted the following problem with natural rights:

      "It has been a common quarrel with the natural rights position, even on the part of sympathetic readers, that the concept of human nature is far "too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law." Furthermore, its description of rationality is equally ambiguous in that it does not seem to distinguish between the role of reason in establishing empirical laws of nature on the one hand and normative laws of human conduct on the other. (The Economics and Ethics of Private Property [EEPP], p. 313; also A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism [TSC], p. 156n118)"

      Rothbard on Hoppe's argumentation ethic

      Again, why not give Wenzel a chance?

    4. @Heath

      You are misreading Wenzel. He is not arguing that self-ownereship is a right. He is denying it exists automatically.

  5. "Thus, I must ask, how can there be a "natural" ownership of oneself, when that "ownership" may not exist in the presence of

    1. A slave owner

    2. A cannibal

    3. A murderer

    4. A dictator, who throws people in prison"


    Coercion does not transfer ownership of property. Period.

    Physically coercion can transfer POSSESSION. In this way a THIEF may POSSESS someone else' property, but the possession in NO WAY implies ownership.

    All four examples you gave are therefore invalid.

    All four examples you gave rely on coercion.

    All four examples you gave posit an 'unnatural' condition inasmuch as they DO NOT GIVE THE SLAVE-OWNER, CANNIBAL, MURDERER, OR DICTATOR CONTROL OVER THEIR VICTIM.

    Such victims both can AND HISTORICALLY HAVE chosen the consequences over submission. So long as the option to not submit to the coercion exists, the influence exercised through coercion is UNNATURAL.

    UNNATURAL means circumvented by natural means.

    To submit that coercion can transfer either ownership or real control is simply - and physically demonstrably - incorrect.

    Furthermore it is a contradiction in terms. The word 'coerce' contains as part of its definition the idea that real control lies outside the power of the one exercising coercion, and that the actions of the one exercising coercion are intended to influence the object of the coercion.

    In other words, if coercion were the same as natural control, it could not be coercion. The very substance of the argument is a contradiction.

    1. There is no transfer if a person never has ownership in the first place.

      I think you just made Wenzel's point.

      If a person is born into a dictatorship, when did the "transfer" take place.

      This is different from, say, ownership of a chair, where presumably the chair is already owned by someone.

      Furthermore, ownership is not "natural" in any of these cases, it is a structure designed by society.

    2. You still own yourself, even when born into dictatorship.

    3. Yeah that makes a lot of sense, you "own yourself" but you can't do what you want.

      If you "own yourself" in a dictatorship then what is the objection to dictatorship?

    4. TheCleaner,

      You can always do what you want. No restraint or coercion can prevent the attempt. Coercion simply provides an UNNATURAL consequence to a NATURAL activity.

      If coercion were a NATURAL consequence, then it would present itself regardless of whether there were other humans around. A human-constructed consequence IS NEVER NATURAL.

      A human consequence that arises from the very nature and construction of humans is NOT HUMAN-CONSTRUCTED.

      Thus what you are 'allowed' to do, and what you are 'naturally able' to do are two different things. The 'not-allowed-to-do' things are human constructs and thus UNNATURAL constraints. The 'not-able-to-do' things are NATURAL constraints.

      Please note this logic even holds up to NATURAL consequences of misbehavior.

      If a person's misbehavior is of a nature that it presumes a different state of natural humanity for either actor or object, then it will elicit a NATURAL response.

      Thus, Shakespeare's admonition in a Merchant of Venice, "Prick us do we not bleed, wrong us do we not revenge?" is wholly logical. There are some actions to which humans will naturally react.

    5. @El Gordo:

      "You can always do what you want."

      Then why do we object to dictators?

      You go down hill from there in your argument.

    6. El Gordo,

      I think you nailed it. Mises did it first but you some up his proposition very well.

      Inherent in human nature is choice.

      People never question the ownership of the means of production when discussing different types of government or societal structures (fascism, communism, socialism, capitalism...); but who owns the means of production for individuals? Who owns an action?

      Per Mises, humans, faced with an uncertain future, choose between means and ends. Then they act. The process of choice between means and ends is "owned" by an individual. In other words, there is no manner by which an external could exhibit control over the esoteric internal process of subjectively weighing means and ends.

      I think most individuals find their own control of weighing means and ends to be rather difficult, but by what process could anyone ever hijack the matrix of another person's system of deciding which actions to take? Mind control?

      If humans did not have to choose between means and ends then their would exist no process by which to obtain a desirable future situation. In that reality, resources would not be scarce and all desires would be sated as they occurred.

      To go full circle, who owns the means of production of an individual, who owns an action? That person who weighed means and ends and engaged the scarce resources of the universe to try to obtain a desired circumstance under uncertain future circumstances.

      In all cases of coercion, choice still exists. Human action still exists. Holding a gun to someones head and telling them to do something does not remove their choice in the matter even if death is the outcome of not complying.

    7. The Cleaner,

      Au Contraire, your objection to dictators is exactly what they would like to use coercion to prevent you from doing.

      Your acknowledgment that you CAN object to them despite their attempts at coercion PROVES my point.

      A modern school principal is an excellent example of a dictator.

      Do you seriously posit that it is not naturally possible to disobey the Principal?????

      Even Ferris Buehler knew better.

    8. @tJm

      "People never question the ownership of the means of production when discussing different types of government or societal structures (fascism, communism, socialism, capitalism...); but who owns the means of production for individuals?"

      Are you that ignorant? From das Kapital:

      "Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds."

    9. My point in the sentence you quoted was that the ownership of the means of production was inherent in the term. Fascism means government control of the means of production, same with Communism. Private ownership of the means for capitalism.

      The means of production for individuals would follow as the means (process) by which an individual produces (acts), which is like asking who owns a persons' consciousness. Another relevant question would ask how someone could control the process of consciousness of another person. What levers exist to control what and how people think?

      I'm this ignorant at least, probably more: I don't understand your reference to das Kapital in terms of what point you're making or rebutting. I was also ignorant, until I looked it up, of the definition of integument. On that matter, I am now clear.

      Also, why so hot? Just exchanging ideas.

  6. Is your argument that we have no rights other than those granted/recognized by a "design rights society"? That would mean there are no universal rights. That rights would be subject to constant review by "society" - i.e. the state.

    Is there any argument, moral or otherwise, against the slave owner if the slave does not own himself?

  7. Thank you for the response Wenzel. In light of Lew Rockwell's recent post on the issue ( I need to rethink the whole affair considering some new facts I was unaware of previously- including the role of ICANN in the affair.

    I appreciate the response very much though. It's healthy for libertarian political theory to have these types of discussions.

  8. Here is this linchpin of the argument... Wenzel states, "Under present law, which I could see evolving in a similar fashion in a designed rights society, it is illegal to use a name in a deceptive manner, relative to domain names."

    In Wenzel's situation, the second restaurant sprouts up *after* the first restaurant is established. This is not an equal argument. Here, the original owners have a domain name, which happens to be the name of *one* Ron Paul who exists in the world. There are many Ron Pauls. Under Wenzel's system, which one is to be the owner?

    Walter Block has already addressed the nature of reputations - they are owned by other individuals. No person can own the subjective feelings others have for them.

    Moreover, the natural rights arguments are all addressed in Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty.

    Miller is correct.

    1. Exactly. As far as I can see, the only claim Ron Paul has to the is that ICANN might favor him as a VIP and decide to simply take it from it's rightful owners and operators.

      Does Ron's "right" to the name extend to all Top Level Domains such as What about any other iterations of his name that supposedly are him such as or Does he own them all even without ever attempting to use or "homestead" them?

      Can he wait until they get popular with an obvious ability to generate revenue and THEN decide to take them? Or, can no one ever register them?

      This is essentially might makes right at it's worst.

    2. Hah, Miller has even pulled his reasoning.

      You need to read Wenzel's first post on this subject where he discusses the fact that there are many Ron Pauls.

      That's already been covered.

      Finally, because the current owners of are established it to take advantage of THE Ron Paul, it is very much the same as the steakhouse example.

    3. Cleaner- I have not pulled anything. I acknowledged some aspects of the story I did not originally address; neither of which disprove my view on natural rights.

  9. I don't think you can make a good contribution to the philosophy of liberty or natural rights without being familiar with all significant natural law or natural rights literature. Unfortunately, many libertarians have poor training in this area. Even Rothbard only scratched the surface.

    There are many responses available to Wenzel's points, but he doesn't see them because, for example, he does not appear to be familiar with John Finnis on the basic goods, or Hoppe on the law of non-contradiction leading to a self-ownership/homesteading logic.

    1. How do you know Wenzel is not familiar with the thinking of Hoppe and Finnis? He was responding to a post by James Miller. Do you expect him to right a book length treatment in a blog post?

      I note you don't list the full arguments of Hoppe and Finnis, are you not familiar with them? You are an idiot.

    2. Isn't it just a tad silly to suggest that Wenzel isn't familiar with Hoppe's work on this subject just because he doesn't explicitly address it in this blog post. I am sure these things will be addressed in his book.

      This is the first place I've seen a real libertarian argue AGAINST natural rights. I do hold the natural rights position, but frankly in all my years of libertarian studies it's really the only position I've seen fully fleshed out.

      This is why I come to this site regularly. Bob (and Chris) are not afraid to challenge the views of anyone, up to and including even the most "hardcore" of libertarians such as Rothbard and Hoppe's views on natural rights.

      I greatly look forward to the book and further discussion on this subject, as should all libertarians regardless of their current viewpoint.

      After all, I'd imagine every single one of us at some point in our lives saw the State as, at the very least, a necessary evil.

      A challenge to our views is what helped us arrive at them, either changing them or help solidifying our counter-arguments. Therefore, any principled challenge to our current views, especially by someone as knowledge and thorough as Mr. Wenzel, should be welcomed with open arms and hungry minds.

  10. Wenzel still provides no substance here. I get it, he doesn't accept the concept of natural rights, not groundbreaking stuff. There are other libertarians who don't accept it. It does raise the question of why he supports IP but then again why are fraud, robbery, murder etc wrong in a designed system? Because they make a mess of things? He probably holds some sort of utilitarian view point. He does use the words better and should so he has some criteria in mind.

    To Wenzel a natural right doesn't exist because it can be violated, but surely a designed right can be violated also. There are some libertarians who are not natural rights proponents and have explained their reasoning in greater detail.So i don't find it fair to criticize too much given these limited posts on the subject.

  11. If a slave-owner claims to own a person, does that person's body respond to the nervous system of the slave-owner or the slave.

    If it responds to the slave then the slave is the natural owner of his body, and the slave-owner's claims are an unnatural imposition on the natural order of things.

    If a cannibal's appetites deliver ownership of his victims bodies to him, at when does that ownership transfer?

    Does it transfer when the cannibal gets hungry? When he severs a part of his victim's body for consumption? After consumption? How does the transfer manifest itself? Does the victim actually the ability to direct his body? If the cannibal owns his victim's body naturally, then does the cannibal feel pain as he would when biting his own body? What about the physical ability to direct the limbs the cannibal has severed? When is the cannibal's nervous system able to direct the limbs of his victim's in the same way as he directs those he was born with?

    If the answer is that he cannot feel, or direct the flesh he has taken, then the inescapable conclusion is that nothing the cannibal can do transfers ownership of his victim's body to him. His imposition is unnatural.

    What about the murderer? So, Wenzel believes perhaps that after conducting a murder, the victim becomes a sort of zombie that the murderer can direct as he directs the body he was born with?

    If not, then the murderer's control over the body is not natural but a result of his unnatural imposition into the natural order of things.

    What about the dictator? If the dictator tells you that you must not drive faster than 55MPH - do you automatically lose the ability to defy him? You lead foot will simply refuse to obey you, in obedience now to the dictator? If not, then the dictator's dictates are an unnatural imposition - and affront to the natural order of things.

    If you can disobey - regardless of consequences - then the means of disobedience belong to you and not to the lovers of coercion.

    1. El Gordo,

      You need to stop. Wenzel's point simply is that there is no such thing as "natural" ownership.

      If someone is born and lives under a dictator, how does that person have ownership of his body and live under rules different than those designed by the dictator? If someone is murdered how does that person have ownership of his body?

    2. If you are robbed of your property, do you still own it wherever it now resides?

      We do live under a dictator. If you believe you are unable to defy him then you have an argument.

      If you believe you have a choice about obeying the dictator, then your belief in that choice contradicts the dictator's ownership of you.

      Property cannot choose, for property owns nothing, and and choice requires ownership of ones own will.

    3. I agree. El Gordo you are spinning all over yourself, wtf are you trying to say. You say this, but argue against it:

      " If you believe you are unable to defy him then you have an argument."

      And this is nuts, you are almost attributing human attributes to property, while taking it away:

      "Property cannot choose, for property owns nothing, and and choice requires ownership of ones own will."

      Please stop, you are making my head spin.

    4. @El Gordo

      You are misreading Wenzel. He is not arguing that self-ownership is a right. He is denying it exists automatically.

  12. Is it not natural to not want to be made a slave, be eaten, or be killed? I don't believe that those that were slaves need the state to tell them they had a right to be free. Another person may take away our use of our body that does not mean they have a right to it. I think this is where we differ, Robert believes laws are rights, natural rights believers believe laws are below rights. Laws may in fact keep people from enjoy that they have a right to, but that doesn't mean they have no right to it.

    1. The slave owner, cannibal and killer might have a different view from you.

      Trapped sucker.

    2. But they dont have any right to be a slaveowner, a cannibal, or a killer..therefor they are criminals.

      all rights come from property rights, which is a natural right of being human. No one can design that right or take it away. if the state takes it away or infringes against it, its criminal, and if the state designs the right, its irrelivant because the right already existed without the state.

      Read Spooner's letter to grover cleveland...

    3. How is that a trap? Rights are violated constantly. That does not mean to say that rights don't exist because someone violates them.

  13. Since aggressors exist, there can be only rights conveyed by the state?

    Robert, do you just disagree with Locke and agree with Hobbs about the natural state of existence? Do you believe in spontaneous order, but only within a state society?

    Natural rights are based around the same deductive logic that Mises uses. Just because the federal reserve can break or violate "laws" established in Austrian Economics does not unmake the law, right?

  14. "I must ask, how can there be a "natural" ownership of oneself, when that "ownership" may not exist in the presence of 1. A slave owner 2. A cannibal 3. A murderer 4. A dictator, who throws people in prison..."

    I believe there is a difference between a Natural Ability and a Natural Right. You may have the Ability to murder someone but you don't have a Right. There is no Right to infringe on others Rights.

    Self ownership is self evident and you can see it in young children when they become naturally aware and start saying "No!", taking control of themselves.

    Anyway it's just a philosophical point, it's intangible.

    Rights technically don't exist until they are asserted, meaning defended against aggression.

    I don't think what Ron Paul is doing is wrong though.

    1. You are talking in circles, trying to prove natural rights by assuming they exist. Not really powerful thinking. What else you got?

  15. "Self ownership is self evident."

    Tell that to the 6 million Jews that were killed.

    1. Ouch!

      Nobody said you can't be conned into thinking otherwise.

      Mises was aware enough to get out.

    2. Correction...

      Tell it to the 10's of millions of other Jews refused to be killed and fled.

    3. @Daniel

      Talk about setting up straw men. What about a musician who wasn't paying attention to politics? Are you saying self-ownership only applies to those paying attention to politics?

    4. That musician didn't pay attention b/c he owned his body and decided not to.

      Are you saying you have to be told you own yourself?

      If you don't except the self-evident part then maybe you can choose. Of coarse choosing implies self-ownership.

      Rothbard poses the options:

      1. You own yourself
      2. Someone else owns you
      3. Everybody owns an equal part of everybody

      Is the answer self evident?

  16. "Just how does one reach the conclusion that one "owns oneself," in some "natural" rights manner as Miller claims?"

    The act of "owning" something is entirely different from a "state of being" . It is the state of being that is self evident, meaning its proof is contained inside of its very existence, if it exists, it is-This is self evident and presupposes natural right.

    Just as this debate presupposes human reason among its participants

    It is unnatural for one to own oneself every bit as much as it is for a slave trader to claim ownership rights. That it exists is another matter. You can however be responsible for your own actions and this is where Natural Rights intersect with Morality of which many believe is irrelevant

    1. "It is the state of being that is self evident, meaning its proof is contained inside of its very existence, if it exists, it is-This is self evident and presupposes natural right."

      A butterfly exists as do cockroaches, how does this presuppose natural rights?

    2. I assumed that human reason was a given in this instance.

      You'll have to discuss this with the butterflies and roaches if your seeking a more accurate answer...

  17. I'll take Hoppe over Wenzel.

    Read Hoppe:

    Listen to Hoppe:

    1. Oh yes, let's make this a guru match, instead of debating the merit of the arguments, what a dumb comment.

    2. I laid out a good source from an intelligent person. I am not a scholar on the issue, nor have I read as much as I would like to yet I have some experience in listening to arguments and deciphering which one sounds correct. That is the level I am at right now with this subject and I am guessing where many are at who are on this forum, perhaps you as well. Is that a "dumb" comment? I suppose I may not be as informed as many but it added to the table and did not subtract. Your comment, however, was negative and did not add anything to the conversation.

  18. Wenzel says rights are designed, therefore, they can be violated. Those objecting to his denial of natural rights have a problem because as natural rights they can not be violated. Wenzel has everyone covered.

    1. Your definition of natural rights is confused. Naturals rights theory undermines a moral theory. By virtue of being a person you OUGHT to have certain rights. The fact they are violated is obvious everyday. Now if you are "designing" rights you need a theory which aids in forming such rights. A theory which tells you what OUGHT to be the designed rights. Without natural rights what is your theory?

    2. "By virtue of being a person you OUGHT to have certain rights."

      Says who?

      It's nice that many people may think that way, but many people argue that those rights include the right to food stamps, a place to live and money for air conditioning and a flat screen tv?

      How can you refute their argument with your logic? Can't be done.

      You lose.

  19. "Thus, I must ask, how can there be a 'natural' ownership of property, when that 'ownership' may not exist in the presence of

    1. A squatter
    2. A theif
    3. An arsonist
    4. A dictator, who confiscates at will

    We may want to control, say, our property, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions."

    Well, perhaps the same pattern again, except hitting closer to home...

    "Thus, I must ask, how can there be a 'natural' ownership of information, when that 'ownership' may not exist in the presence of

    1. A private investigator
    2. A digital pirate
    3. A hacker
    4. A dictator, who conducts surveillance at will

    We may want to control, say, our information, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions."

    The definition of the term natural does not imply eternal and immutable; it implies a state towards which the system tends to settle when not being disturbed by human action. In this light, "natural" is the wrong description for the concept, but "designed" is also wrong, as there are properties of a naturally occurring human system which can possibly resist the onslaught of coercion. An individual might still choose to say there are four lights even if it invites utter torment and destruction at the hands of a tyrant.

  20. I wish he could have worked something out privately, without resorting to the government. was instrumental to my understanding early on. I spend hours on their "sound money" page reading the comments and trying to wrap my head around it.

  21. I guess there was a snafu, but there they are again, a really good talk by Tom Woods on rights, history, etc. Admittedly, they have strongly influenced my thinking on the subject:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    Part 3:

  22. RW said: "Most of us would prefer to live in a society where we are not subject to the whims of slave owners, cannibals, murderers and dictators". This very desire is the evidence of the existence of natural law, because it is the desire of our human nature to live in peace. The principles (laws of peaceful human coexistence) that are subsequently discovered must be in harmony with this inherent desire to live in peace. Your "designed rights" are really then no different from discovered natural rights, since those doing the discovery share a human nature.

    1. They are different in a very important way. They can reach very different results in the real world. For example, assuming the deus ex machina natural rights Locke-Rothbard view of ownership going to the first mixing land with labor, would belong to the current owners. In a designed right society that would not necessarily be the case.

    2. In a designed rights society it would be whoever had the most guns and missiles. Hitler and Stalin were great designers of rights. Mao was also quite the designer.

    3. No labor was mixed with land to produce Domain names don't exist in nature. Lew Rockwell's commentary ( is correct. The owner of is the domain registrar. They can license its use to whomever they choose. In fact, they have published guidelines for settling exactly these kinds of disputes. Ron Paul is following the rules specified by the legitimate owners of

      Now, whether or not a pseudo-governmental agency should hold a monopoly on the distribution of internet domain names is another, albeit interesting, question.

    4. The central point of natural rights is the recognition that they come from something other than the will of human beings. They come from "nature and nature's God". It sounds to me like Designed Rights acknowledge only the human will. I have to agree with Derrick that such is a formula for disaster.

    5. Actually, Dwight, you are thinking like a central planner. Why can't there be societies designed around various interpretations of different views of God's nature, and societies designed around the secular non-aggression principle? Versus just a society designed around your view of "nature and nature's God"?

      Yuor formula is disaster, it would require total agreement of everyone on the planet.

    6. Robert, your formula deifies the human person. Natural law at least acknowledges that human beings are not self-deifying, but are best served by humility before something greater than themselves. I am also not saying that there is no room in human society for those who wish to self-deify, and seek to create laws out of nothing. I am simply saying that hubris is dangerous, and that those who create laws with no foundation external to their humanity will come to the same end as those who create money out of nothing.

    7. Natural law is "discovered" law, no different from the laws of physics. No physicist believes he is creating the laws of physics, and the same is true of those intent on discovering natural law precepts. Human action is a series of principles discovered by observing how humans behave in society, and which types of behaviors are beneficial, which are harmful. Perhaps at base we are not in disagreement about this.

  23. The slave owner may control the consequences of slave's actions, but it is still the slave that chooses his own actions based his own evaluation of those consequences. In that sense, the slave's self-ownership is no different than any other individual's self-ownership.

    1. So you would be in favor of slaves because they "own themselves" in your view?

    2. Who cares what I would be in favour of. My point was that the concept of natural rights is independent of actual human relations.

    3. Pedrag,

      You are shifting the conversation. You said "slave's self-ownership is no different than any other individual's self-ownership."

      Wenzel, thus, has a very legitimate question, just how does self-ownership work, if it exists for a slave?

      You are attempting to shift the debate. You did not say "the concept of natural rights is independent of actual human relations," you said slaves have self-ownership.

      Do you still believe this?

    4. No, I don't think I am shifting the debate. Th debate is not about my beliefs or preferences. It is about the concept of natural rights. I think I explained above the context in which the slave's natural self-ownership is defined. It is defined by the existence of slave's choosing of his own actions. It is not defined by slave's relationship with the slave owner. If it was, the concept of natural rights would depend on the specifics of every particular situation. The idea implied in my first comment was that the existence of natural rights does not depend on the particulars of a situation, so there is no inconsistency here.

      So, if there is anyone shifting the conversation here, it is the one who asked if "I would favor slaves" because "they 'own themselves'". (I am guessing "slaves" was supposed to be "slavery" here.) I may favour slavery because slaves own themselves or I may favour slavery for hundred other reasons. I also may oppose slavery because slaves own themselves if I dislike their slef-ownership as is defined above. However I decide to form my preferences around slavery, it has nothing to do with whether or not natural rights exist independently of the relationship between two humans.

      Even you, The Cleaner, finish your post with asking about my beliefs. If I am not mistaken, you are asking if I believe slaves have natural self-ownership. So, you are asking me if I believe slaves have free will, because insofar as they have free will, they have self-ownership. Do I know if anyone, including myself, has free will? I don't. Do I believe humans, including slaves, have free will? Yes. But, who cares about my beliefs. It is flattering to know that someone does care, but my beliefs are not the topic here. Or are they?

  24. Robert,

    I have been following your blog for a little while now. great stuff, but I had come to wonder whether you are not involved in some kind of a Rothbard cult, judging for example by the way in which you recently attacked Tucker on the basis that he simply did not include Murray in the top authors of his online library ( not even asking what the ranking was about - for example sales).

    It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see you finally distancing yourself from views held by Rothbard. Pleasing, I said, but puzzling too. It is not as if you are here questioning rothbard's opinion on some peripheral issues of his philosophy. You are dealing here with what should be at the core or the root of libertarianism: the "nature", or if you prefer the origins of property rights, not only as they relate to assets, but also as they relate to people.

    Another thing that was surprising and puzzling was your apparent misunderstanding of the concept of natural rights. You write "We may want to control, say, our body, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions" and give the example of murder or slavery. How can you conclude from their that their is no natural property rights over oneself? Aren't you simply confusing rights and facts? Under slavery, you property right over yourself may not be respected, but does that equate to this right not existing? Would you similarly say that property rights over assets do not exist because thefts happen? Wouldn't murder and theft take place in the private property society that you call for? Your empirical refutation, as it relates to the natural right of self-ownership, appears therefore pretty inadequate.

    On the theoretical front, my judgment is fairly similar. it seems to me that when you state that there are only designed rights and no natural rights, you want to reduce the meaning of the word rights to that of legislation. Looking up the definition of the word natural, you put two and two together, and figure that having defined the word rights and the word natural separately, you have now understood what natural rights means as an expression.

    Seems intuitive enough, but how about this for an alternative approach: go and lookup the scholars who form the natural rights school of thought! Natural rights are not about a set of laws that you find written on some stone in a forest. They are not either about the set of rules that will emerge naturally in everybody's minds. They are about the set of rights which, given human nature are, on average, the most likely to result in Pareto improvements in civil societies: mutual renunciation of force and private property. Natural rights is not a mystical concept, it is a utilitarian one.

    That's why for example natural rights proponents accept the principle of homesteading.
    Having establish the utility of private ownership (tragedy of the commons), having establish the necessity of self ownership and ownership of one's labour, one can only conclude in homesteading as a matter of practicality: if I own the result of my labour and have mixed my labour with an unowned property, no one can make a claim against this asset without making a claim over the labour that I have mixed into it.

    Let me state at this point that I agree with you on, but as a matter of natural law! Putting it simply, I believe that a person identity is his property. While identification and identity are two separate things, if an individual takes up an identification (and that's what web addresses are) with the view of using somebody else identity, he violates this person property and should be prevented from doing so.

    1. You are reading Wenzel incorrectly, he is not saying that because a person doesn't control himself that he has no natural rights, he is saying that those who say natural rights exist because we always have self-ownership are basing their argument on the fallacy of self-ownership always existing.

      And this is not the only point Wenzel differs with Rothbard on. He has a different view on entrepreneurship and the definition of the money supply

    2. Thanks; I had indeed not read it this way