Self-Ownership: The Foundation of Freedom


Freedom is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot--and suffers from both inaccurate use and over use.

There have also been volumes written about it--from the deepest philosophical tomes, to the shortest speeches by George W Bush!

And seeing as we are now urged to support the spreading of "freedom" around the world--it behooves us to understand what it really is.

To clear the decks, let me say right off the bat, that freedom is NOT the same as democracy. In fact, democracy can be shown to be inimical to freedom.

The counting of heads, or the will of the majority, in no way protects or guarantees freedom. In fact, freedom can be utterly obliterated under democracy--as the rise of Hitler's National Socialist Workers Party did prove.

So let's forget about democracy, and concentrate on freedom.

I'm all for spreading freedom around the world--but before you can do that, you need to understand exactly what it is.

Can freedom be defined in one sentence, one phrase, or one word? Is it possible to define freedom in a way that will eliminate confusion?

I believe there is. The foundation of freedom is the principle of "self ownership."

It sounds simple enough, perhaps even self-evident. But by exploring the ramifications of such an idea, one's commitment to freedom is keenly tested.

I also believe this concept is not difficult to understand or explain to others. And yet in grasping the import and ongoing consequences of such a term, one can see the revolutionary implications of it.

Self ownership means just one thing, that YOU are the owner of your life--your body, your mind, your energy, and any consequent results of your life's efforts.

If you are not sure of this--or disagree--then simply ask yourself, "If I am NOT the rightful owner of my own life, then who is?"

The ownership of your own body leads to many predictable conclusions. The most obvious are that you are able to make decisions about your own body, and consequently, your own life.

To illustrate: You are the one who decides what you must eat to sustain your body. You are the one who decides whether or not to take a particular drug to cure an illness. You are the one who decides what to read, in order to stimulate or entertain your own mind.

It would be ludicrous for you to pass this responsibility on to someone else--in order that they may impose their choices on you. (And censorship is wrong for this very reason.)

But owning your life is more than just owning your physical body. It is more than just deciding what to wear, what to eat and what to read. Your life also includes your mind. And with your mind you are able to do a lot of things that are equally defined as "your" life.

To illustrate: If you spent ten hours of your life, last week, on the creation of a new coffee table for your home, then that object is the result of your own life's effort. You expended your own energy in its creation. And, as a result, it is now your property--and rightly so, because it was created by your energy and intention. Ultimately, it is a product of your mind--brought to fruition via the actions of your body.

In making it, you may have purchased timber off someone who grew the trees on his own land, or a timber merchant who specialises in selling furniture grade materials--thereby engaging in the voluntary exchange of property.

In this way, life and property are inseparable. A man without any property is dead!

So a natural consequence of owning your own life, is owning that which your life creates, or trades with others--property.

There can be no such thing as self-ownership, if there is no property. One automatically leads to the other. Self ownership implies a proprietary interest in your own life and the material results of your life's actions.

Now, if you own your own life, then it stands to reason that every other individual on this planet also owns his or her own life. The only exceptions would be those whose lives are the legal and/or moral responsibility of someone else--as in the relationship between parents and their young children. But children grow up, and assume full property rights over their own lives.

Now the question arises, "What type of society would grow and evolve out of the recognition of each person's self-ownership?"

Obviously, it would be a society where such self-ownership was respected; where all interaction between self-owners was on the basis of voluntary agreement. In a society of self-owners, everyone would be truly equal--equal in their status as owners of themselves. No masters. No slaves.

Such a society would be "free" in the true meaning of the word--an environment where every individual was free to pursue his life as the legitimate owner of his life.

It also raises the question as to what countries can legitimately call themselves "free." Obviously, to have any meaning, a free country would have to be one where self-ownership was sacrosanct. If it was not, then it would not be free. "You're either with us or against us." You're either free or you are not.

Are there shades of freedom? Are there places where one can be freer than somewhere else? Of course there are. Freedom can be measured by the yardstick of exactly how much self-ownership is permitted. So it's quite possible to talk of one country having more freedom than another. However, to claim the moral high ground of being a FREE country--as in truly free--then it would be necessary to show that each and every person was indeed free. No existing country passes that test.

Let's test some scenarios.

Are you living in a country where you can speak your mind? Where you can speak out against the government? Can you write a book which criticises your government without getting thrown in jail?

Are you living in a country where you can ingest any substance into your own body--like tobacco and other drugs? Or are laws and regulations in place which limit your freedom to do so?

Are you living in a country where you get to keep the money you earn--i.e., the money you receive for expending your life's energy last week, last month, or last year? Or does your government take a chunk of your money off you by force--to give to others who have demanded it?

Are you living in a country where you can freely trade your property with the property of others--without any interference? Or are you required to apply for licenses, or pay levies on such transactions?

You get the picture.

In fact, by the definition I have offered--that freedom is the societal condition in which you are the effective owner of your own life--no country is fully free.

Yes, various countries will allow for some freedom, some exercise of your personal ownership rights. Some countries are more free and some less free. But none can claim to be fully free.

Hong Kong was reasonably free before being handed back to China. It was relatively free, because an individual had a great deal of control over his own life. There was no democracy--but there was a good deal of practical freedom.

The USA is free in some ways--but unfree in others. There are millions of people incarcerated because of drug-related "crimes"--which in a free society would not exist. People can now be held without trial. And if the USA brings back the military draft, then they will have taken another major step back from freedom.

Even in Iraq--before the invasion--some freedoms existed in the midst of restrictions.

For example, in Iraq everyone had guns (and most still do). And one expat Iraqi, who returned from the USA, said that provided he did not criticise Saddam, he was relatively free to get on with his life as he saw fit.

The same could be said for China. If you just mind your own business, you can make a fortune, and keep most of it. Just don't go shouting your mouth off against the Communist leadership!

The EU is pondering the banning of the image of the swastika. It appears they don't see the contradiction in their actions--to limit freedom in the name of protecting it.

Yes, every nation is a basket case of contradictions when it comes to having freedom. No nation is free. There are no free societies. So, you have to search for a place where you can live with the most freedom. It's a case of choosing the "best of a bad bunch."

But ultimately, freedom begins "at home." And the first test of your own commitment to freedom is to ask yourself, "Am I willing to grant every other individual the right to his or her own life?"

Keep in mind, we're talking here about mutual recognition of such a right. If someone breaks into your house and steals the home entertainment system you worked so hard to pay for, then such a person has broken the freedom code--and forfeits his own freedom. How it is forfeited depends on the type of society. But in a rational, free society, the emphasis would be on ensuring that such a person made restitution--by expending his own effort to pay for the property so stolen. With interest, of course!

Freedom is not that hard to understand--just hard to implement, because the majority of people are NOT prepared to grant others the ownership of their own lives, and prefer the "busybody" approach to social organisation. This characteristic is reflected in the body politic--where we get the government we deserve. Or more correctly, the government the majority deserve. And until we understand freedom as individuals, and grant that freedom to our neighbours, all efforts to bring freedom to the world will fail miserably.

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David MacGregor's picture
Columns on STR: 26

David MacGregor runs an information service and publishes a newsletter for freedom seekers and aspiring sovereign individuals at