I found this hilariously exasperated piece from Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on Tumblr while I was browsing the #pajamaboy tag. In it, Gobry says the problem with the legal realist point that all economic regimes are totally made up social constructs is that it denies people’s rights. What rights? Well, you know, the “inherent, natural, human right to their property.”
That there is a pretend-intellectual alive in the 21st century who still thinks economic laws are deducible through squinting real hard at nature is amusing in its own right. I thought the positivists cleared those idiots out of existence, but maybe the positivists never made it to France. Or at least not to the parts of France that produce the perpetual college freshman insights of Gobry.
If Gobry wants to use “natural economic rights” to guide our judgment here, that’s fine though. I have taken it upon myself to deeply interrogate nature and her majestic edicts, and I have found that every person has an inherent, natural human right to the distributive share that they are owed under Rawlsian egalitarianism. Nature, nay the universe, commands it. To the extent that laws conflict with Rawlsian egalitarianism, they deny to human beings their natural economic rights. Since Gobry is a proponent of such conflicting laws, it follows that he supports the totalitarian destruction of natural human rights.
Upon realizing that we both looked at nature and found conflicting human rights contained therein, the reader might wonder how we adjudicate this very serious disagreement. Indeed, that is a good question. When the first sufficiently evolved humanoid was birthed by its ape-like mother, what did nature have to say about that humanoid’s inherent human rights to the resources of the world?
Did nature, at that wonderful moment, deem that this humanoid most assuredly had absolutely inherent natural rights to utilize resources in accordance with the rules 17th century Western Europeans would come up with around 200,000 years later, as Gobry maintains? Or, did nature deem that this humanoid had universal atemporal human rights to utilize resources in accordance with the rules 20th century John Rawls would come up with also around 200,000 years later, as I maintain? This is a tough question, and I am not sure I can answer it here.
Gobry Hates Liberty
Although I can’t determine with 100% certainty what rights nature has given all of us with respect to the usage of pieces of the world, I can at least remark on something that is troubling in Gobry’s view about it. It is clear from his writings that Gobry supports the brutal, authoritarian, and totalitarian destruction of human liberty.
That is a big claim, I know. And it pains me to accuse such a learned gentleman of it. But I can only witness that which I see.
Liberty, as defined in its truest negative sense, is freedom from external restraint. This, along with the principle of self-ownership, commands that nobody shall have the right to act on the body of another without their consent. But “property rights” as Gobry slyly calls them gives people precisely that right. For a right to property is not a right over a piece of the world, but rather a right to act on the bodies of others: to attack and externally restrain those bodies without consent.
In a world that respects liberty, people are free to do whatever they’d like, provided they do not act on the body of another (e.g. externally restrain it). This requires that people may walk about the world as they please, grabbing and utilizing any of its various pieces and resources as they go. No person may stop them from doing so because such stopping would impose an external restraint on their body, a destruction of their negative liberty.
Yet, this kind of liberty-destroying external restraint is precisely what property ownership is. In fact, it is the only thing that property is: a social relation of violent exclusion wherein the “owner” has claimed a right to attack other human beings if they try to act on a particular piece of the world. Claiming a “property right” does not change the piece of world that it is meant to attach to, nor the person claiming it. It merely advertises a terrifying threat: everyone else’s pre-existing liberty to use this piece of the world is hereby extinguished at my violent hands whether they consent to have their liberty so destroyed or not.
What’s most troubling about Gobry’s hatred of liberty is that he appears to think it is the proper role of the state to carry out this liberty destruction. Through its promulgation of property law, the state eliminates all of the liberty of its citizens. A web of rules is created whereby each human being is imprisoned on to tiny little parcels of the natural world, and violently prevented from accessing all of the other parcels of the world around them, even though they never consented to have their liberty of movement so restricted.
The propertarianism that Gobry claims to derive from the law of nature is a statist, totalitarian, authoritarian, liberty-destroying nightmare. Surely nature does not demand such a horrific system that extinguishes all human liberty, does it?