Over at Intercollegiate Review, Carter Skeel writes a short piece on how Self-Ownership is an Illusion. Unsurprisingly, his brief thoughts on moral stewardship and a debt to community are quickly torn to shreds by a handful of libertarian-leaning internet commentators. But Mr. Skeel is on to something, even if he didn't take the time or have the space to flesh it out fully, for self-ownership is indeed a flawed and inaccurate concept. Particularly as it is understood in our current political moment.
As Skeel points out, the idea that we own ourselves certainly doesn't agree with Scripture. He quotes from 1 Corinthians 6: "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" Scripture makes it clear: You don't own you. You owe everything about your existence and sustenance to God's grace. And this isn't just an abstract idea – it has real life implications. You are to die to your sinful desires and live to serve and love God and your neighbor. An atheist might argue for self-ownership as a fundamental reality, but the Christian can't hold to it with a straight face.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. took issue with Skeel's piece. He criticizes Skeel's argument (and goes on to patronize him, but I'll focus on the relevant things Woods says), arguing instead that self-ownership should be defined "vis-a-vis other human beings." In other words, Woods defines self-ownership as our "right to control what is ours." He presents it as asocial definition, and not a fundamental moral reality (at least not for the Christian).
If we accept Dr. Woods's definition, however, we quickly encounter problems, for no one has an absolute right to control anything, even if you limit that definition to "vis-a-vis other human beings." For example, everything, even your life, may be taken from you by force if you commit egregious enough social sins. But there is a bigger question at stake, for when it comes to questions of political theory, libertarians tend to reduce the world to two entities: the individual and the state. And, sadly, the modern political fight (particularly in the U.S.) has become which of these two should overpower the other.
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