In response to my remarks on the illegitimacy of banning particular items of clothing, I have been criticised for asserting the concept of self-ownership: the idea that each of us has an inviolable property right in our own person. It turns out this is a difficult concept:

Property is the most fundamental and complex of social facts, and the most important of human interests; it is, therefore, the hardest to understand, the most delicate to meddle with, and the easiest to dogmatize about.

— William Graham Sumner, quoted in Boundaries of Order.


The conflicts, disorder, and destructiveness that are so expressive of modern society arise from our confusion over the nature of property as a system of social order. So insensitive have we become to the role of property as the most important civilizing influence in our world, that we have even learned to regard the infliction of our wills upon the lives and property of others as expressions of “socially responsible” conduct.

Boundaries of Order, Butler Shaffer, 2009.

Questions relating to society are rarely considered in terms of property, and yet it is the most fundamental of social facts. What is property, how is it to be controlled and by whom? What does “ownership” mean? These are some of the questions which Butler Shaffer sets out to answer in Boundaries of Order – Private Property as a Social System.

Shaffer shows that control is the defining factor in the ownership of property. Liberty is not an abstract philosophical principle, but a way of describing the autonomous nature of life in its myriad forms. Liberty and spontaneity express the essence of living systems. Shaffer’s book is about how and by whom authority is to be exercised over individual lives. He demonstrates that whether or not we choose to claim self-ownership goes to the heart of what it means to be a free person and that liberty and self-ownership are synonymous: “We are free only insofar as we insist upon the exclusive authority to direct our own energies and other resources.”

I shall leave the subject here. If you wish to explore the concept of self-ownership and property as the basis of a peaceful, cooperative society, then I recommend Shaffer, which may be bought or downloaded here.

In the meantime, in the words of Number 6:

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.

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