Self-ownership and world ownership: Against left-libertarianism

Social Philosophy and Policy 27 (1):168-194 (2010)
Abstract
What regime of property ownership satisfies norms of justice? The doctrine known as “left-libertarianism” offers a seemingly plausible answer.1 Its basic thrust is that libertarianism properly understood leaves room for an egalitarianism that enhances its appeal. In this essay I argue that the seeming plausibility of the doctrine evaporates under scrutiny. This set of views is unacceptable from any political standpoint, left, right, or center. The left-libertarian category encompasses a family of positions. I focus on one of these, the views elegantly articulated by Michael Otsuka.2 Otsuka’s version of the doctrine nicely illustrates the philosophical ambitions of the project and the flaws at its core. The project is to combine a libertarian thesis of self-ownership (each adult person is the sole full rightful owner of herself) and an egalitarian thesis of world ownership (any legitimate private ownership of material resources or parts of the earth by one person must be compatible with private ownership by all other persons of bundles of resources that are equal in some appropriate sense). I object to both elements in this synthesis. The self-ownership thesis is both too weak and too strong.3 It is too weak to capture a genuine insistence on individual freedom, and too strong in its denial of what..
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