Suicide as a Natural Right- Part II

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Part I

The Lockean conception of shelf-ownership does not work if we cannot alienate self-hood. In the context of involuntary slavery, our absolute right (p.10) to self-possession is relinquished through coercive force [1]. The notion of natural rights almost always implies that the individual owns. For instance, the right of free speech codified under the First Amendment of the Constitution implies self-ownership. Individuals embroiled in political debate must utilize the very bodies they own and utilize scarce resources (p.2)to engage in the passionate exchange[2]. There is one glaring flaw that most ethical theorists get dead wrong about natural rights. Our negative rights that are part-and-parcel with our personhood may be self-evident, but they are certainly not inalienable. The American Declaration of Independence echoes this sentiment and forever cements it in the public consciousness: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The claim that these rights are unalienable does not connote ownership of these rights in any meaningful sense. By the inseparable nature of self-ownership and natural rights, we do not truly have unfettered possession of ourselves. The ability to alienate something is that can only be the consequence of ownership. True ownership implies that an individual can transfer, maintain, sell, deface, lease, destroy, etc. the article in question as they see fit. One of the strongest arguments for this radical interpretation of ownership comes from economist and Libertarian theorist Walter Block. Dr. Block writing “..No law should be enacted prohibiting or even limiting in any way people’s rights to alienate those things they own. This is “full monte” alienability, or commodification…” (p. 6) [3]. Block surmises that an unlimited condition of ownership naturally extends to the person, meaning that if an individual chooses to sell themselves into slavery this is legitimate. Unlike the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the individual being sold is consenting to the arrangement [4].

However, most, and moral theorists would suggest that natural rights, especially selfhood cannot be alienated or dispensed with. As our mind and body are typically inseparable; neither can be reallocated nor disposed of. This supposition suffers from an unfortunate fallacy because a person can voluntarily absolve their will and sentience. In the most extreme case, a person could give themselves a lobotomy effectively alienating their will and severing their mind from their corporal body (p.8) [5]. 

There are less extreme examples of people abstractly selling off natural rights in exchange for material gain. One only needs to look to employment contracts to see a ubiquitous example of this selective selling of rights. It is common for employers to include social media policies as a condition of employment. Effectively acting as a voluntarily acknowledged limit on free expression; a right codified under the First Amendment. Regardless of whether this restriction is a temporary sale of this right or permanent alienation it is a legitimate exchange. From the standpoint of Rothbardian contract law, this arrangement fulfills the criteria for an enforceable contract. Under this theory of contract law, the property must be exchanged for the contract to be binding, any other agreement is a mere promise (p.133-135). At the core of an employment contract or conditions of employment, the property is being exchanged. The employer is transferring compensation (monetary and additional benefits) to the employee. This exchange is contingent upon the employee following the company’s internal policies. Indirectly operating as a form of selling or “renting” natural rights in exchange for employment.

Selling property is merely one means of alienating property. Other more drastic measures can achieve this same outcome. The concept that an individual can condemn their property, mirroring the same privilege current held by various tiers of the U.S. government. The only difference is that when the state does it, they do so without the consent of the owner. Even when eminent domain is practiced within the parameters of the takings clause, however, the property owner generally does not have the right to refuse to surrender their property. Regardless of whether they are justly compensated for the relinquishment of their business, land, or home this arrangement is still inherently coercive. In stark contrast, if a property owner dedicates to transfer or otherwise condemn the land they own, this is legitimate. Effectively, suicide is an example of a person opting to condemn themselves. A person choosing to forever dispose of themselves permanently disables their ability to contribute to society; mimicking how governing institutions can decree that land or a build is no longer fit for occupation or commercial use. The state typically initiates such a directive in the context of habitation or use of the property would pose a “safety hazard”. However, a person contemplating “condemning” themselves does not need to fabricate such vague excuses. If they truly own their own body and mind, they do not have to provide any justification for performing such action. Unlike eminent domain, the individual can consent to the decision they have made. 

Most people might argue that allowing others to commit suicide with no mandated intervention would squander human lives [6]. Further supporting this statement by repeating tired platitudes about how it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. No doubt, suicide does come with a wide array of societal costs. The individual can never be replaced nor can their human capital because no two people have the same experiences. If we set aside the externalities of the act, there’s a deeper conflict at play. There’s a long tradition of property owners having the right to destroy what they own. The right to destroy one’s property has its roots in the doctrines of Roman and English Common law (p.8). Moreover, there is a long-standing tradition that arguably supersedes the concerns of modern environmentalists or other public interest initiatives. The concern for wasting resources was even voiced by John Locke back in the seventeenth century:

The same law of nature, which does by this means give us property, does also bound that property. God has given us all things richly, 1 Tim. vi. 12. is the voice of reason confirmed by inspiration. But how far has he given it to us? To enjoy. As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his Tabour fix a property in whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy. (p.12).

While Locke provides us with prudent advice regarding resource management, it is nevertheless, a suggestion. A just legal system would defend the property owners’ right to dispose of their property how they choose, even if it is considered wasteful. A legal system that has penalties or restrictions impeding the right to destroy one’s property, provides a perverted form of justice. Much like anything else a person owns, they should be able to “destroy” themselves. In a sense, we legally permit other more protracted forms of incremental suicide. For instance, currently, no laws are prohibiting the sale or consumption of sugar-saturated and chemical ladened soft drinks. Although cigarettes are highly taxed and regulated, we still live in a society where smoking is still legally tolerated. Both soda and cigarettes slowly kill the person ingesting either product; despite this fact, these products should remain legal. Following this same logic, if the person should be able to choose what they put into their body, they can choose to also ultimately dispose of their body.


[1]. The account of Slavery in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1690).

[2]. An allusion to  Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s theory of Argumentation Ethics.

[3]. In reference to Block’s postulations related to the possibility of voluntary Slavery.

[4]. How slavery was practiced in the United States was a reprehensible institution. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was incompatible with a property rights justification for self-ownership. 

[5]. An example Walter Block borrowed from legal theorist Stephan Kinsella.

[6]. The idea of wasting human life can be applied in an economic sense. The decreasing fertility rates in the Western world present challenges to the labor force and the tax pool. Especially, after all the Baby-boomers die.

Rights Are Reciprocal In Nature

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The conclusion that can be drawn from Lysander Spooner’s expositions on slavery and the injustice of the Civil War is that the rights are reciprocal.  Compulsory associate in the form of statehood is nothing more than slavery supported through the force of the U.S. Military. Kidnapping, false imprisonment, slavery, and other forms of coerced association violate the same underlying principle. All these forms of forced association restrict autonomous individuals. Who possess the implied right of unrestricted mobility. Suggesting they can travel or reside where they please as long they are not transgressing against the property rights of others. The right to self-ownership. Some may claim that this right inalienable and cannot be voluntarily transferred to another individual.  However, ownership implies that the owner can dispose of, consume, preserve, or transfer whatever they own. Even if that were to be the title to their own life. This could be feasibly transferred to another person via voluntary contracts.  The same can be said for individual rights being sold off or transferred even for temporary durations of time. When at work we are expected to abstain from making off-color or politically incorrect jokes while on the clock. In exchange for briefly and voluntarily suspending our right to free speech, we receive a conditional paycheck and continued employment.

Compulsory statehood not only violates the right to self-ownership by having the federal government assume control over the dissent citizens. It also transgresses a natural corollary of self-ownership, the right to free association.  If an individual owns themselves, they can choose who they associate with. Some may argue that you don’t choose your neighbors. Directly this observation is true. Indirectly it is false. Through purchasing a home in a specific neighborhood to consent to live near the people in the adjacent and parallel domiciles. This is quite qualitatively different then be forced to reside in a specific neighborhood by law or threat of military force. If the individuals residing in a certain geographic area all share similar sentiments and opt to become an autonomous region that is their prerogative. Yes, the Confederate South was guilty of the sin of slavery. Even considering this moral misstep, why should their right to free association be viewed as any less valid. Giving credence to the colloquialism “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. If were to examine the example of Catalonia, many Americans would be much more sympathetic to their separatist cause. In 2017, the Catalonian successionist movement presents a similar scenario.  A group of individuals self-identifying as Catalonian wanting to separate from Spain. Paralleling the Confederacy’s sense of southern identity driving them to want to become a sovereign governing body. Catalonia’s movement is easier to empathize with because it hasn’t been sullied and stained by any association with atrocities of the same magnitude as slavery.

The are other instances of the right of the free association being obscure by another issue. One of the most salient enemies of free association is political correctness. It is a lens that serves to only distort the general principle of having the right to choose whom you keep company with. Often, if you defend the right of state succession or the right not to associate with minority groups, you will be accused of bigotry. People believing that an unwavering defense of free association being tantamount to tacitly being racist demonstrates a lack of nuanced understanding. Not to mention this is nothing more than a superficial inference. It is possible to disagree with Jim Crow laws but also oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Both sets of laws infer our right to free association. Jim Crow laws are an example of forced exclusion. The state restricting who you can dine with, socialize with, and trade with through compulsory law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 operates as a form of forced integration.  This phrase generally is utilized in the context of immigration it also applies within the context of the Civil Rights Act. Business owners are being forced by statutory law to ignore certain characteristics of job applicants in the hiring process. Even though the proprietor of the business does have legal title and liability for the enterprise he established and manages. There is even some debate as to whether private business owners have a right to discriminate against customers for nonessential goods and services. The Masterpiece Cakeshop LTD V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case did appear to be a victory in the arena of free association. Many have erroneously labeled this situation as gay rights case.  This is incorrect. The larger principle behind this case is not whether a business is inclusive and accepts the transactions from everyone. Rather does the proprietor have the right to decline? The fact that the case involves a gay couple is unfortunate because it muddies the waters. Instead of commentators being focused on the principle of private property and individual liberty, they are all too fixated on the sexuality of the patrons who were denied service. If this had been a Neo-Nazi that had been denied service, who there has been any controversy? No. Making it reasonable to surmise that the social justice stance on discrimination is not only antithetical to our natural rights but is also hypocritical.  If we are truly committed to the principle of equality, then shouldn’t all businesses be forced to transact with every customer? Regardless if they are intoxicated and belligerent or white supremacy?  This frequently ignored question could lead someone to believe that the equality principle is one-sided.

It is utterly perplexing that most people fail to see the equivalence between various rights. For example, the right to gun ownership implies that an individual can abstain from owning a gun. The Second Amendment of the Constitution is predicated on the natural law principle of the right to defend one’s self and property.  The reciprocal nature of this right is somewhat self-evident.  This concept could easily be extrapolated to and to any of our other natural rights.  The ability to discriminate is at the very core of the principle of free association. Anytime we choose to patronize one restaurant over another we are actively engaging in a form of discrimination. The gay couple who were denied service by the Masterpiece Cakeshop could have easily utilized this principle to convey their dissatisfaction with the owners. Word of mouth can be the death knell for a small business, the couple could have easily told all their friends, family, co-workers, etc. about the incident. Urging of their close acquaintances to avoid this shop like the plague. Opting to discriminate against the shop. Is this an invalid form of protest? Not. It is equally as valid as a private company choosing to not do business with the couple.

This principle of voluntary discrimination makes state succession valid and any attempts to thwart these actions aggression. The south actively chose to discriminate between tolerating the overreach of the federal government or form their voluntary block of associated states. Through self-ownership and mutual consent among the citizens residing south of the Mason-Dixon line, this movement was valid. President Lincoln’s nationalistic initiative to force the south back into the Union was conspicuously transgressive.  


Spooner: Slavery and The Civil War= Morally Equal

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The concept of state secession has been viewed as being connected to support for slavery since the American Civil War. It seemed even in the modern era that if you advocate for the right of state secession you tacitly support slavery. Opportunistic pundits will not shay away from inferring that among many other contrived racists or Neo-Confederate proclivities. If we oppose slavery due to it being forced into involuntary servitude. A natural rights argument against slavery was first posited by John Locke in his work Second Treatise of Government. Suggesting that by a human being owning themselves due to their unalienable god-given rights slavery is illegitimate. Even though voluntary relinquishment, a man cannot transfer his title to self-ownership to another.

The extent to which this right to self-ownership is inalienable has come under question over the centuries. If we truly own ourselves, shouldn’t we be able to sell our freedom to pay a debt effectively transferring our title to self-ownership? In the past contractual arrangements have been made in the form of indentured servitude. Where the contracted party consents to work for no monetary compensation in exchange for other terms of payment. Operating as a form of barter. Generally, the terms of indentured servitude were temporary distinguishing it from slavery. Some economists even assert that voluntary slave arrangements are valid on the grounds of contractual consent. If compulsory slavery is invalid on grounds of self-ownership would not compulsory statehood also be illegitimate? The association of the original colonies was composed of an aggregate collective of individuals tired of being under the thumb of a distant mother country. In other words, this revolutionary coalition was formed under the conditions of voluntary association. If rights are reciprocal, for example, freedom of religion implies the right to abstain from religious observance, then various states have the right to withdraw consent and leave the union. Making Lincoln’s use of military force to thwart attempts of the south to secede be an abuse of power.

One unlikely defender of the right to state secession was the abolitionist and anarcho-political theorist Lysander Spooner. Spooner departed from his peers in the abolitionist movement by arguing that preventing the southern states from leaving the union was on par with the institution of slavery. Spooner in his essay No Treason #1 thoroughly expresses the illegitimate manner the Constitution was utilized to defend slavery:

“On the part of the North, the war was carried on, not to liberate the slaves, but by a government that had always perverted and violated the Constitution, to keep the slaves in bondage; and was still willing to do so, if the slaveholders could be thereby induced to stay in the Union.” (P.3).

Needless to say, Spooner was not a supporter of slavery. However, does this justify the aggressive actions on the part of the United States government? After all, is it not our duty to eradicate any form of injustice such as the vile institution of slavery by any means necessary? Even if that requires bloodshed? Even if it forces a large minority of people into a central government they do not desire to be a part of? Beyond the arguments of coercive force being used against the south, Lincoln’s motives were suspect. Per Thomas DiLorenzo’s book, The Real Lincoln, it is mentioned that Lincoln showed open disdain for the abolition movement. That he was even personally prejudiced against African-Americans. Lincoln enthusiastically advocating for sending all blacks out of the country to form a colony in Liberia.  As much as this development sounds like a conspiracy theory or the fabrication of a bored pulp fiction writer, it has been validated by several sources. Leading the inquisitive observe to wonder if the Civil War was more about consolidating power than anything else.

Spooner is quick to point out how it is perplexing that men who simply wish to no longer associate with the federal government soon become traitors:

“That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.”

This brings into question how does not desire to be a part of the constitute treason? Spooner reasons that if the Constitution was founded on the principle of freedom, then statehood would be rested solely on consent. Invalidating any attempts to use military might to keep the loose confederation of states together. The implications of preserving the union for the sake of freedom exposes deeper hypocrisy than merely a disingenuous effort to free all those subjected to involuntary servitude in the tobacco plantations of the south.

“…. power of the government, is (as she thinks) forever expunged from the minds of the people. In short, the North exults beyond measure in the proof she has given, that a government, professedly resting on consent, will expend more life and treasure in crushing dissent, than any government, openly founded on force, has ever done. And she claims that she has done all this on behalf of liberty! On behalf of the free government! On behalf of the principle that government should rest on consent!..” (P.5-6).

Essentially the northeastern establishment undermined the principles of the founding to keep the south under the egis of the federal government. If the country was founded on the principle of voluntary association, such efforts directly violate this principle. The rhetoric of fighting the south to preserve a unified and free America is a falsehood. Nothing more than the empty and halfhearted lips service that we have grown to expect in modern politics. It does not matter if the actions of the state reflect an honest reverence towards the right of volunteer association. Some scholars surmise that this right is implicit in the First Amendment, others argue that this interpretation is a little murky. From a purely natural rights standpoint, it is a clear violation to force people to join clubs and other varieties of political and social affiliation.  To blithely not only violate this right but to claim that it was done so to preserve liberty is a grotesque fallacy. Parallels the empty sentiment behind the modern phenomenon of national building. The falsehoods behind and bloviating are used to justify a nearly two-decade war(s?) in the Middle East. The United States has become the exalted missionary of liberal democracy. Nearly two centuries prior the United States adorned the false mask of the exalted liberator of slaves. Even though most of the Europeans had already abolished slavery peacefully. Like our contrived moral imperatives for engaging in our middle eastern campaigns, the Civil War was commerce under similar fallacies. To suggest the Civil War was executed the preserving the freedom of the average citizen is a slap in the face. One only needs to look at his overextension of power during the conflict to truly understand his mentality. For example, his suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpusalone demonstrates he was a far cry from a civil libertarian.

Spooner also presents several arguments that the majority ruling over the minority was outside of the original context of the constitution.  Forcing the southern states to remain part of the United States fully exemplifies the concept of the tyranny of the majority. The Constitution stating “… we the people..” does not only include the majority, but also the minority (p.7). He also claims that if the founders intended for the majority to rule over the minority Americans would have never become an independent nation (p.8). The American revolutionaries were the minority during the revolution. When compared to the size and scope of the British Empire. Spooner also mentions that the intentions of majorities are no better or worse than those of minority groups. Both having similar wants, needs, and being predisposed to the same faults as humans make demonizing the opposition illogical (p.8). Certainly, this wisdom of not demonizing the opposition has been lost in the contemporary political climate. The majority opinion in society isn’t necessarily wise. Conventional wisdom is rife with ignorance, superstitions, and prejudice  (p. 8). It is irrational to claim a policy position, or another idea is valid due to it being popular. Such a justification can be reduced to nothing more than an example of the  Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Popularity does not automatically make an idea or an action correct.

Spooner goes on to mention how the tyranny of the majority creates a cost struggle between slave and master. Who the slave is and who the slave is varied depending upon which party is in power. Generating a competition for usurping control away from the opposing party.

The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves; a contest, that-however bloody – can, as things, never be finally closed, so long as man refuses to be a slave …” (p.9).

The Civil War perfectly encapsulates the power struggle between various political factions. Echoing the concerns voiced by James Madison around the time of America’s founding. Vying political factions striving to achieve their objectives. The north’s desire to keep centralize and expand the power of the federal government. Leading to the use of military force. Preventing the south from separating from the United States. Effectively forcing the south to remain part of the country for political reasons. Parallels slavery. Slavery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and forced association all violate our natural rights. The fact that the commonalities between forcing the south to remain part of the Union and slavery are awe-inspiring.

Tocqueville on The South and Slavery

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Some of the keenest observations made by Alexis De Tocqueville in Democracy in America were made in his comparisons between the agrarian South and industrialized north. Tocqueville’s characterization of the two regions of the new American republic was so powerful they still passively influence regional stereotypes even in the modern era. The northern eastern United States is presented as a bustling hub for commerce and productivity. The south being caricatured as being rural, lackadaisical, underdeveloped, and board-line primitive. This may have been somewhat true in the 19th century. However, to hold such a view as being accurate today would be a gross demonstration of ignorance. Not too much it would require drastically underestimate the economic potential of cities such as prosperous Atlanta, Georgia, or the buzzing tourist town of Nashville.

In the nascent period of American history, southern states weren’t luring northern away from  Boston with low taxes and warm weather. The South was still primarily reliant on agriculture to fuel its economy. As we all know most of the labor was done by slaves. Tocqueville goes so far to point to the use of slaves in the south being the core differentiating attribute between the North and the South (p. 408).  Why? The practice of slavery in the south influenced many aspects of southern culture at the time. The absence of the practice in the north also helped shape the industrialized economy and culture of New England. Where the Weberian Protestant work ethic was very much salient. Through possessing a steadfast and unwavering focus on commerce the north ended up outpacing the south economically and technologically. Due to the lack of industrialization, much of the southern United States was less apt to become urbanized. However, considering the large plots of land required for agriculture lack of infrastructure and urbanization is understandable.

Farming is certainly a labor-intensive vocation. Requiring years of dedication spending engaging in hours of back-breaking working daily. How could we say that southerners of the 1800s did not possess a strong work ethic? The typical plantation owner did not do the work themselves. They had their slaves sweat and toil to produce the crops they sold. Making labor a necessity of the less fortunate. As ascribed by Tocqueville this subordination of work not only would be indicative of the luxuries of “idle men” (p. 407) but a more pervasive attitude towards labor. Relegating work to being only acceptable for the poor or slaves, it implies those above a specific status should not work. Especially when men of money have much more entertaining pursuits to indulge in. Such as hunting, gambling, socializing, womanizing, participating in local politics, etc. Drawing a sharp contrast with the self-made tycoons of the industrialized northeast. Where wealth was more of the byproduct of enterprising wit than old money or traditional social arrangements. Almost expressing a distant desire to return to the days of the monarchy. Where the slaving owning elites would either serve as the ruling class. Their slaves would be nothing more than captive constituents Analogous to the serfs of medieval. However, while the serfs were owned by lords only be being tied to the land and insurmountable debts. In the humid countryside of 19th century Georgia, the plantation owner possessed the land and the workers.   

Alexis De Tocqueville did point out that slave owners advocated for the continuance of the institution for the sake of profits. But rather to maintain their aristocratic lifestyles. To many unacquainted with the economics of slavery, this may come as a bit of shock. Tocqueville flat out declares slavery less efficient than free labor. A view is also expressed in the book The Real Lincoln by economist Thomas DiLorenzo. Tocqueville citing that the observation that paid workers tend to work faster than slaves (P.406). This being a core driving force of any economy. What Mr. Tocqueville is implying that the slave owners could not possibly be solely concerned about profits. If they were they would have switched over to paid labor. Due to the increase in efficiency and decreased production costs (food, room/board, and clothing for the slaves). In contrast, the profit-centric northern capitalists would see this transition as a no-brainer and a strategic shift in production methods. This would require the southern elites to become more involved in managing the process. Rather than have administrative and managerial matters handled by slaves that have proven themselves capable of such higher-level tasks. Hence, foiling the regal lifestyle fulfilled with entitlement, unearned honor, and leisure.