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Self-ownership and the state: a democratic critique

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Libertarians often invoke the principle of self-ownership to discredit distributive interventions authorized by the more-than-minimal state. But if one takes a democratic approach to the justification of ownership claims, including claims of ownership over oneself, the validity of the self-ownership principle is theoretically inseparable from the normative justification of the state. Since the idea of the state is essential to the very assertion (not just the positive enforcement) of the principle of self-ownership, invoking the principle to discredit a distribution of ownership authorized by the state commits libertarians also to weakening that principle's validity. Put differently, appealing to the self-ownership principle to circumscribe the state's power to distribute property is problematic when the state is necessary to assert the validity of that principle. This is because anytime the self-ownership principle is used to undermine a state-based distribution of property it is also implicitly eroding the ground for asserting its own validity.1

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