The normative principle I am suggesting for the law is simply this: No action should be considered illicit or illegal unless it invades, or aggresses against, the person or just property of another. Only invasive actions should be declared illegal, and combated with the full power of the law. The invasion must be concrete and physical. There are degrees of seriousness of such invasion, and hence, different proper degrees of restitution or punishment. “Burglary,” simple invasion of property for purposes of theft, is less serious than “robbery,” where armed force is likely to be used against the victim. Here, however, we are not concerned with the questions of degrees of invasion or punishment, but simply with invasion per se.
If no man may invade another person’s “just” property, what is our criterion of justice to be? There is no space here to elaborate on a theory of justice in property titles. Suffice it to say that the basic axiom of libertarian political theory holds that every man is a selfowner, having absolute jurisdiction over his own body. In effect, this means that no one else may justly invade, or aggress against, another’s person. It follows then that each person justly owns whatever previously unowned resources he appropriates or “mixes his labor with.” From these twin axioms — self-ownership and “homesteading” — stem the justification for the entire system of property rights titles in a free-market society. This system establishes the right of every man to his own person, the right of donation, of bequest (and, concomitantly, the right to receive the bequest or inheritance), and the right of contractual exchange of property titles.
Legal and political theory have committed much mischief by failing to pinpoint physical invasion as the only human action that should be illegal and that justifies the use of physical violence to combat it. The vague concept of “harm” is substituted for the precise one of physical violence. Consider the following two examples. Jim is courting Susan and is just about to win her hand in marriage, when suddenly Bob appears on the scene and wins her away. Surely Bob has done great “harm” to Jim. Once a nonphysical-invasion sense of harm is adopted, almost any outlaw act might be justified. Should Jim be able to “enjoin” Bob’s very existence? Continue reading “An Excerpt from Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution”