Liberty Matters

Jan Narveson’s Response to Michael Zuckert

As I have been at pains to point out, "self-ownership" is not a basis of libertarianism. It simply is one of the several ways of stating it, and nothing else. Since Hobbes is a libertarian in moral principle -- his First Law of Nature is, precisely, the nonaggression principle, as his deductions from it make clear, tabling, as usual, the strictly political arguments -- he does "arrive at" the self-ownership in question, though he doesn't call it that.
Hobbes's "right of nature," as I have also pointed out, is not and cannot be a right, a term he carefully defines in its proper moral connotation. For each to have a "right" "even to another man's body" is for nobody to have any rights at all. What there is, is the "liberty" of nature, which as Hobbes says gets us into nothing but big trouble. Rational people, therefore, go by -- agree to -- his Laws of Nature: "willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for Peace, and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself." He calls it a "right" but what it is, in his own account, is and can only be a liberty, and in no way a right. Rights entail duties; liberties, as such, do not.
Hobbes indeed acknowledges, as Michael points out, that the law of nature is “not really a law and not really natural as Hobbes tells us.” But Hobbes didn't take Philosophy 100. His Laws of Nature are moral, not civil or legislated, and they are natural in the only important sense, which is that they are based, as Hobbes says, on the nature of man, and so long as that nature remains roughly as it is, they are, as he says, "eternal and immutable." But the aspect of man's nature that they are based on is (practical) rationality, given our various needs and desires and bodily limitations. Seeing our situations and predicaments, we see the need for the Law(s) of Nature.
I am sorry not to have seen Michael's books that he refers to, and will hope to have time to peruse them one day!