Self-Ownership

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The proposition that one does not have an unqualified ownership in his or her person is not new.  In his dissent in the 1905 case, Lochner v. New York, Justice Harlan voted to uphold a state statute regulating the hours that people could work in bakeries.  Long hours, he reasoned, “may endanger the health and shorten the lives of the workmen, thereby diminishing their physical and mental capacity to serve the state. . .” [italics added].

Because the state is defined as an entity that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory, the idea that individuals have any rightful claim to immunity from such violence would, of necessity, be a limitation on such monopoly power.  This is what underlies the current debate over TSA powers to photograph and grope the most personal parts of our bodies: to forcefully remind us of our subservience to the state, which is entitled to do to us anything it chooses.  One saw this same principle carried out in Nazi concentration camps, in which prisoners (particularly women) were stripped naked — and, in many cases, shorn of their hair — as leering German officers performed their own versions of “body-scanning.”  It was such dehumanizing practices, concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl informs us, that were the most difficult to bear.  Like the military practice of shaving the heads of new recruits, the state must strip people of any sense of individuality and personality if it is to maintain its monopolistic power over them.  THIS, not the bogeyman of the “terrorist,” is the purpose behind the very existence — as well as the current practices — of the TSA.  As the Nazis and Soviets made known to the world, totalitarian power is achieved only by forcefully subduing individual claims to self-ownership!

On the brighter side of all this, the state’s denial of our self-ownership also undercuts the raison d’etre of modern political systems.  If, as we were indoctrinated in schools, governments were created by a “social contract” designed to protect our lives, the state’s claim to its existence evaporates.  If we have no claims of self-ownership to protect, there is a “failure of consideration” (as we lawyers like to say) that makes any purported “contract” a nullity!

11:12 am on November 14, 2010
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