Individual Sovereignty

Individual sovereignty means that it is evil for any other person to interfere with one’s honest and peaceful choices. This prescription comes from natural moral law, as expressed by the universal ethic:

1) “Harm” means a invasion into another’s domain.
2) All acts, and only those acts, which coercively harm others, are evil.
3) Welcomed benefits are good.
4) All other acts are morally neutral.

Natural moral law is derived from human individuality and equality, and the premise of equality implies individual sovereignty. For if one is not sovereign, some other person has the moral authority to be a master, and equality does not exist. Individual sovereignty is moral equality taken to its logical conclusion. The concept of “self ownership” is the same as individual sovereignty.

Because individual sovereignty derives from the universal ethic and its premise of human equality, it does not imply that a sovereign individual may do anything he pleases. A self-owner may not impose coercive harm on others. One may do as one pleases so long as one’s actions are honest and peaceful. An honest action does not coercively harm others through fraud.

“A person has a functioning mind and the actual or potential ability to make choices based on reason and awareness” (Dictionary of Free-Market Economics). Young children have such minds and are therefore also sovereign. But the ability to use reason is something that develops as children mature, and therefore the parents have a responsibility to exercise some of the sovereignty rights on behalf of their children. Conversely, creating a child also creates a moral obligation of the parent to provide judgment as well as material needs for their children. Upon some age of maturity, the child becomes a fully sovereign human being.

In political theory monarchs have been said to be sovereign, and are called “the Sovereign”. But even if the king has absolute legal power, he is a human being equal to all others, and any coercive power he has over others is a usurpation of individual sovereignty.

When republics and democracies replaced absolute monarchs, the state and its government were said to be sovereign. A country is sovereign when there is no other political body above it. In the United States, the federal and state governments have parallel sovereignty, and the native Indian nations are supposed to have some elements of national sovereignty. The US federal government has entered into treaty obligations and has joined international organizations such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization, but it could withdraw from these organizations and treaties, as the UN and WTO have no sovereignty, but only delegated powers.

Power is always exercised by individual persons, not by mental constructs. Governments and states are mental constructs, having no reality other than what people believe. If a government exercises its sovereign power, in reality, it is the president or prime minister applying the forces of government, ultimately its army, police, and prison guards. Arbitrary state power is ultimately the unequal power of some individuals over others. There is no moral authority or legitimacy for government other than to enforce the universal ethic, which implies that it is immoral for government to interfere with peaceful and honest individual sovereignty. If government makes theft legally a crime, it is already morally a crime, and government simply acts as an agent of the people to enforce moral law, although if it does that, the financing must also be moral.

Therefore individual sovereignty implies peaceful anarchism, with no imposed government, because even if the government confines itself to enforcing the universal ethic, the rulers are human beings who have no greater wisdom, in general, than others, and they could end up imposing their wills to alter peaceful choices. Therefore, pure equality implies that there be no rulers imposed on unwilling persons.

Anarchism, as the absence of imposed government, does not imply chaos and disorder, as connoted by the unfortunate other meaning of “anarchy”. Human beings have always lived in organized communities. In anarchism, most people would join associations such as condominiums, cooperatives, and proprietary communities (owners with tenants). These local communities would federate into broader or higher associations, ultimately covering a continent or the whole planet. The benefit of government – a uniform rule of law – would be provided, without its fatal flaw, the denial of individual sovereignty.

One more element of individual sovereignty needs to be addressed: the issue of land ownership. Self-ownership implies the ownership of one’s labor, the products of labor, and the wages of labor. But self-ownership does not apply to nature, all that is apart from persons and human action. The premise of human equality implies that all persons own an equal share of the benefits of natural resources, and that can be accomplished by collecting the economic rent of land, its yield when put to optimal use, and distributing that rent equally.

The local site rentals, generated by the local population, commerce, and public goods, would be paid to the community’s providers of civic goods. The multi-level federations of voluntary communities and associations would implement the collection of land rent and local rentals, and this geo-anarchism would provide the funding needed to implement the voluntary governance.

Individual sovereignty is therefore feasible and is consistent with, and indeed best generates, peace and prosperity. Wars, such as in the Middle East, would cease if most people recognized individual sovereignty and equal rights to natural benefits, rather than fight over the coercively collective and fictitious sovereignty of states.
This article first appeared in

6 thoughts on “Individual Sovereignty

  1. The lead sentence can’t possibly mean what it seems to. If I am competing with someone, whether in business, politics, or a relationship, I may have every intention of interfering with someone’s ‘honest choices’. I intend to foil them. But this is part of life.

    If the explanation is to be found in the ‘universal ethic’ as enumerated, then I can paraphrase ‘evil’ as “coercively invading another’s domain”. This is easy enough to say, but it begs the question. What a priori ethic defines any individual’s domain? As a practical matter, different individuals must have different domains. How could this notion be explained in a universal way, without resorting to pragmatic social construct?

    I realize the rest of the article tries to flesh this out, and one can agree with the desirability of at least some of it. But desirability is a long way from logical necessity, even logical consistency. And ‘rule of law’ without some form of compelling enforcement, whether coercion or inescapable logic, is no law at all.

  2. “… individual sovereignty implies peaceful anarchism …” The problem with this, historically, is that people always have surrendered parts of their liberty and individual sovereignty (and then some) to gain a sense of security. This practically always turned out to be a one-way street until the system eventually became static and collapsed (all the old cultures seem to have gone that way). It is a long shot to hope that current power structures, where Peter is robbed to pay Paul and Paul enjoys the RELATIVE comfort this gives him, would dissolve because of rational reasoning esp., as Maximilian has argued, these “laws” are not laws like gravity. Louis XIVth would simply dismissed all this as BS, “L’etat c’est moi”. But I believe humankind, if it really wanted to, could get one first step to get closer to a more peaceful planet by just reaching a universal agreement between the “sovereign” nations that each nation only be allowed defensive weapons and all weapons that are fit to invade other country be banned. I know it is difficult to even define technically as most offensive weapons can be used offensively. But if e.g. each country would have to withdraw all military from its borders, so that between each two countries a swath of land would only be policed but have no military personnel and if the deployment of any soldier or weapon into that zone were a “casus belli” calling for an international intervention force IMMEDIATELY, then this could eventually be stabilized. From here onwards certain oppressive behavior that states tend to show when at war “eternally” (q.v. Snowden and the NSA) could be abolished and people begin to tend more to their inward problems than wondering about whom to sanction internationally.

    • “people always have surrendered parts of their liberty and individual sovereignty (and then some) to gain a sense of security”

      Don’t we surrender part of our liberty and sovereignty just to live together? And the closer we live together, economically as well as geographically, the more the boundaries have to move. No one tells me where to put my water well or my latrine if I live alone in the middle of a prairie, on unincorporated land. It’s my choice. But I give that up, and other liberties besides, when I live with neighbors. I give up more when a common authority provides services to all, or a young family next door objects to my sunbathing nude.

      I know this is obvious. What’s not obvious to me is a universal notion of the “individual’s domain”, that applies equally and everywhere, and that can be defended in the abstract, rather than as a long and complicated result of politics and history.

  3. I believe people should be free to make and own their own choices. No individual in a free society has the right to infringe upon the rights of other people.

Please keep it civil

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s