Your freedom ends (where my property rights begin)

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Your freedom ends where my nose begins.

Various permutations of this quote have been incorrectly attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, but it was actually written by Zechariah Chafee (pictured above).

Zechariah Chafee, Jr. (December 7, 1885 – February 8, 1957) was an American judicial philosopher and civil libertarian. An advocate for free speech, he was described by Senator Joseph McCarthy as “dangerous” to the United States.

In June 1919 the Harvard Law Review published an article by Zechariah Chafee, Jr. titled “Freedom of Speech in War Time” and it contained a version of the expression spoken by an anonymous judge.

Each side takes the position of the man who was arrested for swinging his arms and hitting another in the nose, and asked the judge if he did not have a right to swing his arms in a free country. “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

According to the Quote Investigator, the genesis of this adage can be traced back more than thirty-five additional years. Several variants of the expression were employed by alcohol Prohibitionists. For decades the saying was used at pro-Prohibition rallies and meetings. Such is the colourful history of this libertarian adage. But I digress.

Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.

Your freedom ends where my nose begins.

Consider the meaning of these sayings. They tell us about property rights. Libertarians are huge fans of private property rights. Libertarians own. Be it self-ownership, ownership of tangible goods or even ownership of so-called intellectual property. Private property is essential to libertarianism. But what is the essence of private property? Restrictions on your rights and freedoms, that’s what. Your freedom ends. How very unlibertarian!

Back in 2002, Winona Ryder was convicted of shoplifting $5,500 worth of merchandise from a Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue. According to the Onion, one of the terms of her probation was

May no longer walk into stores and just take things.

This is also one of the terms of living in a libertarian society. Kiss goodbye your freedoom to walk into stores and just take things!

Libertarianism is all about sacrificing some of our rights and liberties—e.g., the right to swing our arms and the liberty to walk into stores and just take things—for the security of private property rights.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security deserves neither and will lose both.

See also Libertarians are Huge Fans of Initiating Force.

17 thoughts on “Your freedom ends (where my property rights begin)”

  1. “Freedom ends!”…. Shock Horror!
    Sounds like the Shriek of an atheist who claims that God’s morality is a form of Slavery.
    The Tyranny of gravity!
    The moment you appreciate that some actions are good, others evil…. some tolerable…. others intolerable you will appreciate that Good Law/ justice is no encroachment on legitimate liberty…. and that the absence of Good law…. or the violation of it is in fact oppression and slavery.
    Paradoxical?
    Only to tiny minds.
    Two (physical) objects cant occupy the same space at the same time… thus when it comes to Human arms and Human noses …. there must be rules in respect to occupying space.
    Private property is limited right to decide what happens within a certain space… which… if and God may be worshipped there…. etc.
    Without these moral considerations Might = Right and chaos ensues… No Peace…. only Jihad.
    Freedom requires a private space in which to be free.

  2. you will appreciate that Good Law/ justice is no encroachment on legitimate liberty

    I see you have rightly divided “legitimate liberty” from illegitimate liberty! How did you do that?! 🙂

  3. ““Do unto others” is not limited by “where my freedom ends” e.g. saving someone from harm is justified when the person is a minor, unconscious, drunk or crazy.”

    It really hinges on what counts as crazy. There’s a lot of high-functioning nutjobs out there.

  4. The answer to that question Richard is the very same one you use to vindicate your membership of ALCP and activism against the Drug war.
    Ie You recognise the existence of Objective principles of Justice/ morality.
    By the Same Rational do I set limits to Freedom, as you set limits to Political power and the ‘liberty’ of Government.
    You cannot say there ought to be no limits to Freedom without thereby destroying any objection you might have to tyranny…. or and other Evil… because the limits are one and the same…. certain actions are a violation of the principles of justice and ought not to be tolerated…. but instead resisted.
    Only a Nihilist does not accept the existence of any such Rightful limits on human action… and as such it cant even say tyranny or slavery are ‘wrong’… let alone argue any case against private property… or anything.

  5. Richard You *Did* make a big deal about Libertarians saying *freedom ends*…. and then called this ‘very Un-Libertarian’.
    Your previous post tried to argue that Libertarians love to initiate force!
    Thus you are saying Libertarianism is internally inconsistent/ bogus… and that’ is false.

  6. Richard You *Did* make a big deal about Libertarians saying *freedom ends*…. and then called this ‘very Un-Libertarian’.

    “How very unlibertarian!” Note the exclamation mark! I was meaning to be provocative.

    Your previous post tried to argue that Libertarians love to initiate force!

    But I failed to provoke any critique of my argument from you. So I assume you agree with me that libertarians love to initiate force. Because they do. The whole institution of private property depends on the initiation of force to enforce.

    Suppose I walk into a house (in which you happen to be living) and take a television (which you happen to be watching). In order to prevent me from walking off with “your” “private property” you must initiate force against me. It’s a simple argument.

    Please don’t try to twist the meaning of the word ‘force’. Please don’t try to redefine the word ‘force’ to try to make out that when I picked up a television – but didn’t touch you – that I was somehow initiating “physical force against” you. Because that would be so Randian. In defending your private property rights, *you* are the one who initiates force. Not me.

    You know who based libertarianism on the NIOF principle? Ayn Rand. Rand was wrong. The NIOF principle must go. It leads directly to a state of anarchy with no private property rights.

    Thus you are saying Libertarianism is internally inconsistent/ bogus… and that’ is false.

    Find the flaw(s) in my rock solid argument and get back to me.

  7. Vinny

    It really hinges on what counts as crazy. There’s a lot of high-functioning nutjobs out there.

    For an individual a “Do to others” rights violation would be justified by a genuine belief that a person was crazy and not by some objective standard.

    The people that governments try to protect from harm are mostly low-functioning – Just average people being protected from their own stupidity.

  8. “Suppose I walk into a house (in which you happen to be living) and take a television (which you happen to be watching). In order to prevent me from walking off with “your” “private property” you must initiate force against me. It’s a simple argument.”

    So this is a question of who used force first. What do you call theft/burglary if not an initiation of force? Yes, it is not physical force against the property owner’s body, but it is an unjustified assumption of ownership.

    Can you see any moral differences in the above situation where one of two scenarios exist: (1) Those removing the TV do not know the person watching it, have no business with that person, and merely want the TV for themselves, or (2) Those taking the TV are bailiffs, and the TV is security for a debt that has not been paid by the person watching it?

  9. How does the “your freedom ends where my nose begins” apply in a boxing match? Mike Tyson used to threaten to drive his opponents’respective nasal bones into their respective brains, and they consented to placing their nasal bones in the firing line.

    The issue is one of respect for the sovereignty of others.

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