Irish Liberty Forum

There is No Such Thing as a ‘Right to Privacy’

with 16 comments

The unfortunate leaking of the British National Party membership lists has caused a flurry on many political forums. Sadly, many consider this to be a breach of ‘the right to privacy’. This mythical right does not exist in reality, only tangible property rights do.

The members of the BNP gave their names to the Party under the conditions that they would not be publicly revealed. This is a contract, and a contract represents a transfer of property rights.

More simply, if I found your diary lying in a hallway and took the time to peruse it carefully, I would not be violating any rights at all. In contrast, if I obtained your diary by braking into your home and rummaging though your drawers, this would be a violation of your rights.

As Murray Rothbard often pointed out: All Rights are Property Rights.

When someone says “I have a right to free healthcare”, what they are really saying is “I have a property right to have a slave give me medical advice” or alternatively “I have a claim to someone else’s property to pay for my medical care”.

When I say “I have a right to privacy” I really mean is “I am asserting my property right which allows me to decide who sees my personal information”. 


Try converting other statements like these into property rights statements yourself and you’ll find Rothbard was right all along.


Written by 20000miles

November 20, 2008 at 12:13 am

Posted in news, politics

16 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Wow, the phrase ‘All Rights are Property Rights’ is brilliant. I understood, but couldn’t properly verbalise what exactly rights were before. I love Rothbard, he’s so clear! Now that I hear it, its obvious. Thanks!


    November 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

  2. This is satire, right?


    November 20, 2008 at 11:16 am

  3. Garibaldy,

    which part do you find satirical? I thought the explanation was quite clear.

    I think the best way to demonstrate my point is to use the example of either the ‘right to free speech’ or the ‘right to privacy’.

    You have the right to free speech. But where do you have it? In the house that you rent or own? Certainly. On the street? Yes. What about a crowded lecture theatre where a professor is talking? Certainly not. You’ll be politely escorted out of the building if you started speaking out of term. All rights are property rights.


    November 20, 2008 at 2:01 pm

  4. I find the whole concept satirical.
    What about the right to life? The right to freedom of religious belief and expression?

    As for where I chose to exercise my right to free speech, it is not the fact it is another’s property but whether I am impinging on their rights that is the issue.

    I do have the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, but only if there is a fire. That has precisely nothing to do with property rights.


    November 20, 2008 at 5:15 pm

  5. I’m sorry you feel this way. Maybe I can explain myself further.

    1. The right to life.
    You have a property right in your own person, that is, you OWN your body. You control it and its actions. The right to life is strictly a negative one, meaning that nobody can inflict violence upon you. (Just like nobody can set fire to your house).

    2. The freedom of religion
    Your beliefs are your own and they reside in your head. If however you wish to perform a religious ceremony inside my house I’ll kindly ask you to leave, as I have the enforcable property right to decide what goes on inside. Go find a religious temple.

    3. Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.
    This has everything to do with property rights. First of all, when you enter the movie theatre you are bound by the rules of the proprietor. This most likely includes not speaking at all during a film. If however with kind permission from the establishment you’re allowed to yell out ‘fire’ in the middle of a screening then so be it.

    This is an important example, as I hear that in the US, the government passed a law that makes it illegal for someone to yell ‘fire’ unnecessarily. Sadly this constitutes a restriction on free speech by the State. Even more unfortunately, this law doesn’t have to be made. The movie theatre can make it a contract (like a condition written on the back of the ticket) that when you enter you agree not to yell fire unnecessarily etc etc

    Man invented property rights as the solution to conflict over scarce resources. It only makes sense to view the world through the property rights lens.


    November 20, 2008 at 5:46 pm

  6. I find this whole thing is reductio ad absurdum, best demonstrated by arguing that the right to life is as aspect of property rights.


    November 20, 2008 at 6:12 pm

  7. Yes, believe it or not, right to life is an aspect of property rights. You can destroy yourself at any time.


    November 20, 2008 at 6:16 pm

  8. so do property rights exist before society in the way that the right to life does? Are all rights subordinate to property rights?


    November 20, 2008 at 7:42 pm

  9. As I said, whenever you claim a right, you’re claiming a property right.

    A sole property right means that you have complete control over how the ‘thing’ in question is used, who you lend it to, who you sell it to, who you exclude from using it, and when you choose to destroy it. This covers *all* physical things.

    Is this what you’re getting at?


    November 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm

  10. The idea of natural rights includes rights that predate society, that are inherent in being a human. Whereas property rights only become possible within society, with some body to enforce recognition of rights, whether that is a warlord-cheftain or a modern democratic government. So I guess I am asking do you believe that property rights exist independent of society the way natural rights do.


    November 20, 2008 at 8:29 pm

  11. Short answer, yes. Property rights do, and have existed before the existence of a State (for example) to enforce them. So yes I do.


    November 20, 2008 at 8:38 pm

  12. Fair enough. I’ve never come across that before, hence my earlier bafflement.


    November 20, 2008 at 8:49 pm

  13. Cheers, I’m more of an economist in reality – philosophy/ethics/morals/rights are not my strongpoint. Whenever I delve into it in any detail it hardly ever goes well!


    November 20, 2008 at 8:53 pm

  14. ISIL’s Philosophy of Liberty gives a decent explanation of rights, highly recommended if you’ve haven’t already seen it:

    Free Europe

    November 21, 2008 at 2:18 pm

  15. […] the core of libertarian principles have the potential to generate aggressive conflict. No. jfk, all rights are property rights, if you think about it. Conflicts are just violations of someone else’s corrolary property rights. […]

  16. What rubbish. Not all rights are property rights.


    August 22, 2014 at 8:18 am

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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

%d bloggers like this: