Keeping the state out of your bedroom

by John Quiggin on October 28, 2011

A standard theme in (propertarian) libertarian thinking is that personal freedom in matters such as choice of sexual partners goes naturally with economic freedom, defined as the lack of state interference with property rights. To summarise this in a slogan, “If you want to keep the state out of your bedroom, you should support keeping it out of your (and others) business as well”.  But this is not only a false equivalence, it’s self-contradictory, as can be seen by example.

Suppose A rents a house from B, who requires, as a condition that no-one in class C (wrong race, religion, or gender) should share the bedroom with A. Suppose that A signs the lease, but decides that this contractual condition is an unreasonable violation of personal freedom, and decides to ignore it. B discovers this, and seeks the assistance (or at least the acquiesence) of the state in evicting A. On a propertarian/contractual view, B is in the right, and is entitle to call in the state into the bedroom in question.

And, this is the fundamental problem. Is it A’s bedroom or B’s? If we understand the phrase in its normal sense, no-one including a landlord, has the right to tell you what to do in your own bedroom. But, from a propertarian viewpoint, C’s ownership rights over the bedroom, derived from and ultimately enforced by, the state, trump all other considerations.

Of course, this example stands in for many others like this one

If you really want personal freedom, you can achieve it only by constraining property rights.