In the interests of clarity, because it was definitely missed by some commenters both on here and at DK (and I think by the "Devil" as well): if I reject the premise that I own my life, it does not mean accepting that someone else owns it. What I am rejecting, in fact, is the underlying assumption that the concept of "ownership" can meaningfully be applied to the concept of "life". For example, we can all agree that I do not own "the philosophy of liberty". But that I don't doesn't mean that DK does, or Hayek does, or the US Libertarian Party do. "The philosophy of liberty" is not something which can be owned. In that way, and no other, it's a lot like life.
(This is why, to answer ph's question in the comments here, I object to slavery: because it treats life, or human beings, as nothing more than property. To argue that we own ourselves technically outwits the slave-owner, but only by accepting his basic principle while claiming an exception. Far better to reject his philosophy entirely.)
DK too sees some questions arising from my position:
"Are you denying that you should be able to make your own informed decisions about how you want to live your life?"
Let's clear this up: no. I am overwhelmingly in favour of being able to make my own choices. And I'm no-one special, so other people should be too. Great. But this is so much "Motherhood and Apple Pie" - the devil, if you will pardon the expression, is in the detail. Later on, DK refines his position (and admits that getting a precise definition is tricky, so this is tentative, not categorical):
"You own the right, when faced with your life choices, freely to make your own decisions"
Now, I don't see why we specify "own the right" as opposed to "have the right", but I suspect you already knew that. As suggested in the comments thread at DK, there are other difficulties, some more tediously obvious than others:
- I can't choose to see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed, or commit any other physical impossibilities
- I can't draw a four-sided triangle, or otherwise engage in logical impossibilities
- I can't go out and buy a Ferrari - it's generally possible, but not in my specific instance
- I can't hit you just because you're in my way
- I can't play loud music if my neighbour wants to sleep
- I can't stop my neighbour playing music in his own house
- I can't be forced to file down the bunions of my boss's lecherous great-aunt
- I can't renege on a contract I freely entered into: even if it specifies that I have to file down the bunions of my boss's lecherous great-aunt
1) People's choices interact and contradict: it is not always straightforward to see whose choice should prevail.
We can all agree that in these circumstances, there should be some means of resolving dispute that isn't "might makes right". Theoretically it's possible that the parties could at all times negotiate a solution between themselves, but even if that weren't flying the face of everything we know about human nature it also seems to me to be shifting the goalposts. If your right to get to sleep in your own home can only be secured by bunging your neighbour £50 to shut up, then it was never much of a right, was it? But in most cases, even in ludicrously simple disputes like this one, there will be appeal to some independent arbitration. It might be based on the gods writing in the entrails of the sacred chickens; it might be based on the judgement of appointed wise men; it might even, scarily, be based on rules created by representatives of the community as a whole. In whatever case, the system can only work if both parties agree to be bound by the decision. This brings us to the second point:
2) People can freely choose to limit their future ability to make free choices
Paradoxically, there are times when I improve my lot in life by limiting my own freedom of action. For example, by simply agreeing to be in the office during working hours, as opposed to sitting at home playing Civ IV, I can improve my economic outlook immeasurably. The tenant who commits to a year-long contract does so because this induces her landlord to offer more favourable rent. (The landlord, meanwhile, eschews his freedom to instantly evict her for more valuable tenants in return for guaranteed income.) When I speak of "submitting to the collective will" it is precisely this voluntary limitation of personal freedom of choice that I mean. In return for the benefits of living in a democratic society, I choose to let my freedom of choice be limited in certain ways by the will of the electorate. This choice holds even if the will of the electorate is not what I myself would choose. That, in fact, is the whole point.
In this context, then, I submit that it is nonsense to speak of taxation as theft. In any kind of society, my choices simply cannot be the sole governor of my behaviour, my circumstances or my life. Accordingly, I choose to live in a system where I can exercise choice, but limit others' power over me by voluntarily limiting my power over them. If, in certain limited areas, others impose their will on me for their own ends it is no more than I have freely chosen to allow.
Finally some commentators have, to paraphrase very slightly, asked when they signed the social contract. Personally, I suspect it was around the time you accepted the services offered by the other party: police, NHS-trained doctors, political stability, freedom of speech, women's rights, that kind of thing. Don't pretend you didn't know the deal, or aren't able to shop around. And if thousands of years of human social development have failed to produce a political settlement that matches your exacting requirements, I suppose that's just another example of your free choice being curtailed, isn't it?