David Gordon reviews the book The Myth of Ownership by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel. The authors claim that we have no natural rights:
Private property is a legal convention, defined in part by the tax system; therefore, the tax system cannot be evaluated by looking at its impact on private property, conceived as something that has independent existence and validity. Taxes must be evaluated as part of the overall system of property rights that they help to create.
These statements accurately and cynically describe reality. Your alleged right to breathe air is in fact a government privilege revocable on the government’s whim.
Similarly, all your income in fact belongs to the state; what you keep after taxes is just what the state in its mercy allocates to you.
The only reason why you are not in prison right now, being tortured, is that you do not stir the pot, you shut up and pay your tribute, you’ve been able to blend in with the crowd, and the state hasn’t decided to make an example out of you to strike fear into the hearts of other “law-abiding citizens.”
You want to buy and sell? Get a digital mark of the beast tattooed on your forehead.
As Etienne de la Boetie wrote, you “have no wealth, no kin, nor wife nor children, not even life itself that you can call your own.” The state gives, and the state takes away. You may feel safe for now, but your time will come, or it will be your children’s.
People loot each other, but even the looters have no rights; they only have powers which will be lost anyway whenever still more powerful looters come on the scene.
But what if the tax system is unjust? Then the the entire legal convention is illegitimate.
Further, even under their conventionalism, absence of rights does not follow. If they are utilitarians, then perhaps the greatest good for the greatest number is achieved precisely when the “illusion” of absolute natural rights is strictly maintained. If government omnipotence results in poverty, and libertarianism and the concomitant absence of taxes result in prosperity, then positive law will almost perfectly mimic natural law.
For Murphy and Nagel, it is the state and only the state which decides who shall own what. But the “state” is not omnipotent. We can destroy it, and our natural rights will then be swiftly restored.