Sadly, the “Sovereign” Individual is a Lost Concept

Wooden letter I painted black on a white background

Dear Dr. Hurd,

I have enjoyed all of your essays. I have adopted the following view: There are only entities, actions and attributes.

For instance, there is no entity government. There are only individual sovereigns exercising their natural powers. (for good or evil) Please look up James Otis, Feb. 24, 1761 in Boston.

Otis spoke for 5 hours defending the people against the [British royalty’s] writs of assistance. In his speech he stated that every man is his own sovereign and that he derives his right to his life, his liberty and his property from his nature. [Later U.S. President] John Adams was there recording Otis’s speech.


“Sovereign” is a word sadly lost from the English language, including any concept of government as we now know it.

Imagine a Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush or Chris Christie running for office on a platform describing the “sovereignty of the individual.” It would never happen.

The only sovereignty we hear about today is the sovereignty of this group or that group, over another group. The workers over the employers. The patient over the doctor or the health insurance company. Welfare recipients over taxpayers. Minority over the majority (unless the majority votes for the transfer of wealth). Ignored and evaded altogether is the only principle that really matters: The right of the individual to be sovereign over his or her own life.

In an unusually popular Daily Dose of Reason column (back on 8/18/13), I wrote the following about a lesbian couple getting married in the state of Oregon, insisting on a right to a wedding cake to be provided by a fundamentalist Christian bakery owner who didn’t wish to do it:

“The two individuals in this lesbian relationship are not the property of the government. They are their own sovereign selves, which gives them the moral, and therefore political, right to do with their bodies and lives what they see fit.

The married heterosexual couple who owns the Christian bakery are, likewise, the property of their own sovereign selves. They are free to form whatever conclusions they wish about lesbian relationships, or any other kind of social or personal arrangement. They are morally entitled to act (or not act) on their convictions, no more or less so than the two women in the personal relationship seeking to hold a wedding celebration.”

According to the story, the couple who owns the bakery and refused to bake the cake for the lesbian couple were threatened for their lives. It’s amazing. Gay and lesbian people fight for their individual rights to marry, and then turn around and use the government to harass other people in the same way they themselves were harassed by the state in earlier eras.

Most people either do not grasp, or don’t care, about everyone having equal sovereignty over their own lives. The lesbian couple in Oregon is happy to demand sovereignty over their own home, their own bedroom, and their own bodies. And well they should. But they use the coercion of the state — civil lawsuits, even criminal charges — against people who, for whatever reasons, do not want to provide them a service.

In the past, anti-discrimination lawsuits and legislation were rationalized on the grounds of life-sustaining goods or services. “People must have a job, and a place to live,” it was reasoned, so discrimination in jobs and houses must be against the law. The sovereign right of the person providing the job, or running the business where employment is offered, or building the house to be sold or rented, was ignored, supposedly, because it represented a life-or-death matter to the person facing discrimination.

How do we justify anti-discrimination laws, codes and lawsuits when people are denied a wedding cake at the bakery of their choice? The absurdity of this case is matched only by the seriousness (or indifference) with which it’s greeted by most people in civilized society. It’s the new normal. This blatant kind of discrimination and double-standard against the equal rights of all individuals to associate, trade or otherwise do business with whom they choose is never mentioned anywhere, other than in a tiny number of publications or blogs, none the least of which this one.

I disagree with the statements of this reader who implies there is, or should be, no entity of government at all. A society with no government is just as bad as a society with a government that refuses to respect the sovereignty of the individual. Anarchy and Big Government are two sides of the same coin. Each side denies the individual’s right. What we need is only one thing: A limited government which exercises the use of force only to uphold the sovereignty of the individual.

A society with no government will leave violent criminals and perpetrators of fraud with an unrestrained hand to do whatever they wish to whomever they please, whenever they want. This is obviously no better, and in some respects even worse, than the situation we have now, in which democratically elected pressure groups and gangs exert their will over those with fewer numbers, less cash to bribe the government (via handouts) or less pull.

“Sovereign” is pretty much an outdated word in today’s postmodern, post-American world. Much worse, the concept to which the word once referred is absent in the minds of most people. We pay dearly for that lost, more than most of us will ever realize. Without the widely disparaged “I,” there are no rights, because there are no individuals.

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