In light of new facts previously unknown to me, the affair over ownership of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org turns out to be more complicated than I originally considered. These warrant a written response -as does Robert Wenzel’s rebuttal to my criticism of his “designed” rights theory.
In my piece “Paul’s Mistake on RonPaul.com” I wrote that it appeared former Congressman Ron Paul was unjustified in employing an arbitration agency affiliated with the United Nations. But asÂ Lew Rockwell and Jonathan Goodwin point out, this is not necessarily so. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization Paul is seeking to grant him ownership of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org, is a private, non-profit agency. According to Wikipedia, the organization overseesÂ “a number ofÂ Internet-related tasks” including regulation of domain names. In handling the current dispute, the ICANN enlisted the World Intellectual Property Organization, an arbitration agency of the U.N. So Ron Paul himself did not go to the United Nations- a mistaken assertion which I take full responsibility for.
Paul claims the operators of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org did not abide by the rules set forth by the ICANN. Whenever someone registers a domain name, they agree to follow the ICANNâ€™s bylaws. I am not familiar with the specific contract agreed upon, so therefore I canâ€™t comment further. But according to Paulâ€™s supporters, he is simply asking the ICANN to enforce its current rules which the owners of RP.com and RP.org are violating.
The problem is, the ICANN is not a normal private agency that happened upon the internet first and claimed sole proprietorship to the network. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was given authority by the U.S. government to run the internet’s namespace. Prior to 1998, Washington governed the “Internetâ€™s domain name system.” Â Under President Clinton the function was “privatized.” But instead of true privatization where the state completely removes its vice grip on an industry, the U.S. government handed its authority over to the private ICANN.Â In a sense, the regulatory agency hardly differs from the Federal Reserve which received the monopoly power over the nation’s money supply by state decree. According to Jerry Brito of Time magazine,Â the U.S. Government “ultimately controls” the ICANN.
Does this change anything? Not quite, but I would argue it brings up some troubling concerns. Though a privileged entity, ICANN is still private. The operators of RP.com and RP.org agreed to formerly established rules when registering the websites. If they are breaking any of these stipulations, then Paul has a case. ICANN being a government-enabled organization does not alter the breaking of a contract. One does not renege on a transaction conducted in fiat dollars because state-sanctioned money is involved. In the same vein, fraud should not be committed against a military contractor like Lockheed Martin just because it receives ample state contracts. Both are considered forms of aggression. The proper solution in each instance is to remove the government privilege.
While asking ICANN to enforce its current rules is the only justified explanation for Ron Paulâ€™s actions, some observers are taking the former Presidential candidate’s side because they view his likeness as being stolen for the sake of profit. Robert Wenzel uses the example of the owners of a steakhouse taking the name of a competing restaurant to demonstrate the kind of deception the operators of RP.com and RP.org are engaging in. This assumes Ron Paul is the owner of his reputation even though what are considered likeness and reputation are not things that can be physically owned. Both are a function of personal perception. How others view Ron Paul is product of their own thoughts. Likeness and reputation are not scarce goods and thus not governed by the same natural law that applies to the material world.
As economist and libertarian theorist Walter Block writes,
Clearly, it is not a possession which may be said to belong to him in the way, for example, his clothes do. In fact, a person’s reputation does not ‘belong’ to him at all. A person’s reputation isÂ what other people think ofÂ him; itÂ consistsÂ of the thoughts whichÂ otherÂ people have.
In his post, Wenzel, in addition to defending Paul, takes on the concept of natural law by insisting upon his own view of designed rights. He postulates that ownership of self is not natural if a person happens to be a slave, is eaten by a cannibal, is murdered, or is ruled over by a dictator. In either of these realities, there exists a threat to someoneâ€™s full control over their body. As he writes, â€œWe may want to control, say, our body, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions.â€
These hypothetical situations do not disprove self-ownership however. Just because someone is not free to realize they inherently own their self does not disprove the natural law of humanity. In the instances provided, the right of self-ownership is being violated as the victim is treated like the property of another person. To be a slave owner or dictator is to behave in such a way that control, and thus ownership, is being exerted over others. These situations beg the question: if man is unable to own himself, why are others able to own him? In other words, how can one person project ownership over the other if he is incapable of owning himself?
Being the subject of cruelty does not void natural law. It is ultimately through the use of reason and rationality that man is able to determine that he owns himself. Anybody that violates this tenet is infringing upon this established right and is committing aggression. To even conceive of slavery and murder as evil is to acknowledge the existence of moral norms within the context of human interaction. The same applies for believing it’s wrong to piggyback off someoneâ€™s likeness. Wenzel states that â€œwe don’t get an understanding of rights, or rights themselves, automatically.â€ This is correct since the theory of natural law, and hence natural rights, asserts no such thing.
As Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica,
Â Many say, Who showeth us good things?” in answer to which question he says: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural lawâ€¦
To discover the law which governs humanity, reason must be employed. Rights are not found in an automatic synapse of the brain but through inquiry into the nature of man. Aquinas saw reason as a gift from God but as Murray Rothbard was quick to point out, natural law does not necessitate a belief in divine Providence.
In critiquing the homestead theory that follows from natural law, Wenzel asks â€œwhy shouldn’t new found land be parceled out into separate lots to all present?â€ The issue here is that for someone to even begin parceling out land assumes that the divider is the owner of that which he is giving away. Otherwise, there would be no basis to divvy up what is essentially unowned. Â To acknowledge someoneâ€™s ownership of land is to first acknowledge that man is capable of owning land. And if man can own land, there must also be some natural law that governs how it comes into his possession. This is where homesteading arises. Claiming ownership entails using that which inherently belongs to a person: their body. It is through extending oneâ€™s possession of self onto land that it becomes the property of he who, to use John Lockeâ€™s phrase, â€œhath mixed his labour withâ€ it. If certain areas of the internet existed in the ether without ownership and the operators of RP.com and RP.org were first to alter the sites, then their possession would be justified. The existence of the ICANNâ€™s state-granted authority over the internet as a whole denies this possibility.
In our current world where states exist, there is nothing wrong with using monopoly force to right an injustice. After all, there is little in terms of choice to utilize. Ron Paulâ€™s soliciting of the ICANN, an entity of government privilege, is not wrong if his grievance happens to be legitimate. If the current operators of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org have violated a bylaw of the ICANN, then there is a case to be made.
The present operators of RP.com and RP.org have reportedly taken down their message accusing Paul of employing the United Nations. I can only hope that a consensus is being worked out privately between the feuding parties that will result in a peaceful transfer of the domains to who Joseph Sobran once called â€œthe most respected member of the U.S. Congress.â€ Coercion and chicanery are how thugs of the state settle matters. In a civilized society, disputes would be settled in the realm of non-violent remediation. That isnâ€™t to say the world will someday rid itself of illegal force. As long as man remains imperfect, he will be susceptible to immoral behavior.
Whether or not Paul is justified in his course, I would prefer a peaceful outcome to the entire dispute. I can only hope Wenzel feels the same way.