Since the concept of self-ownership is usually rejected by social anarchists, its interesting to see that at least one, Lëv Tolstoj, embraced the idea. But unlike most self-ownership theorists, Tolstoj invokes self-ownership not as a foundation for property rights to external objects, but on the contrary, precisely to rule out such rights. In his 1886 What is To Be Done? (the second of three famous works by that title), Tolstoj writes:
What then is property?
People are accustomed to think that property is something really belonging to a man. That is why they call it property. We say of a house and of ones hand alike, that it is my own hand, my own house.
But evidently this is an error and a superstition.
We know, or if we do not know it is easy to perceive, that property is merely a means of appropriating other mens work. And the work of others can certainly not be my own. It has even nothing in common with the conception of property (that which is ones own) a conception which is very exact and definite. Man always has called, and always will call, his own that which is subject to his will and attached to his consciousness, namely, his own body. As soon as a man calls something his property that is not his own body but something that he wishes to make subject to his will as his body is he makes a mistake, acquires for himself disillusionment and suffering, and finds himself obliged to cause others to suffer.
A man speaks of his wife, his children, his slaves, and his things, as being his own; but reality always shows him his mistake, and he has to renounce that superstition or to suffer and make others suffer.
In our days, nominally renouncing ownership of men, thanks to money and its collection by Government, we proclaim our right to the ownership of money, that is to say, to the ownership of other peoples labour.
But as the right of ownership in a wife, a son, a slave, or a horse, is a fiction which is upset by reality and only causes him who believes in it to suffer since my wife or son will never submit to my will as my body does, and only my own body will still be my real property in the same way monetary property will never be my own, but only a deceiving of myself and a source of suffering, while my real property will still be only my own body that which always submits to me and is bound up with my consciousness.
Only to us who are so accustomed to call other things than our own body our property, can it seem that such a wild superstition may be useful, and can remain without consequences harmful to us; but it is only necessary to reflect on the reality of the matter to see that this superstition, like every other, entails terrible consequences. …
What then does property mean? Property is that which belongs to me alone and exclusively, that with which I can always do just what I like, that which no one can take from me, which remains mine to the end of my life and which I must use, increase, and improve.
Each man can own only himself as such property.