Democracy and Property Rights

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Daniel Farina 1 year ago.

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  • #4314

    Creigh Gordon

    Here’s a review of “Democracy In Chains” by Nancy McLean, a finalist for a National Book Award.

    The book is primarily the story of Nobel Laureate economist James Buchanan, and the legal theory of property supremacy. This has become a central principle of establishment conservative philosophy.

    Conservatives strongly support the military and police, in order to protect private property at home and abroad. They abhor taxes as theft of property, and regulation as improper restriction on use of property. They support campaign spending (of money, which is property) under freedom of speech principles, and support civil rights for corporations (also property). They abhor labor unions as challengers to their rights to use their commercial property as they wish, and on and on.

    A legal system that prioritizes property rights over individual civil rights can only be characterized as feudalism. It is no longer a democracy.

  • #4320

    WX Wall

    That’s a great review. I’ll have to check out the book.

    I’ll say, as an immigrant to this country, our obsession with property rights uber alles is a little bizarre. When libertarians view property rights as the foundation for their beliefs, I always ask, why should property rights be #1? What makes them intrinsically more important, or morally worthy, than other rights? Why can’t civil rights, or humanitarian rights, or some other set of rights, be considered primary?

    For example, in plenty of countries, where land is scarce, if you don’t use the land, whoever does, gets rights to it. Otherwise known as squatter’s rights. That may be abhorrent to American sensibilities, but look at it this way: in a land-limited country like Japan or India (relative to its population), if someone walls off a piece of land and doesn’t use it, what benefit is that? If some squatter comes in and farms it, producing food for himself and the community, isn’t that a bigger benefit? And moreover, what exactly does the original landowner lose? He wasn’t using it anyway…

    Or how about community rights? We have a very limited version of that with zoning, and even that’s controversial. But what you do on your land absolutely affects my life if we’re neighbors. Why shouldn’t our peaceful relations be more important than your absolute property rights?

    It’s such a dominating framework that it’s kind of stunning how we convert almost any right *into* a property right, as if that’s the only language we have to talk about rights. That’s why we have “intellectual” property, we auction spectrum “owned” by the govt, kids who download movies are “pirates” who “steal”, etc. Heck, feminists say they “own” their body, and wish to “own” the night, as if the best we can do to describe how we should relate and view each other is in the language of property, ownership, and buying / selling.

    We’ve all become self-employed slaveowners, which I guess is a property-rights way of viewing freedom…

    • #4635

      Daniel Farina

      Property-first is a very strange bit of libertarian damage, I feel. The original writings had “life, liberty, pursuit of property” in that order for a reason, and philosophers and practitioners have been puzzling out prioritization of rights ever since.

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