Monday, February 17, 2014

Private Property: Absolute? or Absolutely Not!

A lot of people have a lot of problems with the word “absolute.”  They absolutely refuse to listen to anything that implies there might be such things as absolutes, moral or otherwise.  “There are no absolutes!” they trumpet . . . to which the obvious response is, “Are you absolutely sure of that?”

That’s why we found yet another article proclaiming “the right to property is important, but it is not absolute” a little confused and confusing.  Somebody clearly doesn’t understand basic principles of natural law if they think that natural rights to life, liberty, . . . and property are not absolute.

John Locke when he's not wigged out.
Consider: if the right to private property is not absolute, then neither is life nor liberty.  If they can take away what you own because private property is not absolute, they can also enslave you and kill you with no more justification.  As John Locke pointed out in his Second Treatise on Government (1689),

“Sect. 140. It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?”

Pope Leo XIII
So, let’s make it clear.  The right to property is absolute.  The right to own is inherent in human nature. Human nature is a reflection of God's Nature. Human nature cannot be changed or removed without making people less than or other than human.  As Leo XIII explained,

“[E]very man has by nature the right to possess property as his own. This is one of the chief points of distinction between man and the animal creation.” (Rerum Novarum, § 6.)

Thus, every human being who lives, has lived, or ever will live has an inalienable right to be an owner.  In that sense, the right to own is absolute.

What is not absolute is the exercise of property, that is, the rights of property.  Saying that the right to property is not absolute is socialism, as it implies a change in essential human nature. Saying that the rights of property are absolute is capitalism, as it implies that someone can do as he or she likes with what is owned, which is not the case.  In general, the exercise of property is limited by the fact that you may not use what you own, or the manner of your getting it, to harm yourself, other individuals or groups, or the common good as a whole.

The problem is that, trapped by “the slavery of past savings,” most people don't see any way in which people without property can become owners unless they take it from someone else.  The only way redistribution as a usual thing can be justified is if the right to be an owner is not absolutely part of human nature.  This is what the socialists have been maintaining for centuries.

Attempting the impossible task of changing human nature is unnecessary once we realize that ownership can be financed out of "future savings" as well as past savings.  Instead of limiting financing to what can be saved by reducing consumption, which necessarily restricts ownership to a private sector elite (capitalism) or the State (socialism), new capital can be financed by turning the present value of future increases in production into money and repaying the loan of new money out of future profits.  In this way it would be possible for every child, woman, and man to own capital without redistributing what already belongs to others.


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