Socialists-Who-Deny-They-are-Socialists (as well as a number of socialists) often reject the claim that socialism can be defined as the abolition of private property. They will point out that there are differences between Marxist communist socialism, communist socialism, Fabian socialism, National Socialism, Christian socialism, guild socialism . . . etc., etc., etc., and say that proves that anyone who says that (in a sense) socialism can be defined as the abolition of private property doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.
|Shaw: socialism is the extermination of private property.
Let’s get serious. There is a very good reason why all these people and more summed up the essence of socialism as the abolition of private property, especially in capital. The plain and simple fact, as Daniel Webster and others have pointed out, is that “Power naturally and necessarily follows property.”
Is private property the most important natural right inhering in the human person? Well . . . no. It is, however, the most immediate, and the one without which all other natural rights are only exercised at the sufferance of those who have property.
This is because in order to exercise any right at all you need the ability to exercise it — and “power” is defined as “the ability for doing.” Thus, you cannot exercise rights unless you have power, and you only have power because you have private property, or because someone has delegated power to you.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that there is no difference between the power that comes to you through private property, and the power that comes to you as a grant or delegation from someone or something else. There is, however, a very big difference.
|"What? I'm 'almost a capitalist'?"
When you own something, you control it, and derive the benefits of whatever you own. If you own a bike, you and only you can rightfully ride it, or grant permission for others to do so. If you own a sandwich, you and only you can rightfully eat it, unless you give it away or otherwise dispose of it. As Louis Kelso pointed out in an important journal article he published in the Journal of the American Bar Association in 1957 (“Karl Marx: the Almost Capitalist”), “ownership” and “control” mean the same thing in all legal codes.
Imitating a motorboat, however (i.e., spouting "but . . . but . . . but"), socialists immediately declare that many forms of socialism permit private ownership of capital. Therefore (they reason) “real” socialism does not consist of the abolition of private property.
Au contraire. The key word in that declaration is “permit.” In socialism, private ownership is not recognized as an inalienable right, but an option that is permitted out of necessity or for the sake of expedience.
|"This is my stuff. Keep your hands off."
An option, however, can be taken away at any time by those who really own property: the State, whatever form it takes. It doesn’t have to be the Nation-State. It can be the village, the pólis, the tribe, the collective, humanity, mankind — whatever. As long as there is some agency that can deprive someone of private property against the owner’s will, there is socialism, because property is no longer a true right, and in socialism, ALL rights come from the State, and are thus revocable at will by those who control the instruments of coercion.
This includes taxation by the State, which is not an exercise of property by the State. Rather, taxes are a grant from citizens to the State, and are unjust without their consent. A State that taxes people without their consent and views what belongs to the citizens as really belonging to the State is socialist. As John Locke explained,
|Locke: consent required
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? (John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, 1690, § 140)
So, private property may not be as “important” as life or liberty, but it is difficult to make life and liberty meaningful without private property recognized and secured as a natural right inherent in every child, woman, and man. It’s all very well to say you are free, but if you cannot exercise your freedom, are you really free?
Not according to the English Radical William Cobbett, the “Apostle of Distributism,” as G.K. Chesterton called him. As Cobbett explained,
|Cobbett: the "Apostle of Distributism"
FREEDOM is not an empty sound; it is not an abstract idea; it is not a thing that nobody can feel. It means, and it means nothing else, the full and quiet enjoyment of your own property. If you have not this; if this be not well secured to you, you may call yourself what you will, but you are a slave. . . . You may twist the word freedom as long you please; but, at last, it comes to quiet enjoyment of your property, or it comes to nothing. Why do men want any of those things that are called political rights and privileges? Why do they, for instance, want to vote at elections for members of Parliament? Oh! because they shall then have an influence over the conduct of those members. And of what use is that? Oh! then they will prevent the members from doing wrong. What wrong? Why, imposing taxes that ought not to he paid. That is all; that is the use, and the only use, of any right or privilege that men in general can have. (William Cobbett, A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, 1827, § 456.)
The problem is, if private property is so essential, why do so few people today have it? And how are they to get it? We’ll look at that tomorrow.