THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Freedom Under God

It is probably safe to say that at no time in living memory has there been less true human freedom. Even the idea of freedom has decayed to the point where it is effectively meaningless for most people.
In former ages individuals and groups were enslaved. There was, however, generally a clear legal distinction between those who were free, and those who were unfree. This distinction has been lost. Today the proletarian (propertyless) condition is the norm for most people — and lack of capital ownership is tantamount to slavery.
As Fulton J. Sheen noted in his 1940 book, Freedom Under God, “Power follows property, and they who own things to a great extent own persons.” If you own capital, you are free. If you do not own capital, even if you are legally free, you are to all intents and purposes a slave.
Different religions and philosophies may disagree on why people should be free. They often differ on the means by which this can be accomplished. They even argue about what “freedom” means, as Sheen made clear in his book. The goal itself, however, is unquestioned.
To understand why private property is essential to freedom, we need to know what “property” is. “Property” is not the thing owned. Property is, rather, the natural right to be an owner, and the socially determined bundle of rights that limit and define how an owner may exercise what is owned within a social context. Property means the right to control what is owned, and enjoyment of the fruits of ownership.
The universal prohibition against theft (e.g., “Thou shalt not steal”) implies that private property is a fundamental human right, however much understanding of it may be distorted. Even Marxist communism unconsciously acknowledges the validity of private property by asserting that “surplus value” is stolen from workers and consumers. If the workers did not have private property in “surplus value,” how could it be wrong for the capitalists to take it?
That is why we can say no one should be denied the right to own, and what is owned is, in human terms, owned individually or jointly “against” everyone else. What someone owns ordinarily cannot be taken without the free consent of the owner(s). As John Locke commented, “what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?”
No one, however, may have absolute or unlimited use (exercise) of what is owned. Nor is it expedient that everything be privately owned. For example, while in theory there is nothing that cannot be privately owned, in practice most people would agree that atomic weapons (if they should even exist at all) are not appropriate for private ownership.
Thus, in any discussion of private property, it is critical to realize that while the right to own is inalienable and inherent in each human person, no one can use what is owned to harm others or society (the common good) as a whole. Neither can anyone’s right to be an owner, or what is owned, be used in any way that inhibits or prevents others from becoming owners or using what they own. This is a matter of prudence, social necessity, and plain common sense.
That is the legal case for the importance of private property. We have to keep in mind, however, that the title of Sheen’s book is “Freedom Under God.” Sheen’s purpose was not to present a treatise delineating humanity’s legal rights and duties in human society. Our constitutions, bills of rights, and legal systems are intended to serve that purpose.
Rather, Sheen’s purpose was to examine humanity’s moral responsibilities. In his book, Sheen made the moral case for the importance of private property and its critical role as the prop for true freedom. Even then, he acknowledged the primacy of rights such as life, liberty, and property in human affairs: “[M]an has certain inalienable rights which no one can take away — not even the State.”
Thus, human law based on justice guarantees our freedom under duly constituted human authority. Divine law based on charity guarantees our freedom under God. Until we understand the difference, we cannot understand Sheen’s purpose in Freedom Under God.