What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: SP
Government should not be held to a different moral standard than an individual. Indeed, government is merely an association of individuals who have (explicitly or otherwise) authorized this entity to act in their name on certain issues for which they have inherent authority. Wisely did Ezra Taft Benson say that “the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act.”
It therefore follows that any aggressive, offensive, or immoral action on my part does not become justified when implemented by the government which only properly operates with the same powers that I possess. If I were to forcibly take my neighbor’s property without his consent, I would be a thief and would rightly be thrown in jail and sued in court. My action would be no less offensive (or subject to punishment) if I had offered the unwilling land owner “fair market value” for his property in the process.
Murray Rothbard was correct in his treatment of this issue:
If everyone had the right of eminent domain, every man would be legally empowered to compel the sale of property that he wanted to buy. If A were compelled to sell property to B at the latter’s will, and vice versa, then neither could be called the owner of his own property. The entire system of private property would then be scrapped in favor of a society of mutual plunder. Saving and accumulation of property for oneself and one’s heirs would be severely discouraged, and rampant plunder would cut ever more sharply into whatever property remained. Civilization would soon revert to barbarism, and the standards of living of the barbarian would prevail.
The government itself is the original holder of the “right of eminent domain,” and the fact that the government can despoil any property holder at will is evidence that, in current society, the right to private property is only flimsily established. Certainly no one can say that the inviolability of private property is protected by the government. And when the government confers this power on a particular business, it is conferring upon it the special privilege of taking property by force.
Labeled a “despotic power” by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1795, this form of legalized theft is literally the power to destroy lives and livelihoods. Interestingly, the Constitution nowhere delegates this authority to, or approves it for, the federal government. The Fifth Amendment’s provision that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” implies some supposed pre-existing power, and constrains its use to cases of “public use”. Black-robed lawyers have repeatedly and emphatically opined that the eminent domain power is inherent in “sovereignty”, “essential” to government operations, and “requires no constitutional recognition.”
Despite the deferential submission to a perpetual expansion of power, the government’s only moral authority lies in protecting the life, liberty, and property of its citizens. Anything beyond that limited and core mission is an arrogation of authority. Far from protecting property, government becomes its primarily violator when forcefully taking what has not been freely offered.
Eminent domain is state-sanctioned theft. This remains true whether the property owner is compensated or not, and regardless of the supposed intended “public use”. The power assumes that individuals are neither sovereign nor property owners, but rather subservient serfs whose presence on “their” land is tolerated unless and until the government says otherwise.
It is unconscionable that the alleged “land of the free” tolerates a system in which politicians can condemn your property, forcibly remove you, bulldoze it, and replace it with any number of things (urban redevelopment, a business, private development, car dealerships, and similar ventures common throughout tens of thousands of recent cases), simply be citing some superficial justification of “public use” or “greater good”, often done in terms of job creation or tax revenue.
Theft of property, whether done individually or under the cloak of government, is incompatible with liberty and free enterprise. Despite its historically assumed connection to “sovereignty”, it should be re-analyzed and ultimately rejected; if government wants property, it should acquire it in lawful and moral ways. Accepting anything else is to justify legalized theft, and thus implicitly consent to all other forms of legalized plunder and aggression.