Most liberals tell me that property rights are a capitalist concept. Are they right?
Many on the political Left recoil when they hear about the “property rights” view as seen by the libertarian right. The Left’s view of property rights is that it is primarily a capitalist invention and therefore somehow “bad” from a social point of view. But property rights go far beyond being entitled to hold on to something you own and worked for. Disentangling this critical difference is the key to understanding this issue.
- 1. Ownership is as old as humanity itself. Even animals know what’s theirs and they’re prepared to die protecting it. Human ownership and the accompanying rights to the object of that ownership are far more complex, but at the core – they’re the same. Only the definition is broader. We own not only the fruits of our labor, but also our bodies with all their component parts, our minds – and the consequences of our actions. We also “own” our relationships, where we typically demand exclusivity on top of everything else (e.g. husband-wife, parents-children, etc).
- 2. Long before capitalism or any other political or economic idea was even conceived, people have recognized property rights. Sometimes, they deliberately violated them (e.g. slavery) – but that was only applied to the conquered, and in the meantime “hands off MY slaves!”
- 3. Property rights are fundamental human rights. NO ONE has the “right” to strip you of them – unless you violate these rights in the first place. If they do, whether by direct force or indirect coercion, they are violating YOUR rights. Property rights are also at the core of our civilization and, indeed, all of the progress we’ve experienced – particularly over the past 100-or-so years. It’s the violations of property rights which cause societies to collapse and economies to falter.
The clear answer to this question is an absolute NO. Property rights are unalienable and fundamental. Our existence as social beings is shaped and conditioned by the degree to which our property rights are respected.
- Property Rights and the Non-Aggression Principle
- Natural Law and Property Rights