OPINION – Most of us are familiar with the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Life and liberty are fairly easy to envision, but the pursuit of happiness can seem a bit more abstract.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote those words in the Declaration of Independence, he was using a bit of literary flair to describe the concept of property rights. To understand why property rights are inseparably connected to life and liberty requires an understanding of another phrase Jefferson used mentioning, “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
Natural law at its most basic consists of those laws that remain in effect when all man-made laws, morals and values are removed. They are the laws that govern the earth and the universe. Though our understanding of them may evolve, the laws of nature remain fixed and true regardless of how advanced or primitive a society may be.
As such, they provide a solid foundation for man-made laws.
An example of natural law is found in the tendency for those in power to place their own self-interests above the interests of those they are supposed to be leading. The longer they are in power, the more likely it is that they will become corrupted.
One need only examine the actions and words of the most established players in America’s political class to confirm this reality.
Philosophers throughout the ages have labored to explain how the laws of nature complement good government. To the degree that man-made laws are in agreement with the laws of nature, the rights of a society are honored and protected. On the other hand, when our laws become unnecessarily complex and numerous, our rights are in jeopardy.
This can be easily seen in relation to our right to own and use property.
We acquire various forms of property throughout our lives as we expend time, effort, and resources to put it to beneficial use. At its most basic level, that could be a primitive man fashioning an arrowhead out of a stone.
Once he has put forth the effort and energy to add value to the stone, no law is necessary to declare that it is his. He has acquired private ownership of the stone and may rightfully call it his until he loses it, sells it, or breaks it. By taking possession of something, improving it, defending it, and putting it to beneficial use, it becomes his.
This same principle can be applied to real property or land.
In the American West, those settlers who were willing to risk their resources and put the time and effort into taming the wilderness made the land theirs through beneficial use. This would include the property rights, as well as the mineral rights, water rights, grazing rights, timber rights, and other resources.
Our man-made laws once respected and upheld this ideal, but now they have become a tool to deny us our property rights.
Joseph Sobran gave a solid example of how this happens when he wrote:
A few men must be given more power than others — which inevitably means coercive power over those others. As Lenin said, in politics the question is who does what to whom. If you own something only by the state’s permission, you don’t really own it. But we won’t recover our freedom until the state is forced to admit that we own our wealth not by its permission, but by our own right.
Perhaps this is why one of the planks of Marx’s Communist Manifesto calls for “abolition of private property and the application of all rents of land to public purposes.”
The denial of property rights can happen at any level of governance. When we are denied the right to grow vegetable gardens in our front yards, or to have prayer meetings in our own homes, we are no longer the owners of our property.
When code enforcement officials can threaten us with fines for having non-running vehicles in our driveway or yard, our property rights are diminished. Likewise, when school officials can punish our children for things they do or say at home, the state is claiming them as its property.
We cannot fully enjoy our lives or liberty without our property rights. So how shall we reclaim them?
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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