Issues & Insights

Protection From The Violence Of Others

Today marks the 1711 birth of David Hume, close friend of Adam Smith and “The most important philosopher ever to write in English,” according to “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Three centuries later, his recognition of the need to protect property rights for a well-functioning society is crucial, because violations are increasingly displacing protection.

Crony capitalism, with its widespread sacrifice of others’ property rights to benefit government favorites, has spread everywhere. Fourth Amendment violations and civil asset forfeiture demonstrate the same erosion. Eminent domain abuses and development exactions are far from uncommon. And the list goes on.

Hume saw why stable, secure property rights are crucial to social cooperation, because otherwise, people are “exposed to the violence of others.” Government defense of property rights allows more effective social cooperation by expanding the sphere of voluntary arrangements. That is why Hume recognized that “[under] a government of laws, not of men … property is there secure.” However, every expansion of government reduces individuals’ rights over their own property, undermining the most essential tool for prosperity and peace.   

Property must be stable … fixed by general rules … by the peace and order which it establishes in society … every individual person must find himself a gainer.

Leave everyone in the peaceable enjoyment of what he may acquire by his fortune and industry.

As the improvement, therefore, of … goods is the chief advantage of society, so the instability of their possession … is the chief impediment.

Men’s happiness consists not so much in an abundance of [goods], as in the peace and security with which they possess them.

Fit members of society … abstain from the possessions of others.

It will be for my interest to leave another in the possession of his goods, provided he will act in the same manner with regard to me.

Property is … derived from the rules of justice.

The convention for the distinction of property, and for the stability of possession, is of all circumstances the most necessary to the establishment of human society, and that after the agreement for the fixing and observing of this rule, there remains little or nothing to be done towards settling a perfect harmony and concord.

It is to restrain [others’] selfishness that men … distinguish between their own goods and those of others.

[Ideas of perfect equality] are … extremely pernicious to human society.  Render possessions ever so equal, men’s different degrees of art, care and industry will immediately break that equality. Or if you check these virtues, you reduce society to the most extreme indigence; and instead of preventing want and beggary in a few, render it unavoidable to the whole community.

Stability of possession … [is] absolutely necessary to human society … to cut off all occasions of discord and contention; and this end would never be attained, were we allowed to apply this rule differently in every particular case.

[Free] government … must act by general and equal laws that are previously known to all … In this sense … liberty is the perfection of civil society.

Hume observed that “In all governments there is an intestine struggle … between authority and liberty.” He saw the key to liberty in private property, which protects each citizen from abuse by others, including government. When he argued to “maintain, with the utmost zeal … those forms and institutions by which liberty is secured,” private property was chief among them. And since every expansion of government beyond what was once known as justice (“which gives every man his due,” according to Cicero) replaces individual rights with government dictates, strictly limited government is essential to both property and liberty.

Hume wrote that government’s sole object is “the distribution of justice,” which requires unwavering protection of citizens’ rights. Americans need to re-learn Hume’s widely violated wisdom, to reduce the expanding “violence of others” over every American’s property.

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  • Most people today living in the United States have accepted that the Federal Government is free to tax the capital gains, dividends , incomes and inheritances that it’s citizens acquire. Are we to somehow believe these are not the personal property of the citizens themselves? Are we saying that private individuals are forbidden from taking the property belonging to other citizens but when the government does so, it is acceptable?
    Bastiat makes the case in “The Law”, that there is nothing a government may do that a private individual is prevented from doing. And if that does occur, what is taking place is injustice.
    So why is this injustice so readily accepted today?

  • Small landlords are hurting. If you ask my tenant why she’s not paying rent, her answer will be, “Because the governor says I don’t have to.”

    And she is not exactly wrong. Tenants get away with not paying rent because of the eviction moratorium, the government’s excuse to steal the use of homeowners’ properties and give to nonpaying tenants.

    This is what the United States of America has come down to.

    Let me leave this short news story here:

    “City of Los Angeles apartment owners recently lost their bid in Federal Court to halt the application of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s eviction moratorium[1] and rent freeze ordinance[2] (the “City Moratorium”). Senior United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson ruled on November 13, 2020 that the apartment owners had failed to show “irreparable harm” because (a) there was no immediate threat of foreclosure, and (b) the City Moratorium appeared to be “imminently reasonable” in the context of the unprecedented pandemic.[3]”

  • It’s about time we made clear to the Great Unwashed that the competition-destroying behavior of FB, Twitter, You Tube et al, reveals them as the posterboys of crony capitalism. They may think it’s clever to hide their oligarchic intentions behind a cloak of leftist ideology, but it ain’t fooling me.

  • Property rights are the safeguard of human rights. When the king could no longer enter the peasant’s hut on whim, but needed permission from elsewhere, the peasant gained that much more insulation from the whim of the king. None in society are more vulnerable than are the propertyless.

  • There is no such thing as “crony capitalism”; there is either cronyism or there is Capitalism Actual Capitalism is laissez faire; there is separation of economy and state – as there is between religion and state. Cronyism involves government interference (favors or subsidies to cronies of government officials) in the economy. We must stop using leftist terms like “crony-capitalism” which legitimize complaints by those leftists and are the reason they invented them.

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