I start this post by openly admitting that it is a hostile response to several readers from another blog page to which I used to contribute. I no longer see much value in writing to those who do not wish to learn – even at the cost of having to give up something they had previously held to be an undeniable truth. I have had to do this, myself, so I know it can be painful. But I seek the truth, not what I want to be true. This is why I will no longer be cross-posting my work on this other blog. If you want to follow me, you’ll have to follow The Road to Concord and The OYL. So, with this said, let me try again to explain why we can never claim land or ‘intellectual’ property as Natural Rights. Just remember, I have already stated this is a hostile response to those who refuse to understand, so, if this does not apply to you, please understand the hostility is not aimed at you. On the other hand, if it does apply to you…
As I explain in my post, Defining Natural Rights, a Natural Right is something we can claim as our own as an inherent extension of our being while in the pure State of Nature. I use the illustration of a deserted island to make the point: whatever you can claim as a personal right on a deserted island is a Natural Right. But notice: there is no way for you to claim a Natural Right to the island or any idea you might have. This is because no person can claim the earth or an idea. They existed before us, and they will exist long after we are gone. This should make it self-evident that they are not Natural Rights. If you happen to be one who rejects this claim, then I tell you that I own the earth and the rights to all ideas. They are my Natural Rights, they belong to me and you must pay to use any of them. Now refute me! I wish you luck because, without the ability to fall back on the notion of Natural Rights as our founders, as Locke, as the Bible explain them, you will not be able to do so. At best, you will be forced to fall back on the principle of ‘might-makes-right,’ and that is the negation of rights.
So, how do we arrive at a point where land and ideas can be treated as personal property? This is simple – for those who bother to think about it. We pass laws to create them. This is why the Indians laughed at the White Man when he offered to buy their land: they did not understand how someone could own something that was not his to claim or own. In this sense, the Indians understood the principles of Natural Law better than those who claimed to have invented (incidentally, this is exactly what the Apostle, Paul, said in Romans 1-2: that the principles of God’s Natural Law are written on the heart of every man – even those who do not know God).
So, if it takes an act of government to create property rights in land or ideas, then who created the government? People did, through their Natural Right to Contract. This is the essence of the Social Contract: the application of a Natural Right to create a government to protect the Natural Rights of all individuals equally through the rule of law. And here is where the ability to be honest and use reason both come into play. Natural Law limits those things to which we can agree. We have no Natural Right to give away or demand in return that which is inalienable. So we cannot form a government that makes government higher than the people, nor can we agree to enter into slavery as part of the Social Contract. And in this same sense, we cannot create a Natural Right to something by using the government. In short, everything government does has to comply with the rules of Natural Law or it is a violation of that law. This means government cannot make land or ideas into a Natural Right. And that means – by logical extension – that, as the creation of the Social Contract, such forms of property are controlled by that contract. This then means they are under public authority, and – again – this is what both Jefferson and Franklin are saying here:
“A right of property in moveable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands, not till after that establishment. The right to moveables is acknowledged by all the hordes of Indians surrounding us. Yet by no one of them has a separate property in lands been yielded to individuals. He who plants a field keeps possession till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated, and their owner protected in his possession. Till then, the property is in the body of the nation, and they, or their chief as trustee, must grant them to individuals, and determine the conditions of the grant.”
–Thomas Jefferson: Batture at New Orleans, 1812. ME 18:45
“All the property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.”
–Benjamin Franklin, letter to Robert Morris, 25 December 1783, Ref: Franklin Collected Works, Lemay, ed., 1
Both Jefferson and Franklin are saying that we have a Natural Right only to those things necessary to sustain our lives, and that the property that has been created by an act of government falls outside this definition. That property which is created by the people remains under the authority of the people. Therefore, those who reject this understanding of what types of property are and are not Natural Rights also reject the founders and – as Franklin says – have no right to claim the benefits of the laws creating this property because they want those benefits without the corresponding duties and responsibilities.
If you are a ‘Conservative,’ and you think you have a Natural Right to your land, or your ideas or your corporation, then I would ask you to explain from whence that right comes. If you were suddenly stranded on a deserted island, would you still have those rights? The answer is no, but if you disagree, then I submit that what you are really demanding is a special right. You want society to pass a law to give you something to control without having to also be accountable to the people in return. In short, you are guilty of the very accusations the Marxist makes against you when it comes to exploiting people through these forms of property. Go read Scripture and you will find that God focused more on the duties of property owners to the poor than He did on your rights. So how dare you claim the mantle of our founders and of liberty while rejecting the foundations upon which both are laid!
This also applies to what we call Capitalism. We have a Natural Right to enter into joint ventures, but this sort of Contract yields partnerships – not corporations. In order to collect and control capital the way our large corporations do today, or to buy and sell stock, we had to pass more laws. These things did not exist prior to those laws. This means they are no more a Natural Right than land or ideas and are just as subject to control by the people as these other things. The creation never becomes greater than its creator. It always remains subject to the control of its creator. Any attempt to change this relationship is a serious breach of Natural Law and it will – it always results in catastrophic failure.
But this does not mean there is no way to create and own these things without violating Natural Law. All we need to do is look to the way our founders did it. They allowed corporations, but they kept them under strict control. They were usually known as Charter Companies, and they were allowed for specific purposes that benefitted the general public and were granted set periods of time to operate. After those periods, they had to either be renewed or they were automatically dissolved. Also, all stock holders had equal votes in directing the company – no matter how many shares they held in the company. This was done to hold people accountable for the actions of the company and, if laws were broken, the company was dissolved – not fined – and the owners were all charged under the law.
Lager operations were equally possible. They were called co-ops. Suppose we wanted to start a large, national cell phone network but we lacked the necessary capital to make it happen. In the past, many smaller companies would combine to form a co-op in which they would pool their assets, build the network and then share it as common property. This was actually a better way of doing business as it provided for a stronger economy. Instead of having only a few large companies, there would have been dozens of smaller ones all across the nation. So, if one or two companies were mismanaged, and they folded, it would not serve to further consolidate – a practice of those who seek power and control – it would just open the door for someone else to rise up and fill the void. Go look into why there are so few American car companies where there once were dozens and you will find FDR and the government picking and choosing which companies would be allowed to survive. Now, because they are so large and have a partnership with government, it is nearly impossible to start a new car company without getting squashed by the big three. To think that you have a Natural Right to acquire publically created property and then turn it against other people so they cannot earn a living or use those same rights is the height of tyranny, yet, this is exactly what the ‘Conservative’ claims is his ‘Natural Right.’ Well, I reject that claim – because it is a lie!
Now, to those who may think me a champion of Marxism, I caution you to re-think that assumption. I reject Marxism in its entirety. All I am saying is that its accusation against those who think they can make the world into their private property by an act of law is valid, but little else of your ideology has any value at all. In fact, Marxism is worse that exploitation by the Capitalist and, given a choice between the two, I would choose the exploitation of the Capitalist. He is not evil, as are you: he is just greedy and blind. There is a significant difference.
What must be remembered is that a right to property in land and ideas is created to help society, not to provide some special right or privilege for the individual that he can then use against the people who created it in the first place. And, if you are going to accept the privileges created by society, then you must also accept the responsibilities and duties to society which accompany them. You do not get to claim the benefit and refuse the responsibility and duty. If you do so, then society has every right to take away the thing it created. Your right exists only as long and in as far as society says it does. However, society also has a responsibility to those who are exercising these rights according to those duties and responsibilities. Just because a person does well with his land or idea rights, it is not just cause for society to then treat him as a source of revenue in any greater proportion than any other citizen. If a right is to be granted to a person, it must be protected as a right unless and until the owner demonstrates that he/she is unwilling to maintain the corresponding duties that accompany that right. And so long as the owner does maintain those duties, society is unjust to change the arrangement creating those rights. Remember, this is all about the rule of law within the confines of Natural Rights and Natural Law, and inherent in Natural Law are mutually supporting duties and responsibilities to society and every individual in it.
Now, if you have read this and you still do not see that what I am saying is consistent with the founding principles and ideals of this nation, congratulations: you are part of the problem!