Live and Let Live: not in Silverado
Tibor R. Machan
Where I live quite a few neighbors are what are affectionately called Tree Huggers. What such neighbors, by no means even the majority, have in common is that they oppose anything that remotely resembles development (e.g., including a tiny wine tasting structure one of their neighbors wants to erect). But of course their main targets are any new homes that might be built, not to mention any groups of homes someone might build on his or her rightly owned land. It makes no difference at all that the members of the Tree Huggers do not own the land on which the development might occur. No sir. They don’t mean to actually purchase such places, to put their money where there mouths are, only to prevent those who own them to make use of it, especially built any homes there.
It has been a long fight around the globe to establish the institution of private property rights. In most previous eras monarchs owned the realm and ordinary people were sometimes privileged to live and work on it. Private property rights, while always discussed by some political theorists and economists, had for centuries been denied to the bulk of the population. Only select folks could own land and built on it as they deemed desirable. The rest were, essentially, serfs or at least men and women without their rights acknowledged and protected in the law.
Then such developments as the establishment of the United States of America changed things somewhat. The doctrine of individual natural rights was worked out and implemented on the American continent and a few other places, although the assignment of private property had always been controversial. Still, the idea that ordinary citizens could own property–from a shack all the way to a huge ranch or factory–caught on. And when this occurred the liberty of millions became more secure then ever before. On your own land you can do as you will and if the law backs this up, you can be secure in what you choose to do. It is this realm of individual choice–applied to single individuals or voluntary groups of them–that served as a basic liberator. Churches, businesses, homes, recreation facilities, communes, kibbutzes, farms, ranches, and so forth could all exist with substantial legal protection–that, at least, was the idea even if not consistently and fully implemented. But it gained respect and that itself was a big leap forward in the realization of human liberty and independence, not to mention productivity and prosperity.
But this idea never quite became widespread enough public policy. Even the U. S. Constitution mostly assumed it, although it is mentioned in the 5th amendment. And many state constitutions make explicit mention of it and its protection in the law.
Yet, the idea and its institution met with much resistance from those who believe that they may run roughshod over other people and what belongs to them, just as the monarchs did all along when they wouldn’t recognized the private property and other rights of the people who lived in the realms they often brutally ruled. Fancy arguments had been invented and deployed to rationalize the ongoing violation of private property rights. For socialists like Karl Marx and Frederick Engels the denial or abolition of private property rights was a necessary step toward their ideal collectivist system, one in which a few people get to plan how everyone else is to live, work, create, etc.
In our era, at least in the West, it is under the guise of caring for the environment that many eagerly violate individual private property rights. In Silverado, a canyon community in Orange County, California, the Tree Huggers carry on this crusade to plan the lives of others, never mind that they have no proper authority to do so, only sometimes the legal power they have immoral obtained. In protest of this, I have placed a bumper sticker on my car that reads: “Share the Canyons,” indicating that it would be right and proper not to interfere with people who want to come to live here and make use of their land and other property in peaceful ways.
Many of my neighbors have stopped to comment on and quite interestingly approve the idea on that bumper sticker. As long as one doesn’t use one’s property to invade someone else’s or injure another person, there is every reason to uphold and respect private property rights–for everyone. Everyone has a right to liberty and without private property no liberty can flourish, only permissions and privileges granted to people by their more powerful neighbors.
Recently I was picking up my mail at the tiny post office in Silverado and as I was getting back into my vehicle someone from behind shouted out asking what my bumper sticker meant. I told him that it means that whoever can obtain, via free exchange or any other voluntary means, a piece of property in the canyon ought to be at liberty and welcome to do so. Upon having said this the person who posed the question started to shout at me, angrily voicing the idea that he doesn’t want anyone to come into his canyon and do stuff he doesn’t welcome. I don’t recall exactly the sentences he shouted at me but I do recall that he kept repeating the phrase “my canyon” over and over again. It was amazing, actually, since there were a few other canyon residents standing by, observing this, not to mention me who lives there as well. But evidently with no self-awareness whatsoever this person kept shouting as if the canyon community belonged only to him.
Just like the old monarchs, who believed they ruled the realm. Right here in the United States of America, a country founded on the abolition of monarchical rule! Go figure!