First Principles

Property Rights Matter Even More Than Lives

Everything unique to an individual, whether physical things or rights of conscience or data, belong to the individual. A government created out of the consent of the governed that fails to protect these rights is an unjust government.

Actually, property does matter

In the midst of the rioting and looting that’s taken place in Minneapolis, New York City, and other major cities—as businesses are robbed and buildings burned to the ground—some have justified the lawless behavior by saying, “It’s just property.” As though people’s livelihoods and lifetimes of investments in time and money, mean nothing. Even more troubling, the “it’s only property” mentality is dismissive of one of the basic tenets of our republic.

In his Second Treatise on Government, British philosopher John Locke, who heavily influenced our Founders, wrote: “The first object of government created by the consent of the governed is to protect the right to property.” 

In my book, Restoring Our Republic, I dedicated an entire chapter to the idea of private property, which is an essential part of every healthy republic. It is our desire to protect our private property that Locke once explained is the impetus for mankind willingly to subject themselves to the social contract in which we forfeit our personal sovereignty in the state of nature and come into voluntary and just associations.

Private property, the right to it, but also the protection of it, must be the rule for a free society. It is not just a theory tossed around like a football. It is the backbone of our freedom in this country and an innate part of what makes us functioning, flourishing human beings. In the words of James Madison, property “embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and a right; and which leaves to everyone else the like advantage.

But it’s not only the troubling images of our major cities burning that should spark a debate about property. We also ought to have been inspired to it by the big tech companies’ cavalier attitude toward free speech that was rising to the surface just before the rioting.

At issue is more than just the legal definition of what these companies are: it is also a debate about property rights. Madison wrote that “As a man is said to have a right in his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” Our inherent, natural, transcendent rights to freedom of speech are property unique to every individual. Property also includes a person’s opinion and his right to communicate those opinions freely. Therefore we must have a conversation about data sovereignty when discussing tech companies. Similarly, a person’s religious beliefs and his freedom to profess and practice them are sacred rights of property—with conscience being “the most sacred of property.” Everything unique to an individual, whether physical things or rights of conscience or data, belong to the individual. A government created out of the consent of the governed that fails to protect these rights is an unjust government. 

So don’t tell me property doesn’t matter. It is foundational to who we are as a free people and the protection of those rights must be real in fact, not some illusion of protection. Those who have been entrusted to protect and defend our rights and refuse to do it are betraying the trust of the American people.

In times of chaos and uncertainty we must focus on the fundamentals of what we actually believe. We are now at a pivotal point in our nation’s history. What we are seeing in the streets today is less about the tragic, unnecessary, legally indefensible deaths of African American men and women, and more about a revolutionary effort by groups that view America’s founding principles as anathema to their own. In short, this is a campaign to accomplish nothing less than the shredding of our individual rights. Confronted with this madness we need to renew and restore our republic and its principles, before our cities and our inherent rights are burned to the ground. For out of their ashes, only an order completely antithetical to our founding can possibly arise.