July 5, 2012 at 6:22 am, by Carl
We seem to not be able to shake this issue—the attack on private property has been going on for some time, especially recently.
The Founders of the country took their views from various sources, but in large part they looked back to England and in particular to the Scottish Enlightenment. One of their favorite political theorist was John Locke. His writings came on the heels of the English Civil War that occurred in the 1640s and then carrying through the next civil war, The Glorious Revolution (the Bloodless Revolution). In his most famous writings, The First Treatise on Government and The Second Treatise on Government.
It was Locke who penned the phrase that Jefferson later made famous, the bit about “life liberty and private property.” Jefferson turned it a bit saying “pursuit of happiness.”
One of Locke’s many superb points was his defense of private property. John Adams hinged a lot of his understanding of a Republic on the notion that private property was to be protected by the rule of law, the Constitution (which is a cornerstone on what makes a Republic–a Democracy has no need for any Constitution since it is run by the rule of the majority).
Locke says this in The Second Treatise of Government:
“Thirdly, The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent: for the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own. Men therefore in society having property, they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are their’s, that no body hath a right to take their substance or any part of it from them, without their own consent: without this they have no property at all; for I have truly no property in that, which another can by right take from me, when he pleases, against my consent. Hence it is a mistake to think, that the supreme or legislative power of any commonwealth, can do what it will, and dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure. This is not much to be feared in governments where the legislative consists, wholly or in part, in assemblies which are variable, whose members, upon the dissolution of the assembly, are subjects under the common laws of their country, equally with the rest. But in governments, where the legislative is in one lasting assembly always in being, or in one man, as in absolute monarchies, there is danger still, that they will think themselves to have a distinct interest from the rest of the community; and so will be apt to increase their own riches and power, by taking what they think fit from the people: for a man’s property is not at all secure, tho’ there be good and equitable laws to set the bounds of it between him and his fellow subjects, if he who commands those subjects have power to take from any private man, what part he pleases of his property, and use and dispose of it as he thinks good.” (emphasis added)
The danger in our current US society, or the government since the time of TR and Wilson, is that the government’s power has increased so greatly as to be the same type of government Locke described above. Add in the dangerous changes that occurred in the same time period of Progressivism, to wit that the Senators are now elected (more leaning towards Democracy, which the Founders were strongly against, as we have seen), you end up with Senators holding office for decades. That is clearly like “the legislative is in one lasting assembly always in being.”
For the Founders, private property was to be unassailable. Today? Look around–more and more there is a huge decay in our private property rights. Sounds a lot like what Madison wrote “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.