Private property is one of humanity’s great discoveries, like fire, or DNA, or the scientific method. Like fire, property has the ability to release a kind of unseen power from nature, to transform a desert waste into a luxurious resort like Las Vegas, for instance. Like DNA, property represents something deeply ingrained in human nature; no society has ever been found that did not have some concept of property. The universality of property suggests immediately that the concept is not just an arbitrary social creation. Instead, property is something common to all human beings as human beings—it doesn’t have to be taught to people, because it is natural.
Humans naturally develop a concept of “mine” in parallel with their development of self. Children discover the word “mine” very early on, and they seek to exclude others, even their own parents, from things they identify as theirs. Such early development suggests that the concept of “mine” is not initially taught to children, or absorbed by them from the surrounding culture, but expresses a natural human tendency. A child’s “awareness of his own property rights,” wrote Dr. Benjamin Spock, comes naturally “because it fits with his growing sense of self and assertion of self. Early in his second year he becomes conscious of the fact that his body is his.” Indeed, what children need to be taught is how to share, not how to believe in private property rights!
My new book, coauthored with Christina Sandefur, is Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America. I say "new," even though it's a second edition, because Cornerstone has been almost entirely re-written, with a more thorough discussion of the philosophical meaning of property rights, the constitutional foundation for them, and the state of property rights in the U.S. in 2016. We discuss the Supreme Court's decisions in the Kelo, Kootz, and Sackettcases, recent disputes over the Endangered Species Act, civil asset forfeiture, laws restricting the "sharing economy," and many other things. We conclude with a specific proposal, including model legislation, for how state lawmakers can protect property rights, and the individual and social values that they promote. This is a new book, not just an update.
The book's official release date is Feb. 2, but as of today, it is available on Amazon.com in Kindle and paperback form.
Today is not the birthday of one of my great heroes, the scientist and philosopher Jacob Bronowski. He gave January 18, 1908, as his birthday, but in fact that was the date on which his parents registered his birth in Lodz, the Polish city where he was born, under the Russian law requiring such registration. He was actually born about six months before.
Here's a favorite clip from his masterpiece, The Ascent of Man, in which he discusses the nature of war.
On July 9, 1776, patriots in Manhattan, having heard the Declaration of Independence read aloud for the first time, marched down Broadway and tore from its perch the two-ton lead statue of King George III. They trucked the metal to Connecticut, where it was rendered into musket balls. Similar displays of civil disobedience took place in other American cities, including Philadelphia, where the King’s coat of arms was ripped down and burned behind Independence Hall. The American revolutionaries knew that monuments are symbols—and that destroying monuments is also a symbolic act. In this case, their iconoclasm would symbolize the overthrow of monarchical tyranny and the creation of a new body politic that called itself the people of the United States.
Today, Americans, particularly in the south, are reconsidering the value of the public symbols left to them by past generations—symbols that represent a disgraceful institution, and a painful history, that today’s citizens would like to regard as passed. Cities like Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans, La., are moving to take down monuments that celebrate the alleged glories of the Confederacy and its leaders—Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and others—who fought to perpetuate slavery and white supremacy.