Since I’ve come to know the Sweet Talk Kids, the property rights thing has been brought forward regularly as an entree of interest, like hotdogs, chips and kool-aid for Saturday night TV. I’m not terribly good at all the vocabulary nor some of the philosophical underpinnings, but the posts winging about have been quite educational, and I’m grateful for it.
As far as I can tell, there are two main lines of argumentation: 1) private property is theft, inherently [insert appeal to avaricious human nature. Problem of avarice resolved by benevolent redistribution imposed by state]; 2) public property is theft [insert appeal to mitigating features of nature. Problem of avarice resolved by not-so-benevolent redistributive forces of nature].
I know on which side of the divide I fall, to wit: side 2. And I have a few reasons I fall that way, the main ones as follow: the benevolence of the state is inherently violent. It must seize property by force, which requires either the threat of death and/or a complacent populace. Having a populace complacent to the state is problematical because it submits to the will of a state which allows no larger organizing principle than itself, which is (if I may anthropomorphize) what the state desires and will seek to attain and perpetuate. The state, in other words, is messianic, and will crush all other suitors.
What larger organizing principle is there?
Here, I think, is the rub. Arguing for an organizing principle larger than the state is a matter of metaphysics, i.e., whether there is such a thing as nature, an invisible hand, or a providential will of some sort. Perhaps even a personal God–but that’s too much, seeing as how even the most fervent believer in God believes that he is hidden amidst the elemental things, revealing himself very particularly, if at all.
Now side 2 is essentially reduced to an appeal to cold, hard, experience, both for itself and against the state. Each argument is in this way weakened, being basically founded upon witness, which can be contorted and perverted according to will. Thus, sweet talk. Are the not-so-benevolent forces of nature to mitigate the inherent avarice of private property owners convincing to you? Let me count the ways…
No matter how I count, however, I must appeal to a moral authority for the right to private property, not a theoretical one, not as a foundation, not until after I lay a foundation based on an unrevealed moral authority reconstructed by feeble minds. The will of a state is not, essentially, as messy as all that. What the state wills shall be so. By nature, then, to argue for private property is the weaker of the two sides.
What is it about the appeal to witness, however, that has such persuasive power?
The implications reveal, I think, that the argument is not set on a pole, as it seems at first glance: private vs. public property, or what-have-you. The arguments are appeals to a set of beliefs, the one founded on witness, the other founded on will, neither founded on objective reality, despite any appeal one or the other might make to such a not-a-thing.
On the one side are the institutions of the state, and on the other are the institutions of civilization with ancient precepts which strive to reach the unreachable heavens. Both coexist in an uneasy truce, some epochs more uneasy than others. When one finds favor in your eyes, you put your whole self in and you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around, with lots of friends and fellow travelers participating in the dance with you, and there will be an inside and an outside. Where the frontiers meet is where the music is played. Whose hokey-pokey radiates the most warmth and happiness?
Questions of justice are hereby eschewed, for those are fundamental to each dance.