The right to private property supports all other political and civil rights. In particular, political rights lose much of their effectiveness when the right to private property is denied. At the practical level, the exercise of freedoms such as those relating to expression, association and religion is difficult, if not impossible, without independent sources of income or wealth. In societies which deny the right to hold, enjoy and productively use private property, citizens are dependent for their employment and livelihood on the government. They have, therefore, no capacity to oppose the government or to exercise their fundamental political rights.
A free news media cannot operate without freedom to own and operate machinery and property. Religious freedom is often meaningless without the right to own property (church buildings). Private education is impossible without lands or buildings. Elections are meaningless where individuals are largely or totally dependent on government.
The freedom of the individual to hold and enjoy private property is, in recent times, clearly the most subverted of liberal values. Yet without this right, all other freedoms are practically meaningless. Not only is this right of instrumental value to other freedoms but it is also indistinguishable from the very notion of individual freedom. As Professor Alice Tay states in Law and Society: the Crisis in Legal Ideals, (E Kamenka, R Brown and A Tay eds Melbourne (1978)) p 10:
"Property is that which a man has a right to use and enjoy without interference: it is what makes him as a person and guarantees his independence and security. It includes his person, his name, his reputation, his chattels, the land that he owns and works, the house he builds and lives in and so on. These things are seen as his property in early law because they are seen as the verification of his will, as the tangible, physical manifestation of his work and his personality."
The alternative to private property is government property. Government owns and controls individuals to the extent it owns and controls property. Feudal and communist systems illustrate the truth of this simple and basic proposition which is so easily overlooked.
Carson argues that all rights depend on property:
"The law may be stated in this way. All rights are dependent upon property. They are dependent upon property for their conception, their delineation, and their exercise. It follows from this that the system of property ownership will determine what rights can be effectively established within a society. Since a right cannot be firmly established unless it is tied to a property base, changes in the property system will tend to be reflected in the rights that can be exercised. And the right of the individual to the ownership of private property is essential to the establishment of individual rights.
Even those asserted rights which are in reality government privileges masquerading as rights, depend on property. For example, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights asserts that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control".
Food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and so on are certainly property. Thus, the "rights" named depend on property for their exercise. In these cases, however, it is the property of others that is involved rather than that of the claimants. If governments establish these "rights" they must fulfil the claims by confiscating the property of those who possess it and conferring it upon the claimants. That such action is an assault upon private property there should be no doubt. That governments which simultaneously assert the right to private property and then confiscate it to fulfil other rights have adopted contrary principles there should be no doubt. Their assertions of "rights" are in conflict with each other. But my main point is that anything which is established as a right depends on property." (Clarence B Carson, "Property Basis of Rights" in The Freeman, September (1980) p 23).
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