In a piece at the Huffington Post entitled, People and Property: What Rand Really Wants, Mark Olmsted has launched a frontal attack against property rights.
Mr. Olmsted has done a huge service here, by clarifying the issue in terms of fundamentals. Why did he attack the very principle of property rights, rather than resort to the usual tactic of equivocation? For example, defenders of Title 2 usually avoid the property rights issue altogether and focus only on the related concrete issues of racism and segregation. If property rights are mentioned at all, it is in the context of when and where limitations are “necessary”. The line goes; property rights are good, but there must be exceptions in the most "extreme" cases.
Mark Olmsted doesn't equivocate. Property rights are evil, period. As he makes clear, especially in the comments section, he quite despises Ayn Rand. (Ayn Rand gets thrown into the mix, apparently, as a consequence of the false belief that Randall Paul was named after her.) But Olmsted and philosopher Ayn Rand stand on common ground on at least one crucial point. Ayn Rand understood that:
"There can be no compromise on basic principles. There can be no compromise on moral issues.
"There can be no compromise between a property owner and a burglar; offering the burglar a single teaspoon of one’s silverware would not be a compromise, but a total surrender—the recognition of his right to one’s property."
Olmsted understands the real issue as well ... fully, completely, right down to its fundamental roots. If one accepts the validity of property rights, then it logically follows, as a matter of moral principle, that a property owner has a right to decide whom he may allow onto his property (assuming no rights violations of others by the owner). And make no mistake. Individual rights, including one's right to one's property, are moral principles.
Title 2 cannot withstand an uncompromising defense of property rights. Ultimately, property rights must be destroyed, or all such laws like Title 2 must be repealed. Mark Olmsted seeks to destroy property rights. His reasons, as we shall see, are quite clear. He understands what most on both sides of the debate do not. On moral principles, the battle is always between the two extremes. The law of excluded middle applies here. It's either/or. Either an irrational, ignorant man may engage in racial discrimination on his own property, or their are no property rights ... for anyone, at any time, anywhere.
The Olmsted argument against property rights is a familiar one. In the crucial paragraph that cuts to the chase, he writes:
“The Rand (Paul or Ayn) philosophy, by putting private property rights at the same level of human rights, equates the status of things with the status of human beings. If property is considered equal to human beings, then it's not a very big leap to considering human beings as property. I believe this country is already familiar with this philosophy, manifested 150 years ago as slavery.”
The equation of slaves with property contradicts the very source of property rights, and is a logical contradiction. The absence of property rights, in fact, leads to the slave state. I address these two points below.
The fact is, the principle of private property rights is the bulwark against tyranny of all kinds. That is why statists always try to drive a wedge between property rights and human rights. Of course, human rights do not have the same meaning to the Left as they do in the Declaration of Independence or under capitalism. When Olmsted speaks of human rights, he primarily means rights to things – i.e., property – such as healthcare, an education, or a job. Rights, properly understood, are sanctions to freedom of action to pursue healthcare, an education, or a job by one’s own efforts and in voluntary association with others. Understanding this distinction clears away the fog. When you consider that wealth – i.e., property – redistribution is at the heart of the Left’s social goals, it’s clear why property rights and human rights are considered incompatible.
For evidence of how deeply Olmsted is an enemy of property rights, here it is – the lauding of literal primitivism:
Ayn Rand considered the Indians to be a useless people (see speech at West Point, below) worth of having their land taken because they didn't "do" anything with their property. The fact that they lived in harmony with the land and nature, producing food clothing and shelter for their needs, was dismissed by Rand. She considered property materiel, exploited, transformed resources; great buildings, bridges, whatever showed off mans dominon over raw materials and produced "wealth."
The Randists use the allocation of property as proof of the owning class' superiority over everyone else. It is a souless, materialistic philosophy of empty, insecure people, who need to feel power over others.
Apparently, tribal dictatorships do not constitute “power over others”, but private wealth production that raises men’s living standards above bare subsistence, is. In classic fashion, he launches his attack on Ayn Rand (referring falsely and insultingly to Objectivists as "Randists") through the usual straw man and ad hominem tactics. As anyone who has any understanding of Ayn Rand's thought knows, Objectivism is anything but "a souless [sic], materialistic philosophy" driven by a "need to feel power over others". Individual rights, including the right to one’s earned property, is the only means of protection against predatory powerlusters. Ayn Rand is history’s greatest defender of individual rights. Draw your own conclusions about "what Olmsted really wants".
Be that as it may, his own soullessness is exposed – an utter disregard for man’s means of survival as a civilized being. Notice what he regards as important – doing nothing with raw materials, which entitles the Indians to “their property”. The real and only source of property rights is precisely “exploited, transformed resources; great buildings, bridges, whatever showed off mans dominon (sic) over raw materials and produced ‘wealth.’ ”. Productive intellectual and physical labor is the real target of Olmsted’s diatribes, the product of which he denies to the producers, so as to lay the path for its redistribution in accordance with “human rights”. In Olmsted’s worldview, the choice is, indeed, property rights or human rights.
Here is what I had to say in reply:
Thankfully, Mr. Olmsted offers with crystal clarity the fundamental alternatives: life without property rights - the literally dirt-poor, slave-oriented, fear-filled mystical existence of the American Indians living a perpetually primitive, stone-age existence - and a property-rights-respecting society of technological industrialization where the poorest live lives of luxury compared to our “noble/humble” savage ancestors.
The Indians had an innocent excuse. They had not yet discovered the knowledge of what could lead to the kind of prosperous and quality life free market capitalism makes possible: individual reason and free will, and the unalienable rights and rights-protecting government that man’s nature as a rational being requires - which makes a proper, thriving human existence possible.
Mr. Olmsted considers the mind-denying Rousseauian/Leakeyian vision superior to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist vision of man as a heroic moral being capable of great spiritually germinated material achievements. His view holds as an ideal a society of parasites with each depending on the next guy for his barest sustenance, and none permitted to thrive economically. The last thing any socialist can claim is a benevolent concern for the well-being of his fellow man.
Olmsted’s hatred of freedom and capitalism – which cannot exist without a foundation of property rights - “screams” from the final paragraph of the article, in which he equates a factory owner with a warlord, and his workers with slaves. The fundamental difference between freedom and tyranny, the absence or presence of physical force in human relationships, is a non-issue, apparently.
Without property rights, no actual human rights are possible. Dictatorship is by definition the denial of human, meaning individual, rights. The rise of socialist tyranny in a free society begins with the assault on property rights.
My initial comment focuses on the meaning of property rights:
The only way human beings can survive and thrive is through the use of his mind and the intelligent use of his labor. The end result of that productive process – what he has earned – is his property. His property is not his life, but it is the means by which he sustains his life. Thus, he has a fundamental, inalienable right to his property because he has an unalienable right to his own life. Deny an individual man his property, and you deny an individual man his life – and the individual man is the only societal entity that exists.
This does not mean he may treat others as property, or claim a right to other’s property. If he does, he is denying their property rights, and making them slaves. Mr. Olmsted has it exactly backwards. In fact, it is “a very big leap to considering human beings as property”. Only the respect for and protection of property rights makes all other human rights possible. They are inextricably linked.
Without property rights, you get Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Red China … and the plight of the victims of the pre-Civil War American South. To paraphrase Mr. Olmsted, I believe this country is already familiar with the philosophy of property rights denial, manifested in 20th century collectivism, the America of 150 years ago as slavery, and in the modern welfare state.
Olmsted personally replied, as follows:
And I'm sure Mr. Rand would have found for the north in the Civil War, choosing opposition to slavery over state's rights. Give me a break.
Nazi Germany was fascist, but there was plenty of private property. The Nazi elite grew extremely wealthy. And no one is advocated the abolition of private property--just that having it shouldn't give anyone the right to discriminate. I guess you don't think there was anything wrong with the "No Jews Allowed" signs in German storefronts in the 1930s? Freedom of association and all that.
The disproportionate amassing of private property is inherently undemocratic, but it's equal distribution is hardly unAmerican. In the 40s and 50s we had far greater economic equality than today--decades revered by the rightwing. Under Eisenhower the highest tax rate was 91 %. What a communist.
This is interesting, equating property rights with private property in relation to Nazi Germany. His statement that “…no one is advocated (sic) the abolition of private property--just that having it shouldn't give anyone the right to discriminate” is just what fascism is – property ownership in name only. To translate Olmsted’s statement; You can own your property, but you can’t use it in ways the government doesn’t approve of. Here is my response:
My concern is not with Paul or Eisenhower, but with property rights. Mr. Olmsted writes:
“Nazi Germany was fascist, but there was plenty of private property.”
Yes, but property RIGHTS were essentially abolished. Just as under communism, Nazism, and democracy, the essential nature of fascism is the subordination of the individual to the collective as represented by the state. Listen to Nazi fascism’s highest authority:
“The party is all-embracing…” said Adolf Hitler upon taking power, “Each activity and each need of the individual will thereby be regulated by the party as the representative of the general good…This is Socialism- not such trifles as the private possession of the means of production. Of what importance is that if I range men firmly within a discipline they cannot escape. Let them own land or factories as much as they please. The decisive factor is that the State, through the party, is supreme over all, regardless of whether they are owners or workers…Our Socialism goes far deeper…[the people] have entered a new relation…What are ownership and income to that? Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.” (From Herman Rauschning’s The Voice of Destruction, as quoted in The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff, page 231-232.)
Fascists are sympathetic to communist aims, and only disagree on the means. Fascism is back-door socialism, and nothing else.
There were no “human rights” in Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia, or Red China – and no property rights. You can’t have one, without the other. Here is a follow-up comment, referring to “the right to discriminate”, which Olmsted doesn’t think should be permitted:
The right of disagreement is fundamental to a free society, even if it is irrational and evil. This includes private, non-rights-violating discrimination against people for personal attributes over which they have no control. But proponents of justice have a powerful weapon – the First Amendment. Boycotts, publicity campaigns, non-violent street protests, and old-fashioned logical persuasion are the moral tools of freedom. So is economic competition – the opening and/or patronizing of businesses that don’t discriminate and thus siphon off as customers the victims and their sympathizers.
There is an inherent contradiction in the pro-Title 2 position. Culturally, the country was moving strongly against segregation and racism. MLK’s civil rights movement of the 1950s was gaining mounting popular support. Jim Crow and segregation – both legal and private - were being routed by popular pressure and the courts, perhaps not as fast as desired, but routed none-the-less. Racism would have disappeared as a potent societal force without the freedom-endangering, state-empowering Title 2 poison pill precedent that violated everyone's property rights. That the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan congressional– which necessarily means popular – support (Republican – 80%, Democrat 64%) is my proof of that.
Remember Voltaire’s wisdom: "I do not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." To preserve freedom, including your own, you must occasionally defend the rights of the most irrational, on principle, as abhorrent as that may be.
As a final point to be made, I want to focus on this statement by Olmsted:
"The disproportionate amassing of private property is inherently undemocratic, but it's equal distribution is hardly unAmerican."
This ties together everything he says: Disproportionate - on what standard? In a capitalist, free market system, the property one "amasses" is proportionate to one's intellectual and physical productive efforts, and the voluntary choices of others to trade with you. This is certainly "undemocratic" in a just society, since one's earned property is protected by constitutional law from any looting ballot box mob that decides to seek a more "equal distribution" of your wealth.
But then, that is Olmsted's whole point. His equation of the factory owner with the warlord; of slavery as the consequence of the "philosophy" of property rights; His assertions that "The idea that wealth is justifably accorded on the basis of hard work and worth in this country is laughable" and that "The free market is just a system--it has no morality", etc: All of this and more fits together nicely as a justification for the collectivist slave system he craves. If there are no property rights, then no one's property is rightfully his, unless one received it as stolen property.
You can see where the Title 2 precedent ultimately leads. Mark Olmsted bridges the precedent to the logical consequences. What starts out as "limited" restrictions on private property ownership offering public accommadations ends up as socialist enslavement to the redistributionist thugs unleashed by the Olmsted's of the world. The epistemological trail is laid out throughout his column and comments. As I said earlier:
"It's either/or. Either an irrational, ignorant man may engage in racial discrimination on his own property, or their are no property rights ... for anyone, at any time, anywhere."