Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Open Letter to Al Villani Concerning Solberg Airport in Readington, NJ

The eminent domain action against Solberg Airport continues to boil in Readington Township, New Jersey. A letter by Readington resident Al Villani supporting the action was published in the Hunterdon County News on July 7, 2014, and in the Hunterdon County Democrat on July 10, 2014.

Below is my reply to Villani’s letter, written as responses to selected quotes.

“Thor Solberg is on record, yet again, about his plans to expand the airport in a way that will change Readington forever. . . . I call this reverse eminent domain.”

Eminent domain is an aggressive state power. It is not a process available to private citizens. A private citizen who attempts to seize another person’s property by aggressive force is a criminal. In what way can an expansion by the Solbergs of their airport be called “reverse eminent domain?” Where is the aggression? The term “reverse eminent domain” is a perversion of language designed to make an indefensible position sound plausible, like the term “freedom is slavery” is used by the totalitarian state in Orwell’s 1984 to justify their tyranny. The victims of aggression are not the “thousands of Readington residents” Villani presumes to speak on behalf of. The victims are the Solbergs and the other thousands of Readington residents opposed to the eminent domain action but nonetheless forced to pay it through their taxes.

“This build-out is not remotely in keeping with the character of our lovely town. Every homeowner within several miles of the airport will experience a significant loss in value of their home. . . . [I]t’s imperative that we protect the interests of thousands of Readington residents from the interests of one family.”

The issue is not essentially about interests, but rights; specifically, the rights of individuals to pursue their interests—their values—so long as the individual’s actions don’t violate the same rights of others. America is about individual rights, not the rights of mob. Rights are held equally at all times by all people, and being one of a group of thousands does not make one more equal than anyone else, entitling one to have government favor his interests over others. Thor Solberg has a right to the peaceable—i.e., rights-respecting—use of his land and business, just like every other resident.

Individual rights are guarantees to freedom of action, not an automatic entitlement to guaranteed values. There is no right to a particular town character one considers “lovely.” There is no right to avoid “change,” “forever.” There is no right to a particular market value for one’s property. There is no right to stagnation. There is only the right to pursue values without coercive interference from others, in voluntary interaction with others. In a free society governed by the principles in the Declaration of Independence, the government is never a tool of special interests. Government’s purpose is “to secure these rights” of all to pursue their interests in a non-aggressive, non-physically coercive, right-respecting manner, and to objectively mediate disputes among citizens.

Personally, I don’t see how a larger Solberg Airport infringes anyone's rights, given the maturity of the aviation industry and its advanced standards of safety. That said, should Solberg pursue expansion, if anyone believes their actual rights are infringed by airport expansion—such as that their lives or property would face inordinate physical danger or disruption—the proper procedure is to voice their concerns in the airport approval process, or take their dispute to court where their differences can be settled under objective rules. That is how disputes are settled civilly: A mob taking up legalized arms against their neighbors to seize their land is the opposite of civil.

That aside, the fundamental issue is not airport expansion. It is eminent domain, the essential nature of which is to enable private citizens to engage in legalized criminality. Eminent domain is one of the cracks in the foundation of liberty our Founders erected. This is unfortunate, because eminent domain is fundamentally at odds with the theory of government implicit in the Declaration of Independence, the philosophic blueprint for the Revolution and the conscience of our constitution. That municipal governments have eminent domain power does not change it’s un-American and immoral nature. But having that power does not mean we can’t renounce its use. That would be the right thing to do.

Villani opens with a question: “Tired of hearing about the airport?  Me, too!  I wish the whole thing would just go away.” This letter might more accurately have opened with, “I’m tired of living among people with different goals, different values, and different interests. I wish they would just go away.” As a 36-year Readington resident, let me say unequivocally to Mr. Villani: If Readington residents want to get control of the Solberg’s land, let them raise money privately, and make an offer to buy the land in a voluntary contract with the Solberg owners. But, count me out of your eminent domain gang. You do not speak for me, and you shouldn't presume the right to do so.

Related Reading:

Solberg Airport: Who Shapes "Community Character"?

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice—Craig Biddle

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