Monday, October 27, 2014

Election 2014: Eminent Domain and the "Limits of Rights"

In my election 2014 letter to the Hunterdon County Democrat, Is Any Taking Just?, I wrote: “The November election will pit John Broten and Sam Tropello against Julia Allen and Frank Gatti for Readington Township Committee.” Another letter by Abraham Farsiou, Rights Have Limits, took the opposite view on the same issue of Eminent Domain against Solberg Airport, endorsing Allen and Gatti.

It’s a long letter, but I addressed the fundamental issue raised by Farsiou in these comments. Quoting from Farsiou’s letter, I wrote:

“Some say the Solbergs have a right to do whatever they want with their property. However, the community in which you live sets up certain standards and there are certain zoning and other restrictions that we all have to abide by. These restrictions are put in place for the good of the community as a whole and to carry out the will of its constituents. For example, I rightly would not be able to put up a gas station in front of my house.”

Wrong. The standards that govern rights are to be found in the factual requirements of human life, not the arbitrary whims of the “community.”

A “community” is an abstraction denoting the individuals who comprise it. When someone invokes “the good of the community as a whole,” he is saying that his values and interests take precedence over the values and interests of others, and aims to impose those values on other community members by governmental force—i.e., at gunpoint.

But no individual or group such as a voting majority has any right to declare, in effect, “The community, c’est moi!, and anoint themselves the arbiters of the community good, or claim the title “the will of its constituents.” America is not based on the rule of the collective over individual subjects. That collectivist notion is as far removed from America’s ideals as one can get, and to the extent it has taken root in American culture is the extent to which America has moved away from its promise of freedom. America, in its original conception, is based on the sovereignty and sanctity of the individual, each of whom possess unalienable rights that can not be overridden by King, Cleric, dictator, “community standards,” or majority mob.

This is where rights and their limits come in. Each individual rightfully has domain over his own life, including his property. That domain takes the form of freedom of action in pursuit of the values one judges his own life and flourishing to require. Unalienable individual rights protect that freedom. Freedom of action does have limits, but those limits are not arbitrarily set by “the community.” The freedom that rights protect is based on the objective fact that to live according to his nature, men must be free from physical aggression imposed by his fellow man. The limits of freedom can be summed up in the truism: “Your rights end where my nose begins.” In other words, one’s freedom to act ends where aggressive acts of force against others begins. Likewise, others’ freedom ends where aggressive force against you begins: “One man’s rights end where the next guy’s nose begins.” In other words, the principle of unalienable rights carries the moral obligation not to initiate aggressive force against others. Rights bannish initiatory force from human relationships, thus subordinating society and government to the same moral law that individuals must abide.

Indeed, in a civil, moral, free society, the “community” is bound by the same limits as its individual members. Just as no number of individuals can privately gather into a mob, march on a neighbor, and run him off his property, so neither can that same mob camouflaged as “the community” hide behind legalities do it, using government as the hired gun. Clearly, seizing others’ land through eminent domain in the name of the community, community “character”, will of the voters, or any such collectivist rationalization is an un-American, rights-violating act of aggression, and the action against Solberg fits that description “to a T.”

It follows that the right to  “do whatever they want with their property” includes only peaceable, non-aggressive uses that does not violate others’ rights. One may not, for example, set up a shooting range without an appropriate buffer to protect one’s neighbors. Bullets flying into one’s neighbors’ property is aggressive force that intrudes on the neighbors’ use of his property. Aside from such uses, every individual has the right to use his land as he judges best. If the Solbergs apply for airport expansion, it is their right. If surrounding community members can prove that such expansion violates their rights—i.e., in some way physically interferes with the use of their property—they can come forward in the approval process.

Airport expansion is not the fundamental issue. Individual rights is the issue, and the only rational, fair basis for resolving the airport controversy. Zoning powers, like eminent domain, has evolved way beyond government’s legitimate function. Rather than objectively resolve land use conflicts according to rights-based standards, zoning has become a tool for politically powerful voting blocs to dictate land usage according to arbitrary community standards. But zoning is an issue for another day. For now, the first thing Readington voters should do is stop bloodying the nose of our neighbor, and vote to end the aggression against the Solbergs by voting for Broten and Tropello for RTC.


See my comments to Farsiou’s previous letter, Solbergs and Special Interests.

As to the Solberg’s alleged “lack of good faith negotiating with our township officials,” I exploded that fallacy in my comments to The threat of a jetport worst thing for Readington.

Related Reading:

The Rise of Collectivism and the Fall of the Constitution

Collectivized “Rights”—Ayn Rand

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