Principle, Application and Property

All the sciences, moral philosophy, and even theology are based in some measure on the distinction between a principle, and the application of a principle.

Take, for example, the science of mathematics.  Euclid’s First Element is, “Things which equal the same thing also equal one another.”  Thus, if 1 + 3 = 4, and 2 + 2 = 4, then you can be absolutely certain that 1 + 3 = 2 + 2.  The general principle, “Things which equal the same thing also equal one another,” is applied in the specific (or “particular”) equations 1 + 3 and 2 + 2.

In moral philosophy, the universal prohibition against theft, i.e., the general norm of the natural law, “Thou shalt not steal” demonstrates that the right to be an owner, “the right to private property,” comes under the natural law.  Why?  Everyone everywhere knows that it is contrary to nature, i.e., “wrong,” to take what does not belong to you.  This necessarily implies that private property is a right by nature, or it would not be wrong to take what does not belong to you.

Property being a right, Proudhon’s “Property is theft” means “property is a violation of property.”  This is nonsense.  All socialist and redistributist arguments are based on trying to prove that 1) the ostensible owner doesn’t really own, 2) because somebody else is either the real owner, or acting on behalf of the real owner.

The right to be an owner, however, says nothing about any specific system of political economy.  As long as the system respects the dignity of each human person in a way that secures universal access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in capital, then it conforms to the general norm of the natural law.

We can apply this as well to the natural right of liberty.

 

“freedom is a right, but as with every right
that ever existed, it is not unlimited . . . in its exercise.”

 

We can apply this as well to the natural right of liberty.

Freedom sounds very nice — and it is.  Under the name “liberty” it is almost always included in the great triad of natural rights, life, liberty, and private property.

Yes, freedom is a right, but as with every right that ever existed, it is not unlimited . . . in its exercise.

That qualifier is vitally important.  Every human being has all the natural rights, including life, liberty, and private property, by nature, simply because he or she is a human being.  That means that the rights to be alive, to be free, and to be an owner are absolute.

 

Michael D. Greaney is Director of Research at the Centre for Economic and Social Justice