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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hobbes’

“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”[1]

rlclrose21These are the words of Howard Beale in “Network”. The American movie classic is about an aging network broadcaster who rebels against the corporate oligarchy and subsequently is murdered at their hands.  Rebellion and the rebels that foment them are a recurrent theme in story and song.  Spartacus[2], Robin of Loxley, William Wallace, Zorro, Patrick Henry[3], John Brown, and Michael Collins are but a few characters, real and imagined, who considered their own liberty and that of their fellow compatriots more important than the authority of a tyrannical state.
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Amongst many, though certainly not all, political theorists and economists there is a tendency to believe that in the absence of government, mutually beneficial voluntary economic interactions- and hence property rights- cannot exist, or, if they can, do so only infrequently (see, for instance, Murphy and Nagel (2002); Buchanan (1975); Glaeser et al. (2001); Rand (1967) pp. 329 – 337; Friedman (2002); Epstein (1985) chapter 1; Macpherson (1962)). This view has as its philosophical progenitor Thomas Hobbes, who famously concludes in his masterpiece, Leviathan, that in order to allow for mutually beneficial economic interactions- and thus property rights- a civil authority with the power to create and enforce laws is first necessary. What Hobbes (and by implication most modern political theorists and economists) fails to address adequately is that agents can establish property holdings and facilitate economic transactions in the absence of a government via self-enforcing contracts, particularly given his starting assumptions.

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Indeed, the principal reason why, in the first place, states and cities were ever organized at all was to defend private property. – Cicero 1

In 1772, shortly before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Samuel Adams, who was a member of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, wrote the following:

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, the right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. Those are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.2

rlclrose21
Adams and the other founders of our constitutional republic felt strongly that the right to property is a fundamental part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that even those who go as far as to deny the validity of eminent domain must acknowledge that to the extent the individual use of property affects other members of the community, both immediately and in the future, the community develops a legitimate interest in that use. Environmental public policy attempts to manage that interest, but is often a blunt and ineffective instrument due to a lack of scientific understanding about the long-term effects of such policies, and because of the political and financial self-interests that often drive them. This essay addresses the political and moral implications associated with the restriction of personal liberty and property rights by government that may be deemed necessary in the name of environmental protection.

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