Not Just Property

Annalise Arras Period 1

Living in America, we have many rights and freedoms that we exercise every day. We can go anywhere and do anything, as long as we follow the guidelines of the Constitution. The Constitution was written post-war in reaction to the Declaration of Independence, which declared people in America have the right to life, liberty and property, inalienable rights the government should protect for us. More specifically, “all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” [1] The pursuit of happiness referred to owning private property, for one to own land without fear of it being taken away. Private property was important, and in the Declaration, it specifically mentions it is an absolute right, not a privilege given, and no one can take it away without just compensation. Similarly, Pope Leo XIII discusses that owning private property is within the laws of nature in his encyclical Rerum Novarum: Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor. God gave humans nature, and if one puts sweat and labor into land, it is rightfully and naturally their land. [2] He also debates the fact that Socialism offers answers to issues regarding the ownership of private property. Ultimately community goods and services cannot lead to happiness, the true goal of all nations and people, which Aristotle writes about in his Nicomachean Ethics. When considering the function of man, it is only in the fulfillment of one’s function one can truly be happy. When we cannot even own our own land, a natural, inalienable right, we cannot fulfill our function. For example, the country Laos identifies as a Communist state, following closely under the Socialist Party in Vietnam. Communism means the power is within the state, so Laotians cannot own private property. In turn, the country is underdeveloped socially, people are forced into labor they cannot accomplish, and they cannot fulfill their function to achieve happiness. The right to private property is not only just, but is natural and inalienable to all people, and when taken away by the government, it not only leads to destruction of the people, but does leads to unhappiness as well.

In Pope Leo’s Encyclical, he discusses the right to private property. He begins with the issue of capital and labor, the spirit of revolution it inspires, and the “truth and justice” of these topics that need addressing.[3] There should be more equality between workers and their owners, better wages, and fair conditions. To “remedy these wrongs” Pope Leo mentions how socialists believe transferring power of owning property from individuals to the community will solve many class tensions.[4] Socialism focuses on common ownership, production, and distribution of goods or services in the community, and socialists believe individual ownership of private property is unjust, because it leads to issues in society. If everything is equal, the problem of class tension will cease to exist, or at least be less prominent in society. Owning private property, though, is a natural right, and not only does the idea of communal land ownership go against due justice, it also prevents “permanent possession of things, [which] is part of what humans require for life.”[5] God provides for us through nature and its fruits. The state should not prohibit the natural right to own property, because it interferes with our “permanent possessions,” and is therefore denying us justice of life. Also, when one puts their own work and sweat into a piece of land, it is their own work and therefore they can claim ownership of the land. It becomes something of value to someone in the world. Socialism cannot take away someone’s own work and cannot deny the benefits they reap are their own. It disproves the arguments of Socialism with regard to private property, and potentially solving the issues that arise with land ownership. Another reason the right to private property is necessary is to fulfill the rights of a family. A man’s duty is to take care of his family, leaving them with capital to provide for themselves if he leaves, therefore leading to the ownership of property. Man has absolute rights and duties that he has had since birth, long before those of the community. His natural privileges and obligations, take superiority to those of the state, which again discounts Socialism as a viable option to solve the issues between capital and labor. Overall, owning private property is just because it is a natural right, and socialism can result in “nothing else but equal misery.”[6]

When we cannot fulfill our natural right, something which helps us lead a good, just life, we cannot fulfill other things in our lives, like our everyday function. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he considers what is good, the function of a man, and overall how to achieve happiness. To live a good life is to live one with happiness, which can be achieved by accomplishing one’s function. Our function is the activity of living in accordance with reason to fulfill our soul. Also to find one’s function, we must understand our activities that define us as human beings, using reason (and virtue and ethics) to discover the truth about things. God gave us nature to take care of us, and to help us fulfill our function to achieve happiness. “Nature gives us the capacity for acquiring [virtues],” which can lead to us developing virtues to live an ethical life, in turn contributing to the fulfillment of our function.[7] Another natural right is owning private property. Through owning private property, one can take care of and support his family, labor, and produce, all means to fulfilling one’s function. The purpose of the state is to help people live a good life, therefore helping them achieve their function. Socialism, or the disregard of private property for community ownership, cannot help one achieve their function, and therefore can lead to unhappiness throughout a nation.

The country of Laos is a prime example of a Socialist nation under Communist rule which prevents the right of owning private property, leading to the downfall of the country and dissatisfaction among their citizens. Laos is a One-Party Socialist Republic under the Communist Marxism-Leninism ideology known as the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). As a Communist country, Laotians live in an “economic and social system in which all, or nearly all, property and resources are collectively owned by a classless society,” and much of the country’s power resides with the government.[8] The country is internationally ranked 130th out of 177 countries regarding human development, only 35% of the population has access to clean drinking water, and 75% of the workers are engaged in agricultural jobs.[9] In the early years of the LPRP reign, they attempted to “create agricultural collectives in the countryside and to nationalize the limited industry and commerce in the towns.”[10] Later, they began minimally decentralizing the government’s economic initiative, and favored family-operated farms and private investments, although the government still had complete control. Today, about three-fourths of the country is employed in agriculture, specifically rice cultivation in rural areas.[11] For Laotians to truly be given their natural rights, the government would allow them to own private property, so they can support themselves, their family, and eventually contribute to society. Because the LPRP still retains political power over ownership, production, and distribution of goods, Laotians are not free to fulfill their function, because not everyone in Laos is made to work in agriculture. Because their main source of income is agricultural exports, though, the government pushes agricultural work.  Without the right to choose a job or own private property, Laotians ultimately cannot achieve happiness either. They are doing jobs ineffectively too, because not everyone’s job is to be a rice cultivator. Overall, being a Communist country, the prevention of owning private property is not only a disservice to the citizens, but also prevents them from fulfilling their function, resulting in unhappy people who are ineffective in society.

It is important and just to be able to own private property, because it is a natural right and helps fulfill our functions as humans, leading to happiness. Pope Leo discusses the solution to quelling the revolutionary spirit between capital and labor, negating Socialism because of its “community of goods” ideology. God naturally provides for us, and our inalienable right is the ownership of private property. Primarily, it helps man provide for his family. Also, when we put sweat and work into land, the land becomes our private property, which others cannot take away. Finally, Aristotle provides the basis for achieving happiness, including fulfilling one’s function, living in accordance with reason. If fulfilling our function, based upon natural rights and duties inalienable to us as humans, cannot be fulfilled, we cannot achieve happiness. When the right to ownership of private property is taken away, it inhibits people from accomplishing their function and supporting their family, like in Laos, suppressed under a Socialist/Communist government. Not only can one not achieve happiness, but they are ineffective in their unfulfilling job, and cannot contribute to society to the best of their ability. The right to owning private property is not only just, but is a God-given necessity that will help us live a good life.

[1] “The Constitution of the United States.” Amendment 5. National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2016. Web. 01 May 2016. <https://www.nccs.net/amendment-5-protection-of-rights-to-life-liberty-and-property.php&gt;.
[2] Gutierrez, Omar. Rerum Novarum. Bolzano: Rætia, 1993. Sept. 2015. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://archomaha.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Rights-and-Duties-of-Capital-and-Labor.pdf&gt;.
[3] Ibid, Gutierrez.
[4] Pope Leo XIII. “Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891) | LEO XIII.” Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891) | LEO XIII. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html&gt;
[5] Ibid, Gutierrez.
[6] Ibid, Gutierrez.
[7] Aristotle, and Roger Crisp. Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2000. Library of Congress. Web. 4 May 2016. <http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam032/99036947.pdf&gt;.
[8] Dommen, Arthur J. “Laos – The Lao People’s Democratic Republic.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.britannica.com/place/Laos/The-Lao-Peoples-Democratic-Republic#ref509345&gt;.
[9] “Laos – Lao People’s Revolutionary Party – LPRP.” Laos – Lao People’s Revolutionary Party – LPRP. U.S. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://countrystudies.us/laos/85.htm&gt;.
[10] Ibid, Dommen.
[11] “The World Factbook: Laos.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 May 2016. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/la.html&gt;.

Featured Image: “Why Private Property Rights Must Be Defended – Freedom Outpost.” Freedom Outpost. FreedomOutpost.com, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 05 May 2016.

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