Forum Left, 2/21/12

Property Rights Are the Source of Civil Rights

by Mark Luedtke

There’s an old saying: Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. In the same way, your right to free speech ends at my property line. While every individual has a natural right to free speech, no individual may seize the property of others to use as a forum. You can’t seize my pencil to write your thoughts, nor can you post signs on my property without permission. You must provide your own forum or get the permission of the owner of a forum.

As obvious as this seems, there’s much confusion about it. That’s because government schools mis-educate students about property rights, destroy their ability to think for themselves and make them subordinate to the state. And they are terribly successful. Government schools never address the source of rights because, if they did, students would immediately realize that government as we know it is an inherently illegitimate and oppressive institution.

All rights are derived from the fundamental right of self-ownership. If this isn’t self-evident, leading libertarian scholar Hans-Herman Hoppe has developed a theory called argumentation ethics to prove that individuals own themselves. In short, no person can disagree with another without demonstrating self-ownership. Anybody who disagrees proves the thesis.

The consequences of this most fundamental right are profound. It means every individual has a natural right to freedom of speech, religion, association, assembly, and to keep and bear arms. Each has a natural right not to incriminate himself. All the civil rights Americans used to cherish flow from self-ownership. They are consequences of property rights. The Bill of Rights acknowledges several of them. It also fails to specify many natural rights, though the Tenth Amendment protects them.

The fundamental right to self-ownership also implies the right to homestead property. Every individual has a natural right to the fruits of his labor and to trade, to give away or receive property. The Constitution fails to acknowledge natural property rights for an obvious reason: the state, by definition, is the enemy of property rights. It funds itself by seizing the property of others under threat of violence backed by violence, therefore it can never acknowledge the natural right to property without admitting it is illegitimate.

The laws of physics dictate that every piece of property can only be controlled by one entity at a time. Imagine two people trying to control a pencil at the same time. It’s impossible. They would be in conflict. The entity that exercises ultimate control of property is the property owner. Anybody who wants to use property must either own it or get permission from the owner. Any attempt by a non-owner to use property without permission is a crime. There’s nothing complicated or controversial about this until government gets involved.

The City of Fairborn owns the park that hosts the Fairborn Sweet Corn Festival. In 2009 the city gave permission to the Fairborn Arts Association and the Fairborn Lions Club to put on the festival, as it has done since 1982. During the festival, a couple of Christian activists tried to promote their Christian message on the property without getting permission. Since they didn’t obtain permission and the festival has rules against soliciting, police prohibited them from displaying their signs. The activists failed to remove their signs, so police threatened them with trespassing charges. They left, then subsequently sued, claiming the city violated their free speech rights. After losing in district court, three Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judges unanimously reversed the decision.

This incident illustrates numerous, common fallacies.

First, nobody violated the activists’ free speech rights. The festival owners denied them a forum on the property they controlled, but they were free to display their signs on any property whose owner gave them permission. Do you think those justices would say the activists have a free speech right to march on their desks with their signs during a hearing?

This incident also shows government does not provide law and order. Had the park been owned by a private owner, this conflict would never have happened. Private property rights and their enforcement create law and order, not government.

And government does not protect property rights. The reality is the US government has institutionalized theft on an unprecedented scale. The Ohio Constitution claims private property is subservient to the public welfare. In other words, the state claims ultimate control — ownership — over all property within its borders. According to it, nominal owners are merely renters, and justices, like all people, work to advance their personal economic interests. Since they have a monopoly on adjudicating disputes, they profit by undermining property rights and increasing conflict, chaos and crime.

Public property is a fallacy in itself. Imagine if millions of people struggled to control Courthouse Square at the same time. It’s physically impossible for the public to collectively own property. However illegitimately, government owns the property it seizes. The sooner Americans grasp these principles, the sooner we can transform America into the free country many mistakenly believe it is today.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at

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Mark Luedtke
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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