Tag Archives: Private Property

Father Robert Spitzer on Liberty

Thanks to JSB Morse at The Libertarian Catholic website for noting last week’s EWTN broadcast program of “Father Spitzer’s Universe.” Father Robert Spitzer S.J. is a brilliant Catholic author on the spiritual life, theology and the scientific evidence for a transcendent God. He is also President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith.

The video below picks up halfway through the program as Fr. Spitzer explains the work of Spanish Scholastic writer Francisco Suárez who set out the modern basis for natural rights theory, later influencing Hugo Grotius, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.

Father Spitzer goes far in laying the groundwork upon which Catholic libertarianism is based:

  • The right to self-governance
  • An unjust law is no law at all
  • Initiating harm to another without cause (aggression) is unjust
  • Limits of democratic rule
  • Right to private property.

Begin watching at the 30 minutes mark:


Freedom to live a moral life

In previous posts [here and here] we reviewed misconceptions about the nature of a libertarian society and how businesses could better serve us. In a free society, private property would enable people live in an environment of their own choosing. No longer would we be forced to pay for the immoral conduct of government and those it subsidizes. Freedom of association is a fundamental human right and this would be reflected in a variety of communities which could arise.

Such communities would come about through the use of civil contract law, which has a long tradition in the use of covenants that run with the land, binding subsequent owners by voluntary agreement. These are enforceable under contract law and impose duties or restrictions that follow the land when it is sold to a new owner. This works without criminal laws because residents agree to bind themselves in various ways. Both homeowners and their guests would be required to follow the rules. Those who do not could be removed as trespassers.

Property-based rights would enable groups of like-minded people to buy land for the purpose of establishing communities according to their favorite principles. A group of distributists might establish a city of small businesses where property agreements provide that each landowner must own the means of their livelihood and which prevent the massing of property in few hands. Every square inch of the city would be under the covenant, which all buyers would agree to when they bought the land.

A Catholic entrepreneur might have a vision of a Catholic city where public morals would reflect Catholic moral teaching. Residents and visitors alike would abide by the covenants, which would apply everywhere. In that society, guests might be hard-pressed to buy recreational drugs, pornography, contraceptives or abortion pills. On a Sunday, nothing would for be sale. One might search the yellow pages in vain for a “gentleman’s club,” abortion clinic, or escort service. Drunkenness, public lewdness or taking the Lord’s name in vain might result in fines or expulsion.

Monks and nuns would still live in voluntary community in personal poverty as they always have, but without the harassment of government. As in social communes that exist today, the assortment of these arrangements would be vast, and one can imagine Mormon towns, “no corporal punishment” towns and vegetarian towns.

In fact, socialists, even communists, could band together to undertake voluntarily what has failed so miserably under the guns of government. No one would stop them from trying. Surely, there would be some real oddballs out enjoying the freedom, but we are not talking about utopia, just the exercise of free will restrained only by the universal prohibition against initiating force against others.

In the end it may be that most people would gravitate to less controlled living arrangements where the ideal is simply to be left alone and to live their lives in peace.

Private property and a moral society

In the last post, we noted that a free society–far from being an amoral nightmare–would be one where people have more control over their lives and neighborhoods and be better able to live as they ought.

This can be accomplished by eliminating public property. Every town has one or more streets in its business district. What would happen if the town deeded one street and its sidewalks back to the landowners along that street? It would be child’s play for the merchants to make alternative arrangements for security and upkeep, assuming they no longer have to pay for those through taxes. The most visible change would be that the now-private street owners are not bound by the rules that bind the state in policing that street. In public places, conduct that is not criminal must be tolerated no matter how obnoxious. The police—bound by the laws that protect us all—are powerless to act.

When the street is public property, then drug dealers, troublemakers and thieves must be tolerated even if it drives the rest of us out of the neighborhood. Only if such people are caught breaking the law can they be removed (temporarily) from public property.

If a business district were fully owned by the merchants of the district, they would see that it was well maintained with good access and plenty of parking. They would want the sidewalks to be free of people who harass or drive away customers. If the property included a formerly public park, the merchants would want it clean, safe and attractive to their customers. Individuals would conduct themselves by the rules or be barred from the property.

The private business district—like a private mall—would have the same rights as a person in their own home. Even in today’s society, we can do just about anything inside our homes as long as we do not infringe the rights of others. On the other hand, we have almost no rights inside another man’s home. We cannot smoke, drink the water, use the toilet, speak or even move without the owner’s leave. As much as we value our freedom of speech, our right to peaceably assemble or to bear arms, no such rights exist on another man’s property. If we do not abide by the owner’s rules, no matter how stupid or arbitrary, we are trespassers and can be made to leave.

Of course, a business owner does not want to exclude people. He wants them to come in and spend money. Whether he allows smoking, guns or alcohol is no one’s business but his . By these choices he caters to some and not to others. Such privatization would let the merchant control the entire environment and allow customers to choose those businesses or districts that meet their needs. The same sort of choice—now forbidden by government—would become the norm if private property replaced public ownership and voluntary agreements replaced governmental aggression.

In the next post, we will see how these principles might extend to our homes, neighborhoods and entire cities.