Freeman

ARTICLE

Liberty and Property: One and Inseparable

JANUARY 01, 1968 by WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLAIN

Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and re­porter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. In addition to writing a number of books, he has lectured widely and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines.

Two familiar left-wing clichés that are too often allowed to pass unexamined and unrefuted are that freedom under capitalism is freedom to starve and that human rights are superior to property rights. The implications are that people are most likely to go hun­gry under a system of free enter­prise and private ownership and that there is a basic antagonism between human rights and prop­erty rights. Both assumptions are completely false and misleading.

Where have the great famines of the twentieth century occurred? There have been two in the Soviet Union, each costing millions of human lives, in 1921-22 and in 1932-33. Capitalism obviously can­not be blamed for either of these. The first was the product of a number of causes, drought, trans­portation breakdowns after years of fierce civil war, and last, but by no means least, the Soviet system of so-called war communism. Un­der this system the value of money was virtually abolished; the gov­ernment requisitioned all the peas­ants’ "surplus" produce and, in theory, gave him what he needed in clothing, machinery, and manu­factured goods. But this theory was seldom translated into fact; what actually happened was that armed requisitioning bands scoured the villages, confiscating any food stocks they found and giving nothing in return. Under these circumstances there was an understandable unwillingness of the peasant to raise more than he required for his own subsistence.

At least the Soviet Government admitted the fact of this famine and welcomed foreign aid from the American Relief Agency, headed by Herbert Hoover, and various foreign religious and charitable organizations. Its responsibility for the second great famine, in 1932-33, is far more unmistakable and undivided. This famine, which devastated what are normally the most fertile areas of European Russia, the Ukraine, and the North Caucasus, was primarily political in character.

Stalin was bringing all possible pressure to force the peasants to give up their individual holdings and accept regimentation in so-called collective farms, where they were completely under state con­trol as regards what they should plant, how much they must sur­render to the government, what prices they should receive. Weath­er conditions had been unfavor­able and the peasants’ will to pro­duce had been paralyzed. Yields were naturally low and I still re­call, from a trip in rural areas, the striking number of weeds in the collective farm fields. The So­viet authorities easily could have coped with the food shortage by drawing on reserve stocks or im­porting food from abroad. Instead, heavy requisitions were imposed and the peasants were left to starve, as several millions of them did. Foreign relief was not per­mitted; honest reporting of the famine, its background and causes, was not permitted.

Industrial Taj Mahals

Famine has also occurred in re­cent years in communist China and in India. In India, socialist state planning led to systematic neglect of agriculture in favor of building big new factories, which a prominent Indian economist, B. R. Shenoy, has called "industrial Taj Mahals," out of proportion to the needs and absorption capaci­ties of the country. There can be no serious suggestion that capital­ism is responsible for starvation in India. For the disastrous fam­ines that have occurred in the So­viet Union, China, and India there is no parallel in any country with an economy based on private prop­erty relations.

There is an intermediate phase between the stark horror of down­right famine, with thousands of human beings perishing from lack of food and the diseases that mal­nutrition always brings, and the contented satisfaction of needs en­joyed by shoppers in an American supermarket. In this phase people are not acutely hungry but are condemned to a drab, unappetizing diet, either because of rationing or because foodstuffs which they may desire are not available in the stores. This is the present situa­tion in Russia and in the commu­nist-ruled areas of Central and Eastern Europe. There has been nothing of the kind in the strongholds of free enterprise and pri­vate property, in North America and Western Europe—at least, not since Great Britain got rid of ra­tioning, prolonged by Labor gov­ernments after it had been dropped on the continent and fi­nally abolished by the Conserva­tives in the fifties.

So much for the old wheeze about "freedom to starve" under free enterprise. It is the over­whelming testimony of experience that anyone who wishes to eat as much as he wishes and as wide a variety of foods as he wishes should stay away from communist and socialist states.

Property Rights Are Human Rights

And the supposed antithesis be­tween "human" rights and "prop­erty" rights is quite nonexistent. For the right to own property and use it in lawful ways is a very basic human right and when this right disappears, others also swiftly vanish. What are, after all, basic human freedoms? Security against arbitrary arrest, imprison­ment, and execution is surely prominent on the list. So is the right, through an uncoerced vote, to exercise some share of control in government decisions. And the right to state one’s views, in speech or writing, as an individual or in association with others. And to choose one’s form of work and occupation, without external coer­cion. And to travel freely to for­eign countries, and, if one chooses, to quit one’s native country for residence in another. And to be se­cure against having letters opened and telephone conversations re­ported by snooping government agents. And to give up a job, or to change jobs without let or hin­drance. And to publish newspapers and books, operate radio broad­casts, and generally communicate with one’s fellows without official censorship.

Call the roll of this list of ele­mentary human rights and liber­ties and examine how it stands up under various social and economic systems. No form of government or society is perfect; but by and large the above mentioned liber­ties are pretty well observed in countries where the rights of pri­vate property are most scrupulous­ly respected. Most or all are disre­garded under any form of dicta­torship. But the denial of every one of these human rights is most complete, systematic, and irrevo­cable under the dictatorships which have gone furthest in abol­ishing the right to own and utilize private property.

The regimes that are now in power in the Soviet Union, in mainland China, and in Cuba grew out of revolutions that took place under differing circumstances and against differing national back­grounds. But all these tyrannies, as also those in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Albania, have one negative trait in com­mon. They recognize for the in­dividual no right which the state may not arbitrarily withhold or deny.

Liberty is the first casualty after the wholesale nationaliza­tion and confiscation of property. This rule has been proven so often under so many circumstances in so many countries with such var­ied backgrounds that there can be no reasonable doubt as to its uni­versal application.

The Communist Purge

Russia fifty years ago was the scene of the most thoroughgoing smashing of property rights ever witnessed. Land, factories, mines, banks, houses, stores, every imag­inable form of tangible property, was taken over by the state. Such intangibles as stocks and bonds automatically became worthless, and this was also true as regards the prerevolutionary currency.

And along with this process went the systematic destruction of all the human rights and liberties that had been solemnly affirmed after the overthrow of the czarist regime a few months before. A secret police was set up with un­limited powers of arrest, sentence, and execution. This agency has several times changed its name and has operated sometimes more ruthlessly than at others; but it remains the ultimate sanction of Soviet dictatorship.

Voting became a farce, with only one set of candidates, hand­picked by the ruling Communist Party, to vote for. Fifty years after the inauguration of the communist system there is not one organ of opinion in the Soviet Union that is free from state cen­sorship and control. No meetings may be held, no clubs or societies formed, without official approval. To leave the country for travel abroad, a right casually exercised every year by millions of Ameri­cans and West Europeans, is for the Soviet citizen a rarely granted privilege. Foreigners resident in Moscow have long become accus­tomed to receiving letters which have quite obviously been opened. Foreign embassies take every pre­caution against the constant bug­ging of conversation within their walls and no Russian in his right mind speaks freely over the tele­phone.

Forced labor has been a prom­inent feature of the Soviet system, varying from the barbarous cru­elty of concentration camps where millions of men and women were overworked and underfed in the Arctic climate of Northern Russia and Northern Siberia, to the milder constraint put upon uni­versity graduates in medicine, en­gineering, and teaching to accept assignment to remote localities for two years after graduation. And this same pattern of recognizing no inherent rights of the citizen, of treating him merely as a tool and chattel of an all-powerful state, has reappeared in China and in Castro’s Cuba. During the last decade bitter hostility has de­veloped between the Soviet and Chinese communist regimes. There have been instances of more or less suppressed friction between Moscow and its east European satellites. Fidel Castro as the first totalitarian ruler in Latin Ameri­ca has not operated under the same conditions, human and ma­terial, as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung.

And communism takes on diff­ering national colorations, de­pending on the people on whom it is imposed. All the more signifi­cant, therefore, is the universal common trait of every communist regime, in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America. This is the denial of every basic individual liberty for the individual.

Locke: "Life, Liberty, and Property"

When England, after half a cen­tury of turmoil, civil war, re­ligious and political persecution and proscriptions, reached its great compromise in the estab­lishment of constitutional mon­archy under William III in 1688, the greatest exponent of the new mood was the political scientist and philosopher, John Locke. By nature broad-minded and tolerant, Locke worked out a theoretical scheme well calculated to satisfy a people sick of the excesses of royal despotism, on one side, and of Puritan rule, embodied in Cromwell’s personal dictatorship, on the other.

Locke, whose thought influenced the Founding Fathers of the American Republic as much as the leaders of his native England, strongly vindicated the rights of the individual citizen as against the state. For the old-fashioned theory of an anointed king ruling by divine right he substituted the conception of society as a body of individuals living together for mutual convenience and confer­ring on government only certain limited and specifically defined powers. He emphasized the "nat­ural right of life, liberty, and property," properly regarding all three as closely associated. It was perhaps an accident that the Dec­laration of Independence did not restate Locke’s formula, substi­tuting for property the rather meaningless phrase: "pursuit of happiness." Property, in Locke’s opinion, is "the great and chief end of men’s uniting into com­monwealths."

Progress in guarantied individ­ual liberty has marched side by side with assured guaranties of the right of the individual to ac­cumulate and enjoy property. Great principles of ordered liberty were symbolized in John Hamp­den’s resistance to the payment of "ship money," a tax imposed for a phony purpose by the ar­bitrary power of King Charles I, and in the actions of Hampden’s successors, the rebellious colonists, in refusing to pay taxes on stamps and tea levied without American representation by the British Par­liament.

It was because men like Hamp­den were prepared to stand up for their rights (including their property rights) that England un­til recent times was a lightly taxed country. And, of course, the con­flicts over the stamp and tea taxes were the overture to the estab­lishment of the American Re­public.

Eternal Vigilance

Freedom in all its forms, in­cluding not least economic free­dom, must always be defended, al­though the enemy changes with changing times. Absolute kings and emperors have disappeared in­to the archives of history and no longer constitute a threat. The principal threat to freedom now is the adoption of measures that in some countries have led and in others might lead to the mod­ern-style demagogic dictatorship, which, in the name of abolishing exploitation, sets up a superstate with unrivaled powers for ex­ploiting its subjects and invari­ably strikes down every other freedom as a sequel to eliminating economic freedom.

The surest brake on the tend­ency of government to exceed its proper functions and degenerate into tyranny is a strong proper­tied middle class. It was the emergence of such a class that sounded the death knell of abso­lutist monarchs and feudal bar­ons. The destruction of such a class is the invariable first objec­tive of the totalitarian communist revolution that exploits discon­tent, justified or unjustified, in order to set up a tyranny far worse than anything against which it rebelled.

One may paraphrase a famous oratorical climax of Daniel Web­ster, himself a stout defender of economic freedom, and sum up as follows the lesson to be drawn from all historical experience, past and present:

Liberty and Property. One and Inseparable. Now and Forever.

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January 1968

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