Property Rights and the

Liberal-Conservative Dichotomy


By John "Birdman" Bryant


While we hear much talk of "conspiracy theories" these days, we hear no talk at all of a phenomenon which may turn out to be the biggest conspiracy of all time, namely, the artificial division of people into the two false categories of "liberal" and "conservative". This can best be explained by observing that, while there are many political issues on which people disagree, the one fundamental difference in political beliefs is between the belief in maximization of individual liberty and the belief in maximization of government power. These are opposites since the more liberty the individual has, the less the government can possess, while the more power (or "liberty") the government possesses, the less liberty the individual can have. The reason, then, that I say the liberal/conservative dichotomy is a false one is that both liberals and conservatives are inconsistent in their attitudes toward individual liberty vs government power. For example, the liberals want to use government power to control economic enterprises and property via government regulation (the EEOC, OSHA, and the Endangered Species Act are examples of such regulation), while conservatives usually reject such regulation; but liberals reject government regulation over such things as abortion, drug use and pornography, while conservatives strongly desire such regulation.

So why, then, do I call the liberal/conservative dichotomy a conspiracy or possible conspiracy? Simply because the major media behave as if there is a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives when there is none (the difference is merely over issues having no logical relationship), but ignore as much as possible the one real political issue, which is approval of Big Government versus the disapproval of it. And of course the Establishment -- which includes both the major media and Big Government -- profits from the fact that people are confused by the liberal/conservative dichotomy, since such confusion reduces the chance that Establishment power will be challenged in any significant way. And it also means that, while "conservatives" will oppose "liberals" over using government power for liberal interests, and "liberals" will oppose "conservatives" over using government power for conservative interests, the net result is to leave the government with enormous power which is used sometimes for "liberal" interests and sometimes for "conservative" interests, but is always used for government interests.

So how, then, can we begin to unravel the confusion over "liberal" versus "conservative"? The best way, I think, is to put the issues in terms of property rights. The drug issue is a good one to start with in this case, because it is clear that, if one can be said to own anything, he must surely be said to own his own body, and thus -- providing he does not hurt others -- he must surely have the right to do with his body what he wishes, including taking "unapproved" drugs, whether for health reasons or for recreation. The alternative to this view, of course, is that the government owns your body, in which case it is up to the government to tell you what you may put in it. It is of course worthy of note -- and representative of how much confusion the Establishment has sown -- to realize how many "conservatives" seem to think people own their own bodies when it comes to nutritional supplements, but reject this notion when it comes to recreational drugs.

Another concept which is greatly clarified by the concept of property rights is children's rights, and particularly abortion. In particular, liberals usually uphold the idea that children are government property when it comes to "child abuse", truancy laws, child labor laws and the like, since they believe the government has the right to enforce such laws; but they do a complete about-face in the case of abortion, where they regard unborn children as the property of the parents, who can abort or not as they desire. Conservatives, of course, are equally inconsistent: While rejecting the notion of government ownership of children in such instances as home schooling, parental discipline and child labor, they are perfectly happy to permit the government to hold property rights in the case of a fetus, and in particular they insist that the government must protect "its" property against a mother intent on abortion.

But the concept of property rights is applicable to many more issues than the above, including four which have usually occupied center-stage in recent political debates: immigration, integration, pornography and free speech. In the case of immigration, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe has noted ("Free Immigration or Forced Integration", Chronicles, July 1995), if our country had a king instead of a president -- ie, if the country were "owned" by a king rather than "rented" by a president -- then the king would wish to keep up the property value of his country by admitting as citizens only those with good skills and high intelligence, while in our present system, the president is usually happy to let in the riffraff and give them welfare because these folks will be likely to vote him and his party back into office. Alternately, if there were no government at all, but merely owners of private property, immigration would not occur at all unless a property owner admitted immigrants to his own piece of land for purposes which profited him personally, and thus no one would be admitted who was doing the nation (or "nation") any damage.

As to property rights and racial integration, we note that this issue was first raised in the case of public schools and busses, ie, government property. If there were no government schools or busses, however, the "problem" of integration would not have arisen (We assume here that private ownership means no government regulation, since regulatory power implies at least partial ownership). Since the 1950s, however, the issue of integration has spread to businesses, colleges and many other places because of the fact that government has assumed the power to "regulate", ie, because government has assumed (partial) ownership of almost everything. All of which means that, if the government had followed the intent of the Constitution and respected private property, the whole integration mess would never have happened.

Two other issues which bear on private property are pornography and free speech. As to porn, this is obviously related to the ownership of one's body, since those who expose themselves for the camera are exercising property rights; and those who sell pictures of such people are again exercising property rights. As to free speech, this, too, is primarily a property-rights matter: If the transmission of speech occurs on private property, or if it occurs in publications or transmissions which are sold to consumers, then it is clearly protected by the rights of property owners and consumers; while if it occurs on public streets or other (publicly- owned or regulated) media, then it becomes subject to government censorship because government (partially) owns those media. Thus if private property rights were respected, the need for free speech "guarantees" would be unnecessary.

But if we are right that there has been a conspiracy to confuse the electorate about the fundamental political issue of government power versus individual liberty, we can see from the above discussion that there has at the same time been a conspiracy to confuse people about the concept of property rights, since the act of government regulation impacts on such rights so as to make ownership increasingly meaningless. And while it is certain that there will always be differences of opinion as to how much power the government should possess, the citizens should never forget that government power is the fundamental issue of all politics, and that property rights constitute the basis of individual liberty and are thus the principal bulwark against abuse of government power.

* * Back to the Home Page of John "Birdman" Bryant, the World's Most Controversial Author * *