The three great rights: life, liberty, and property

Language of Liberty


 According to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” This clause, known as the eminent domain reservation, gives the state the legal right to take private property for public use without the consent of the owner. But, the owner has a right to his day in court to insure “just compensation.”

The Fourteenth Amendment states that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This simply extends legal property protection from all of the amendments in the Bill of Rights down to local government protection of private property ownership.

But just what is private property ownership? Property is anything subject to ownership and private relates basically to an individual. Ownership relates to a possessory interest in a property. This is the right to exert control over the uses of property to the exclusion of others.

Police power relates to government regulation of property in accordance with that ambiguous term “general welfare.” Examples of major government intrusions into the right to private property ownership are planning and zoning ordinances; building codes; air and land traffic regulations; and health, safety, and sanitary regulations. Some of these make sense; others are downright damaging to the right to life, liberty, and property ownership.

It is in this latter group of police powers assumed by political government that private property ownership rights are being ignored. More and more have been expropriated by regulation or negation of proprietary uses. Such damaging political action often reduces the owner’s property value without just compensation. The proper term for that is “extortion.”

If there is any question about the act of protecting and maintaining rights rather than property per se, a statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland should provide clarification:

“It is not the right of property which is protected, but the right TO property. Property, per se, has no rights; but the individual, the man, has three great rights, equally sacred from arbitrary interference: the right to his life, the right to his liberty, the right to his property. . . . The three rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but deny him his liberty is to take from him all that makes his life worth living. To give him liberty but to take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave.”

Morality, or proprietary relations between people, cannot exist without a basic understanding of the birthrights of everyone to life, liberty, and property. Basically, human rights are nothing more than property rights.

Currently, throughout the world, nation after nation is in chaos because of trespass upon human property rights. The United States is no exception.

Increasingly, our people are at odds with political governments because of disregard for these rights. Yet, recognition of participation in these trespasses should first be placed at the doorstep of the people who unconscionably take part in this legal plunder.

No longer do local governments use eminent domain’s Fifth Amendment where they must compensate the owner for partial loss in property value. Instead, they fall back upon police power through planning and zoning regulation. This permits them to take property without compensation: LEGAL PLUNDER! The bundle of ownership rights to private property keeps shrinking.

Local officials continue to manipulate the legal use of real property for maximum political benefit to themselves, at the expense of the owners of private property.

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), a French economist-statesman, brilliantly and presciently described this encroachment by government:

“The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law became the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!”

Al Bellerue is a real property analyst specializing in eminent domain. Read full article at Published with permission, Foundation for Economic Education.

The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of Center for Self Governance to educate citizens in the principles of liberty. The views expressed by authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG.    


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