Saturday, February 23, 2008

Who Is Eminent?

The notorious "eminent domain" portion of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution carried English common law in early America over into constitutional America, placing modest restrictions of "public use" and "just compensation" upon the law. Unfortunately for Americans, our constitution did not abolish this aborrent concept, and our courts have progressively given broader jurisdiction to "public use," allowing private companies to take over other private property for the "public benefit."
The most notorious recent atrocity of "public benefit" came in Kelo v. City of New London in New London, Conn., in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that New London could "condemn" private property for a redevelopment plan in which other private companies would rework the property. The case drew national attention and criticism, but it was not nearly the first of its kind. In 1829, private railroads were given virtual carte blanche in the condemnation of private property abutting and sitting in front of them in their government-backed reckless attempt to expand too quickly westward and to fall eventually into bankruptcy.
The "public use" clause was ominous in itself, but the "public benefit" interpretation must frighten any lover of liberty and private property. Just who (or what) is eminent? Who or what has eminence over private property: individuals or the government? Our Founding Fathers, brought up on English common law and lacking Objectivism as their virtuous gird, sided with the latter, much to the chagrin of thousands of property owners for the last 220 years and to those of us who must live with the understanding that we are, in reality, simply vassals with vassalages.
The altruist's philosophy (We must sacrifice for the many, the public?) set in motion this destruction of individual rights. The altruist decides what is for the "public benefit." The altruist decides what is alleged "just compensation" -- not the property owner.
Altruism's father is skepticism. Humans, over thousands of years, have believed (and been taught) that the human mind is not efficacious, is not rational, that humans cannot run their own lives and be happy in and unto themselves, living a life of virtue and autonomy. This irrational mindest by the skeptics causes them to hold humanity (individuals) in contempt. Can it be any surprise that these skeptics/altruists then hold the property of humanity in contempt? "What right does a contemptible human have to state that he has any more right to his property than his neighbors? They are worth more because there are more of them? He must sacrifice. If he doesn't sacrifice, by damn, then we'll make him sacrifice. We'll make him pay!"
This venom toward the grand individual will not end until people learn to respect the human mind, its efficacy, its eminence. Objectivism is the only means to that end.
And then we'll have the constitutional answer to who is eminent: individuals, not governments -- and we'll have a proper Fifth Amendment.


brendan said...

Well said, David. I like this issue because it so clearly and simply draws the line between people who support liberty & individualism as an absolute, vs. those who will supplant it under "certain circumstances".

Eminent domain is the fallback power of the despot.


David Elmore said...

Indeed, Brendan. Eminent domain IS the fallback power of the despot. It doesn't get much worse than to say that governments, not people, have ultimate control over all property. As Ayn said, freedom of thought is nothing without freedom of property. In fact, the former does not really exist if the latter does not.