Thinks I, What Is the Country a-Coming To?


Right on the money.

For me, watching Objectivists and like-minded minarchists react to the Kelo decision is like watching a drunkard stumble through a game of hopscotch.

So what are the Objectivists drunk on? In a word: statism. In two words: limited government.

This intoxication is present in every one of the Objectivist responses to Kelo linked above, but it’s evinced most completely by Don Watkins. (And I mean that as a compliment.) Anyhow, let’s listen to a few of Don’s more salient hiccoughs:

[Hic!] [T]he correct solution [to the Kelo dilemma] is to repeal the takings clause altogether. … [T]his is a clear indication of why to grant an exception to a principle is to destroy the principle: once you agree that property rights may be violated by the government, no matter the reason, you reject the principle of property rights as such. Individuals no longer own what is theirs by right, but only by the permission of the government …

The solution is to repeal the takings clause, eh? Couldn’t the Supreme Court then simply declare that Kelo-type takings serve a so-called “vital government interest,” and allow these takings by means of the commerce clause? What’s that, you say? The commerce clause was never meant to apply in such cases? Somehow that fails to reassure me. (But suppose you are certain that the Court would never be able to distend the commerce clause so grotesquely. What stops the Court then from making use of the infamous ad hoc clause?)

[Hic!] To claim this can only be done in cases where it “serves the public good” ignores the fact that there is no such thing as the public good as distinct from what is good for each individual (which can only be judged by each individual). This means, in practice, that the “public good” is whatever the public’s representative, the government, says it is. Which means the government may do whatever it wants, sacrifice whomever it chooses, for whichever ends it desires. Any restraint it shows is a matter of temporary expedience and of luck.

Now we get to the meat of the beast. In practice, and this is the crucial point, the Constitution itself, every word of it, has always meant whatever the government says it means. This has been explicitly the case since Marbury v. Madison, but it has been the case in fact all along. As Lysander Spooner put it: “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain—that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.” The principle is simple: there can be no such thing as a government of laws and not of men. In practice, since it is only men who practice anything, all governments are governments of men, and not of laws. The human ability to creatively interpret a legal document knows no bounds. (The bounds of sense aren’t bounds at all in this context.)

[Hic!] In other words, the government is justified in confiscating private property so long as it enables the government to confiscate an even greater amount of private property through taxation!

The government may continue to seize our property so long as doing so enriches the government.

That is the true meaning of “the public interest.”

Don offers this last as a distillation of a post by one Don Boudreaux. Unfortunately, both Dons seem to have missed the point, which is this: if government may “now” seize property so long as doing so enriches the government, it is because it has always been able to seize property for any reason whatever, which is to say, on any pretext. The Kelo decision teaches us nothing new.

Seasoned Objectivists, you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? ‘Limited government’ is an anti-concept. The Objectivist politics is a “package deal.” Have you heard it all before? I reckon I’ll give you an opportunity to check that premise after a spell. Meanwhile, cogitate on this here:

If you feel nothing but boredom when reading the virtually unintelligible theories of some philosophers, you have my deepest sympathy. But if you brush them aside, saying: “Why should I study that stuff when I know it’s nonsense?”—you are mistaken. It is nonsense, but you don’t know it—not so long as you go on accepting all their conclusions, all the vicious catch phrases generated by those philosophers. And not so long as you are unable to refute them.

—Ayn Rand, “Philosophy: Who Needs It”

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