The Libertarian Party published their 2012 platform last month. They still don’t understand what “property rights” are. (More)

Libertarians talk and write about property rights. Clarence Carson argued that property is the basis for all other rights, including life and liberty. Property is, he claimed, a “natural right” that preexists government, and concludes:

The law may be stated in this way. All rights are dependent upon property. They are dependent upon property for their conception, their delineation, and their exercise. It follows from this that the system of property ownership will determine what rights can be effectively established within a society. Since a right cannot be firmly established unless it is tied to a property base, changes in the property system will tend to be reflected in the rights that can be exercised. And, the right of the individual to the ownership of private property is essential to the establishment of individual rights.

Such is the theoretical wellspring for the Libertarian Party’s 2012 Platform statement on Property and Contract:

Property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others. We oppose all controls on wages, prices, rents, profits, production, and interest rates. We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services. We oppose all violations of the right to private property, liberty of contract, and freedom of trade. The right to trade includes the right not to trade – for any reasons whatsoever. Where property, including land, has been taken from its rightful owners by the government or private action in violation of individual rights, we favor restitution to the rightful owners. [Emphasis added.]

The italicized text is the boilerplate libertarian rejection of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Back in January, then-Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said the Civil Rights Act “undermined the concept of liberty.” In reader comments to that article, many apparent libertarians argue that business owners have a right to discriminate against persons of color, women, or other groups. The business is the owner’s private property, they claim, and government has no right to intervene.

Except, one presumes, if the business owner wants Those People removed from his property. Then, one presumes, government has not only the right but the duty to enforce the owner’s property rights by ordering Those People to leave and arresting them for trespass if they refuse. Or, if the business owner does not order Those People to leave but simply refuses to hire or serve them, government has the duty to resolve any resulting lawsuit in favor of the business owner.

Ponder these two sentences:

  • Government may not legitimately restrict property rights, including a business owner’s right to discriminate.
  • Government may not legitimately restrict government’s duty to enforce property rights, including a business owner’s right to discriminate.

The first is libertarian property rights doctrine. The second is what that libertarian doctrine means in Realworldia … and the italicized phrase exposes the conceptual fallacy of that doctrine.

In Realworldia, law is not about theory or philosophy. Law is a tool for resolving disputes, and a “right” is a duty of government to resolve This kind of dispute, given These facts, in favor of That party, and by providing Those remedies. To argue that government may not legitimately restrict property rights is to argue that government may not legitimately restrict the duties of government.

The Libertarian Party’s property rights platform is not about what a business owner may do, but about what government officials must do, namely, take the business owner’s side in any dispute over the business owner’s bigotry. They insist that government officials – acting as agents of We the People – may not heed the voice of We the People. In that view, property owners have whatever ‘rights’ they demand, and our only recourse is to refuse to do business with them and hope the “free market” will sort it out.

That is not “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It is “government of the property owners, by the property owners, for the property owners.” That is … plutocracy.

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