Van Dun on Freedom and Property: A Critique

Article excerpt

THE THESIS OF VAN DUN (2009) (1) is that there is a conflict between freedom and property rights, and that libertarians ought to side with the former. If not, people, many people, will likely starve to death by being trapped in their houses, unable to get out of them, or, caught outside of them, without the ability to return home. This is unjust, and hence unlibertarian, since such people will in effect be imprisoned, without being found guilty of any crime, indeed, without even having been accused of perpetrating any illegal action.

This sad state of affairs will come about (VD) asserts, if the libertarian emphasis on private property rights is fully implemented. How so? If the non-aggression principle (NAP) of libertarianism is adhered to, private road owners will be able to charge the veritable "arm and a leg" to homeowners for access and egress. These capitalists will thus be empowered to trap individuals in their homes, prevent them from returning there unless they pay large fees, and/or forbid such movement outright. The highway corporations would have every right to impinge upon the freedom to travel of their clients, since, in the libertarian society, all property, including roads, would be privately owned, and the proprietors of these vehicular passageways would have every right to charge price they wished, up to and including an infinite price, which would be equivalent to out right prohibition. They could engage in this sort of encirclement, or as I (Block, 2008) have characterized this problem, as "entrapment." (2)

VD is a well written article. Hence, the author's thesis is crystal clear, and there is little danger of misinterpretation. His vision of the Quasi-Earth, populated by creatures just like us, only they are all libertarians, is inspiring. His depiction of such a society is highly accurate as it focuses on the twin pillars of libertarianism: the non-aggression axiom or principle (NAP) and private property rights based on homesteading (Locke, Rothbard, Hoppe.) He states VD (224-25, footnote deleted):

   Thus, unlike us Earthlings, the Quasi-Earthlings (1)
   unconditionally respect every person's rights of self-ownership,
   private appropriation of unowned resources, unrestricted
   noninvasive use his own property, and exchange by mutual consent,
   and (2) unconditionally abide by the nonaggression principle when
   it comes to dealing with interpersonal problems. In other words,
   there is no crime and every property owner is free to do with, to,
   and on his property whatever he likes provided his actions have no
   significant physical effects on others or their properties.

However, I cannot fully buy my way into VD's thesis. What obstacles stand in the way of our agreement?

1. Freedom

Although VD nowhere in his essay explicitly defines "freedom," it is clear what he means by this, the right to come and go as one pleases. States VD (230):

   there is need to have a "free movement" proviso regarding ownership
   of material resources, to the effect that the rights of a property
   owner do not include the right to deprive others of the possibility
   of moving between their own property and any place where they are
   welcome.

But this "freedom" is not at all the negative right not to have one's person or property free from external aggression. Rather, it is the positive right, beloved of our friends on the left, to be able to utilize the property belonging to other people, for our own ends, without their permission. (3) If freedom from hunger means the right to force other people to feed you at their expense, and freedom from nakedness implies the right to compel others to clothe you, again at their expense, then VD's freedom to travel, or his "free movement proviso" obligates others to make available to the recipient a "route" as part of a "right of way network" which includes "seas, (uninhabited or uncultivated land) and streets, roads, canals," and, presumably, highways, byways, roads, avenues, lanes and other vehicular traffic arteries. …