Sunday, August 22, 2010

More on Property Rights and Mosques

I had a friend ask my opinion about the situation in New York regarding the Cordoba House.  His question went something like this:  Given that Objectivists hold that property rights are a fundamental right which is to be protected by government, on what ground can anyone act to stop the construction of the mosque?

I have to admit that there are slippery slopes on every side of this issue. Fundamentally though, my answer is that we as a nation have a right to fight people who have declared themselves to be above the law.  More specifically, we have a right to retaliate against people whom have attacked us and a right to deny our enemies moral sanction (a product of such a community center) - and that comes over any rights to property which I argue they forfeit when they undertake or exhort violent action.

Let me break this down just a little bit.

On 9/11 we were attacked by people who took it upon themselves to attack the US on our soil.  What purpose they had is irrelevant.  What is relevant to me is that they seem to have a moral sanction from the ideology of Islam, "commanding right and forbidding wrong", which exhorts them to take violent action, whether in the form of rape or murder against their perceived enemies and antagonists.  I refer to Ayaan Hirsi Ali in his comments on the South Park controversy:
"There is a basic principle in Islamic scripture—unknown to most not-so-observant Muslims and most non-Muslims—called "commanding right and forbidding wrong." It obligates Muslim males to police behavior seen to be wrong and personally deal out the appropriate punishment as stated in scripture. In its mildest form, devout people give friendly advice to abstain from wrongdoing. Less mild is the practice whereby Afghan men feel empowered to beat women who are not veiled."

I want to take a detour and talk briefly about the role of government because there has been a lot of discussion of rights in this debate.  The Objectivist view on this is that government should be limited to the recognition of each man's right to his life, and as a result to liberty and property.  The role of government is premised on the fundamental requirement in the nature of being man that each individual must act on the long range to produce the material and spiritual things which he uses to support, sustain, and further his existence; all according to his judgment, which is the product of his reason.

The use of force or threats of force necessarily entail one party substituting their will in place of another's judgment.  Reason as such fundamentally requires the banishment of  force in order that people may deal with one another by means of their reason in a free society.  To have a civilized society means that each individual is free from force enacted others, no matter what their number (compulsion via majority rule is compulsion still).

This means making illegal the initiation of force by any member of this society and punishment for those whom choose to.  Such a government cannot protect a person's right to murder or steal because it would fail to achieve its primary goal.  Those who enact murder tacitly waive any rights since they do not recognize any rights to life whatsoever.  This is the principle which is applied whenever our government acts on the behalf of the people to imprison criminals.

Government is limited in its action to the things which it is delegated.  And it is delegated these things to remove the use of force from the arbitrary whim of individuals and to implement it only in retaliation when force has been initiated by someone, under a framework of objective law.

As an additional note, when the government goes beyond the protection of these rights to redistribute wealth, incentivize via tax code, regulate businesses, or control what people may or may not do with or on private property, that government ceases to be protector of rights and becomes a violator of rights against some of its citizens.  When all businesses and individuals are taxed on income, a special government tax status for religious organizations is effectively a tax subsidy for that organization.

What is the tax status of those trying to develop the Cordoba House?  Interesting question, but I don't know the answer.


Let's take another detour and talk about war because this is related.  War is proper and moral for the government of a free country to wage in order to protect itself from foreign threats.  This is similar to the principle which is applied when arresting and convicting a murderer.  Similarly, when other governments violate rights of their own people, or the people of other nations, or give material support to para-military organizations which attack anybody, we have a right to fight them with everything we have. Again, the right to life is fundamental here and is waived by those who demonstrate by their action that they do not recognize it.

Normally, you would expect a free society to indicate their recognition of such violations via a declaration of war.  But when you are attacked by a foreign aggressor whom has declared war on you, you are at war.  This is true whether you choose to recognize it or not.  And it is wishful thinking to expect that it will always be a foreign country that you are at war with. (Of course, our government has utterly failed to prosecute this war against Islamic Totalitarianism.)

The Right Advocate Lawless Murder in a Free Society Based on the Right to Life?

So what does this all add up to.  A pending state of war with an extremist faction of a religious movement which exhorts them to take vigilante action to "command right and forbid wrong".  And at the center of our attention spans, the construction of a religious community center in New York with people on one side crying against a symbolic victory for islamic totalitarianism and the other crying religious freedom and property rights.

The people who believe they are being virtuous by arguing for these property rights are likely the same people that don't see any problem when the government steps in to halt or hold up the construction of a new gas station, high rise condo, or industrial facility.  Does this mean that businesses have no property rights but religious organizations do?  If these people wish to support property rights as a fundamental right, then they must be consistent about it.

Further, I recognize the danger on the question of how we should permit the government to deal with a religious community which permits and encourages the use of violent force whenever they disagree with someone's actions or words.  This violent force is above the law of any land that they exist in, and is without a trial.

Is that consonant with a free society, which bars force from social interaction? I don't think that the government should outlaw ideas - it is against the spirit of a free society to permit the use of arbitrary force. But when an idea is against the very core of everything your society depends on, can you ignore it?  Can a free society permit and protect the rights of some to advocate lawless murder?

As I have laid out above, there is a proper role for government to retaliate when the rights of some have been demonstrably violated.  I argue that an organization representing a set of ideas which exhorts its members to violent action has no place in a society that holds the right to life as fundamental.  Those who make calls to vigilante action are an accessory to the initiation of force.  They willfully ignore the right to life, and it is the prerogative of our government to take action against those whom are on record advocating such action.

(Speech can be a form of force (e.g. threats, coercion, etc) and the right to free speech is not a fundamental one - it also derives from the right to life, a corollary of which is the right to hold an idea - the right to the contents of your mind)

Summation - The Property Rights Status of Park 51/Cordoba House

This brings us to the property rights status of the pending Park 51/Cordoba House in New York.  Here is my position: we should be able to shut it down now just based on what I have laid out above.  Islam advocates lawless murder, which has been taken against us by its most extreme exponents - end of story.

However, since we are in a period of moral relativism and moral cowardice, I don't suspect that our government nor most of our populace has the rectitude to take a moral stand on any issue of import.  So here's a middle ground: if that Imam Rauf, who is developing that place, is on record even hinting at support for any kind of violence or known terrorist organization, that that should be sufficient to deem that he and his organization have forfeited any rights including those of property.  If this is the case, I think that the government is clear to take action against the organization up to and including freezing its funds and halting the development of this development.

My guess is he's smart enough to have kept his nose clean. It's usually the enemies with the cleanest noses that you never see coming... and then they stab you in the back.