Posts tagged Venezuela

Column on Property Rights and the Free Press

Property Rights and the Free Press

Tibor R. Machan

Not as if the point hasn’t been made often by now, but repeating it may be of some benefit: without a firm protection of the right to private property, the rights to freedom of speech, press, religious worship, etc., are under constant threat.

The most recent demonstration of this is happening in Argentina, although Venezuela has served as a recent case in point also. As reported by the BBC, “Argentina’s government wins control of newsprint supplies, amid a long-running feud between the president and a major media group…” It appears that the legislature caved in to pressure from the president of Argentina and basically nationalized all the supplied that are needed to run an independent press. As the BBC put it, “The legislation, which passed in the lower house last week, says the production, sale and distribution of newsprint is of national interest.”

Of course, even if true, nothing follows about how the government ought to wrest control of the “production, sale and distribution of newsprint.” If anything, if it is true and “the production, sale and distribution of newsprint” is in the national interest–allowing that this means that it is generally an important part of the society–it is least secure when government takes control of these matters. The same principle holds for education–its importance by no stretch of the imagination justifies placing it under government jurisdiction.

What too many folks do not grasp is that governments are agencies run by some members of a society and it is most unwise to put these members in control of nearly anything, let alone the dissemination of knowledge and information. If there is a solid enough constitution in place, firmly upheld, perhaps the protection of individual rights might be placed in the hands of the government, provided the government can be kept impartial as it adjudicates disputes, protects rights, etc. But that itself is called into serious question by examples such as the Argentinian case, where instead of protecting property rights, and thus the right to freedom of the press, government is the main violator of them.

Ironically, it is those on the political Left who are most hostile to private property rights. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels made this clear in The Communist Manifesto where they declared that the very first task of socialists is to abolish private property rights. Yet it is just such cantankerous folks as communists who most need the protection of their private property rights, otherwise their many opponents will have no trouble invading their spheres from which they are mounting their challenge to the status quo. (This itself suggests quite strongly that the Left’s political viewpoint is quite confused!)

All this also calls to mind how fiercely some of the Left’s most prominent platforms decry the claim that America is in any way exceptional. Yet it really is, as exemplified in the now sadly fading American tradition of serious respect and legal protection of the right to private property.

In its eagerness to undermine free market capitalism, the Left is willing to sacrifice its major bulwark against those who would oppress it. But it just will not work–without the protection of private property rights, there is no freedom of the press and no effective political freedom either, the freedom needed to institute change in society’s political institutions which the Left is so hell bent on doing.

Of course, much of this is relatively novel in the annals of politics across human history and the globe. The more usual state of affairs is that which we now see in Argentina and many other countries where dissent is eagerly being suppressed by the thugs who rule. Perhaps in time the vitality of the right to private property for all kinds of human endeavors–economic, educational, religious, scientific, journalistic, etc., etc.–will be widely recognized. But as with freedom on all fronts, that requires eternal vigilance.

Column on Democracy Wont Help Egypt

Democracy Wont Help Egypt

Tibor R. Machan

Even without being a Egyptologist I can say with reasonable certainty that it will not help to solve Egypt’s problems to make it into an unlimited democracy. What we are likely to get is Lebanon with the heavy hand of Hamas in charge there. In Egypt it looks like the Brotherhood is ready to jump into the position Hamas occupies in Lebanon.

In any case, in none of the discussions about what lies ahead for Egypt is there ever any mention of ushering in a limited–or bona fide liberal–democracy, with a constitution that would restrain all sides and leave the citizenry in peace to attend to its own affairs. Such pluralism isn’t very likely to take center stage in that country.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became a virtual dictator after the assassination of the previous president Anwar Sadat, with hardly any credible and sensible resistance from the population and it’s only now, that a bunch of young people appear to be upset enough with the culture he has been heading up, that his his rule is seriously questioned. Nothing much that’s rational is evident in the current developments apart from the simple insistence on the part of a great many Egyptians that they’ve had it up to here with being ruled by Mubarek team.

Now this is not so surprising when one realizes that none of the leaders around the globe, including American presidents, nor indeed many intellectuals in Egypt itself, have made a serious pitch for Egypt adopting constitutional reforms that respect individual rights. That’s not the same thing as promoting the vague idea of democracy, which as history shows, has not managed to be a bulwark against tyranny, not in Western or Eastern Europe, not in Latin America, not even in the United States of America where nearly all the good ideas failed to get democratic support or bad ones got swept aside democratically. The American civil war was no triumph of democracy, nor the New Deal, nor again all the oppressive federal measures that are burdening the country, keeping its economy hostage to populist and egalitarian notions.

Very probably the reason the U.S.A. hasn’t gone under yet is that some of its better features gained solid momentum and despite the absence of sustained political and judicial support for them these are continuing to be fairly dominant–relatively free and competitive markets, civil liberties, private property rights, freedom of religion and speech, due process, etc. But they are all gradually being replaced with the widely championed ideology of activist citizens in higher education and media, people working in the most prestigious and invincible institutions in society, who not very surprisingly want to regiment us all into compliance with a vision of full equality. (The cautionary tale about this was written by George Orwell, in his brilliant fable, Animal Farm, who was anything but a Tea Party type but, rather, a rare sensible Leftist!)

When the mobs in Egypt, who have been treated as a bunch of unruly children by Mubarek’s regime, finally couldn’t take it any more and stood up to the dictator, there is little reason to think they would become a civilized citizenry that renounces the temptation to rule others once they gain power. Their call for democracy appears to have little to do with the kind of constitutional system that America’s founders favored. Even their call for freedom seems mostly to be about being free to rule instead of being ruled.

At the personal level my fear is that those expatriates from Egypt who in the last few years decided to return in the hopes that their country would move closer to a liberal democratic model are now packing their bags again, headed back to some more stable region of the globe so as to save their necks from chaos. I know a few such people and can only empathize with their disappointment.

True self-government isn’t the sort of democracy we have seen in the Weimar Republic, in Lebanon, in Venezuela, and being widely demanded now in Egypt. It is, instead, a polity that upholds the rights of individuals not simply to take part in the vote but to live as they choose in peace with their fellows.