The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing a local government to kick 87-year-old Wilhelmina Dery out of the house in which she was born, along with her husband, who has lived there with her for 60 years. Why? Because the government wants to seize their property, bulldoze it and many other houses, and sell the land to other businesses and developers for private use. While one must take great care in choosing words in political discussions, one must not mince them either. This decision in the Kelo v.
New London case is another giant step towards classical corporatism or fascism in America.
In this case, the city council of New London, Connecticut decided to condemn and take—in the name of economic development—the homes and businesses of a number of citizens, including the Derys and Susette Kelo, who filed the case. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows governments to take property by eminent domain, as long as just compensation is paid, but only for public uses. These uses have always been understood to mean for necessary government-provided infrastructure such as courthouses or roads.
Otherwise, property should be sacrosanct. Individuals, businesses, or governments might seek to purchase it, but if the owner does not wish to sell, that is his or her right—repeat, right—meaning one need not secure the permission or blessing of one's neighbors, government, or "society" in order to own property.
But in recent decades, politicians have become more brazen in their elitist attempts to remodel our lives and communities. They more and more have wielded the eminent domain sword to seize private homes and enterprises in order to turn them over to different businesses or developers that they believe will use the property in ways that are better for the community.
Now the Supreme Court has undermined fundamental private property rights by ruling, in effect, that governments can pretty much seize property for any reason they see fit.
Thus we have a situation in which, unlike under socialism, individuals can still hold title to their own property. But unlike under a free market system, they do not own their property by right. They hold it at the discretion of political authorities who can yank it away on a whim. This is the economic principle of the classical corporatist or fascist regime.
To call it corporatist or fascist is no mere epithet. Fascism designates a system in which the veneer of property rights is maintained while political authorities have extensive powers to limit rights in the name of economic planning. This system by necessity means that the normal state of affairs is political conflict—either out in the open in elections and legislation, or behind closed doors with lobbyists and politicians making deals. It means that no one's property is truly secure.
Some pundits complain that Americans are too apathetic about politics. Yet in a corporatist regime, everyone will be politically involved—for all the wrong reasons. Many individuals, whether through misplaced idealism, pandering paternalism, or pure predation, will be involved in threatening the liberties of their neighbors, while others will be involved in a never-ending battle to defend their lives, liberties, and property. Everyone will need to be on guard against their neighbors. Instead of a peaceful society, we will have a war of all against all.
Pundits complain that our society has become too nasty and uncivil, with every issue in life becoming a partisan political battle. That is the nature of our corporatist system and the Supreme Court's Kelo decision stokes the fires of conflict right down to the grassroots level.
What are the Derys and Ms. Kelo to think about their city councilpersons? What are they to think about their neighbors who fail to stand up for their property rights by denouncing these politicians, shunning them like the plague, and voting them out of office? The only moral feelings they can have are resentment, and a sense of violation and deep injustice.
The Kelo decision is a wakeup call for the restoration of property rights. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, which allows Congress to protect the rights of citizens against abuses by state governments, the U.S. House and Senate could pass new civil rights legislation to protect citizens' Fifth Amendment property rights. Congress could limit the scope of eminent domain to narrow public purposes and bar all takings of property for ultimately private uses.
Good fences make good neighbors. The right to private property is the cornerstone of any peaceful and prosperous society that respects the rights of the individual. In this battle, there can be no fence-sitters; there's no better case than Kelo to demonstrate that property rights are civil rights.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.