The presidential race continues, with each side churning this way and that in hopes that people will begin to take the candidates seriously. There are five months, long ones, left in this cycle, a period in which we can expect them to utter all kinds of things. And through all the white noise of campaigning, we hear the feverish wail from right-bank Republicans to re-claim our so-called “rights,” braced with a religious certainty that property rights, and ownership, are as necessary as social rights.
(It’s no surprise, given our obsession with property taxes.)
Well more than a century ago, our ancestors settled with cannon the argument whether the right to own human livestock (property) was as necessary as the social right of those humans, whatever their color or ancestry, to own themselves.
Private property, the freedom to acquire it and the security to retain it, are blessings of a prosperous and well-ordered society, but they are not its genesis. Enlightened human conduct should provide for property rights, but those so-called rights are no pillars for its foundation. Something firmer is essential.
Property rights are far lower on the scale of that human conduct, necessary as they may be. Other things, such as the freedoms on which Kansas was founded, must come first; if they do not, we become more disordered and inequitable than we already seem – a place in which bullies can prevail, stealing from the less able, the disenfranchised, the unfortunate. If you don’t think this is our case, consider for one matter the Kansas trampling of voter rights with a hideous resurrection of Jim Crow; we have embraced a two-tiered election scheme, with one ballot for the privileged, another for ID-challenged minority voters on hold, all courtesy of our Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, and a Republican majority of stupefyingly ignorant legislators.
Is it long before we demand again that voters own property?
We have slipped insidiously, a quiet but alarming decline that puts us at risk, the kind that begs a return to the basics: Let’s have a society that concerns itself equally with all men and women, whether they have property or not. Sadly, we must be reminded that the measure of people should be taken not by what they own but by who they are, what they say and think and do. A person’s worth is in what he or she believes, not what he or she earns, or holds.
Men and women no longer vote their shares or acres or bank accounts, but their beliefs. The government no longer serves only the great property owners who once used government to protect and enlarge their holdings; government must extend its concern and protection in widening circles to include all the people. Or so we must believe, however difficult that is these days.
We must insist that government seeks yet to assure liberty, the freedom from hunger and ignorance and disease and want, and that this permits – even encourages – the pursuit of happiness even by those who have no property.
The revolution we celebrate in July pointed the nation in this direction and from time to time we have faltered, staggered off course, sometimes in little ways, other times in big ones. Our dedication to essential and fundamental freedoms ‒ not the selfish ones ‒ accelerated spectacularly in the centuries that followed independence, but not without trouble, the kind in which some politicians have fought so stubbornly, even recently, on the losing side. We must work even harder to keep it that way.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL