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Reconciling Property Rights with Conquest
Originally written for Everything2
Wed Oct 08 2008 at 1:41:28

There are many definitions of theft - different societies have different laws governing control over objects and resources. This control is basically how property is defined. Different kinds of laws mean different concepts of property. Some wealthy property owners, when confronted with the possibility that the (more numerous) poor may vote for higher taxes on the wealthy, will argue that taxation is theft. Other less wealthy people, particularly those who work under someone else, may believe exploitation is theft. Then there's Proudhon's famous declaration that, "Property is theft."

The following are reactions to the concept of conquest from two different types of pro-capitalists.

Ownership Through Conquest is Justified

This view claims that conquest is justified because the conqueror risked his life (or at least risked the lives of his minions) in battle, and thus has earned the right to control.

However, these pro-capitalists are opposed to the concept of an anti-capitalist revolution, claiming that would be a violation of their property rights. If employees "conquer" their places of work by escorting their boss off company premises, these pro-capitalists do not see that as a "legitimate" form of conquest.

Ownership Through Conquest is Not Justified

Other pro-capitalists do not believe conquest is justified and yet they oppose returning conquered land and resources to the natives (or their descendents). They believe conquest is an injustice, but do not have a good idea of how to rectify that injustice.

Conquest results in wealth for the conquerors. Then that wealth is distributed to cronies and offspring. On and on it goes - not just in this country, but around the world. If you trace back the history of ownership of land and resources, how much of it doesn't originate in conquest (or what some would call theft)?

Why Have Society?

Personally, I don't (that's right, don't) support giving back everything to the natives (or their descendants). Instead, I assert that the resources be used for the benefit of everyone in that area, whether it's later settlers, recent immigrants, the natives, whatever. Human beings form societies in order to protect themselves. The point of the political, economic, and religious systems they set up is to benefit as many of the individuals in the population as possible. If the system they've set up has been going down the wrong path and is now hurting more people than helping, then the system must be abolished / changed.

Comments from

by MeAgain
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 06:03pm
1 Vote

this is the crux of mankind's dilemma. How do we fairly distribute wealth and the products of human creativity and effort. No system is perfect because human nature is still developing. Some of us are still selfish, greedy, power hungry, weak, stupid, evil, fanatical, etc. However more and more of us are coming to the awareness that it is much more reasonable and enjoyable if the property, goods and services are shared equitably. We still are a long ways away from a set of systems that will ensure that no one person is able to unfairly exploit another but things are getting better each decade. We are certainly better off than our ancestors or even than our grandparents. sometimes it seems that we are not making progress but most of the time it is evident That as we learn to share and distribute the wealth better. This is a subject that can and has filled up 100's of books so don't give up thinking about it and writing about it.

good post

by mudgeon
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 06:41pm
0 Votes

What wise and benevolent person will take control of humanity's property and resources, then, and distribute it more to your liking?

by lawdog
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 06:52pm
1 Vote

"Property is theft and governments are the scourge of God."

by seeya
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 07:56pm
2 Votes

"What wise and benevolent person will take control of humanity's property and resources, then, and distribute it more to your liking?"

The people actually using the objects and resources. If you've looked into what Proudhon actually meant when he said "property is theft" you'd see that he draws a distinction with "property" and "possession".

Employees "possess" the tools they use everyday to do their job, but the tools are the "property" of the boss. Proudhon's assertion that "property is theft" meant that he did not believe the boss had a right to control the tools he doesn't even touch to produce anything.

Proudhon believed the rightful control belonged to those who were actually using the tools to produce things.

Beyond Proudhon, however, I would say that those who are on the verge of starvation have more of a right to use resources than those who are already making a good living. This is based on the principle that those most affected by a decision should have the most say. Even if you disagreed with this principle, you can't ignore the laws of survival - if you don't give people a good legal avenue to live decently, then they'll resort to illegal means.

by grantlawnm
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 08:34pm
2 Votes

The good thing is that with the crash of globalization comes the opportunity for humane globalism. That means just as you say that:

"...The point of the political, economic, and religious systems they set up is to benefit as many of the individuals in the population as possible...."

We have to look at the population of humanity and move the technology, resources, and labor to benefit humanity. Think about production and creativity being implemented for the benefit of people and not just the few at the top. This could transform the world economy and is just what should be considered as the robber barons seek to rob more until there is nothing left.

by mudgeon
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 08:56pm
0 Votes

The most obvious trouble with all this high-minded "implementing" is, it requires "implementers." That is, somebody has to administer the new system; and that person inevitably turns out to be Castro or Mugabe.

by vetinarii
on Oct. 09, 2008 at 09:22pm
1 Vote

You can make a case that all ownership is, ultimately, the result of either creation or conquest. I would take a pragmatic position here: the history is really irrelevant now; it's far too late to try to work out who "should" own what, and a lot of the conquering happened long before anyone even tried to keep records. All we can do is try to be fair here and now.

Sure there may be some moral problems with that. Yes, it does legitimise theft after a generation or so -- think of it as like a statute of limitations. So what? The landowners who were kicked out of Cuba by Castro were only the descendents of those who had seized land from the Arawaks, who in turn had probably driven someone else off it before them...

Then all we have to argue about is what's "fair". Should be simple, nu?

by seeya
on Oct. 10, 2008 at 01:42pm
2 Votes

"it requires 'implementers.' That is, somebody has to administer the new system; and that person inevitably turns out to be Castro or Mugabe."

This statement reveals more about your lack of historical knowledge than about history itself. There are plenty of examples in history where people didn't have to rely on any single individual to implement policy. They just did it themselves.

For example, a few months ago in Nepal, employees restarted tea production by simply assuming control of factories and gardens.

While employee occupation isn't (yet) happening on a large scale in Nepal, it did happen on a large scale in Argentina. Their economy also collapsed - and their government decided to close all banks (sounds kind of like Iceland today) - instead of doing nothing about it, the people of Argentina were more pro-active. They just went right back to work - both for themselves, their familites, and the people who depended on their work. There's a documentary on this

by mudgeon
on Oct. 11, 2008 at 03:57pm
0 Votes

The Argentinian example is intriguing, seeya, and there may be something there; but you're mischaracterizing it. The owners walked away from the plants, due to the economic collapse; the plants went into foreclosure and bankruptcy; and the erstwhile employees then petitioned the bankruptcy courts and the local municipalities for the right to operate the plants.

They've had some success, and what they did was overall, in my view, a very good thing; but to characterize it as the employees simply "taking over," as in a revolution, is absurd.

by seeya
on Oct. 12, 2008 at 11:59am
1 Vote

So we were talking about "implementers" before, and now you're arguing about the definition of "revolution"? Would you like to continue with the discussion of how "implementation" ends up being done by dictators, or have you conceded that argument?

Anyway, as for the revolutionary aspects, it certainly happens within a spectrum - from a totally docile populace to a totally bloodthirsty populace. These employees fall somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, they've had to fight off police numerous times, so it's not like they just waltzed in wearing rose-colored glasses.

From "Employees, with massive help from supporters in the community, have fought off 6 eviction orders carried out by police - forcing the retreat of the government...

After letting the factory operate for years, the police were finally ordered to close it down. They have to weld shut the factory gate and build a tall security fence around the entire area. A large crowd gathered outside the police guarded Brukman - many elderly women among them, protesting. People started arriving from around the country to protest. Thousands arrived. The crowd attempted to enter Brukman but it was no match for the police's weapons. They fled."

by mudgeon
on Oct. 12, 2008 at 12:12pm
0 Votes

seeya, neither one of us has taken up the "implementers" argument; it's just lying there, like a dead fish. When you say, "I assert that the resources be used for the benefit of everyone in that area, whether it's later settlers, recent immigrants, the natives, whatever" you imply an implementer of that process, and when you say, "If the system they've set up has been going down the wrong path and is now hurting more people than helping, then the system must be abolished / changed" you imply a person to judge whether or not that's occurred. My response, to both, is "Okay, who?" Because I'm afraid - I'm very afraid - that it's going to turn out to be Lenin, Castro, or Mugabe. And that's as far as we've gotten; and I concede nothing; and the ball's still in your court.

On the other hand, the Argentinian example is still intriguing and positive: all interested parties negotiating, in good faith; no one's pre-existing interest entirely wiped out, nor anyone's genuine stake in the matter entirely denied. It's a negotiation, under law, and I like that.

by seeya
on Oct. 13, 2008 at 12:44pm
2 Votes

If you walked in anarchist circles, you wouldn't worry about dictators so much - assuming you were actually trying to promote the principles of anarchism, rather than forming a party to tell everyone else what to do.

That is, if Obama becomes president, anarchists aren't just going to sit around and back every policy decision he makes - instead, anarchists would defend people who want to make their own decisions... as much as possible anyway. Like one anarchist said, "my freedom to swing my fist stops at your face." The point is to defend everyone's freedoms, not just your own.

Employee control of companies is just an extension. Employees clearly outnumber the boss. If it were a fair election, the boss would have no power, since he would easily be outvoted. Anarchism applied to this situation just means company control becomes decentralized. Each company is free to vote on their own rules and make their own agreements / mergers with other companies.

by mudgeon
on Oct. 13, 2008 at 06:03pm
0 Votes

Ah, yes, but then, the municipality outnumbers the employees. What about them? And the bosses out-Pinkerton everybody, if we drive them to it. What do we do about them? I'm not sure starting a war, a la employee anarchy, is going to make us very happy.

by seeya
on Oct. 14, 2008 at 01:22pm
1 Vote

What do you mean by municipality? You mean the people living in the region that contains the company? These people also work in their own companies that they have democratic control over. Each is independent of the others unless they forgo independence by their own choice.

As far as the threat of private armies, you have to realize that promoting anarchism is like promoting Christianity - you are describing a world where everyone (or almost everyone) has anarchist, Christian, or Christian anarchist values.

So in the case of private security forces, they too will be democratically run by their employees - and they would rely on the rest of the population to provide them with food, shelter, and medical care. If they were going around terrorizing everyone, then you'd just have another revolution, where the local civilian population takes up arms against those they see as oppressors (maybe even calling themselves "minutemen" or something).

by mudgeon
on Oct. 14, 2008 at 02:45pm
0 Votes

Endless violent revolution? No thanks. If I wanted that, I'd move to the Middle East. Or Somalia. Or pretty much any other place the Prophet has cast his shadow. Ka-BAM!

by seeya
on Oct. 15, 2008 at 12:47pm
1 Vote

Uh no, not endless violent revolution. The point is that you convince them that trying to oppress others is a waste of time. Instead of trying to oppress others, work with them instead. That's why cooperation beats competition, and is the foundation of most political, religious, and moral systems.

by mudgeon
on Oct. 15, 2008 at 04:23pm
0 Votes

Trying to suppress others has been good business for a long time, and still is; ask any pimp. The simplest expedient is to conquer them, then impose a peace they can live with.

by seeya
on Oct. 16, 2008 at 12:48pm
1 Vote

Democratic takeover of companies is like conquest as well. Basically the employees are just conquering the company from the executives. The "peace they can live with" is that the former executives will be free to join the company just like any other voting employee.

by mudgeon
on Oct. 16, 2008 at 01:07pm
0 Votes

The problem is in your assumption that it will be limited to a contest between the employees and the executives. Once law and order break down (or, by your preference, are discarded) there's no way to limit how far it goes. The local municipality will show up too, and so will intruders who've never had anything to do with the company; so will people who simply live nearby, and so will gangs. Think well before you throw out law and order, or, again, you'll be showering with your money in one hand a gun in the other.

by Roomspimp
on Oct. 16, 2008 at 02:20pm
1 Vote

I find these exercises entertaining. I really do wish the world was such an idyllic place seeya, unfortunately the confounding influence of greed and sloth can't be avoided. Human nature is flawed and selfish, there must be systems in place to to mitigate these truths. Anarchy works well in a philosophical world and tends to break down in the real one.

by seeya
on Oct. 17, 2008 at 01:04pm
1 Vote

"Once law and order break down"

Who says "law and order" break down? You are mistaking your conception of what "anarchy" means with what the anarchism that most anarchists are actually promoting.

Let's take "anarchism" out of the debate - let's say that instead I were promoting "Christian Fundamentalism" - abolishing the US Constitution and replacing it with the laws and values promoted by Jesus. Would you call that a breakdown of "law and order"? Well, it would be a breakdown of "law" with respect to the US Constitution, but there would still be "law and order" - just a different "law" and different "order", at least with respect to Christian values.

Anarcho-syndicalism is no different. Instead of protecting the right of the boss to order his employees around, the employees have the right to assume democratic control of the company. It's just a different set of rights and a different type of "order".

by seeya
on Oct. 17, 2008 at 01:14pm
1 Vote

"unfortunately the confounding influence of greed and sloth can't be avoided. Human nature is flawed and selfish, there must be systems in place to to mitigate these truths."

You may think you're being a realist (or cynic) when you say this, but I have a different, yet still cynical (or realist) view of human nature: humans are not greedy by nature - instead they are easily brainwashed. This means if you have a media dominated by Hindu or Buddhist messages, then most of the people in that society will grow up to be Hindus or Buddhists. If you happen to have a society full of greedy (or at least materialistic) people, all you need to do is look at the mass media. The mass media is basically funded by advertisements, so basically people in your society are brainwashed to be materialistic in the same way other nations brainwash their people to follow certain religions or different political ideologies. It may not be intentional, but the end result is still the same.

Sure, many religions in advertisement-led media cultures are against materialism, but how much time do the people in those societies listen to sermons against consumerism, and how much time do they spend listening to ads?

Personally, I just see ads as a tool. You can either advertise useless goods and try to get people to want them, or you can use the psychological skills of your marketers to convince people to do useful things.

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