THE SANCTITY OF PRIVATE PROPERTY
By JACOB G. HORNBERGER
No myth is more pervasive among the people of the United
States than that which claims that the American economic
system is based on the sanctity of private property. The
American people have been taught since the first grade in
their government schools that America is the bastion of
private property while the Soviet Union and China represent
the system of public ownership or control of property.
Myths die hard. But it is important that they be exploded, no
matter how painful the result. Let us do so to this myth of
the American system of "private property" which grips the
minds of most Americans.
The significance of the Declaration of Independence had
nothing to do with the military battles between the colonists
and the British forces. Instead, its importance lay in one of
the most dramatic and revolutionary declarations in the
history of man: that man's rights do not come from government
but instead come from God. With one fell swoop, and for the
first time in history, people unseated public officials as the
source of their rights and replaced them with the Creator!
The result? With many exceptions (slavery being the worst),
the Americans implemented the freest society in history: no
income tax, welfare, social security, licensing, or virtually
any other law which took money from some, through the
political process, and gave it to others, or which regulated
peaceful human behavior. Why? Not because it would result in a
more prosperous society (which it did). But rather because
their lives, liberty, property, and conscience belonged to
God, and it was no business of Caesar how they exercised them
as long as they did not inflict violence or fraud on others.
What about 20th century Americans? Maintaining the illusion
that they are continuing the vision and heritage of their
American ancestors, they have instead resorted to the age-old
idea that Caesar should be permitted to have ultimate control
over these fundamental rights.
Two thousand years ago, the Prime Exemplar told us that we
were to render unto Caesar what was Caesar's and unto God what
is God's. But He did not tell us what belonged to Caesar and
what belonged to God. He left that up to us to figure out.
Let us see how Americans--both past and present--have made
this determination. Let's examine, for example, income and
the ability to earn income.
The Americans who lived from 1787 to 1913 believed that the
fruits of their earnings belonged to God, not Caesar. From
the very beginning, they did not permit their public officials
to levy a tax on their income. When the politicians tried to
do so, the people sued. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of
the people, and against the government, and declared the
income tax in violation of the Constitution which the people
had adopted in 1787.
Public officials complied with the ruling but immediately
began persuading the American people to alter their
Constitution to permit such a tax. The arguments which the
politicians used were evil and seductive. First, they argued
that only the rich would be taxed; the poor and middle class
need never be concerned. It was the perfect embodiment of
violations of God's commandments against covetousness, envy,
and stealing. The politicians also promised that the income
tax would never exceed a minute percentage.
The American people fell for these evil, seductive, and false
promises and amended the Constitution to permit Caesar to do
what their ancestors had fought so hard to prevent Caesar from
doing: gaining control over their earnings. With the adoption
of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, the American people
rendered unto Caesar that which had previously been rendered
unto God: the fruits of their efforts.
A second example: licensing of occupations, professions, and
businesses. By and large, the 19th century American rejected
licensure. So, American society throughout the 1800s was
highly unusual because, unlike all of the other societies in
history, a person did not have to seek permission from the
political authorities before he began pursuing a living.
Lawyers, doctors, hairdressers, blacksmiths, and so forth
learned their trade and went into business without asking
anyone's permission. But consumers, as the ultimate economic
sovereign, through their decisions to patronize a business or
not, made the final determination on whether a person would
continue in his line of work.
The 20th century American, resorting to the Old World way of
thinking against which his ancestors had rebelled, rejected
this dramatically different way of life. He did not want to
have to make his own decisions on whether people were
competent or not. He also did not want unrestricted
competition in his own trade. So, he turned to Caesar and,
through licensure, rendered unto him the power to regulate the
ability to make a living.
Is the real significance behind these two renderings--
occupation and income--the economic consequences? No! The true
significance is that the American people, who are so ready to
worship God on Sunday, have chosen to reject Him the rest of
the week. They believe that God and government should be
partners with each other with respect to people's economic
activities, blocking out of their minds that, "Thou shalt have
no other gods before me."
The essence of what the 20th century American has done,
despite the myths and illusions under which he chooses to
operate, can be summarized as follows:
"God, we know that You created us. We also know
that our talents and abilities are gifts from You
which we utilize to earn our daily bread--our
property. We also know that our American ancestors
rendered these great gifts to You and would not
permit Caesar to interfere with them.
"But times have changed, Lord. Those principles were fine
for the simple times of the 1800s but they just don't
apply to the more complex way of life in the 20th
century. So, we're placing Caesar--the organized means of
coercion and compulsion--in partnership with You.
"Oh mighty Caesar, we render unto you control of our
talents and abilities and the fruits of our efforts.
We know that you did not give us these but nevertheless
we are placing them under your dominion and control.
Take care of us, mighty Caesar. Decide for us what
line of endeavor is most suitable for each of us.
Determine how much of our earnings we shall be permitted
to keep and how much you need to retain. Provide us our
security--our daily bread--in times of need because our
other God sometimes doesn't do a perfect job in this
regard. We trust you, mighty Caesar, with our lives,
our liberties, our properties, and our consciences. You
shall henceforth be partners with our other God, the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We love you. We adore you.
We worship you. We give you thanks. We are here to serve
Since ancient times, political rulers have hated the existence
of God. Why? Because they know that our's is a jealous God. He
demands absolute and total allegiance. Our God does not accept
partners! Therefore, political rulers, who invariably also
desire to be worshipped, bear terrible resentment against such
In ancient Rome, the Caesars developed an interesting method
to circumvent this dilemma. They allowed people to engage in
different religions but only on the condition that permission
was given by the State. Most people sought and were given such
permission. So, although people were worshipping another
deity, Caesar did not mind because by permitting them to do
so, Caesar remained the ultimate sovereign.
However, one group of God's worshippers saw through this scam:
the Christians. Refusing to take any act which placed Caesar
above God, they chose not to seek Caesar's permission to
worship Him. And the price they paid? Their lives.
Thank God our American ancestors secured the passage of the
First Amendment which prohibits Caesar from gaining control
over our churches. If only we 20th century Americans had the
same strength of conviction with respect to our lives and
earnings. If only we would truly sanctify private property
rather than just giving it lip service. If only we would
render our lives and property back to God instead of Caesar.
If only we would place God as sovereign over all of our life
rather than just a small part of it.
Myths die hard but if we fail to kill them, we shall continue
to reap what we sow.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of
Freedom Foundation, P.O. Box 9752, Denver, CO 80209.
From the August 1990 issue of FREEDOM DAILY,
Copyright (c) 1990, The Future of Freedom Foundation,
PO Box 9752, Denver, Colorado 80209, 303-777-3588.
Permission granted to reprint; please give appropriate credit
and send one copy of reprinted material to the Foundation.