For some time now I’ve been wondering how come so many people who define themselves as being Christians – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.“, Matt 19:24 – are so passionately defending the very concept of (private)”property”.
Could it be that Marx was right after all: “Private property is the result of alienated labor.” ?!? And so many of us have been wrong for so long?
“The right to private property is the social-political principle that adult human beings may not be prohibited or prevented by anyone from acquiring, holding and trading (with willing parties) valued items not already owned by others. Such a right is, thus, unalienable and, if in fact justified, is supposed to enjoy respect and legal protection in a just human community.”
Trying to understand the source of this dichotomy I adopted a two pronged strategy. First I looked up the word itself and then I tried to deepen my understanding of the entire concept.
It’s absolutely obvious that ‘property’ comes from ‘proper’.
‘Proper’, in its turn, has two basic meanings: ‘fit for use‘ and ‘pertaining to one individual‘. The first one has evolved into ‘propriety’, “the state or quality of being correct and proper” while the second has become ‘property’, “thing owned“.
So, do all these etymological arguments make it any easier for us to accept that respecting each others’ right to private property is what introduced a certain degree of functionality in the human society?
‘But aren’t you contradicting yourself?
At the beginning of your post you suggested that ‘property’ might not be as good as advertised and now you say that the ‘right to private property’ is ‘good for you’?
Will you make up your mind, for Christ’s sake?’
Now, that I’ve reached the conceptual stage of my analyses, I must bring to your attention the fact that a right is nothing but an opportunity while each (piece of) property is a thing – even those which are not of a ‘substantial’ nature. ‘Intellectual property’, for instance, is a ‘measurable thing’ even if you cannot put your finger on it while the ‘right to intellectual (or any other kind of) property’ is (an infinite) something which patiently waits for (a rightful) somebody to make (proper) use of it.
Maybe this is what Christ tried to tell us in the first place. That it’s not property itself that stands between us and our salvation but our (improper) attitude towards it. That it’s not the object of our property that is the problem but how we make use of our right to private property.
After all Christ told the “young rich man” “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21). ‘Go sell, give and THEN follow me’, not ‘come help me ABOLISH the very right to private property’, as Marx used to preach to his followers.
To understand the difference between what Christ and Marx said about this subject let’s see how these two relate to the notion of ‘Man’.
In Christ’s book God took a lump of dirt and ‘made Man in His own image’ while in Marx’s narrow materialistic vision “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.”
Basically both of them start with the same ‘materiel’ – the mundane ‘star dust’ that Mendeleev distributed throughout his table – but what a difference at the end of the ‘assembly line’!
Being made ‘in His Own image’ not only means that all Men (and Women) are created equal but also that each of them shares in His Divine Nature. Hence the origin of our free will, of our ability (‘right’, opportunity) to be saved. Compare this to how Marx described the human society:
“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism.”
As somebody who has lived for 30 years under communist rule let me translate this from ‘Newspeak‘ into plain English:
‘History suggests that those who figure out the inner workings of this world have, from time to time, the opportunity to take over the show. Now is one of those moments. The ‘fat cats’ have been so greedy lately that the regular people are growling under the very heavy yoke that has been placed on their shoulders. That’s why we have the opportunity to unsettle the ‘old’ from their positions and to plant our fat asses in their comfortable chairs.
And the first thing we must do in order to achieve that goal is to abolish the right to private property. People are so fed up with what was going on lately that they’ll go along. They have grown to hate so much the ‘greedy plutocrats’ that most of them won’t notice that in the (revolutionary) process they’ll lose the very last shrouds of personal autonomy they still have. Without the right to dispose of the results of their own labor they’ll be at our mercy’.
Who was right between the two?
Well… Both, unfortunately.
The communists did run the show, at least for a while. And we all know to which results.
On the other hand it seems that in the longer run miss-using the right to private property is indeed a powerful drawback. The already too long sequence of economic crises caused, ultimately, by nothing else but our own greed has indeed given birth to a generalized state of psychological malaise.
I don’t know about what’s gonna happen in the next world – or if it exists at all – but I’m sure that if we don’t learn, fast, how to use, properly, the right to private property things will become too hot for our own good in this one.
The only one we are sure about.
During my research for this post I found this very interesting take on the same subject: