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Pitting Neighbor Against Neighbor

Written By: Jerry Hanson  |  Posted: Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

"Private property and freedom are inseparable."  - George Washington

             Like many of my neighbors and friends, I am saddened by the pitting of neighbor against neighbor that has been caused by the opponents of silica sand mining.  Some of my neighbors are getting biased information from anti-mining, and anti-hydrofracing activist websites.  Any attempt to bring facts and a balanced perspective to the discussion is anathema to these activists who have little regard for an individual's property rights.  They use our neighbors and local elected officials like pawns to advance their national (global) agenda by fanning the flames of opposition with unsupported statements, distorted pictures, half truths, anecdotal testimonies, and false assumptions.  Missing from their websites and public comments at town and county board meetings are scientific facts, and verifiable testimonies.  In all this hype; legitimate concerns, precautions, and property rights take a back seat to emotionalism.        

            Good neighbors must see to it that they be informed with the truth and defend their neighbors' liberties.  We all know we must defend to the death our neighbor's right to his opinion and his right to express his opinion.  We may not agree with his opinion, but we will defend his right to say it.  So too, we must defend our neighbor's right to use his property as he wishes.  I may prefer he use it differently, but it is his property, and as long as no real harm comes to me from his use, I will defend to the death his right to use his property as he pleases.  The maintenance of all liberty requires a conscious decision that I defend my neighbor's rights, for the liberty I allow to be taken from my neighbor today, will be the liberty taken from me tomorrow. 

            Yesterday, when we idly stood by as our neighbor's right to sell fresh (unpasteurized) milk was taken away (all in the name of so-called food safety) -  today has resulted in the loss of my child's right to set up the time honored lemon-aid stand and sell lemon-aid.  When I stood by yesterday and allowed my neighbor's right to sew and sell diapers from her home to be taken away -  today has resulted in the elimination of my right to assemble rifles in my basement.  Yesterday, when I stood by and cheered as my neighbor's right to build a home on his property was met with the threat of imprisonment for not getting the proper permission - today, my right to board horses on my farm is met with unprecedented restriction and animosity from my neighbors.  Today when you oppose my right to safely mine the sand on my property - tomorrow your right to grow on your property the crops of your choice will be gone.  James Madison put it this way: "I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."  

            The essence of private property is one's right to determine its use.  Property rights are the rights you have as the owner to do with your property what you please, provided that your use is lawful and will not inflict legitimate harm to your neighbor.

            It is vitally important to realize that liberty cannot exist apart from the unalienable right to own and use our property as we please.  Any restriction upon that lawful right, other than we cannot harm our neighbor, impairs creativity, productivity, economic growth, and the well being of society.  And contrary to the environmental extremists' claims, private property rights are also essential to the ecological well being of our planet.  Property rights violations brought on by bureaucratic regulations and prohibitions fought for by environmentalists, have harmed the environment more than they have helped.  These ill advised regulations and prohibitions have resulted in severe ecological damage from uncontrollable forest fires, floods, and pollution.   

            Liberty and private property rights spawn free enterprise and responsibility.  When government usurps the role of land manager and limits or controls the land's uses, it is a disincentive to the property owner.  His or her creative ingenuity to solve an ecological conflict is stymied.  The incentive to be innovative is drowned under a sea of bureaucratic red tape or expensive litigation.  The permit process causes the property owner to actually lose his full sense of ownership and stewardship responsibilities.   

            The control, and ultimately the elimination of private property is the cornerstone of what is now called communitarianism, disguised as "Sustainable Development".  This system is modeled after Italian fascism which vests ownership of land in an individual (or corporation), but empowers government to make decisions regarding its use.  Many of our local government decisions regarding zoning and land use are based on this destructive system.  Communitarians fabricate competing rights and whip up exaggerated or bogus environmental and safety fears that conflict with a property owner's determined use.  The government then must become the arbiter of those competing rights, and the mitigator of the bogus environmental fears by controlling what a property owner can and cannot do with his property. 

            Communitarian special interest groups engineer these fabricated or exaggerated environmental and safety concerns for the purpose of pitting neighbor against neighbor so as to coerce government officials to think that by trampling upon the liberties of individual property owners they will mitigate these fabricated conflicts.  But one conflict mitigated by this means leads to another conflict, and then another and another until all property rights are forever lost. This destroys the very fabric of our nation, and is detrimental to the morals and general welfare of our towns and cities.  These communitarian actions of government destroy the foundation of human stewardship, bind innovation, and promote degradation.  It erodes human happiness and peace, and pollutes the stream of man's moral responsibility to his Creator and his fellow-man.  One needs look no further than the housing projects to see the destructive nature of the communitarian system.

            Do not be fooled!  Under this communitarian system of government, if you can tell me what I can and cannot do with my property, I can tell you what you can and cannot do with your property.  If I and my neighbors decide we don't like the color of your house, we can make government force you to repaint it in the color of our choice.  Don't laugh!  This has actually happened in a "community" near you.  How about the homeowner and the business forced last year to remove from their properties the flag of the United States of America, the symbol of what was the freest and most prosperous country in the world.  Is that ironic, or what?      Farmers, it won't be long, under this communitarian system, before your right to farm will be targeted.  An EPA study reveals that 13 times more respirable silica is generated by farming than by sand mining.  Many streams have been polluted and many fish killed by agricultural fertilizers and chemicals. No sand mine has ever caused that kind of harm to the environment.  Sand mines are an easy target now, but soon, and to some extent today, farmers too will find their right to farm eroded away. 

            I fear we have all been played for fools.  The notion that a few powerful neighbors, joining in persistent opposition, using highly charged and hateful rhetoric; are able, by the force of government, to prohibit or restrict the lawful desired use of another neighbor's property is divisive and contrary to our constitution.  This communitarian attack which pits neighbor against neighbor by threatening another neighbor's property rights is evil, and it disturbs the peace of our neighborhoods far more than hundreds of trucks - whether hauling sand or manure.

            How have we as a society become so apathetic to the collectivist takeover of our property?  Most of us know the collectivist control of property destroyed creativity and production in the Soviet Union.  It resulted in severe shortages of the necessities of life, and promoted environmental carelessness and harm.  Do you remember the pictures and news clips of long lines to get a loaf of bread and the sparsely stocked shelves in grocery stores in Moscow?  Without private property rights there is no incentive to be productive.  If we cannot keep and use our property as we wish, why work to obtain it, maintain it, or create it?

            Some might argue that we are far from a Soviet style collectivism in the United States. We are not as far from it as it might first appear. Zoning laws and Comprehensive Planning are the tools of the central planners. "Sustainable Development" through zoning, smart growth, and comprehensive planning is as collectivist in philosophy and outcome as Soviet style communism. 

"Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist."  -  John Adams

"The three great rights are bound together to be essentially one right. To give a man his life, but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes his life worth living. To give him his liberty, but take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still have him a slave." George Sutherland, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1921.

Nectow v. City of Cambridge, "the governmental power to interfere by zoning regulations with the general rights of the landowner by restricting the character of his use is not unlimited, and other questions aside, such restriction cannot be imposed if it does not bear a substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare." (277 U.S. At 188), emphasis added. 

  If you defend my property rights today, you will be preserving your property rights for tomorrow.

  Jerry Hanson is an owner of the Eau Claire Journal.

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