Our Current Chaos is not All About the Death of George Floyd

Do not, for one moment, make the mistake of believing that the violence and vandalism we are seeing in recent riots area are about the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.  This is not to say that there are not protestors among the groups that are genuinely outraged, and who seek to peaceably assemble to petition the government for a meaningful change to police policy and demand justice, all of which is explicitly protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution.  But it is to say that any lawful means of protest ends when it violates an innocent person’s private property rights. 

First, the obvious.  The vandals who pillaged a Louis Vuitton store weren’t driven to do so because of their sense of moral indignation about Floyd’s death.  They were driven to do so because they liked the idea of smashing a window to steal designer items more than the idea of working and saving to earn those expensive items. 


YouTube screen grab

But let’s imagine for a moment that it actually was Floyd’s death that drove them to the act.  The owners of the business had precisely nothing to do with Floyd’s death, so even then, in what meaningful sense would this be considered “justice”?

Imagine this moral question differently.  Imagine that my friend has his car stolen, and the thief is arrested, awaiting trial.  A lot of people like my friend have their cars stolen these days, I conclude, so I’m understandably angry about it.  Rather than await justice from the courts, I instead find some other innocent person who has some expensive wheels, and assault him and steal his car. 

Now, I would, and should, go to jail for that crime, and for good reason.  And that’s because the other person has innate rights to property, and those rights are every bit as important as, say, my right to life and liberty.

Many people would consider John Locke the “intellectual father of our country,” and he held a “central political principle: that rights in property are the basis of human freedom and government exists to protect them and to preserve public order.”  At the time of the nation’s Founding, and throughout most of our history, it was accepted that government exists primarily to preserve life and property.

It might be important to note, however, that the Founders often didn’t believe it necessary to denote a distinction between the right to life and the right to property, because they believed them both to be elements of the same natural right.  But “insofar as the Founders made any distinction between property rights and other individual rights,” writes David Upham at the Foundation for Economic Education, “they insisted that property rights were at least as important as personal rights,” citing Madison in Federalist 54, who states unequivocally that “Government is instituted no less for the protection of property than of the persons of individuals.”

Madison goes on to say at the Virginia Convention:

It is sufficiently obvious, that persons and property are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act; and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated. The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property, when acquired, a right to protection, as a social right.

It is this American “social right” which the rioters are explicitly challenging, and demanding be replaced by their brand of “social justice” that is more akin to communism than anything American governance has ever been. 

For most of the rioters, this isn’t about race.  It’s about unmaking America.  And we’ve been cobbling the path to this moment for a long time.  What we do now will determine whether or not America’s future is as a constitutional republic or a new socialist experiment that is based upon countless failed ones.

John Adams predicted the path up to this moment, and its logical end, in his three-volume work, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.  Like Madison, he acknowledges the presupposition that “[p]roperty is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty,” and he goes on to say that the “moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”

This would occur, he argues, as a sequence of falling dominoes:

Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessorsDebts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavily on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded, and voted.  What would be the consequence of this?  The idle, the vicious, the intemperate would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them.

All of this has either happened already, or is being presented by progressives today as a means to “transform the country,” as even the supposedly moderate Joe Biden is openly offering as his goal.

To save what’s left of the core essence of the American idea, President Trump, the state governors, and local officials must commit to the notion that property rights are every bit as worthy of protection as the rights to life and liberty, and that there is a force of low and public justice that is capable of protecting it.  And if we fail to do that, I fear that America may become what Cornell West suggests it already has become: a failed social experiment.

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com