Skip to main content

Destroying Others’ Property Is Violence, No Matter How It’s Done

With characterizations of protests and riots that have occurred over the last several months as “mostly peaceful” and headlines that include “peaceful demonstration intensified,” and “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests,” it’s clear many in the press do not consider property destruction to be violent. Most likely, they mean most of the protesters haven’t physically harmed anyone. Still, during the very same protests, a large proportion of the “peaceful” participants, in obvious acts of aggression and hostility, have vandalized and stolen property. In fact, property destruction and theft are acts of violence, and are therefore legitimately defended against, not because these acts feel threatening, but because they are, in and of themselves, violent. 


Nevertheless, it’s common to hear many condemn individuals who use or threaten force in defense of their property. After all, if no one is physically harmed, or even actually threatened, how can damaging inanimate objects possibly be considered violence, and how can defending objects with violence possibly be justified? Let’s look at it.


Most everyone would agree that enslaving someone, even for a short time, is an act of violence. Slavery is the assertion of a right or entitlement to the fruits of another’s labor, without recompense, through a credible threat of certain harm if the slave tries to escape or fails to obey a command. That is, the slaver does not secure a slave with the slave’s permission, so the slave has no choice. Few would argue that an individual threatened with slavery, even if it were to last only months, has no right to defend himself, even with lethal force.


Now consider what happens when someone steals another person’s vehicle. A thief never asks permission, and the rightful owner has no choice in the matter. If it took the rightful owner six months to earn the money to purchase the vehicle, the thief stole six months of the rightful owner’s working life. Theft (or property destruction) and slavery are both one person asserting a right or entitlement to the fruits of another’s labor, without recompense. Sure, theft and destruction are not a direct threat of bodily injury on the rightful owners. In one sense, however, these acts are worse, because the rightful owners often never have a chance to defend the months or years of their lives expropriated by vandals and thieves. This is made all the worse when one realizes that time out of an individual’s life can never be recovered.


Nothing changes if the owner is a corporation, or if the property is insured. All that does is camouflage the expropriation of others’ labor by dispersing that expropriation across more individuals – the corporation’s shareholders and other holders of insurance policies.


Some have seized on the fact that time in an individual’s life cannot be recovered to justify destroying property when someone dies at the hands of police or to call attention to other policing tactics they consider unjustified. Let’s face it, the threat of violence is, in fact, a means to accomplish a more peaceful and orderly world. But, we generally use the threat of violence against actual past or acting perpetrators, not on third parties who are not directly responsible for perpetrating wrong. The United States threatened the Soviet Union with nuclear annihilation because of the threat we knew they represented. We didn’t threaten to annihilate Africa because those nations might fail to prevent the Soviet Union from shooting a missile at the United States. The height of injustice and picture of evil is when a whole neighborhood is murdered in retaliation for a few people attacking an occupying army. Justifying the destruction of someone’s livelihood when they had nothing to do with maltreating George Floyd or anyone else makes the same amount of sense – i.e., none – and is just as evil.


Private property has long been recognized as a critical positive incentive that leads to prosperity, where all boats rise even in the face of inequality, even when that inequality is itself increasing. Homeownership is associated with better health, higher incomes, and greater entrepreneurship. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto’s worldwide research has demonstrated the importance to individual prosperity of the ability to obtain and prove title to private property. He has shown that without such institutions, private property does not truly exist. Private property encourages long-term thinking, lasting relationships, good reputation, neighborliness, and discourages fly-by-night behavior.


When ideologues on the left like Vicky Osterweil, author of In Defense of Looting, make absurd statements like, “So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free,” it becomes clear what she is advocating. She would allow some to behave like Vikings, who decided it was easier to plunder to get what they wanted than to work and produce it themselves. Of course, all the Vikings did was make the rest of Europe poorer, and deader, until there was nothing to plunder and the Vikings stopped their pillaging ways to produce themselves. “Might makes right” was as wrong-headed back then as it is now, no matter how Ms. Osterweil dresses it up.


It also becomes clear just how threatening ideologues are in general when Neil Gorsuch, wedded to the ideology of an idiosyncratic, form-over-substance strain of “textualist” legal interpretation, casts doubt on a hundred years of established jurisdiction over property in Oklahoma. Private property’s legal and moral recognition is more than just a legal nicety. It’s more fundamental than a progressive economic or legal theory. It’s basic to prosperity, health, social welfare in general, quality of life, and progress. It’s not to be lightly trifled with in the name of the latest manifestations of Marxist, libertarian, or legal ideology. And private property is, most certainly, worth defending, even with lethal force and at the risk of one’s own life, given that the theft and destruction of property are always violent acts.


Byron Schlomach is Director of the 1889 Institute. He can be reached at bschlomach@1889institute.org. 


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.


Popular posts from this blog

Dear GT Bynum, Let the Children Play

I live close to a large City of Tulsa park that has a golf course, walking trail, green spaces, and a couple of playgrounds. My (almost) three-year old son loves the playgrounds, and often begs us during walks in our neighborhood to detour to “for-chun” (LaFortune Park). This seemingly innocent request can become a hassle when we don’t really have time, but we indulge him as much as possible. It’s good for kids to play outside, especially with other kids they might not otherwise come into contact with. But sometimes we have to contend with an upset toddler who doesn’t understand why we can’t go to the playground right this minute. I’m not complaining, every parent of young kids deals with similar stuff. But during the COVID lockdown, we’ve had to contend with an altogether different LaFortune Park situation with our son. As part of the mayor’s shelter-in-place overkill, all city-owned playgrounds were closed “ indefinitely .” This wasn’t a guideline or suggestion, the city meant busine

When It Comes to the Cox Center, “What if I Get to Meet a Movie Star?” Isn’t Good Enough

In a recent   post , 1889 Institute expounded on the fiduciary duty of elected officials “to act in the best interest of the people of the state as a whole,” a “high duty, executed as a public trust … wherein one puts the people’s interest above one’s own.” This fiduciary duty must not stop with elected officials. Once an elected body or an elected official – the legislature, a city council, the governor, or a mayor – has taken final action, the faithful implementation of each enacted law, policy, or program falls to an army of bureaucrats. Thus, a fiduciary duty to execute laws and policies with diligence and integrity, tantamount to that of elected officials, must extend to government employees. Recently, I had a few moments to sit down and watch a show with my children. Unsurprisingly, my son picked a series entitled “The Stinky and Dirty Show.” I was naturally skeptical that the show would yield any real value. However, as I watched, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Each episod

COVID Inspires Tyranny for the "Good" of Its Victims

The Christian philosopher, C.S. Lewis, once said, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." The moral busybodies C.S Lewis warns of reminds me of those who would have Americans give up their liberty to combat COVID-19.   A recent Oklahoman op-ed compared COVID-19 to World War II, stating that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is approaching the number that died fighting for this country and the freedoms it protects. This comparison is, of course, nonsense. This suggests that a virus with a high survivability rate is an equivalent threat to the Nazi and Japanese regimes that brutally murdered millions. The piece uses wartime rationing of meat and cheese, a sacrifice necessary to ensure men on the front lines had adequate nutrition, to justify Americans accepting counterproductive lockdowns in exchange for additional stimulus c

The High Duty of Elected Officials and Ways They Fall Short

With an election just completed (the alleged voting, anyway), a legislative session coming up, constant talk of spending to offset the impacts of COVID-19, and elected officials trying to mandate our way out of a disease, the duty of elected officials in their official positions is worth considering. The 1889 Institute recently published a booklet for state lawmakers that discusses various issues and possible solutions. Included in that booklet is a short discussion of the central duty of elected officials, which is expanded here. What is the central, over-arching duty of an individual after having been elected to public office? Public oaths of office give a strong hint, and the Oklahoma Constitution is a good place to start. Article XV includes the oath of office, which states that an Oklahoma public official swears to “support, obey, and defend” the constitutions of the nation and the state, that the official will not take bribes, and that the official will discharge duties as best