Has there been a decade in the last two centuries when it was less necessary to write a defense of property rights? Bethell,...


THE NOBLEST TRIUMPH: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages

Has there been a decade in the last two centuries when it was less necessary to write a defense of property rights? Bethell, Washington correspondent for the American Spectator, undertakes an aggressive campaign to prove the virtues of private property, despite the fact that his ideology has won the day and there are few genuine enemies left to vanquish. Historical, intellectual, and international analyses are brandished to prove that, without exception, suppressing property rights is disastrous and protecting them always produces prosperity. This discussion suffers from the absence of subtlety common to single-factor explanations. Examination of property and the environment, for example, proceeds from the bald assertion that ""private ownership is conducive to a more careful stewardship than public ownership,"" without considering externalities and whether regulations are needed to protect one property owner from another. But what is most striking is the paranoid perception of widespread threats to property rights despite living in an era of triumphant capitalism. One explanation is that Bethell, unlike many economists and all libertarians, recognizes that property rights are a function of political authority. This poses a dilemma--government is necessary but also can be a threat to property--that could make the defender of private property permanently uneasy. A more likely explanation can be found, however, in the extremity of Bethell's expectations. For Bethell, it's not enough just to accept that private property should exist and be protected; anything less than wholeheartedly embracing it as the most important thing in the world leaves one suspect. Adam Smith himself is criticized for beginning The Wealth of Nations with the division of labor rather than with property, and by this standard there are indeed few true believers in the sanctity of property. If this is the standard to be applied, however, it is not obvious that true believers should be taken seriously.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998


Page Count: 367

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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