by George Laver

It is no secret that the UK has maintained its long and proud tradition of housing a police state. The job entails committing to what has been ordered — at the expense of surrendering the human ability / right to make choices based upon morality, and taking into consideration the subsequent impact of the actions once carried through. This surrendering of our moral faculties to a higher power handing out orders carries with it a heavy burden — the absolute collapse of human dignity has been brought about by those who were simply following orders.

If they have been ordered to stand between the starving and a warehouse stocked with food, they will do it; if they have been commanded to hold a barrier between a person and their family, they will do it; and – in full relevancy to the focal point of this article – if they have been told to evict somebody from a home for the sake of maintaining property rights, they will do it. As such, this article aims to deliver an analysis of the modern day tyranny of private property and where it leaves us.

property is still being treated as superior to human dignity

It has been 176 years since Proudhon tore down the veil that covers the legitimacy with which property rights are considered in his work What is Property? It is a sad fact that, after all this time, property is still being treated as superior to human dignity. An 81-year-old man has been forcefully evicted and ‘sectioned’ following a battle with the local council over possession of his home, which came following the local council’s snap decision to try and reclaim possession over the house handed over to cooperatives in the 1970s and 80s.

In light of this, it is time to reconsider the mental furniture with which capitalism has endowed us: since when has property been a sacrosanct right whilst human dignity has clearly been punched below the belt?

(© Dani Cardona / Reuters)

To answer the question abruptly, it is down to the constitutional practice of a liberal democracy. In the same makeup, there are these declarations: property, liberty, life, and equality. Immediately, there are contractions into hypocrisy. Has the liberty and life of the evicted 81-year-old been treated with respect? Quite rightly, he refused to simply hand over the possession of his home to the council, and for that he has suffered its lashes. The mask has slipped, and the case is clear: the property has been put above the ‘liberty, life, and equality’ of the man. Any chance of equality between humans has been shattered by this single act and the many others which take place. Now, it is a case of government above citizen, property owner above tenant, exploiter above exploited, and owner above user. The latter of which demonstrates quite clearly how the right to property is a right in word and not in deed.

Equality does not seem to exist here: there is the liberty to abuse and exploit

Originally, the right to property ownership stems from the occupation, use, and development of a given house or patch of land, for example. Once the right is enshrined, the owner can do as they please with the object, including its rental and by logical extension the exploitation of those who do utilise and develop the value of the site in question. Does this not immediately contract the origin? Equality does not seem to exist here: there is the liberty to abuse and exploit; the liberty to surrender continuously a portion of the individual’s income to somebody who does not operate, utilise, or develop a given place, but utilises it only to extort and thieve. As such, all of the declarations of equality and personal sovereignty in the world mean nothing if they are only in print and not in fact.

(Eighty-one-year-old artist Tony Healy disputed an eviction order from Lambeth Council in early March, but was forcibly removed from his South London home and sectioned under the Mental Health Act © Lambeth United Housing Co-op)

What’s more, these statements open up a broader debate upon the effects which such authoritarian stratifications have upon those who are directly involved. Examples such as the forceful eviction of an elderly resident of 30 years in discussion will most prominently affect both the sufferers and the perpetrators in disproportionate levels. Primarily, it affects the sufferer by replacing his right and dignity with a government’s claim to property, neglecting to consider the liberty and equality which he is supposedly entitled to. Secondarily, it affects those who are of the same standing as the elderly man but must carry out the orders given, subjecting themselves to being the knuckles of the council’s hand. Such a job will undoubtedly deteriorate the mental wellbeing of those involved. However, I say that it effects them disproportionately, as those who are carrying out the orders have the ability – admittedly at a lot of effort, risking their livelihoods too – to refuse to obey, neglect orders given, and so on.

Government and property as necessary institutions have furnished our vision of what is necessary and right for many centuries

Earlier, I spoke about the mental furniture of the people and how it construes their outlook on the world. Government and property as necessary institutions have furnished our vision of what is necessary and right for many centuries, and it is only now coming under a period of deconstruction after decades of reparations following the last uproar against its existence. People have the tendency to obey the commands of their superiors because they sincerely believe that what they are doing is right — working for the government and protecting private property. On the other side of this, lying in its wake, are the victims.

(© Brian Segan)

It would be a dark day if carrying out the task of eviction task did not strike the perpetrators as something at least a little corrupt – not just in this case, but in the many that occur on a weekly basis. If such is the case, it would be accurate to say that people have been made as machines to follow orders. However, I highly doubt this. People do not lose all agency, but the coercive nature of losing a job and thus access to subsistence and leisure overcome the immoralities of the task at hand. Capitalism is not voluntary — rather, it is extortion, theft, deceit, and coercion.

we must reorient society along egalitarian and libertarian lines

But this begs the question: what is the way forward? The way out of this is deconstruct the prejudiced vision with which we currently view society. Instead of tracing property and government – two mutually inclusive institutions by their very nature – above true equality, true liberty, and true life, we must reorient society along egalitarian and libertarian lines. We must do away with all that denies people the right to subsistence, the right to dignity, and the right to have a life flowing with liberty.

The simple fact is that there is enough for all. As much as I fear that this case of the elderly man will be far from the last, it seems that people will begin to expand upon the simple recognition of an injustice that has been committed, and as socialists we must be there as the framework that supports the change.

Featured image © Krista Keenan


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