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Kelo v. City of New London, Little Pink House lecture, Intellectual shortcomings of Cato-kind

January 28, 2009

I attended a lecture on the book Little Pink House by Jeff Benedict. I haven’t yet had a chance to read it, but the lecture was fascinating anyways. The book tells the story of Kelo from the famousKelo v. City of New London
Supreme Court case that decided individual’s property could be taken by the government and given to another private individual or business as long as it  would be somehow more profitable under the new owner. This ruling, of course, leaves the door wide open for despotic seizures of private property. The Objective Standard just published an excellent article by Eric Daniels on the Kelo case that shows the case as a natural culmination of a historically deficient understanding of property rights in America that started with the inclusion of eminent domain in the Constitution:

Although the founders held that the “despotic power” of eminent domain should be limited to taking property for “public use,” and that the victims of such takings were due “just compensation,” their acceptance of its legitimacy was the tip of a wedge.

The lecture included Ms. Kelo herself, the author of the book, and one of the lawyers that represented Ms. Kelo for the Institute of Justice. During the lecture, the lawyer, Scott Bullock, argued that the eminent domain takings in the Kelo case was not only unconstitutional, but were morally wrong. He then explained that if one didn’t simply know why the takings were wrong – one probably would never understand:

It’s like what Louis Armstrong said when asked to define Jazz: “Man, if you gotta ask you’ll never know.” If you don’t know why [the property takings in the Kelo case are] wrong, then you’ll probably never know.

Unsatisfied with this explanation, I raised my hand during the Q&A. I asked if there was a rational moral argument to be made in favor of property rights. He then said that the best evidence for the immorality of property seizures like this was the near-universal outrage of the public.

The popularity of a position in no way proves its truth. The defenders of property rights are enfeebled by their ignorance of rational morality and the philosophical reasons for individual rights (including property rights). Without a philosophical foundation for their moral judgements, they are left appealing to “just knowing.” Morality, unlike Jazz, is not ambiguous or esoteric – but directly linked to reality by reason. One does not need to “just know” that something is right or wrong if you have a rational philosophy and a rational morality.


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  1. Chris Moody permalink

    Here’s a link to a video from the lecture. Might make a good addition to your post

    Also, a Podcast interview with Kelo:

  2. Chris Moody permalink

    Here’s a video of Kelo’s story:

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