Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Community values

The Arizona Daily Star is one of those newspapers that is, unfortunately, painfully predictable in its editorial line. Whatever the topic, the Daily Star's editorial board will take the position that maximizes government power, promotes the group over the individual and minimizes personal liberty.

In this recent editorial, the Daily Star applied its peculiar filter to the manufactured (by the political establishment and its friends) controversy over Prop. 207. The proposition, passed by Arizona voters by an almost 2-1 margin last November, strongly curtailed the power of government to seize private property for the benefit of private parties. It also required that landowners be compensated for the impact of regulatory takings--government actions that deprive property owners of some or all of the use of their property. Not surprisingly, politicians don't like the measure and have been trying to undermine its impact ever since--with the encouragement of certain editorial writers.

Before I get to the Daily Star editors' specific comments about Prop. 207, let me throw in a little philosophical musing they included that explains where they're coming from.

Private property rights are fundamental to our form of government, but Proposition 207 went too far. In effect, it sacrificed the will of the community on the altar of 19th-century libertarianism. The result is anti-social legislation.

The trajectory of civilization has been a movement from farm to village to town and city and nation — a movement away from isolation and toward community building. In the process, individual wishes — at least to some extent — become subordinate to the needs of the community. ...

So individualism is a sad relic of the past and the rights of the individual must be suborned to the demands of the group? Lovely. Mussolini--or Lenin--couldn't have put it better. Neither, for that matter, could some anonymous tribal chieftain from ten thousand years ago.

In fact, the long, dark history of the human race has largely consisted of individuals being squashed by the "needs of the community." From the slaves who built Egypt's pyramids through Roman gladiators and Aztec human sacrifices to the wary citizens of the 20th Century's people's republics, individualism has largely existed as an exception to the rule--a brief breath of fresh air eventually choked off by a slave master, prince or commissar. Even the democracies of the past largely functioned as majoritarian tyrannies, crushing personal freedom beneath the will of a larger group of thugs than the kings and oligarchs who lorded over most countries. Just ask Socrates how that worked--he drank poison to appease the prejudices of the mob.

In the United States, we've been lucky to have enjoyed a rare effort to deliberately establish a nation that--however imperfectly--valued the individual above the group. It was nice while it lasted. I don't expect the Daily Star to publish much of a eulogy.

So, given the Daily Star's explicit disdain for the lowly individual, is it any wonder that the newspaper has little love to spare for Prop. 207?

The trouble with Proposition 207, as recent cases in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tempe have shown, is that it renders community values subordinate to the individual, and it has the potential to freeze well-intentioned community planning.

Grrr. Those damned individuals! Always getting in the way of the community. Ein Reich, ein volk, ein ... Ummm--you get the point.

There you go. That's the nature of the opposition to Prop. 207 in Arizona. And that's the culture that prevails among the "right-thinking" folks who dominate too many of the editorial pages in this state. If it protects individuals from the mauling paws of government officials, they're against it.

Maybe we should make their wishes come true and exempt newspaper editorial writers from the occasional protection for individual liberty that still comes along from time to time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

JD --

This is a great piece on Prop 207. Well done!

August 15, 2007 3:19 PM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

This is a good example of why this paper's local nickname is The Red Star.

August 19, 2007 11:37 PM  

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