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Focus on News, Politics, etc. by Jim Wrenn, Editor (July 4, 2001 ©

"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness"
"Life, Liberty [and] Property"

(Focus 20010704-01
by Jim Wrenn, Editor -- July 4, 2001 ©

Revolutionary sloganeering versus human-rights pioneering.


    The Declaration of Independence proclaimed "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to be inalienable rights, but the Bill of Rights changed the phrase to "life, liberty and property." 1 The intrinsic, emotional desirability of the pursuit of happiness virtually guaranteed its widespread acceptance as a goal of the revolution and enhanced the slogan's motivational effect. In contrast, a common-sense understanding of property as an essential element of "liberty" required rational analysis making it unlikely for such concept to gain widespread understanding. Including "pursuit of happiness" in the revolutionary slogan was redundant but useful, and omitting it from the Bill of Rights subtracted nothing from the concept of "liberty."  Inclusion of "property" in the revolutionary slogan was not necessary, nor would it have inspired revolutionary fervor, but the absence of a widespread common-sense understanding of it as an essential component of "liberty" made its inclusion in the Bill of Rights necessary.  (.back to top.)

Revolutionary Slogan.

    The purposes of the Declaration of Independence were to articulate moral justifications for the revolution and inspire emotional support for it.  The goals of the Constitution were "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."  See footnote 2.

Securing Liberty.

    The Constitution's design of government accomplished all those goals except that it failed to "secure ... Liberty"  3  until adoption of the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments, which secured the "Liberty" by explicitly identifying individual rights not to be infringed by government, explicitly including property as a right not to be infringed absent "due process of law"  4 and not to be "taken for public use without just compensation,"  5 and explicitly stating that its "enumeration of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."  6.  (.back to top.)

Property-Guarantee Eclipses Happiness-Pursuit.

    The pursuit-of-happiness phrase increased the revolutionary slogan's motivational power because its emotional desirability made it intrinsically acceptable without need for rational analysis or ideological explanation.  In contrast, property was a legal concept not likely to have been understood to be an essential component of "liberty" without rational analysis.  Gaining widespread acceptance of an idea is easy when it's an emotionally desirable one but difficult when it's an intellectual concept requiring rational analysis to be understood.  This distinction illustrates a truth about human nature, understanding of which is essential to devise effective means to impart widespread understanding of private enterprise as a human-rights concept rather than merely as an economic-efficiency concept.  (.back to top.)

Educational Failures.

    Ignorance about private enterprise is so widespread because we who do understand it have failed to motivate those who don't to do the common-sense thinking necessary to understand its nature as a human-rights concept.  Paradoxically, the same proliferation of means of communication and entertainment which offers unprecedented opportunities for us to disseminate such knowledge on a widespread basis also makes such task more difficult because the pervasive availability of entertainment diminishes people's willingness to forego leisure in favor of mental work.  (.back to top.)

Emotional Incentives for Rational Analysis.

    A desire for relief from emotional discomfort stimulates rational analysis to discover and obtain relief. This process continues until the brain obtains relief or concludes that none exists. When the brain passively receives relief (such as an external stimulus or spontaneous ending of discomfort) without having to perform any significant degree of rational analysis, it merely associates memories of the sources of discomfort and relief.  When it actively procures relief (or concludes that none exists) through rational analysis, it associates such rational analysis and conclusion with its memory of the source of discomfort.  (.back to top.)

To Paraphrase Professor Higgins:
It's Plain the Drain is Mostly in the Brain

    The brain simply doesn't bother to perform rational analysis absent an emotional incentive to seek relief, comfort or pleasure.  Although few of us may have consciously drawn this common-sense conclusion, we intuitively understand it from our everyday experiences.  A fleeting, mild pain in the arm usually doesn't stimulate rational analysis, but a severe one will almost certainly start a rational-analysis search for relief until the brain finds a remedy, concludes that none exists (or that the problem is merely temporary), or passively receives relief.  Our learning that a stranger died in a traffic accident may cause momentary discomfort but is not likely to stimulate rational analysis absent additional information making it self-evident that circumstances contributing to that accident pose a risk to us.  Such perception of personal risk gives us an emotional incentive for rational analysis seeking ways to eliminate, avoid or reduce such risk.  (.back to top.)

What Makes "Your" Problem "My" Problem?.

    None of us is inclined to engage in an extensive rational-analysis search for a solution to someone else's problem absent an emotional incentive to do so.  For example, the discomfort we experience when we personally encounter an accident involving someone else stimulates our rational-analysis search for ways to be helpful.  The comfort we derive from our pride in feeling helpful motivates us to do so.  If we were to devise a way to help a victim stay alive until the arrival of medical assistance, we would thereby learn a solution we'd never forget.  In contrast, when we encounter an accident with medical assistants already at the scene, our belief in their expertise relieves our discomfort enough to prevent us from feeling obligated to be helpful.  (.back to top.)


    The same phenomena govern our responses to our perceptions of social problems.  A description of an apparent social problem creates emotional discomfort stimulating a desire for the comfort of feeling that we're willing to try to be helpful.  Such desire to be helpful stimulates rational analysis to determine how to do so, but when a solution proposed by someone we perceive as having expertise accompanies or immediately follows the description of the problem, our belief that someone else has determined a solution diminishes our discomfort enough to terminate rational analysis (unless, of course, the proposed solution is obviously illogical).  This process short-circuits our evaluation of the problem by substituting the comfort of believing someone else is solving it for the discomfort from recognizing it.  (.back to top.)

 "Life, Liberty and _________"? 

    Acceptance of emotionally desirable goals occurs effortlessly but comprehension of intellectual concepts requires mental work. If all Americans were asked to complete the phrase, "America stands for life, liberty and ___," the vast majority would say "pursuit of happiness."  Few would say "property," because few understand property to be the Constitution's description of a human-rights concept essential to liberty from oppressive government.  (.back to top.)

That "Thing" Thing.

    Almost everyone considers property to be a thing (such as a physical object, money or stock) rather than the inherent, human-right of control over one's own labor and its fruits.  It's easy to understand why this misconception is so widespread-- it's simply more convenient to use the word describing the thing over which the law of property gives us rights of control.  For example, nearly everyone thinks a tangible thing (such as a table, money or stock) is property rather than understanding it to be an exchangeable representation of property (i.e., of human labor).  (.back to top.)

To "Be" or Not to "Be".

    The vast majority of people would consider a tree on an undiscovered, uninhabited island to be property (and most environmental activists would consider it to be nature's property).  They'd consider an explorer's discovery of the tree to be a discovery of property rather than understanding the act of discovery to be the creation of property (i.e., rights created by the labor of discovery). They'd consider cutting-down the tree to be a taking (or destruction) of nature's property rather than understanding such act to be the creation of additional property (i.e., creation of additional rights by additional labor).  Such prevailing view of property stands the concept on its head by viewing natural resources as "property" having intrinsic "rights" not to be "exploited" by human labor.  This neo-pantheistic philosophy views humans as servants or slaves of nature rather than as beings with inalienable rights to create property by human-labor alteration of nature.  (.back to top.)

Rise & Fall of Common Sense.

    Common sense suggests that the concept of property as an inherent, individual right evolved in the human mind long before the organization of human society.  Surely a prehistoric man believed he was entitled to control an uninhabited cave he found, an animal he killed or captured, or anything he built or created.  The Ten Commandments recognized the pre-existing state of the concept of property by simply stating "Thou shall not steal."  In the evolution of human society, the increasing concentration of governmental power enabled governmental authorities to assert ownership of, or the "right" to control, the fruits of their subjects' labors.  Feudalism was but one of many examples of governmental power being used to assert governmental ownership of the fruits of labor by individuals subservient to such power. Consequently, ordinary people gradually acquired the erroneous belief that the government was entitled to the fruits of their labor.  (.back to top.)

Re-Evolution of Intuitive Understandings.

    One of the goals of the American Revolution's intellectual leaders was to reassert individual rights intuitively understood at the dawn of human civilization.  One of the goals of the revolution's constitutional finale was to formally articulate those rights and create permanent, constitutional barriers against repetition of the historically demonstrated, inherent, tendency of government to limit, usurp, or destroy them.  During the revolutionary stage, virtually all colonists had a strong intuitive understanding of property because colonial society still retained enough of a pioneer/explorer spirit to view their own efforts, rather than government, as the source of their rights.  However, only the few who had studied philosophy had acquired an intellectual understanding of property as a legally recognized, exchangeable representation of the inherent human right to control the fruits of one's own labor.  (.back to top.)

Revolutionary Re-Evolution.

    Even though English common law was gradually extending legal recognition to the dawn-of-civilization, intuitive concept of property as an inherently individual right, most Englishmen (including the colonists) still considered "property" as something apart from the individual who created it -- i.e., they would have considered a table to be "property" rather than intellectually understanding it to be a legally- exchangeable representation of human labor.  Despite such progress under common law and the brilliance of Eighteenth Century philosophers, the re-evolution of the pre-historic, intuitive understanding of property as a human right would have progressed slowly and episodically absent the American Revolution because it was the American colonists' pioneer/explorer culture and English heritage that gave them a unique combination of an intuitive understanding of the value of freedom forged from the necessity of self-reliance and an allegiance to the limited-government philosophy which had been steadily evolving in English law since the Magna Carter.  (.back to top.)

"Liberty, Fraternity, [Static] Equality".

    The absence of such unique combination doomed the French Revolution to failure because the slogan, "liberty, fraternity, equality" failed to mature into an understanding of property as a human right.  Viewing property as static thing rather than understanding it as an exchangeable, dynamic representation of human labor led the French revolutionaries to view "equality" through the lens of results rather than opportunity.  Such static view of property and the consequent result-oriented view of equality foreshadowed collectivist philosophies that emerged in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries such as socialism and communism.  (.back to top.)

Static Distribution.

    The static view of property widespread among people today makes them susceptible to propagandistic, collectivists, class-warfare arguments that the "distribution" of property is "unfair." The now widespread use of statistical analyses to provide socio-political theories with a scientific imprimatur has further obscured the meaning of property as a result of casual, un-defined use of the statistical term "distribution" to describe patterns of economic achievements.  This leads people unfamiliar with the statistical meaning of "distribution" to wrongly believe that control of a large percentage of total wealth by a small percentage of individuals is evidence of some hidden, sinister mechanism to unfairly "distribute" wealth to a few at the expense of the many.  In contrast, anyone understanding property to be a legally- recognized exchangeable representation of human labor would know that such wide disparities in wealth simply reflect wide disparities in human labor, creativity and risk-taking.  (.back to top.)

The Status of Static Status.

    It's difficult to identify a particular point in American history when the static view of property gained widespread acceptance.  At least through the end of the American frontier, most individuals perceived themselves as being in control of their own destinies and responsible for their own fates, and such perceptions reinforced their intuitive, common-sense understanding of property as a dynamic process.  By the end of the New Deal, a static view of property based on an expectation of governmental responsibility for, and a belief its ability to provide for, the material well-being of individuals had completely supplanted the frontier-era belief in self-responsibility. Each incremental increase in the government's role as provider necessarily reduced the need for Americans to perceive themselves as being primarily responsible for their own destinies.  Now, as we begin the Twenty-First Century, the political belief that part of government's responsibility is to "distribute" property "fairly" has become widespread while government leaders pay lip service to the principles of a "market economy."  (.back to top.)

 "We" versus "They" meets "Us" versus "Them" 

    The current trend is discouraging, to say the least.  If we who understand private enterprise are to reverse this accelerating trend, we must disseminate educational information in a form and manner creating an emotional incentive for the consumer of the information to engage in rational analysis of the information.  It's been easy for those with a collectivist, static-property mindset to gain widespread acceptance of their philosophical viewpoint because such acceptance merely requires that their ideas have emotional desirability.  The challenge for those of us who understand private enterprise as a human-rights concept is to create effective emotional incentives for people to apply their common-sense, rational-analysis capabilities in analyzing problems and proposals for solutions.  (.back to top.)
    We who understand the human-rights nature of private enterprise tend to believe that people ought to be motivated to rationally analyze social problems and proposals for solutions. From that premise, most of us are inclined to believe that we are more "rational" and less "emotional" than those who don't understand the principles that seem so clear to us.  We think "they" don't understand because they're just "too lazy" to exert the mental effort to learn what we've learned. These are incorrect views of ourselves as well as of them.  (.back to top.)

 Why are We "We" and They "They"? 

    What motivated us to learn the truths that we understand?  Emotions motivated us to do so-- e.g., the emotional satisfaction of feeling that we're responsible citizens, the fun of mental combat with opponents, the emotional satisfaction of problem-solving, pride in being willing and able to analyze complex issues, pride in perceiving ourselves as realists making decisions based on objective logic rather than emotionalism.  (.back to top.)

We've Met Them, and Them Are Us.

    What could motivate "them" to learn these truths?  Emotions, of course.  If we're really able to be realists, we must accept the fact that emotions motivated us to learn what we know and that if we're really as smart as we think we are, we should be able to determine how to furnish educational information to the pubic in ways that provide emotional incentives for "them" to apply rational analysis to the same issues.  If we were to do that, their own common sense would do the rest.  (.back to top.)


1. Emphasis added (back to text)
2.. Preamble to the Constitution. Emphasis added. (back to text)
3. Although it imposed limitations on taxation and prohibited laws "impairing the Obligation of Contracts" [Article I, Sections 9 and 10], those provisions only impliedly recognized private property.. (back to text)
4. Fifth Amendment  (back to text)
5. Id.  (back to text)
6. Ninth Amendment  (back to text)

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