To understand Paul’s third principle for a free society (“Justly acquired property is privately owned by individuals and voluntary groups, and this ownership cannot be arbitrarily voided by governments”), it would be helpful to understand his theory of justice.
One thing seems absolutely certain: it isn’t the same as John Rawls’ theory. In fact, without being explicit about its debt, Paul’s theory, based on what I sussed out of it in the previous two posts, bears a lot of resemblance to Robert Nozick’s anti-Rawlsian theory of justice formulated in Anarchy, State and Utopia.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read Rawls or Nozick. Does this disqualify me from commenting on the ideas I’ve read about from them? I leave that up to my readers. I’m going to plow ahead because I think it’s necessary to discuss Nozick’s idea of “distributive justice” (i.e., how “justly” resources are distributed among individuals) to understand Paul’s.
According to Wikipedia:
Robert Nozick‘s influential critique of Rawls argues that distributive justice is not a matter of the whole distribution matching an ideal pattern, but of each individual entitlement having the right kind of history. It is just that a person has some good (especially, some property right) if and only if they came to have it by a history made up entirely of events of two kinds:
- 1. Just acquisition, especially by working on unowned things; and
- 2. Just transfer, that is free gift, sale or other agreement, but not theft (i.e. by force or fraud).
If the chain of events leading up to the person having something meets this criterion, they are entitled to it: that they possess it is just, and what anyone else does or doesn’t have or need is irrelevant.
On the basis of this theory of distributive justice, Nozick argues that all attempts to redistribute goods according to an ideal pattern, without the consent of their owners, are theft. In particular, redistributive taxation is theft.
Notice that phrase “just acquisition,” which appears prominently in Paul’s third principle. Notice also the idea that redistribution of wealth, especially through taxation, is unjust, entailing a kind of theft.
On this account, then, justice is a rather small thing, concerned only with the materials individuals possess. If I shoplift a hammer, I’ve acquired it unjustly. If I sell it to you, or even give it you freely, would you be entitled to the hammer? Is what I did to acquire the hammer relevant to your acquisition of it or isn’t it? What if you, then, sold or gave the hammer to someone else? Is that person entitled? Is this history, as it removes the object by degrees from the original injustice, therefore, removing the injustice from each new acquisition of the object?
If a Congressman receives hundreds of thousands of dollars as pay from taxes collected unjustly, on this account, is it justly acquired because he didn’t commit the actual theft?