The Mother of All Rights

Without secure property, the Islamic world can't escape tyranny and stagnation.


"Much will depend on building viable economies in the areas that the Palestinians are to take over," R.W. Apple reported in The New York Times after Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed their famous agreement on the White House lawn. If there was to be Palestinian self-rule, there would have to be a Palestinian economy. Within two days the diplomats were in high gear. They agreed that the benefits of self-rule should be not only conspicuous to the inhabitants of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, but speedily conspicuous. And so there would have to be foreign aid.

The World Bank placed "immediate needs" at $3 billion. The Palestine Liberation Organization did their own arithmetic and said they would prefer $11.6 billion. Two weeks after the signing, 43 nations pledged to contribute $2 billion over the next five years. U.S. taxpayers were in for $500 million. Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, always the dreamer, talked about rolling back the desert and beating swords into microchips.

The agreement stipulated that to promote economic growth, a Palestinian Council would establish a Palestinian Electricity Authority, a Gaza Sea Port Authority, a Palestinian Development Bank, a Palestinian Export Promotion Board, a Palestinian Environmental Authority. The "Protocol on Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation in Economic and Development Programs" foresaw the need for a Water Development Program, an Energy Development Program, an Industrial Development Program, a Human Resources Development and Cooperation Plan, and yes, an Environmental Protection Plan.

Lots of Authority, in other words, and lots of Programs. But other than the political right of voting for the council, no rights were specified in the agreement. In particular, there was no mention of the fundamental institution that has undergirded Western economies for over 200 years and has accounted for the prosperity of the West: property rights.

One of the most important developments in history is the sudden rise of the Western world in relation to the Islamic world, beginning in the late 17th century. Yet this change has remained something of a puzzle to historians. Broad surveys of history usually do not even try to explain it. The growing prosperity of the West had something–perhaps a good deal–to do with it, historians often concede, but how to account for that?

Property rights, I submit, are the key to understanding the rise of the West, as they are to understanding why the Industrial Revolution occurred when and where it did. Among the few economic historians to have made this point explicitly are Douglass North, who shared the 1993 Nobel prize in economics, and Robert P. Thomas. By the 18th century, they write in The Rise of the Western World, "a structure of property rights had developed in the Netherlands and England which provided the incentives necessary for sustained growth." In the Islamic world, no such change took place, and to this day it still has not.

This difference has consequences outside the economic sphere. As property ownership became widespread and secure in Europe, and as the institution of contract developed, the state increasingly accepted that its proper role was not the seizure of wealth but the enforcement of agreements by private parties to exchange it. The idea of constitutional government emerged: The powers of the state should be limited and specified. The emergence of contract in the West signaled a rising acceptance of the idea that ordinary people were capable of looking after their own best interests. Legal institutions in the West gradually adapted to this philosophy, and individual freedom became a central political concept.

In the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East, these liberal ideas never took hold. There, notes Princeton's Bernard Lewis, "Good government was thought to be a duty of the ruler, not a right of the subject, whose only recourse against bad government was patience, counsel and prayer." In the 1830s, the Ottoman ambassador in Vienna discussed the essential differences between East and West, concluding that European progress and prosperity were the product of "complete security for the life, property, honor and reputation of each nation and people, that is to say, on the proper application of the necessary rights of freedom." By contrast, the term freedom in a political sense does not appear in Arabic before the late 18th century, and even then it is "patently due to European influence," Lewis writes. Scholars did not even know how to translate the word into Arabic. They used a word denoting "collective rather than personal freedom–i.e. independence rather than liberty in the classical liberal sense."

In short, Western notions of civil rights never took hold. Feminists who today draw attention to the absence of women's rights in the Muslim world are correct, but they overlook the point that men also lack such rights. Men may indeed be free to oppress women at home or in the workplace–but they may themselves be oppressed by others acting with the authority of the state. As David Pryce-Jones has amply documented in The Closed Circle, the weak are at the mercy of the strong in the Arab world, and in a polity based on power women are bound to be the losers.

This contrast between the rights of the Western world and the tyrannies of the Muslim Near East is amply documented in the historical record. In his Narrative of a Journey into Khorashan, published in 1825, James B. Fraser vividly described the pervasive tyranny and poverty he found in the East. The naive European, he wrote, is quite unprepared for "the mass of misery, filth and ruins which the best of these cities present to his gaze." Frazer concluded that "the principal direct check to improvement and prosperity in Persia is the insecurity of life, limb and property, arising from the nature of the government….This must always repress the efforts of industry; for no man will work to produce what he may be deprived of the next hour." Even the "greatest noble in Persia," he wrote, is not "for one moment secure in his person or property."

This situation persisted in 20th-century Persia (Iran). In her Landlord and Peasant in Persia (1953), Ann Lambton noted that the country's problems should be viewed against an enduring backdrop of insecurity: "the insecurity of the landowner against the caprice of the government…and the insecurity of the cultivator vis à vis the landowners and others." The law was not "backed by a predominant and impartial force," she wrote. "Effective power therefore rested with whoever wielded the greatest force."

The classical economists noted this great defect in the Muslim world. In the second edition of his Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus attributed "the low state of population in Turkey," by which he and others meant the Ottoman Empire more generally, to "the nature of the government," in particular its tyranny, its bad laws, and the "consequent insecurity of property." Malthus's source was a Frenchman named Constantin François Volney, whose description of life under the Mameluke tyranny is just one more confirmation of the terrible oppression that Muslims have for centuries endured at the hands of their own rulers.

In Egypt, Volney wrote, there was "no security for life or property….The greater part of the lands are in the hands of the beys [provincial governors], the Mamelukes, and the professors of the law; the number of the other proprietors is extremely small, and their property liable to a thousand impositions. Every moment some contribution is to be paid, or some damage repaired; there is no right of succession or inheritance for real property; every thing returns to government, from which everything must be repurchased."

This insecurity, which persists today, produces behavior often attributed to "culture" or ethnic traits. In his Principles of Political Economy, which appeared in several editions starting in the 1820s, J. R. McCullogh pointed out what many have since forgotten: The finest brains cannot create wealth in the best environment if the people are subjected to a government "which does not respect and maintain the right of property." This was the "principal cause of the present wretched state of the Ottoman dominions," he argued. Proprietors had been reduced to the status of occupiers who, as a result, were "comparatively careless of futurity." Ottoman subjects constructed impermanent dwellings because "it would be a gratification to them to be assured that they would fall to pieces the moment after they have breathed their last. Under this miserable government the palaces have been changed into cottages and the cities into villages. The long continued want of security has extinguished the very spirit of industry."

Housing in the Islamic Near East bears telltale signs of the insecurity of property. Volney described the houses of late 18th-century Cairo as having "the appearance of prisons, for they have no light from the street; as it is extremely dangerous to have many windows in such a country; they even take the precaution to make the entering door very low." This architecture ensured that predatory officials could not ride on horseback directly into the house.

Little has changed, apparently. To this day, houses in Near Eastern cities very often have no windows at all on the ground floor. Lewis notes that Islamic architecture reflects the insecurity of property: "Even the houses of the wealthy are turned inward, surrounded by high walls." An Iranian now working in Silicon Valley reports that those who travel abroad and leave their houses unoccupied for more than a few months in Iran are liable to find them inhabited by strangers when they come back.

Clifford Hallam, a professor of literature who taught in Riyadh in the early 1980s, writes in Commentary that "the horror of rape, literal or metaphorical, is unmistakeably reflected in the unique character of Saudi architecture." He continues: "There is no public building or private villa without its forbidding wall topped with shards of glass, no windows without bars; one is confronted with a convict's bad dream of locks, bolts, chains, barbed wire and spiked fences at every point of entry. The present city of Riyadh was begun in essence fewer than 20 years ago, yet it resembles nothing so much as a cluster of fortresses." He describes the "cadres of police and soldiers [who] patrol every street on a 24 hour basis, some out of uniform," and although he doesn't say so, it is these police or their superiors, obscurely vested with official authority, that the buildings' occupants must guard against.

"A man's home is no longer his castle," notes John Thomson, a commercial counsel in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh from 1984 to 1987. In Saudi Arabia the informal religious police force, called the mutawa, feel free to burst into private houses and jail occupants if they find violations of religious law–liquor, unmarried women, fornication. Houses there are built like fortresses specifically to deter these raids, and even wealthy businessmen aren't immune.

Thomson tells the story of a Saudi businessman influential enough to merit condolence calls from the Saudi king and crown prince when his four sons were killed in a freak accident. A few months later the mutawa came into this man's house, where he was having a party with liquor and stewardesses from Saudi Airlines. As punishment, the businessman spent about 18 months in jail.

It is a useful rule that in any country, or neighborhood, the security of property is inversely proportional to the quantity of bars and bolts. A generation ago, visitors traveling through U.S. suburbs were sometimes impressed by the complete absence of fences dividing property lines; this was at a time when property was probably as secure as it will ever be in the United States. Today, the venturesome visitor to inner-city public housing projects–or even, in some cases, affluent suburbs–would find the same bad dream of locks, bolts, and chains that Hallam saw in Riyadh.

Since the 1950s, the traditional tyranny has been given a new lease by the adoption of socialist labeling in a number of Arab countries–Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Socialism has provided the 20th century's camouflage of choice for the traditional rapacity of rulers, offering cover for the renewed exercise of tyranny and the personal enrichment of ruling cliques. When the French were driven out of Algeria, the land registration system that the French colonials had put in place was swept away by Ben Bella and the National Liberation Front. It was replaced by…nationalization. Modern Arab rulers are an ungrateful lot if they have not offered up secret prayers of thanks to Karl Marx.

Within the nominally socialist Arab countries today, however, there is no particular anti-property animus of the kind that Marxists and Western intellectuals have enjoyed flaunting here. But there is no general impersonal protection of property, either. A small-scale businessman in the souk, or bazaar, can operate without ideological opposition, and usually without police interference (provided he is willing to pay bribes in timely fashion). He can even hire his own "guards" and a few reliable employees–often consisting of his children and close relatives.

The endurance of family enterprise has ensured that these nations have not become totally impoverished. Essential needs of food and clothing are met; hand-made jewelry, serving the dual function of personal adornment and portable capital, may even permit a small increment of luxury, although that is not always secure. Reporting from post-Khomeini Iran, Tony Horwitz of The Wall Street Journal described a bookkeeper who preferred his trade to less portable businesses, which are "subject to the state's fickle attitude toward profit and private property."

"If your capital is on your body, they can take it away," Sargon Amirkhas was quoted as saying. "If it's your brain, how can they take it?"

Large-scale business on the Western model is not remotely possible under such insecure conditions. Businesses above family size do exist, but only with the connivance of the president, the palace, or the mosque. Contracts–either with other businesses or between employer and employees–are not enforceable, and without the appropriate protection from on high the physical property itself will not be secure. "Rich Arabs" bought property in Western countries not because they preferred the climate or the scenery but because property here comes with secure title attached.

At the time of the Gulf War, a newspaper described a Saudi businessman who wanted to write an article calling for more freedom in his country. But he thought better of it. "Are they going to take my factory away?" he worried. In the Western media, such concerns are frequently represented as inadequate freedom of the press. But notice it was his property that he was worried about.

Tyranny, economic and political, is not inherent to Islam. Indeed, for several centuries after Islam's founding, most international trade either orginated in or passed through the Arab world. Indeed, those parts of the Middle East subjected to the early Islamic conquests seem to have experienced those events as economically liberating. In more recent centuries, however, the great problem with most of the Arab world has been a continuing and pervasive tyranny: Those who have managed to seize power have been unconstrained in their exercise of it by the rule of law. This in itself has been sufficient to render property and all other rights insecure.

In the 19th century, the Ottoman rulers were encouraged by Western officials to adopt Western ways, including the security of property. For a while they tried, or pretended to, and some headway was made in Turkey and Egypt. But it did not last, and on the whole the Muslim world–unlike Japan and other Far Eastern countries–has proven highly resistant to the doctrine of rights, to the security of property, and to the establishment of the rule of law. Why is this?

The puzzle would be conveniently solved if the founding documents of Islam–the Koran and the sayings of Mohammed and his companions–turned out to contain teachings inimical to private property and to free markets. But it is far from clear that this is the case. The Koran teaches that all goods are ultimately owned by God and that man is their "vice regent," but Islamic scholars rarely construe this as detrimental to private ownership. An important reason for thinking that Mohammed accepted private property is that the Koran lays down detailed rules for its inheritance. The rules (briefly, that property should be divided among family members) are not in themselves sufficient to obstruct the development of free-market economies.

Nor is the Koran particularly concerned about inequalities of wealth; it gives no encouragement to the development of schemes for the redistribution of wealth. It specifically enjoins disciples not to "covet what Allah hath bestowed in bounty upon one more than another." It also stresses the ultimate equality of all in the sight of God. This might be construed as a particularly hopeful sign by those looking for the emergence of a capitalist Islam, because equality before the law is one of the most important prerequisites of free markets.

In his Islam and Capitalism, Maxime Rodinson argues that the failure of capitalism to emerge in the Islamic world cannot easily be attributed to Koranic teaching: "There are religions whose sacred texts discourage economic activity in general, counseling their followers to rely on God to provide them with their daily bread, or, more particularly, looking askance at any striving for profit. This is certainly not the case with the Koran, which looks with favor upon commercial activity, confining itself to condemning fraudulent practices and requiring abstention from trade during certain religious festivals. The Koran, as a present-day Muslim honestly sums up the position, does not merely say that one must not forget one's portion in this world, it also says that it is proper to combine the practice of religion and material life, carrying on trade even during pilgrimages, and goes so far as to mention commercial profit under the name of 'God's bounty.' " The Islamic prohibition of interest is often cited as a problem, but here the difficulty arises not within the Koran but with the subsequent interpretation of one word (riba), which most scholars believe means usury.

In fact, contrary to what many people imagine, a more "fundamentalist" approach by legal scholars, in which they can go back to the Koran itself rather than feeling obliged (as at present) to accept more recent interpretations, might be economically liberating. Daniel Pipes, the author of In the Path of God, believes that "the predicament is transitory, not inherent in the Islamic religion." If it were, he feels, Islam would not have been dominant in the world for several centuries after its founding.

Pipes thinks that the decline of Islam began approximately in the 15th century; others say it was earlier than that. A striking development did occur at about that time. Gradually, Islamic law was "frozen," so that the interpreters of the law could no longer apply their independent reasoning to it. They were obliged to live with the interpretation that had been reached when the "freeze" took place. This event is known to shari'a (religious law) scholars as "the closing of the gate of ijtihad"–ijtihad meaning "the struggle for understanding," or more simply the use of reason. It was replaced by taqlid, the submissive acceptance of earlier interpretation. Continued interpretation ceased because it was said to show disrespect for earlier jurists.

Taqlid brought with it serious problems. In U.S. terms, imagine that renewed interpretation of the law was stopped in 1900. The Supreme Court's doctrine of "separate but equal" facilities for the races would still be the law, because to change it would show disrespect for the Supreme Court of 1896, which handed down Plessy v. Ferguson. Notice that the "closing of the gate" is not a "fundamentalist" doctrine. It precisely does not permit scholars to examine problems in light of what the Koran says. Rather, it insists on preserving the worldview of the 15th century (or earlier). Perhaps this shutting down of the law does explain a curious feature of the Arab world, noted by many travelers, whether to Cairo, Damascus, or the Arab quarter of Old Jerusalem: the sense that these places exist as though frozen at some earlier period–perhaps when the law itself was "frozen."

Some Islamic scholars in the United States would like to see a restoration of ijtihad and are trying to bring it about. At the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Herndon, Virginia, scholars believe that the closing of the gate was a major cause of the decline of Islam. Taha al Alwani, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, believes that "the Muslim ummah [community] only entered its current crisis after ijtihad fell into disuse and was gradually replaced by taqlid." With independent thought no longer desired, law in the Muslim world became dominated by people of a subservient disposition who were attracted to the service of power. Al Ghazzali, writing in the 12th century, had already noticed that scholars of the Koran had gone "from being sought after to being seekers after, from being respected for their spurning the offers of rulers to their being scorned for their opportunism."

Taha al Alwani denounces the fallen state of the Muslim world in language that few non-Muslims would dare use today. "Muslims and non-Muslims alike are amazed that one of history's most advanced civilizations could fall into such a state of overwhelming wretchedness, ignorance, backwardness and overall decline," he wrote in 1991. "A civilization which has placed such emphasis on literacy and knowledge remains largely illiterate, an ummah which received such clear divine guidance remains mired in a mass of misunderstanding….Why does the ummah, blessed with all of the means and resources for economic prosperity, continue to suffer from abject poverty?" He believes that the ingrained deference to authority and the discouragement of reason that began with the "closing of the gate" is an important part of the explanation. "Basically we're trying to get Muslims to use their heads again," his assistant, Yusif de Lorenzo, told me.

Islam does present some problems for property rights. In particular, the Koran frowns on hoarding ("That which they hoard will be their collar on the Day of Resurrection"), and interpreters of Islamic law have consistently agreed that the injunction against hoarding applies to land. This is turn has led to a highly destructive "use it or lose it" interpretation of land tenure.

In "Property Rights in Contemporary Islamic Thought," published in the Review of Social Economy in 1989, Sohrab Behdad reports little disagreement among Islamic scholars that "plain or unworked land may not be privately owned by individuals. But one may claim priority in the use of such land by improving it with one's labor and capital." Continued "priority," however, will depend on continued use of the land. Someone with access to a patch of land who has failed to use it can be construed as hoarding it. Unworked land cannot be owned, and therefore cannot be rented. A hadith, or saying of the Prophet, is explicit on this point: "He who has land should cultivate it. If he will not or cannot, he should give it free to a Muslim brother and not rent it to him." The rental of cultivated land is acceptable, however.

If you can't own land until you have irrigated, drained, built upon, or planted it, these costly activities must be undertaken in an atmosphere of insecurity. Only a foolish homesteader will mix his labor and capital with a patch of desert, knowing that it was not his to begin with and that only with luck will he become its owner in the end. Such an arduous undertaking will only be undertaken if backed by the full assurance of the law. Given pervasive official corruption, it will not be undertaken at all. Rather than contribute to the unjust gains of their oppressors, the Arab fellahin (peasant) will sensibly remain inactive–even at the risk of being judged "fatalistic" by historians.

This dynamic, in turn, contributes to certain negative stereotypes of Arabs. Raphael Patai, in The Arab Mind (1983), refers to the Arab's "unwillingness to persevere for the purpose of deferred achievement" and to his "aversion to physical labor." Above all, Patai says, the Arab dislikes "tilling the soil, fighting its thorns and thistles, toiling and sweating to make it yield." The difficulty of obtaining property rights to land in the Arab world perhaps illuminates this aversion to labor.

This Arab stereotype was cruelly applied by a British army officer named C. S. Jarvis, governor of the Sinai in the 1930s. In his memoir, Three Deserts (1936), he wrote: "The Arab is sometimes called the Son of the Desert, but this is a misnomer as in most cases he is the Father of the Desert, having created it himself. The arid waste in which he lives and on which practically nothing will grow is the direct result of his appalling indolence….In his campaign of destruction, the Arab has been most loyally supported by his animals, the camel and the goat."

Jarvis failed to grasp the underlying disincentives and so misconstrued as idleness what may have been a rational response to despotism. And here the intriguing question arises: Is it pure coincidence that deserts flourish where such disincentives have persisted for centuries?

Nomadic herding is itself an indicator of tyranny and insecure property. It is an inefficient and arduous way of life and is likely to be replaced by farming when private property is secure. In The Arab World, William R. Polk writes that in the 19th century the Ottomans periodically induced tribesmen to settle: "Purchase of land was made extremely easy, bedouin and peasants were assisted with government loans." But then, with a "return to government exploitive practices," the peasants would again "abandon their newly acquired lands." Polk revealingly adds (but seems not to recognize the import of his comment): "It was only as the bedouin could be induced to settle and invest in immovable objects that they could be controlled." For "controlled," read "taxed," which is to say: expropriated.

Nomadic tribesmen are sometimes praised as "independent." As we might put it today, they preferred to evade their rulers by remaining in the "underground economy," i.e., the desert, where they were difficult to track down. There they would set up their own rules establishing who grazed where and when. With their animals, they would make their own contribution to the expansion of the desert, and then move on in timely fashion to other areas not yet reduced to dust.

C.S. Jarvis was not entirely wrong about the goat, as has been shown more recently in Israel. By 1967, less than 20 years after the founding of the state, the border dividing Israel and the West Bank was plainly visible from the air as a "green line," with farmland on one side and barren ground on the other. The West Bank border is still known in Israel as the Green Line. Daniel Doron, whose Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress is based in Jerusalem, says that in biblical times the hills of Judea and Samaria were terraced and cultivated. Heavy rains, when they came, didn't sluice away the top soil. But in the centuries following the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine, everything began to deteriorate. The goats of herdsmen would uproot young trees and vegetation, thereby inadvertently damming the terraced hills. Rainwater would build up and then burst through, washing away soil and stones and much patiently accumulated labor. Soon after the creation of Israel in 1948, the Jews started to restore the old terraces, and by the time of the 1967 war a Green Line was visible. (Although the government owns most of the land in Israel, Israelis have transferable leases that create de facto property rights.)

Goats have flourished in the Arab world precisely as a result of insecure property rights. The goat is a portable scavenger that can be sent out to forage on communal land, where it will find sustenance in the rockiest soil. Unlike a sheep, it will also return to its specific owner when called, and if necessary it can be kept indoors at night, where it will be safe from rival herdsmen and assorted enemies and thieves. The goat thereby enables its owner to "privatize" whatever meager resources may be available on the most inhospitable terrain. But it will also contribute to the destruction of that terrain. No one minds that, however, because no one owns the land anyway.

On the other hand, where private property is secure, where fencing is inexpensive, as it has been in the West since the invention of barbed wire, and where the policing of property is regarded as an important function of the state, sheep and cows will usually be preferred to goats for the provision of wool, meat, and milk. But in an unpoliced, beggar-thy-neighbor commons, these animals will either be very expensive or downright impossible to keep in private possession. So there is healthy demand for goats in the Islamic world.

Contemporary analysts have ignored the great problem of insecure property (and other) rights in the Muslim world for several reasons. In the 20th century, just as the Ottoman Empire came to its end, private property itself fell into disrepute among many Western intellectuals and was, until recently, an unexamined institution. Western countries embraced socialism, enabling–and in many cases directly encouraging–Arab rulers to do the same. This allowed modern tyrants to go on doing what their predecessors had always done–taking the property of their rivals and allowing their kinsmen to take what they could while they had a chance. Arab rulers who engaged in these practices were praised as "progressive" by Western intellectuals who had forgotten, or perhaps had never known, that the security of property was the principal cause of the wealth of the West.

A second problem is that the security of property depends on the rule of law. "Islamic law" is frequently written about as though it were really comparable to Western law, differing only in the details. This is far from the case, however. Islamic law is primarily advisory and theoretical–law that lacks the force of law. Joseph Schacht, a noted scholar of the subject, has acknowledged the point, conceding that Islamic law "is to some extent content with mere theoretical acknowledgment," and "was never supported by an organized power." Court decisions might reflect the consensus of the ulema, or legal scholars, but then again they might not.

"As long as the Sacred Law received formal recognition as a religious ideal, it did not insist on being fully applied in practice," Schacht writes. Islamic law has an "impressive number of legal concepts," but these are derived "not from the concrete realities of legal life, but from abstract thought."

For this reason, theoreticians of Islamic law often tend to be unilluminating about what is happening in the real world. They will reassure you that the Koran has nothing against private property but will remain mute about the great gap between theory and practice. Two-thirds of the way through his Law Reform in the Muslim World (1976), the British scholar Norman Anderson enters the "major caveat" that "all over the world there is a yawning gulf between the law that lawyers learn and expound and the way in which this law is–or is not–applied in real life." The scholar who blows this whistle too loudly, however, is in danger of undermining the significance of his own field.

In the end, it may not be possible to pinpoint the "root cause"–whether religious, ethnic, customary, or cultural–that gives rise to this crucial difference between the Islamic and Western worlds. But what we can certainly say is that the insecurity of property alone, for whatever cause, is sufficient to explain the great disparity of material wealth between the two societies. Human nature is basically the same everywhere, and it can be confidently predicted that wherever property is insecure, society will be impoverished and will be unable to attain the level of development reached in the West.

Both critics outside the Muslim world and liberal activists within it have taken aim at the lack of civil rights, especially for women, in these countries. But they have overlooked that property rights are among the most important of the civil rights that these governments fail to protect. Because we are not disembodied beings, civil rights in the absence of property rights don't get us very far at all.

Tom Bethell, Washington editor of The American Spectator, is writing a book on property.