The connection between people’s possessions and their dignity

“Regarding property as sacred and inviolable does not protect human dignity; it diminishes it. It elevates material things above human dignity, above individual human rights.”

This is a continuation of an earlier post. You can find it here: https://haroonsidat.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/equality-and-the-sanctity-of-property-rights/

There is certainly a connection between people’s possessions and their dignity. That relation is an interesting one: it becomes stronger as the number of possessions diminishes. Christian teaching recognised that “the widow’s mite” surpasses the lavish contributions of the wealthy. People are more shocked by thefts from the poor than by thefts from the wealthy. They should be. Theft is a crime in both cases, but thefts from the poor are likely to do more harm. The lives of the poor are more precarious. A theft can mean the difference between eating and starving, getting to the hospital or not. Even less burdensome threats do more harm to the poor. The poor have less to lose, so each loss weighs more heavily. Dignity depends (though it should not) on maintaining appearances, on the ability to appear as one among equals, without making vulnerability or misfortune visible to any passerby. A rich person can replace a shirt or a tie or pair of shoes (or, for that matter, an insured yet or a yacht). Human dignity is never in question. The poor may struggle to replace a stolen jacket.

Regarding property as sacred and inviolable does not protect human dignity; it diminishes it. It elevates material things above human dignity, above individual human rights. Once slaveholders insisted on their sacred and inviolable right to their human “property.” That is now regarded as shocking and perverse, and no more shocking, than a defence of property that tolerates putting human dignity – and human lives – in danger. In altering the classical liberal understanding of property to elevate possessions above persons, we have distorted the meaning of liberalism.

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One thought on “The connection between people’s possessions and their dignity

  1. Pingback: Equality and the sanctity of property rights | hāroonsidāt

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