Mr. Mugabe Goes to Washington

Keeping track of the global depredations of statism is practically a full-time job that offers little comfort for the faint of heart. One of the most recent outrages occurred last week in the African nation of Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, the long-time dictator of that despondent land, unleashed his police on numerous impoverished regions in a demented effort at "urban renewal."

Alexandra Zavis of AP reports

At a series of news conferences in Africa and at the United Nations on Thursday, more than 200 international human rights and civic groups said the campaign known as Operation Murambatsvina, was “a grave violation of international human rights law and a disturbing affront to human dignity.”

The groups, including London-based Amnesty International and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, released footage showing bewildered families sleeping in the open in the winter cold after police torched and bulldozed their township homes. Street markets were also targeted and the stalls were left in smouldering ruins.

Police prevent journalists from filming the demolition campaign, so the footage was collected clandestinely by the church-based Solidarity Peace Trust.

According to numerous published reports, Mugabe’s henchmen have left nearly 1.5 million people homeless. The government claims that the effort is aimed at "vagrants" and "black marketeers."

Zavis reports that the program’s critics are suggesting ulterior motives:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s political opposition, which has its base among the urban poor, says the month-long campaign is meant to punish its supporters for voting against the ruling party in recent parliamentary elections.

Not content to merely destroy homes and leave hordes of people exposed to the elements of southern Africa’s cold winter, the Zimbabwean police are reportedly forcing residents to destroy their own homes or to pay the police for the cost of the demolitions. The program reached its nadir last week when two small girls were killed by a bulldozer after the authorities had failed to evacuate them from their shanty.

This sorry tale is the ultimate endpoint of government run amok. Without any solid tradition of private property or limited, constitutional government, the downtrodden people of Zimbabwe are left to the tender mercies of whatever thug happens to rule at any particular moment.

Sadly, I was prepared to write this off as yet another African atrocity when news broke right here in the USA that should give everyone cause for reflection.

Specifically, the Supreme Court on Thursday issued a ruling in Kelo et al. v. City of New London that will live in infamy as one of the most outrageously despicable pieces of judicial logic in our nation’s history. In that case, the city of New London, Connecticut argued that it should be allowed to use "eminent domain" to seize citizens’ houses for the purpose of "urban renewal."

In the past, eminent domain has been strictly limited to public projects allegedly being undertaken for the "public good." Under this concept, Americans have long been forced to sell their houses to make way for such things as schools or highways. While many find even this notion to be troublesome, its utilization in only a limited set of circumstances kept it within the bounds of tolerance.

This new ruling permits the concept of eminent domain to metastasize into virtually any realm that local governments deem desirable. In the case of New London, citizens will be forced to abandon their homes to make way for a commercial real estate development. The government is thus permitted to run a kind of rogue fencing operation in which private property is seized and redistributed to private interests under the color of law.

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the ultimate endpoint of this practice. Everyone’s home is now a potential target. At any time, influential real estate developers may mark anyone’s house for demolition to make room for shopping centers or condominium complexes. All they need are a few friendly local politicians willing to invoke eminent domain.

While the intended uses of this concept are unsavory enough, the possibilities for abuse are limitless. What if a citizen should happen to offend a local politico? What if a city council targets neighborhoods which have supported its political opponents? Perhaps city governments will realize that they can collect more taxes from strip malls than from various residential neighborhoods.

Justice O’Connor made this very point in her dissent:

“Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.”

This ruling strikes at the very heart of American property rights.

Interestingly, the justices who ruled in favor of the city were also the most liberal (Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer.)

While it might seem unusual that the left wing of the court would vote to gut property rights in a manner that will be used most frequently against the powerless and politically unconnected, this sordid tale of judicial skullduggery illustrates an important libertarian point.

Specifically, many libertarians have spent the better part of two years lambasting the evils of neoconservative governance. Neocon rule has been marked by mind-numbing propaganda, senseless wars, corrupt government contractor scandals, and blatant attacks on our constitutional liberties. Over that time, I have received countless emails from Democrats lamenting the electoral victory of George W Bush and praying for the rise of a Democratic president and congress.

As this ruling illustrates, the problem in our country is not centered in the Republican or the Democratic Party…but rather in the Republican and the Democratic Parties. Each in their own sordid way, both parties have become enamored with the ideology of statism. Neither party coherently defends the traditional rights and liberties of the American people. The Republicans have become acolytes of the national security state, complete with warrantless searches, extrajudicial imprisonments, and the torture of detained suspects. The Democrats have long since sold their souls to the almighty power of government. Their taxes, regulations, and general disdain for any reasonable constitutional limitations on the jurisdiction of our government should be obvious to all.

No one should thus be surprised that the five most liberal justices on the Supreme Court voted to empower local governments to crush the basic rights of American homeowners. The government is their God, and in making this ruling, they were merely worshipping at its altar.

The hideous situation in Zimbabwe shows us the bankrupt endpoint of a society that respects neither individual liberty nor private property rights. When these rights are eliminated, society is left with only the law of the jungle (i.e., might makes right).

Some time ago, Justice Ginsburg stated that she would begin citing judicial rulings from other nations (and international organizations) in her Supreme Court opinions. She claimed that this was an effort to "harmonize" our courts with those outside America.

Little did we know that the crazed potentate of a corrupt sub-Saharan banana republic would be one of her primary legal resources. Nevertheless, while the court’s version may be somewhat more genteel, the jurisprudence of Robert Mugabe is now the law of the land.