We are often told that property rights must occasionally be sacrificed for the “common good”. According to advocates of this position, we must find a balance between what is good for “the community” and the uncompromised protection of individual rights.
What this really means is, individual rights are merely permissions that can be withdrawn any time “the community” decides that it is necessary. Which means, there are no individual rights.
Consider the following example: You live in a neighborhood of 100 homes. Your neighbors decide that they don’t like your landscaping–it isn’t consistent with other homes in the neighborhood. After a debate, 51 of your neighbors reach a decision–you must plant more azaleas. You protest that your property rights–the right to use your property as you choose–have been violated. Your neighbors respond that the “common good” requires such a sacrifice. Besides, they will “compromise” and allow you to pick the color of the azaleas.
But this is not a compromise–you don’t want any azaleas. Your judgment has been usurped by a consensus of your neighbors for the “common good,” which they can define in any manner they choose.
The fact is, “common good” or “public welfare” or any similar term is undefinable. It can be anything the “community” or the “public” chooses, which means, it is nothing in particular. If, at some future point, your neighbors decide that hibiscus are more to their liking, that choice can be imposed upon you in the name of the “common good”.
And while they debate how you may use your property, they evade the fact that you are a part of the community. They ignore the fact that according to your judgment, azaleas are not good. They pretend that their judgment, standards, and values may be forced upon you.
This situation may seem absurd, and it is. But this is precisely what the advocates of the “common good” suggest. If property rights may be sacrificed whenever a consensus can be developed, then property rights are under a perpetual attack. There is nothing to limit what a noisy gang may do.