Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Oct/07

9

Senator Coleman, when did Karl Marx replace John Locke in our public discourse?

Note: cross-posted at The Right Angle http://www.humanevents.com/rightangle/index.php?p=25070

Friday, October 5 Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) spoke at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on attempts to revive the Fairness Doctrine.

I doubt that I have yet heard a more eloquent, well-thought-out defense of the First Amendment and the free market in media from a public figure.

Senator Coleman warned that with the next election only a year away, and the prospect of a Democratic administration, a revival of the so-called Fairness Doctrine could be “only one FCC commissioner away.”

“The idea of bringing it back today is not just a bad idea, but a dangerous idea” Coleman said.

Senator Coleman cited some surprising sources concerning the “chilling effect” of the Fairness Doctrine when it was in effect from 1949 to 1967: JFK and Dan Rather.

Though no doubt some would see benefits from a revival, “All the implications I can see or envision are negative,” Coleman said.

Senator Coleman warned that if every broadcaster who deals with opinions was worried that a bureaucrat with a stopwatch and a notepad was listening to insure “fairness” the effect would be to dumb down our political discourse as broadcasters simply chose not to take the risk and stuck to entertainment and celebrity gossip. As to charges that talk radio was unbalanced, Senator Coleman replied that much of the supposed imbalance was due to the market, “Air America just wasn’t very good – and that’s the reality.”

So, given that I liked almost everything the Senator said, why was I so disturbed by one remark he made in his presentation?

Senator Coleman was describing an exchange he had on the senate floor about the Fairness Doctrine. He told how he answered a series of questions, beginning with “Do you agree that…?” in the affirmative, while nonetheless disagreeing with the conclusion that the Fairness Doctrine was a good idea.

One of the questions was, “Do you agree that the airwaves are the common property of the American people?”

To which he answered, “Yes.”

So when did Karl Marx replace John Locke in defining our political principles?

“Common property of the American people?” What utter nonsense!

Our American concept of property was defined by John Locke. Unexploited resources are not property, they belong to no one – until someone “mixes his labor” with them and makes them the property of those who first develop them and use them productively.

Of course there are caveats and hard cases. Locke specified that the developer must leave “as much and as good,” and he did not deal with the notion of conserving nature in a wild state for our future enjoyment. But the basic principles of property rights he defined as, natural resources plus labor equals property.

Is there a role for government? Of course! On the American frontier, when there were multitudes streaming into a largely empty continent in search of free land, the federal government passed the Homestead Act, which defined the conditions of use necessary to stake a claim, registered the claims to keep conflict to a minimum, and set a limit on the size of claims. (This limit later became a problem when settlement passed beyond the rich, well-watered lands of the Ohio River valley to the more arid lands of the Southwest.)

In the 1930s the federal government could have adapted this established precedent to the exploitation of the airwaves. Instead they chose to throw it aside and take up the newly fashionable doctrines of Marxism, with its notions of “common property” of mankind. Common property means in practice that it belongs to the bureaucrats who permit it to be used on sufferance.

I am not accusing Senator Coleman of being a crypto-Marxist, far from it. I applaud his principled defense of the First Amendment and the free market in media. I hope he gives Al Franken the drubbing he deserves in the next election and I’d certainly vote for him if I lived in Minnesota.

What I’m saying is, this pernicious nonsense has become so entrenched in our political discourse that we accept it unthinkingly. And if it remains unquestioned, it will inevitably destroy those First Amendment rights in spite of all the persuasive arguments the Senator so eloquently put forth.

P.S. I say “eloquent” with a bit of surprise. As in it’s surprising how many congresscritturs you meet here are only adequate speakers. Sen. Coleman actually used the word “oxymoron” correctly.

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1 comment

  • Galt-In-Da-Box · October 13, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Actually, Karl Marx has been way too much a part of public discourse since a major implementation of his ideology in 1932, and more of it was rammed down America’s throat from 1964-68.
    You don’t have to pay annual rent on your own property, especially at gunpoint!
    With the “expansion” of the definition of public domain during the current socialist-right President’s watch, the new dictionary definition of personal property should read “Whatever Der Schtaat has not decided to deprive you of as yet”.

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