Rejecting pleas by homeowners fighting to keep their properties, the Supreme Court on Thursday said local governments could condemn a person’s home or business so the sites could be redeveloped for more lucrative uses. ~Chicago Tribune

The Tribune’s phrasing of the first sentence captures the matter surprisingly well for a modern piece of journalistic writing. The protection of property rights is not “lucrative” enough, and now apparently lucre has become the most important standard by which we weigh the just claims of the homesteader. I have never been thrilled at the prospect that a government could take my property for the sake of a utility plant or a public road, but I could at least grant that there is some interest in the common good at work here, however well or poorly it may be applied.

Here there is the illusion of seeking the common good, while really perverting the purpose of eminent domain to the benefit of limited private interests: “revitalising” a neighbourhood by driving its inhabitants out of their homes for yet another faceless strip mall, shopping center or set of chain stores serves the common good only if we measure that good in terms of money and not the life and integrity of a community, and perhaps not even then. What is more, we can be fairly sure that this “revitalisation” benefits the area only marginally, where the land of the small property owner becomes instead an outpost for some multinational or chain that can, and will, depart when it finds “more lucrative uses” for another site. That is the mechanical, efficient logic of corporations, and it never has the best interests of any community at heart.

In New London, Connecticut, it will be hotel, housing and office developments in the shadow of a Pfizer facility. Those developments will probably not even appreciably improve the economic life of New London, though it may improve the revenues of the city. Besides, property rights are not something to be traded away even for a general higher rate of economic growth. They are the last defense against the encroachment of government and corporations, the poor man’s shield as well as his vehicle to a more prosperous life, and they are the fortification that secures the domestic castle against attacks from outside. To weaken those rights or take them away is one of the most grievous acts of tyranny imaginable.