Monday, 9 April 2012

On Chen Hurng-yu's (陳鴻瑜) Locke Editorial

The Taipei Times also published a guest editorial today, translated by Paul Cooper, by professor Chen Hurng-yu (陳鴻瑜) Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of Asian Studies. I am inclined to chase up his original piece in Mandarin because although it is generally the right sort of thing - he cites Locke in a supposed defence of property rights - some of the things he says in this piece are so strange as to make me want to rule out translation error. I don't know Paul Cooper or Chen Hurng-yu (陳鴻瑜), but I can't decide which is more likely: error in the translation, or error in the original. I read this piece from a position of some knowledge - as I still have my dog-eared copy of Locke's "Two Treatises On Government" somewhere on the bookshelf behind me. Right now though I haven't got time for more than a quick fisk...
"For this kind of thing to happen [the forced eviction of the Wangs under the Urban Renewal Act - ed], and for a law of this nature to be on the books despite Taiwan’s robust democracy, is not only regrettable, it borders on inconceivable."
Unless that use of "inconceivable" is meant simply as light hyperbole (entirely unnecessary: the last clause should simply read "is outrageous and regrettable"), then the reader must presume parochial ignorance: every developed western country has similar legal provisions, including the United States.
"I would like to approach this question from the perspective of property rights and how they work within a system of constitutional government to illuminate the relationship between the guarantees of protection of property and the right to be free from fear."
The right ot be free from fear..? That doesn't even make any kind of sense: fear is a subjective emotion and therefore any "right" premised upon it can mean anything - or nothing at all. The silly woman at the park who is afraid of dogs had her rights violated when she merely saw my dogs walking by?
"The 17th-century English philosopher John Locke was a major advocate of freedom of speech, regarded as an important liberal thinker in early 18th-century Britain and known for his position that people are justified in resisting the unwarranted use of power against them. According to Locke, if a government supports usurpers or engages in despotic actions, then it loses its legitimacy to govern and people are free to oppose it."
Any introduction to Locke that confines his influence to "early 18th Century Britain" must necessarily raise suspicion because of what it elides: Locke's influence is far greater than that and spans two revolutions almost a century apart: the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 in which the Earl of Shaftesbury and others moved to depose the reigning King and invited William Of Orange to assume the throne and accept principled limitations to his rule, and the American Revolution in 1776 wherein Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence bears the explicit infuence of Locke viz the legitimacy of governments deriving from consent.
"Locke’s ideas on property rights formed the underpinnings of Western capitalist and socialist systems."
My god. The whole point of "socialist systems" is that there are no property rights, only grants of privilege that can be rescinded in the name of the common good.
"According to Locke, political society is founded on the protection of such rights, being at once the goal of government and the reason why individuals choose to participate in society."
This really is bad: individuals participate in society for all kinds of reasons (e.g. food, courtship, intellectual stimulation, friendship, sports and so on and on and on...) not merely the protection of property rights.
"Locke even placed the foundations of morality on individual property rights, believing that the violation of these rights constitutes an injustice."
That's not quite right either; the foundation of morality rests with self-ownership - you own yourself - and property rights, via labour, are a derivation from this premise, as are the rights to free expression and free association. To claim that Locke founded all of morality on property rights is a child's reading.

Chen Hurng-yu then leaves Locke and works his way onto the present situation in Taiwan subsequent to the theft of the Wangs' home in Taipei...
"A democratic government should only overrule citizens’ property rights when actions are required to ensure the continued public interest or for reasons of national security."
That's his opinion, and I say he's wrong. Both "public interest" and "national security" are vague and ill-defined terms that are transparently open to abuse: politicians can just make any old shit up and call it the "public interest" (e.g. "urban renewal"). More than that though, only individuals have "interests": to the extent that there is a "public" interest, it is in respect of truly collective threats such as contagious disease - otherwise there is only majority opinon however much this may be salved through stipulation to regulatory procedures.
"It should be added that the means to determine when property rights can be superseded has to be legislated for, adequate compensation should be provided and, most importantly, the action must be authorized by public law and carried out by government institutions."
So... there we have it: so much for a defence of property rights - all that quoting of Locke was for nothing for Chen Hurng-yu doesn't actually want property rights, he wants only contingent privileges that can be rescinded through legislation - so long as the proles are thrown a gold coin or two "for their cares". And look - "authorized by public law and carried out by government institutions" - the demolition of the Wangs' home was authorized by public law (the Ubran Renewal Act) and was carried out by government institutions. Here, and I quote this to you from Loa Iok-sin's leader report today (emphases mine):
"...because more than 75 percent of the property owners on the block agreed to the project, the Wangs’ homes were forcefully demolished on March 28 by a demolition squad sent by the city government. The demolition squad was escorted by more than 1,000 police officers."
The facts over the demolition are elided in this guest editorial apparently because Chen Hurng-yu wants to pull this move...
"It certainly cannot be carried out on the approval of a majority of people within a designated area and neither can the authorities invest private companies or institutions with the power to deny citizens their property rights."
It is not Le Young Construction that has violated the Wangs' property rights - Le Young couldn't do that on their own even if they wanted to - it was the Taipei City government as legally empowered by the democratically sanctioned "Urban Renewal Act" and by the democratic sanction of the Wangs' neighbours. This is a downright disgraceful evasion of the facts, and if I can I will have either Chen Hurng-yu or Paul Cooper - whichever of them is responsible - answer this.
"This legislation, allowing for the oppression of the few by the majority, rides roughshod over constitutional guarantees of equality and the individual’s right to freedom from fear."
The constitution "guarantees" nothing; everything depends upon whether the public apprehends the ideological nature of what is happening; this is an instance of economic predation made possible by the very same principle of democratic sanction that the Left have elevated for so long.
"There is no need for a constitutional interpretation, which can be time-consuming, to deal with this matter. Any legislator or political party with democratic credentials could propose for this unfair, unjust legislation to be either amended or scrapped altogether."
It is precisely those "democratic credentials" that are the problem, and if the insincere appeals to Locke were anything other than an impertinent opening riff, what would have been stated here is "liberal credentials".

I will chase up the Mandarin original when I have time to see if there may be translation error at work here. All for now.


Update: I got hold of the original Chinese version - the translation checks out, more or less and so the whole appalling thing has to be attributed to professor Chen; I would score it as an F even for an undergraduate.

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