Ethics of Thieves

Olavo de CarvalhoJornal da Tarde, March 27th, 2003


Theft is the non-consensual deprivation of another’s property. This definition, universally accepted, implies that property obtained through buying, inheritance, donation or finding without an owner, is legitimate in itself. Property existed much before State existed, and when the latter came to be it was with the objective of protecting property according to the pre-existing concept. No human society, before socialism, was unaware or revoked property as such. Its recognition is so universal that it is not an exaggeration to say that it constitutes a fundamental human instinct.

The socialist ethic has it that, on the contrary, property is only legitimate with the concession of State, which means that it is illegitimate in itself and only becomes legitimate per accidens. Non-consensually taking some property, therefore, is not illegitimate in itself, but it only becomes illegitimate per accidens, when the State does not legitimate its transfer from the one stolen from to the stealer.

The conclusion is inevitable: socialism is, in essence, an ethic of thieves.

But, for the socialists, the proprietors themselves are the ones who were the thieves before the socialist state. In other words, the human structure which fundaments the right of property is essentially evil and corrupt, having to be substituted by a new structure that only the socialist State can create.

This new structure assumes the suppression of all pre-existent properties and their redistribution by the socialist State. What was property becomes theft and what was theft becomes property.

But in what did consist, substantially, the crime of the proprietors? Their crime was that of stealing the prerogatives of a State that did not exist yet: they were guilty of not having invented the socialist doctrines.

Thus, those who were pure and simple apologists of theft from the human structure point of view, from their own point of view suddenly become the first honest example of the human species, the harbingers of the first and only just society.

This reasoning is so skillful and complex that those who adopt it end up becoming ensnared in endless contradictions – and I am not referring to merely logical contradictions, but to existential ones: contradictions that do not only invalidate reasoning, but bring about a short-circuit which neutralizes and sterilizes it completely, that is if it does not make it a generator of shame.

An example of this is the double attitude of da Silva’s government concerning property rights: on the one hand, it wants to give definitive ownership for those who occupy the lands of Rio’s hills; on the other hand it wants to liberate the invasion of lands in the countryside.

To legalize old ownerships and, in a more general way, to rationalize the formal ownership system in force in a country is a sanitizing measure and is worth of applause.

Lands owned through illegal or semi-legal ways cannot be converted into capital: they are dead wealth. A study made in many underdeveloped countries by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, shows that, put together, all the land properties of the poor are much larger than the total assets of the richer classes. Theoretically, the poor should have then all the means to get rich. The difference is that the assets of the rich have legal registry and the poor’s are mere possessions, of doubtful legal value. In the US, any poor person who wants to open a business starts by mortgaging his small home. In Brazil or Bolivia or in Egypt, nobody can do that because the the formal property system is chaotic, and impossible bureaucratic barriers keep almost all the poor people’s wealth in a permanent state of illegality or semi-legality. Conclusion: they cannot produce capital. They are condemned to poverty.

The government’s idea to legalize the lands of the slums, would immediately transform thousands of slum dwellers into small potential entrepreneurs.

But, what value can this healthy recognition of the social benefits of property have, if at the same time private property is virtually abolished through the liberation of the invasions? Is it about improving the situation of the poor, or, as Lenin would say, “strengthening the contradictions”? Either this government is crazy or its intention is not to solve problems: it is to create them to produce a social crisis.

Translation: Fábio Lins - Proof Reading: Jacqueline Baca