Mapping the Terrain
“A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams.” - Gilbert H. Grosvenor, Editor of National Geographic (1903-1954)
Homesteading and the Recognition of Ownership
The homestead principle is the concept that the first user of any given resource should be recognized as the owner of that resource. A person who enters an unoccupied territory and begins to farm the soil, for example, will have “homesteaded” the soil and should be recognized as the owner until they either sell, gift or abandon their claim.
More broadly and with regard to land, once any terrestrial resource is homesteaded and a border declared around the encompassing land, ownership of other resources on that plot are usually recognized as property of the original homesteader as well. This is a practical arrangement that helps minimize conflict and protects the value of any improvements that the land owner might make.
This is not to say that it is necessary for there to be a single static owner of all resources within a given plot. The original inhabitant, for example, could assign or sell rights to various other resources within that plot, granting one party the right to drill for water while giving another party the right to mine. The original homesteader would also have the right to transfer ownership of the land, and some or all resources within, to another party as long as the transfer did not violate any standing agreements with other stakeholders.
Boundaries: Negotiation vs Aggression
The musician Wynton Marsalis describes jazz as a series of negotiations. Each player may have his or her own agenda but will work in harmony with others in a shared desire to produce something moving . Similarly, philosopher Gerard Casey describes property ownership as a relationship between two or more people and an object of desire, recognizing the importance of peaceful interactions and agreements . In both examples we find that harmonious order requires individuals to work together to recognize and respect each other's creative output, both through negotiation and the establishment of boundaries.
It is through peaceful negotiations among neighbors that difficult topics such as the physical range of a claim, methods of demarcation and techniques for resolving potential conflicts can be amicably worked out. All of this can be done without the coercive interference of government.
The so called “Wild West” of the 19th century U.S., for example, was actually much more peaceful under the governance of private enterprise and law enforcement than we have been led to believe. Land clubs and claims associations were often established to protect property rights long before the arrival of any “official” government . Similarly, complicated issues such as the management of radio frequencies were already being worked out in the U.S. in the 1920’s before the federal government laid claim to the entire radio spectrum. Independent standards associations such as the IEEE-SA, whose founding organizations go back to the late 19th century, are fully capable of negotiating and establishing standards for a wide range of wireless electronic devices and others technologies without the oversight or control of any government .
The Destructive Force of Government
Unfortunately, when governments establish boundaries or attempt to exert control over land or other resources, they usually do so by force and with little or no consultation of the people impacted. In the 16th and 17th centuries the European powers laid claim to millions of square miles of territory in the Americas, Africa and other places. This land was sold, traded and fought over with little or no consideration for the legitimate property claims of the tens of millions of original occupants, often agriculturalists that had homesteaded and occupied large tracts of the land centuries earlier.
The impact of this atrocious disregard for property rights has reverberated through the centuries and continues to have consequences to this very day. The desire for land reform among the dispossessed in areas such as Central America often plays into the hands of politicians espousing collectivist “solutions” such as communism and socialism. Instead of trying to resolve the complicated legal claims of the peasants, the collectivist governments instead take claim of property “in the name of the people” and create even greater impoverishment through mismanagement, political favoritism and the inherent inefficiency of centralized control.
The arrogant disregard by the European powers, and eventually the United States, towards the property rights and the historical claims of peoples in territories they ruled continued well into the twentieth century. The end of World War I, for example, saw reckless and unsupportable boundaries drawn in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Often very different tribes and peoples where thrown together into a single country as was the case with Yugoslavia. In other situations, groups like the Kurds found themselves separated by new borders, in their case into the countries of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. This historical disregard for the desires and legal claims of original occupants continues to have repercussions across the globe.
- The Homestead Principle is the application of the first use rule.
- The government practice of Eminent Domain is a violation of the homestead principle and the NAP.
1. ^ "The real power of Jazz is that a group of people can come together and create improvised art and negotiate their agendas... and that negotiation is the art" - Wynton Marsalis from Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns.
2. ^ "Ownership is not something that can be seen, heard or touched. It is a trilateral relationship among persons in relation to an object" - Gerard Casey from Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State.
3. ^ "Was the “Wild West” Really So Wild?" - 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask by Tom Woods.
Photograph of Waldemar Kurpiński & Tress Jazz band in Tygmont Club, Warsaw, Poland by Andrzej Barabasz at Commons.Wikipedia.org.