Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: property

The Problem of Giving

We do not quite forgive the giver. The hands that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Gifts

The problem of giving is profound and double-edged. If we are the recipient of a gift there is a danger that we see our own need as a weakness (which it is not) and this then erodes our sense of our own value. If we are the giver then the danger is that we view our gift as some subtraction from ourselves (which it is not) and that we feel a pride and superiority to which we are not entitled.

One approach to this problem is to deny the reality of property (the property as theft argument). But this leaves us all poorer – or all subject to whatever power is in the business of organising property (the state, the market or the gangster).

A better approach is to welcome the concept of property and the notion of property rights but to recognise that property rights are not absolute. Property rights must be balanced with other social rights in order to ensure that everyone has the right to enough – even if some have more and some have less.

Paradoxically the healthiest perspective is to recognise that everything is a gift – not from other human beings – but from God. Humility before God takes nothing away from the soul.

Dignity Comes First

If you take a cloak from a neighbour as a pledge you must return it to him before sunset, for it is the only covering for his body and what else has to sleep in. If he shouts out to me I will hear him with mercy. 

Exodus 22: 26-27

In other words no debt entitles you to rob another of their basic rights, including their dignity. The cloak is also a symbol of our social covering – the means by which we maintain our dignity and appear with respect before others. Property rights exist – but they are not fundamental and they must be limited by the demands of basic human rights and our shared human dignity.

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