This is a new blog dedicated to addressing issues and ideas from the perspective of freedom, natural rights and non-aggression.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Vagrancy, Disorderly Conduct and the Nature of “Public” Property

                The question of the legitimacy of “vagrancy” or “disorderly conduct” laws is really a deeper fundamental inquiry into the nature of public property. More specifically, who is it that really “owns” public property? Is it (a) all of the citizens of the state own an equally minute share of each space of public property; or (b) the actual institution of the state owns all public property entirely?
In the instance of (a), two possible resolutions to the question of vagrancy laws are possible. Firstly and simply, if every citizen is an owner of public property then there is no justification for any laws restricting the use of the property as the citizen is a rightful co-owner of that land, unless there is a voluntary contract made in which each citizen explicitly agrees to the hypothetical restriction. Clearly this is not a logical answer as it leaves us with the inevitable circumstance of conflict between the many owners on the proper use of the property. Therefore, we must assume that no one co-owner of the public property has carte blanche authority to use it in whatever way they wish, rather, as with co-owned private property, there must be a universal consensus of the owners on how the property will be used. If there were to be a universal consensus of the owners restricting something such as “vagrancy”, then we see how such a law could come into place. However, this is not how these rules have come into place in the past, and the impractically of such a consensus in a largely populated society makes the reason for this obvious.
                Thus we find ourselves favoring notion (b), that of public property as state-owned property. The vagrant does not make direct contractual agreement to the criminality of his vagrancy, and the vagrant is not permitted to refrain from participation in the system of law enacted and enforced by the state, even on his own private property. Therefore, he cannot be construed as to being a part owner of the land owned by the state, as he has no direct involvement in the decisions regarding its use and likewise cannot be interpreted as being some sort of shareholder as he has been forced into association with the state, and is forced to make the contributions that it sees fit.
                Thus, vagrancy and disorderly conduct law can be seen to have some legitimacy as a sort of trespassing policy on public land. Because in reality, public property is not really public at all, as the public is not the owner, rather, it is the private property of the state, and to the extent that the state allows its citizens to utilize that property is its own prerogative. The state may be motivated to be more gracious with the property in respect to the citizens in order to keep them satisfied with their form of governance.
                However, in a democratic system, one can see how easily a law that may target a minority group of the citizenry-something that a vagrancy or disorderly conduct law is very capable of doing-could come into existence without objection, and even with the express approval of the majority. Even with the restraints of a written constitution, a government is only bound in that it needs the approval of the majority of its citizenry and to the extent that it can subvert the restrictions of its charter without their disapproval, or with their approval, it will. Thus, like the private property of a business, that state’s incentive to allow its citizens to have a say in the use of its own property is for its own self-sustenance, but this does not make that property any less private or safe from unjust or discriminatory rules regarding its use.
                From this we can come to one of  two conclusions. If public (state-owned) property is just, then vagrancy or disorderly conduct laws are equally just vis-à-vis natural law and property rights. If public (state-owned) property is unjust, due to the involuntary means by which the state sustains itself, then vagrancy and disorderly conduct laws are wholly unjust as well, along with all other legislative law. In other words, either the state has a justified carte blanche authority over its property to do whatever is in its best interests as long as it follows a just form of punishment for property crime, or the state has no justified authority over anything whatsoever. There is no middle ground from an ethical standpoint.

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