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If a citizen from country A purchases land in country B, does the government of country A have a legitimate role in protecting its citizen's property from, let's say, nationalization by country B?

If the governments of country A and country B get into a legal dispute over these property rights, who is the final arbiter?

asked Oct 02 '12 at 13:15

user890's gravatar image


edited Jul 26 '13 at 19:52

There are a few answers on this site that it's NOT immoral to attack a country that does not recognize the rights of its citizens (e..g, American Indians, Iran). If you get an answer of NO to this question, you may want to follow up with another question on whether it would be immoral and illegal to raise a private army to take back your property from the foreign country.

(Oct 02 '12 at 13:25) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

The question does not specify the nature of the respective governments. In Objectivism, that is a crucial evaluation for reaching a conclusion about "legitimate role in protecting citizens' property rights." Objectivism does not accept the "multi-culturalism" premise that no objective basis exists for evaluating one government as morally superior to another. Objectivism evaluates governments according to whether or not they uphold individual rights, and how consistently.

The question seems to be seeking a "one size fits all" answer without reference to the nature of the countries involved. For example:

  • The question mentions citizens ('A') in country 'C1' who own property in country 'C2'. What does it mean to "own property" in a country, C2, that violates the right to property (as recognized by country C1)? How is ownership of property possible in C2 if C2 doesn't uphold individual rights?

  • The question mentions citizens 'A' in country C1 who purchase land in country C2. What does it mean to "purchase" something in a country, C2, that nationalizes the property (takes it over) after the alleged "purchase"? How was a "purchase" possible, and from whom? Was the land originally owned by the government of country C2, but then that government reneged on the purchase and took back control of the land without any compensation to the "purchaser"? That would be a clear breach of contract in country C1. How else is the victim supposed to obtain justice if country C1 fails to act on its citizens' behalf?

  • The question mentions a "legal dispute" between governments over property rights. If there is no higher legal system in force, such as by treaty and/or international court of law, then it's likely to be the kind of issue that could lead to war, particularly if the issue concerns outright nationalization of property in country C2 owned by citizens 'A' of country C1.

If country C1 is a free country with a proper government, and country C2 is a dictatorship, the Objectivist view is very succinctly summarized in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "National Rights." Here are some key points:

  • "Dictatorship nations are outlaws." (From "Collectivized Rights," VOS, Chap. 13.)

  • A free country has the right, but not the duty, to invade or otherwise counter-attack any "slave pen" dictatorship that attacks the citizens of the free country. This would include cases of nationalization of property that was sold to a free country's citizens in a foreign country, where the buyers acted in good faith and were promised ownership, but the dictatorship reneged and nationalized the property after the buyers had paid for it.

  • Whether or not a free country should attack a dictatorship depends on the free country's national self-interest. (But nationalization cases generally amount to acts of war.)

The nationalization issue raised by this question arises mainly when dealing with dictatorships. If the question actually intended some less extreme form of government that nevertheless nationalizes the property of individuals and does not respect individual rights in general, then the question needs to describe the nature of such a government in more detail. Again, in Objectivism, the nature of the respective governments needs to be evaluated.

The issue of "National Rights" (and the lack thereof) is broader than dictatorships. The brief Lexicon excerpts (only two excerpts altogether) are both taken from the "Collectivized Rights" article in VOS (Chap. 13). The wider context of the Lexicon excerpts is highly illuminating, and this is a good example of why it can be very helpful to check the original sources (and cross references) for Lexicon excerpts in addition to the excerpts themselves. Here are some additional excerpts from that VOS article (pp. 120-121 in the Signet paperback edition of VOS):

The citizens of a free nation ... agree on the basic principle to be implemented: the principle of individual rights....

Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens)....

But this right cannot be claimed by dictatorships, by savage tribes or by any form of absolutist tyranny. A nation that violates the rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights whatsoever.... A nation ruled by brute physical force is not a nation, but a horde.... What rights could Attila claim and on what grounds?

This applies to all forms of tribal savagery, ancient or modern, primitive or "industrialized." Neither geography nor race nor tradition nor previous state of development can confer on some human beings the "right" to violate the rights of others.

The right of "self-determination of nations" applies only to free societies or to societies seeking to establish freedom.... There is no such thing as the "right to enslave."

For additional excerpts on "Self-Determination of Nations," refer to that topic in the Lexicon, which provides two further excerpts from that same VOS article (including some of what I have excerpted above).

answered Jul 28 '13 at 17:27

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

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Asked: Oct 02 '12 at 13:15

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Last updated: Jul 28 '13 at 17:27