Paul Jacob

Ted Kennedy, on the other hand, hacks out freedom itself on principle, the tired old principle of government supremacy. Sure, Siegan was "out of the mainstream," as Kennedy charged. But Siegan was creating (or re-creating) the new mainstream! Kennedy, of course, was and remains wrong in plowing private property rights under.

Which is something of a puzzle. Where would the Kennedy family be without principled support for wealth?

Sometimes it seems that the rich, like the Kennedys, support never-ending government meddling because they can afford to. The Kennedys always coveted power. And, because rich, they had and have access to power.

For the rest of us, less connected to power, it's nice to have a Constitution to protect what property we have.

Which is what Bernie Siegan understood, and helped thousands understand better.

Siegan did this by carrying on. He didn't let the failed nomination get him down. He kept on teaching and writing.

Before his 1980 masterpiece, in the early '70s he'd written a book just as eye-opening and provocative, Land Use Without Zoning. He revisited these ideas in a more comprehensive 1997 offering, Property and Freedom: The Constitution, the Courts, and Land-Use Regulation, one of several books he wrote after his failed circuit-court nomination — and perhaps one reason why not to be too sad that he never got to work as a judge. For some, work as a scholar does more good.

How much good did he do? Well, last year when the Supreme Court decided the Kelo case 5–4 in favor of a rather outrageous government taking, there was a national uproar. And not just on "the right," as Kennedy would have it. All sorts of people were aghast at the enormity of it. Well, Bernie Siegan's message had gotten through. Maybe not directly, but through a kind of cultural osmosis, more and more Americans are realizing:

  • Private property is important.
  • Limiting government's power over our property is especially important.
  • With our property defended, all our other freedoms become more meaningful and easier to defend.

Americans left, right and center have begun to agree on these principles, which together really amount to that old-fashioned notion of the American Dream.

The next step would be to extend this revolution further into the area of land-use zoning and environmental regulation, areas where Siegan demonstrated impressive expertise. Private property and the rule of law are the cure for many property problems, not the problem itself.

And, as we push these ideas further, for all our benefit, maybe we can remember that Bernie Siegan was one of the pioneers. Not of the property itself (that's the owners's job), but of the right to it. And the rightness of private property in general.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.