Social Scientist. v 3, no. 33 (April 1975) p. 65.


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Property Rights under the Constitution

IT is often assumed that the right to property, especially in relation to private ownership of the means of production, is the basic criterion of a free society. This widespread notion is shared even by students and practitioners of law who overlook the economic and political foundations of the legal structure.

The traditional concept of property rights received its hardest knock at the 1917 October Revolution which established a new system of property relations in the "socialist sixth of the world". The right of private ownership was dethroned with the socialization of the means of production: the axioms on the virtues of free enterprise and laissez-faire expansion to prosperity have since been openly challenged and descredited by the advance of the socialist system and ideology.

The crisis of capitalism in the rest of the world was partly responsible for the increasing intervention of the state in economic matters. State control of the economy has come to stay for good. This trend is to be attributed not merely to economic but also to political compulsions. Universal adult franchise posed an inherent threat to the propertied classess. In the one-man-one-vote game, bourgeois parliamentary democracy was found playing a double role, on the one hand defending private property rights and on the other, imposing curbs on private enterprise in the name of general welfare and social justice. This phenomenon came to be known as social engineering, welfare state or 'creeping socialism'.

Parliamentary democracy, because of this simultaneous role of saviour and destroyer of private ownership righ ts, has passed into its most serious contradictions. It has failed miserably to ensure socio-economic justice within the legal framework of private enterprise. The elected representatives to parliament, mostly votaries of the sanctity of private property and free enterprise, in a bid to stem the tide of contradictions, are forced to mediate between the employer and the employee, the landowner and the landless as they are supposed to bring about welfare and justice to all sections of society. This has led to governmental interference in almost every sector of the economy.

The task of mediation is not so easy. Baffled by the breakdown of the so called self-adjusting mechanism, parliamentarism has had recourse



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