We like to laugh at those Capital One commercials. The Vikings are always doing funny, dear things like impersonating Elvis in Las Vegas or taking their pet goat to Disney World. Of course, Madison Avenue has better sense than to portray them realistically. The behavior of real Vikings wasn’t so dear.
A thousand years before the age of Victorian gentility, my Norse ancestors prowled the European coastline in dragon-headed ships. Those fanged and snarling mastheads crept out of the mist like something from a nightmare, and the nightmare was all too real. No one’s property was safe, not even that of the Church, which the pagan marauders hated with a special passion, viewing gospel gentleness with the disdain they reserved for the weak. They plundered sanctuaries, raped nuns, slaughtered priests, and took orphaned children as slaves.
Fast forward through the age of gentility, and we reach our present day. Our sophisticated and enlightened government, brimming with postmodern compassion, never fails to ask us the same question we hear from those Sea World-visiting Vikings: “What’s in your wallet?!”
The government knows exactly what’s in our wallets, of course, because it has ways of watching us that the barbarian hordes never dreamed of. They don’t need Thor, Odin, or even the Christian God. They’ve got computer technology powerful enough to track our bank balance down to the cent. And they think every cent is theirs for the taking.
This is different, they assure us. They act in the name of the people, from whom they claim to derive their consent. And most of us believe this. After all, we’re a “democracy,” are we not?
That is exactly what frightens me. What has the allure of our neighbor’s loot done to We the People? If the cause can be made to sound high-minded enough, our latter-day Erik the Reds can get us to cheer their every raid. Big government has made barbarians of us all.
How is it they get to decide who keeps their money and who doesn’t? What is it, besides the swords in their belts and the monster faces on their long ships, that gives them such authority? The Norse people of old, mostly peaceable farmers in their own lands, sent forth the marauders with their blessing. They didn’t have a democracy, but they knew all that plundered gold and silver, all those cattle and slaves, would be split with them. When the stamp of the government — even the approval of the gods — is given them, there is no end to what people will cheer for.
We must reduce our argument for property rights to the basics. Those who wantonly take whatever they want from others are barbarians. This is as true when they’re wearing Brooks Brothers suits as it was when they wore iron mail and wolf masks. It has become open season on the money and property of those who cannot gather hordes large enough to defend it. In our disregard for the very concept of private property, we are sliding back toward the Dark Ages.
No cause, however noble, can trump an individual’s right to keep the fruit of his or her own toil. To allow this to happen is to endorse slavery. If we fall prey to arguments to the contrary, we have surrendered civilized society to marauders. After that, we have nothing to look forward to except being carried off in chains.