Liberty is a great concept, but it has flaws. Allowing one set of people to do as they please can be the cause of great pain to another group. We can all identify the restrictions on our own freedoms but are often slow to identify how our actions restrict the freedoms of others.
Jonathan’s post last week discussed how owners of empty homes can sometimes fall victim to this form of myopia. I have had two phonecalls today that illustrate the point. Firstly a property owner from the West Midlands who like Jonathan’s caller last week insisted that as the owner of a house it was his right to do what ever he wanted with it including leaving it empty. I took another call earlier from somebody who lives next to an empty house and has had to put up with damp coming through the wall, rampant weeds spilling over the fence into her garden and a dislodged slate from the empty house falling into her garden near to where her daughter plays.
This may be a bit philosophical for a Monday morning but I can’t help but refer to the great 19th Century British thinker John Stuart Mill who’s work “On Liberty" discussed the limits of power that the state can have over the individual. His brilliant concept was the harm principle. Briefly it said that people should be free to engage in whatever behavior they wish as long as it does not harm others.
Seen through this principle the owner of the empty home of course has rights but not unlimited rights. Once it starts harming others whether that be though restricting housing to those that need it, spoiling the appearance of a street or loose slates falling onto playing children the state should and does have the right to intervene.