The Free Market

Home | Mises Library | Property Rights, The Citadel, and VMI

Property Rights, The Citadel, and VMI

The Free Market

Tags Big GovernmentPrivate Property

09/01/1996Steven Yates

The Free Market 14, no. 9 (September 1996)


Shannon Faulkner's two-and-a-half year fight to become the first woman in The Citadel's corps of cadets went out with an embarrassing whimper. She couldn't handle the physical and psychological demands of Hell Week, landed in the infirmary, and dropped out. 

Case settled? Far from it. The Supreme Court has done what Faulkner failed to do: destroy the all-male character of both The Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discovered, with the help of citations to the socialist Nation magazine, that the Constitution forbids state-sponsored all-male education. 

The implications of her opinion are wide ranging. The source of her ire was not state-support for schools as such, but an all-male admissions policy. This precedent-setting decision will be cited against fully private institutions too. 

Even now, her definition of "state sponsored" is broad enough to include even the non-profit status. Later, state sponsored could be interpreted to mean state tolerated. In short, she has brought American society one step closer to the socialism of forced equality and equal access, where anyone who wants anything automatically has an entitlement to it. 

This escapade illustrates a central characteristic of institutions, traditions, and property rights. An attack on one of the three is an attack on the other two. So far, for example, no one involved in this case—not even The Citadel and VMI's administrators and attorneys—has dared ask: what business do lawyers, federal judges, and the Supreme Court have dictating who these schools admit and reject? 

The issue of states rights can be resolve a taking a closer look at the Tenth Amendment: what the Constitution says the federal government can do, it can do; all else is left to states and individuals. Federal judges are nowhere empowered to lord it over internal matters like the admissions policies of state military academies. 

The idea of property rights, central to a free society and subtly attacked in the VMI decision, has eroded even more. In a free society, every legitimate right is reducible to a property right. We first possess ownership of ourselves—and then our products, the fruits of our labors, to save or trade for other goods. Free-market transactions are, at bottom, voluntary exchanges of property for property. 

The key word is voluntary. If I can forcibly seize the fruits of your labors, I have violated your property rights. Under ordinary circumstances, I am a criminal. In today's political climate, however, if I can get a federal judge to seize your property for me, I'm a successful plaintiff in a lawsuit. 

When such interventions become commonplace, property rights become meaningless. To be sure, the increasing quantity of government entanglements strangling every area of society began erasing property rights long ago. But the past 25 years has seen the process accelerate, in the name of civil rights, equality, "diversity," and equal access. 

Without property rights, however, there are no other exclusive rights—for anyone. There are only entitlements, which allow some to seize the property of others with the full backing of legal authorities—or destroy institutions and traditions in the name of equal access. 

The end result is that, for all practical purposes, no one owns any property except the omnipresent government, parceling out favors to whoever shouts the loudest and longest. The destruction of property rights, well underway before the radical feminists came along, has made their job easier. 

Radical feminists must rely on the state to advance their goals. No one would accept their rationale for perfect equality voluntarily. They know this; it explains their intense hatred of the free market and rejection of the very idea of voluntarism. Also, the unabashedly masculine pride that Citadel and VMI men have drives them into fits of apoplexy. 

What can be done to save states rights and the rights of consumers to choose among a diverse array of institutions with exclusive admission policies? The Citadel and VMI must go private and reject all government entanglements, from state-funded subsidies at the top to student-loans at the bottom. This would be as difficult for them as Hell Week is for the new entries. It will take investments by the network of graduates who believe in preserving the all-male tradition. 

Of course, this does not address the larger issue of how to stop the destruction of the freedom of association. Today, many people believe that anyone should be allowed to enter educational institutions without permission from their owners and managers. Those who say this think nothing of property rights, or believe they are rationalizations for discrimination, exclusion, and privilege. 

Until the cause or private property is taken up—and, eventually along with it, the very idea of "public education" itself—then the attacks by the ideologues of entitlement and egalitarianism are going to continue. 

Private schools themselves must take up the banner. As Ginsburg says, there are women who, unlike Faulkner, could handle the rigors, and many men who cannot. That's why preserving the all-male tradition must be an end in itself. Which means: the only way The Citadel, VMI, or any school has of maintaining the single-sex status is to assert absolute property rights. No one has a right to come onto their property without their authorization. 

Until then, egalitarianism will reap progressively more of its actual consequences, in which every institution is not merely equal but equally mediocre. No one will be able to offer anything unique for fear of offending or excluding those not sharing in the uniqueness. There will be no individual freedoms or property rights for anyone, male or female. That is what is really at stake in the battle over single-sex education.




Cite This Article

Yates, Steven. "Property Rights, The Citadel, and VMI." The Free Market 14, no. 9 (September 1996).

Shield icon library