The problem which ultimately tore apart the Roman Republic was the accumulation of the lands of Italy in the hands of a few aristocrats. This proved politically destabilizing and led to tyranny, because land was needed, just as air is needed, to survive and prosper.

Today land is less important because there are many other avenues open for those who wish to make a living, other than being a farmer. However, we all still need somewhere to live, we all still need to lay down roads and other infrastructure. This makes the power to acquire private land compulsorily a necessary evil.

In recognizing that eminent domain is a necessary evil, it follows it must be used only when it is absolutely necessary—not gratuitously. Thus it should be limited to infrastructure uses, such as roads, airports, ports, military bases, where there are no alternative sites. It should never be used to obtain sites for malls. The land for these should either be bought on the free market or they should be situated elsewhere.

Due to its finite and eternal nature, any attempt to control the disposition of land by its former owners is void. In the United States, Ted Turner, whose land holdings are twice as large as the state of Rhode Island, has encumbered much of his land with conservation easements. This is an attempt to prevent the use of his land for the building of suburbs when he is dead. The natural law does not allow the dead to deny the living the free use of land. If it were otherwise, Queen Elizabeth I could have declared the whole of North America a national park and prevented hundreds of millions of people from ever existing.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove