Are government officials upset that someone can survive without them? Thirty years ago, Eustace Conway bought 100 acres in North Carolina with a vision of a self-sufficient, simpler life style. Turtle Island Preserve became his home and livelihood, with income earned by teaching eager groups self-dependence using nothing but the land and their wits. He lives simply without the need for a single government subsidy, program, or hand out. The now 1000 acre settlement is a working, educational farm, with every building and facility made from materials and often forgotten skills once utilized by our pioneering ancestors. This lost art of survival, and simple living is alluring to many in a culture that is consumed with materialism and dependence on the government.
However, last September, the Watauga County Planning Department cited several health and sanitary violations in Conway’s encampment. After decades of operating Turtle Island Preserve, suddenly the mountain man is a threat to public safety and welfare! He has been told to cease and desist with public camps until the buildings are torn down or rebuilt with the violations rectified. The County has threatened tocondemn the buildings. Conway’s primitive outhouses, kitchen, food storage facilities, and building construction do not meet State building codes. For example, his lumber was improperly marked and labeled. Unlike commercially labeled lumber, Conway cut and prepared the lumber at his own sawmill. Though this is private land, and the groups contract willingly with full knowledge of the primitive nature of the Preserve, (which indeed is the point of the Preserve), the county now requires that Conway’s property meet modern code standards. Conway argues that his construction methods have been around for hundreds of years, and recent engineering studies found his facilities superior to modern code standards. Indeed, his construction methods predate code standards themselves!
At its core, this case is a property rights issue. How pivotal is the issue of private property rights to a free society? Are property rights less important than other “human rights”? Is private property ownership fair and just? To what degree can or should the government infringe upon private property?
Dr. Clarence Carson believes that property rights are not only critical, but underlie all other unalienable rights. Dr. Carson proposes that when property rights are lost, all rights are lost. He states, “There is probably no way of conceiving of individual rights other than as either property rights or extensions of property rights. Our right to life stems from the fact that it is our own (and only) life. Our right to the disposal of our time stems from the fact that it is our own time. Our right to the use of our faculties stems from the fact that they are our own. Remove from them the concept of private property and the claim to them goes as well.”
Dr. Carson cites numerous examples, including Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and other totalitarian countries. When property rights were seized, other rights followed. Dr. Carson feels the reason for this is obvious. If property rights no longer belong to the individual, then they must be controlled by another entity- presumably the government. Whoever controls the property, controls all enterprise that may be conducted upon that property as well. As Carson eloquently claims, “The reason for this should be apparent. Man’s necessity for property is absolute; his survival and all activities depend upon it. When government has control of it all, man’s concern with it becomes preponderant, for his access to it is no longer secure. Not only does it magnify the importance of property but also of government. Total control over all property becomes the means for total control over men. The law which disposes property in this situation also disposes men. Indeed, the wedding of property to government turns the control over things into control over men. What may start out as an effort to subordinate property ends up as the subordination of man.”
In societies where private property ownership is considered a fundamental right, the people flourish. Conversely, in societies with collective or government control of property ( communism), forcible removal of other human rights, and repressive, totalitarian regimes historically result. One cannot trounce on the laws and rules of private property ownership without undermining other fundamental rights.
Were Eustace Conway’s private property rights unfairly infringed upon? Currently, the Building Code Council of North Carolina is considering exempting certain primitive camps, like Conway’s, from the building codes. Unfortunately, the decision may be too late for the critical summer earning season for Eustace Conway. Will a process started as an effort to subordinate property end up as an effort to subordinate a man?
What can You Do?
A bill just passed the NC House, and will be discussed in the NC Senate this week. The bill supports the ability for historical sites that teach living history such as Turtle Island to create authentic buildings and environments for educational purposes.
Get in touch with state Senators to urge support. As HB 774 goes to the state Senate this week, there are two Senators leading it forward: Senator Dan Soucek, District 45, (919) 733-5742, Email: Dan.Soucek@ncleg.net. Also contact Tom.Apodaca@ncleg.net, District 48 and Martin.Nesbitt@ncleg.net, District 49, as well as the senator in your district. Tell them you support the passage of the bill to exempt Turtle Island, and other Living History preserves from modern building codes.
By: Vicky Kaseorg