Before Eminent Domain: Toward a History of Expropriation of Land for the Common Good

By Susan Reynolds | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Justifications and Discussions

4.1 THE PROBLEM

As I have argued, using the evidence I have cited, the justice of expropriation for the public good seems to have been largely taken for granted. That being so, the rarity of formal discussions of the principle may be hardly surprising. Individual expropriations were indeed often justified by the stated or implied reason that they were made for the common or public good. This, however, begs the question of the nature of property rights in land and of the apparently assumed priority over them of the good of the community, however defined. It also begs the question of the authority of the person or persons who ordered the expropriation. If it was done by a king or other supposedly independent ruler, his right may seem obvious, but the nature of the ruler’s authority over the property of his subjects is generally left unclear: did the ruler act as representative of the community for its common good, or as the holder of a superior property right, as implied by theories of a feudal hierarchy of property? Expropriations by lesser authorities or communities raise further questions. So far as I have discovered, the first argument basing the right of expropriation firmly on the origin and nature of property rights seems to have been made in the seventeenth century by Hugo Grotius. Thereafter, influential as his work was, the connection between his arguments about expropriation and about wider matters of politics seems to have

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Before Eminent Domain: Toward a History of Expropriation of Land for the Common Good
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - Western Europe before 1100 15
  • Chapter 3 - Western Europe and British North America, 1100–1800 33
  • Chapter 4 - Justifications and Discussions 85
  • Chapter 5 - Communities, Individuals, and Property 111
  • Works Cited 141
  • Index 169
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