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

By Susan Reynolds | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Communities, Individuals, and Property

5.1 THE PROBLEM

In chapter 1 I remarked on an apparent lack of interest in expropriation for the common good on the part of historians of political thought, even those concerned with periods when the rights of property were much discussed.1 Most historians of expropriation have correspondingly had little to say about the political ideas and assumptions that are likely to have underlain the subjection of individual property to collective needs.2 The account I have given in chapters 2 and 3 of expropriation in practice, and in chapter 4 of the rather scanty and superficial justifications of it, suggest that its relation to ideas and assumptions about the nature of social and political structures, and their rights and wrongs, needs further investigation. This chapter is intended less to report the results of a full investigation, let alone draw conclusions from it, than to open the subject for further discussion. The later part of the story, after Grotius, is particularly puzzling. All I can do is suggest problems that those who know the period and the texts better than I do may be able to solve.

1. See chapter 1.2.

2. Ugo Nicolini, La proprietà, is a partial exception, but Feenstra’s essays on Grotius that I have cited, important and authoritative as they are, focus closely on the use of words.

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