The Right to Private Property

The Right to Private Property

The Right to Private Property

The Right to Private Property

Synopsis

Presenting a comprehensive, critical examination of the claim that private property is one of the fundamental rights of humankind, Waldron here contrasts two types of arguments about rights: those based on historical entitlement, and those based on the importance of property for freedom. He illustrates this contrast with a detailed discussion of the theories of property found in Locke's Second Treatise and Hegel's Philosophy of Rights, and offers original analyses of the concept of ownership, the idea of rights, and the relation between property and equality, finding that traditional arguments about property yield some surprisingly radical conclusions.

Excerpt

This is a long book, and it may help readers if I state at the beginning what its main conclusions are.

The book addresses the issue of the justification of private property. It asks whether individuals have a right to private property, or (which I think is the same thing) whether there are any good right-based arguments for private property. A right-based argument is an argument showing that an individual interest considered in itself is sufficiently important from a moral point of view to justify holding people to be under a duty to promote it. So my question can be rephrased as follows. What individual interests are served by the existence of private property as opposed to some other sort of property regime (such as communism)? Are any of these interests so important from a moral point of view that they justify holding governments to be under a duty to promote, uphold, and protect property-owning? Or is it rather the case that, taken one by one, the interests which individuals have in the matter do not have this level of importance, and that these interests should be dealt with in the aggregate, in the form of utilitarian arguments about property institutions, rather than treated as the basis of rights?

Those are the questions. What are my answers? I examine two lines of right-based argument: one associated with John Locke and Robert Nozick, the other associated with G. W. F. Hegel. Both lines of argument hold that individuals have an interest in owning things which is important enough to command respect and to constrain political action. On the Hegelian approach, this is a basic human interest which everyone has: owning property contributes immensely to the ethical development of the individual person. On the Lockean approach, the interest which commands respect is one which people have only on account of what they happen to have done or what has happened to them. A man who has mixed his labour with a piece of land, or acquired it legitimately from . . .

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