Neo-Liberal Ideology: History, Concepts and Policies

By Rachel S. Turner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Property: Individualism and ownership

INTRODUCTION: PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE
MARKET ORDER

The fourth core concept in neo-liberalism's ideological configuration is property. Private property and individual ownership are integral concepts for neo-liberalism, as they are indispensable to the spontaneous order of the market. Property for neo-liberals does not just simply represent inanimate objects or possessions, but, as this chapter will argue, it is also an abstraction defined by custom, conventions and, most integrally, law. Individual ownership and possession is established by the existence of rights and powers that are determined by law. Neo-liberals are committed defenders of private property on the grounds that, unlike social justice, the former is capable of safeguarding individualism. It gives individuals independence and a sense of self-reliance, enabling them to participate freely in the market. Indeed, neo-liberals like F. A. Hayek portray property ownership as the most fundamental of civil liberties and argue that individual freedom can only reign within a free-market system. In Hayek's view, government intervention in economic life necessarily escalates to the point where all aspects of social existence, including private ownership, are brought under state control. In effect, any encroachment upon property contains the seeds of totalitarian oppression.1 Similarly, Ludwig von Mises contended that private property is absolutely fundamental for the existence of liberalism. 'The programme of liberalism', he maintained, 'if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property, that is private ownership of the means of production. All the other demands of liberalism result from this fundamental demand.'2

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