Property’s properties

August 27, 2013 § 7 Comments

Property is an authority that we, as proprietors, hold over other human beings.  Authority, in turn, is a capacity to create specific moral obligations that others are morally required to carry out.  As with all legitimate forms of authority, compliance with a proprietor’s authority is both mandatory and voluntary.

The authority we call “property” is frequently defined and thought of in relation to non-human things (houses, cars, land, stock certificates, contracts); but in its fundamental essence property represents legitimate moral obligations on the part of other human beings which we, as proprietors, can impose through our choices.

There are two general kinds of persons over whom a proprietor can impose obligations.  Firstly and most obviously he can impose obligations over other persons generally: e.g. the land owner can impose obligations not to trespass.  Secondly, the proprietor can impose obligations over the sovereign: one of the responsibilities of government is to prevent theft and trespass[1], and to carry out justice when theft or trespass has occurred.  So a proprietor imposes an obligation on the sovereign to enforce his choices in particular cases, when the choices the proprietor makes are morally good choices.

One thing a proprietor can never do, though (it is literally impossible for him to do this), is impose an obligation to do evil on another human being. That includes the sovereign.


[1] Theft (distinguished from trespass) I understand to be an unjust violation of a proprietor’s authority in a way which permanently (until restoration of the property, if restoration is possible) alienates the proprietor’s authority.

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