December 2005, Volume 91, Issue 8|
Property as Entrance
91 Va. L. Rev. 1889 (2005)
One of the central values of private ownership in liberal property thought is its freedom-guaranteeing function. The precise mechanism by which private property rights accomplish this guarantee, however, is frequently left unexplored. When theorists discuss the issue, they often identify property’s liberty-securing quality with the power that property confers upon its owner to exit from society into the protective cocoon of his stuff. In its most ambitious forms, this mechanism of “property as exit” draws strength from an implicit assumption that people are the sorts of beings that can withdraw from social relations into the isolation of their property. But there are reasons to think that withdrawal would be very costly for most people. As a consequence, the power of property to facilitate exit may be substantially weaker than is often assumed. Moreover, scholars’ affinity for property’s isolating function has obscured the degree to which property facilitates “entrance” by tying individuals together into social groups.
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