Anarchy & Property
The etymology of property
Property = what is proper (particular, peculiar) to someone or something.
“A quality or trait belonging to a person or thing”
With reference to the relation between people and objects, the term property has come to mean “something that is or may be owned or possessed.” (Webster’s Dictionary)
Material-economic property (in history)
There are three main ways to obtain the property of something:
- by work (personal or group activity)
- by exchange (obtaining something in exchange for something else)
- by force (openly violent methods or legal methods)
The recurrent acquisition of property by violent force or by legal means like
in the expropriation of common lands before the Industrial Revolution has
led some anarchists to qualify “Property as Theft.”
The best exponent of this position was Proudhon in his text: “What is property?” (Qu'est-ce que la propriété ? 1840).
While criticising and condemning property as expropriation (theft) Proudhon
insisted that he was not at all in favour of common state property. In fact,
in order to differentiate his position (and those of the anarchists) from
that of state socialists, Proudhon wrote a text, published after his death,
in which he affirmed that “Property is Freedom” (Théorie de la
For Proudhon only personal property, deriving from the personal efforts (activity) of individuals and communities can represent a bulwark against the state becoming a dominant institution and owning-controlling everything.
Property and anarchy
On the basis of Proudhon’s ideas, anarchists should be:
- in opposition to property obtained by violent expropriation
- in favour of property gained by way of personal effort.
Personal property is what has been gained by an individual who has applied
his material and intellectual effort in view of producing something that becomes,
afterwards, his rightful property.
Personal property can be
- individual property
- group property
The difference between property, possession, care
Considering the fact that personal effort (work) is not applied to everything existing in nature (mountains, rivers, forests, etc.) and so not everything can be appropriated by someone (an individual or a group), we should differentiate between:
- Ownership. Full property rights (ius utendi et abutendi) and full control of access (property as full disposal)
- Trusteeship. Partial property rights (ius utendi sine abutendi) and relative-weak control of access (possession as use and maintenance).
- Stewardship. Disseminated property rights and almost non-existent control of access (enjoyment as respect and care).
From the point of view of rights we can also imagine, with reference to the natural environment:
- personal rights (property = full disposal)
- community rights (possession = use and maintenance)
- universal rights (enjoyment = respect and care)
The same can be done with respect to the built-transformed environment:
- the home (of the individual and his family) : full disposal
- the open common spaces (roads, squares, public buildings as theatres, cinemas, etc.) : use and maintenance
- the world heritage (the architectural artefacts) : respect and care.
We are far away from a position rejecting the very concept of propertyand replacing it with more or less compulsory sharing.
As a matter of fact, the main exponents of anarchy when writing in favour of equality meant equity, that is the end of privileges and state-manufactured inequalities and not the same share for everybody, irrespective of personal efforts and contributions.