What is Property? Dual Meanings

As I was writing on property rights, propertarianism and the capitalist right which often falls under a category of anarcho-capitalist, I realized that a few foundations were needed to expand on the concepts I was addressing. I am therefore writing this as an introduction of sorts to the next article. When speaking of property in the negative it will be beneficial to clarify what oppositions I have to property. When speaking of property in the negative it will be beneficial to acknowledge diverse definitions of property which conflict.

Would it not be criminal, were some islanders to repulse, in the name of property, the unfortunate victims of a shipwreck struggling to reach the shore? The very idea of such cruelty sickens the imagination. The proprietor, like Robinson Crusoe on his island, wards off with pike and musket the proletaire washed overboard by the wave of civilization, and seeking to gain a foothold upon the rocks of property. “Give me work!” cries he with all his might to the proprietor: “don’t drive me away, I will work for you at any price.” “I do not need your services,” replies the proprietor, showing the end of his pike or the barrel of his gun. “Lower my rent at least.” “I need my income to live upon.” “How can I pay you, when I can get no work?” “That is your business.” Then the unfortunate proletaire abandons himself to the waves; or, if he attempts to land upon the shore of property, the proprietor takes aim, and kills him.

Pierre Joseph Proudhon

The definition of property has changed over the centuries. Proudhon spoke specifically of property under the law, specifically the Roman sovereignty of property. When he wrote ‘Property is Theft‘ he pointed out the double definition of property to include domain and possession. Proudhon goes on to explain  the titles that property is granted upon are based on occupation and labor. To conflate diverse concepts of occupation, use, ownership or possession as the same concept of property is a play on words.

…in the phrase, iron acquires the property of a magnet, the word property does not convey the same idea that it does in this one: I have acquired this magnet as my property. To tell a poor man that he has property because he has arms and legs, — that the hunger from which he suffers, and his power to sleep in the open air are his property, — is to play upon words, and to add insult to injury.

Property is the right of increase; that is, the power to produce without labor (Proudhon). The tool the proprietor is the laborer. The production of the landlord is that of another enabled by ‘property rights’. Property enables slavery, a continued labor in servitude for another to maintain the capability to provide for ones self. The gun is not the only tool of coercion, but the need of resources is also used to maintain power over another.

Often when property rights are mentioned we are looking at a diverse array of ownership and use with little understanding or critical evaluation of each. Is it possible that liberty is found in property? Yes. Is property liberty? No. Is it possible that property is theft? Yes. Is property always theft? No. We must avoid absolutes and be willing to accept an element of ambiguity in human interaction.

The definition of property is not a constant. The argument between property rights and those who oppose absolute property rights is clouded by dual meanings and opposed meanings. White is black and black is white often in the dispute over property.

To better understand Proudhon’s take on property I would suggest reading the Anarchist classic “What is Property?“.

I will not hold Proudhon to the level that would say his definitions of property, ownership or even rights are without flaw, nor are they without merit. I will hold Rothbard to the same level. Both hold merit as well as both hold flaw.

The simple difference. On the capitalist side the claim is that property is the right to the product of ones own labor. On the other side we critique property that is the right to the product of the labor of another.  This shows a major issue in discussion of property.

my next post will be looking specifically at property of the capitalist, their claim to property and the problems found in these ideas as well as their arguments against opposition to property and the claims some have made about anti-propertarian stances. I will also clarify my current understanding and stance on property.

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