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What is Property?

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What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government (French: Qu'est-ce que la propriété?) is the title of a book (written in French) by the 19th century French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Proudhon declared that “property is theft”, “property is freedom”, and “property is impossible”. Although he was a socialist, he rejected communitarianism and believed that individual possession—which he distinguished from private property—was necessary both for liberty and for an efficient economy. For instance, he argued that individual possession can prevent the tragedy of the commons where communal property is used excessively (e.g., overgrazing by domesticated animals) as everyone tries to get their fair share of its value.

Criticism

Unfortunately, as Douglas Adams later pointed out in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the term property is in common usage as a term for what Proudhon calls possession. Taken out of context, it can be an excellent way to justify stealing: "Property is theft, right? Therefore theft is property, therefore this [insert stolen item here] is mine..."

Contemporary anarchists use the terms personal property and private property to signify the difference that Proudhon meant, and this differentiation is key to the anarchist critique of capitalism.

External links

The text to What Is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government can be found in various places:

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