Chapter 4: Legal regulation, private property protection and the sustainability project
In his anarchist critique of property, Proudhon rests his argument on two considerations of inequality which should challenge rather than attract law’s complicity. Firstly, property allows the owner to exploit its user. Secondly, that property creates authoritarian social relationships between the two; property as theft and as despotism. The interconnectedness of these two indictments of property relies on a view which sees the oppression that property creates as ensuring exploitation. For Proudhon, and millions since, the appropriation of our common heritage (such as access to or possession of property) by a few through mechanisms which declare the process as legal (such as through contracts or title deeds), gives the rest of society little alternative but to agree to such domination and let the property owner appropriate the fruits of the labouring dispossessed. On the other hand, rather than having to be theft or always requiring oppressive relationships, Proudhon confronted the assertion that property is in fact an agent of liberty if it can be opened up to wider, more equitable arrangements of possession and enjoyment – ‘If the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all’. The paradox of theft now, freedom and liberty in the future is what inspires our consideration of repositioning the principles underpinning law’s regulation of private property relations.
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