Anarchy Without Bombs

Cooperation Without Coercion

Is Property Theft?

“Property is Theft!” was the battle cry of one prominent French anarchist in the 19th century. “Au contraire, mon frère,” retorted another. “Property is Liberty!” “You’re both wrong,” said a third. “Property is Impossible!”  How such people got along with each other is amazing.  More so, since it was the same man, Pierre Proudhon, who said all three.

All anarchists support property rights, including those who oppose property rights.  And all anarchists oppose property rights, including those who support property rights.  Context is everything.  So are definitions.

Property is Theft

Proudhon was no fool: he recognized the irony of that statement, for in the process of condemning property, he was confirming it.  Without the concept of property there can be no concept of theft.  So let’s try to figure out what he might have really meant.

When Proudhon wrote these words, far and away the most important form of property was land, and most ownership of land was the result of arbitrary claims enforced by the ruling government rather than personal homesteading or voluntary transfers traceable to a personal homesteader.  In short, most property at the time WAS stolen.

Thoughtful anarcho-capitalists concede this point, and insist they only support homestead-based claims, thinking they have addressed the entire anarcho-communist objection to private property. They have not.  For another fundamental point is that owners of land were considered to have the exclusive right to determine what happens to everything AND EVERYONE on their land.  And some anarcho-capitalists defend that point of view.  Oddly, many of them defend this view of property rights as a logical outgrowth of the principle of self-ownership.


As I’ve noted before, my favorite definition of anarchy comes from Roderick Long:

Other People Are Not Your Property

I’ve yet to meet an anarcho-capitalist who objects to this formulation.  Nearly all of them also agree with Thomas Jefferson’s formulation of the rights of man in the Declaration of Independence, where he states that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable (which is an acceptable variant of inalienable, regardless of what you’ve heard), meaning that they are “incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another.” [No, “uncapable” is not an acceptable variant.]

But if “Trespassers Will Be Shot On Sight” is a valid assertion of property rights by the owner, then it is clear that self-ownership has become alienable and inferior to property rights.  Yes, of course, I might shoot someone because they are a credible threat to my life, but this is true whether they’ve threatened me in the home I own, the apartment I rent, the hotel where I’m staying, or the restaurant where I’m eating: it has nothing to do with my being the owner of the property.

Proprietary communities are another extraordinary application of extreme propertarianism.  Defenders of these sometimes assert that ANY rules can be set and enforced, so long as the property was legitimately homesteaded or transferred.  Again, anybody who believes that self-ownership is unalienable needs to explain why they are so casual in permitting its alienation.  I can say for certain they’ve never had to deal with the management of a co-op or condo association.

Property is Liberty

However,  I come not to bury property rights, but to praise them. Proudhon’s later pronouncement recognized that the claims of private property owners were a bulwark against government violations of life and liberty.  I think we need to go further: property rights have proven to be an indispensable way of reducing social violence in general.  As James Payne has documented in A History of Force, the world has been getting more and more peaceful over the centuries, and an increasing respect for property rights is probably one of the reasons. John Hasnas has written an excellent account of how law developed in pre-Norman England, with property rights arising as an effective alternative to blood feuds.  And Bruce Benson, in his many studies in The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, has identified property rights as a characteristic of all the legal systems he has seen develop in societies without central planners.  When anarcho-capitalists are asked for historical examples of their societies, they usually pick multi-century examples such as Celtic Ireland and Viking Iceland, while anarcho-communists point to short-term experiments such as the Paris Communes and Spanish Revolution.  It does appear that anarchist societies which respected property rights lasted a heck of a lot longer before failing.  Alas, like virtually every government in history, virtually every anarchy in history was of finite duration.  More on that shortly.

Property is Impossible

The Hasnas piece is especially instructive, because he notes the limits on property that naturally arose. Easements are one obvious example: if you own a piece of land, and I acquire, even by legitimate homesteading, all of the land surrounding yours, I don’t have the right to effectively imprison you by denying you access to my land to get out.  It would be useless to own the ground but not any of the space above the ground, yet I can’t own everything above the land up to the end of the universe (I still wonder what exists 1 mile beyond the end of the universe).  I can’t exclude air and light going onto my property, and forbid all molecules that I consider to be pollution (especially now that so many think carbon is a pollutant). Absolutism on property quickly becomes absurd.  And it is all because we look at property improperly, trying to derive a single set of rules for all situations from first principles, when property is, in fact, a problem solver that self-owners adopt for the purpose of living in peace and harmony with each other.

A Bundle of Rights

Property is not a single right, but a bundle of different rights that can be unbundled when desirable.  Recent Noble Laureate Elinor Ostrom is doing the hard work of determining how real people have solved problems involving common pool resources that resist both government and private property solutions.  She has discussed at least 5 different categories of property rights: access, withdrawal, management, exclusion, and alienation, and emphasized that it clearly isn’t “all or nothing.”

One can make even finer distinctions.  If I homestead property to build a house, that might include a right not to have loud noise disrupt my sleep, but if I homestead property to build a factory, that right might not exist. We can look at my homesteading property for growing food, another might use the same property for hiking, another as a travel route to the other side, and as long as the later uses don’t interfere with the earlier ones, each has homesteaded a right to the same property.  Granted, homesteading a location for a personal residence should provide more of a right to exclude others. Still, reason must prevail.

We homestead property to the extent we are using it and in the manner we are using it, and we abandon our claim when it becomes clear we have stopped using it (as Bill Orton has suggested, much of the difference between ancap and ancom theories of property can be described as how “sticky” property is after homesteading).

Once we stop treating homesteading as granting total and permanent control over property merely through the act of mixing a little labor with it or fencing it off, we expand the number of people who support property rights enormously.  Even anarcho-communists support possession, a right not to be violently dispossessed of property so long as a person is using it.  And while many ancoms are infuriatingly vague about the length of time a person can stop using property before it is considered abandoned, and why lending property is okay and transferring property is okay, but lending property in exchange for a transfer of property (renting) is not okay, they’re not so insane as to argue that a person who leaves his bed to go to the restroom at night has abandoned his bed and left it open to claimed by another, as some have charged.

Similarly, one of the most well-known common law precepts in the relatively sticky property world we live in is “possession is nine points of the law,” and while it may not have been literally true in statute, it did and to a great extent still does represent the common sense of the average person in the Anglo-Saxon world.  The accepted legal principle of adverse possession derives from it, and legal scholars have referred to it over the centuries as a valid idea if not a mathematically literal statement.  So let’s not go around claiming the anarcho-communists are spewing pure drivel when they talk of possession rather than property.

Furthermore, even to the extent property rights are legitimate, dispute resolution over property cannot be territorially based, because that means begging the very question.  You can’t do that on my property!  Who says?  The judge says!  Which judge?  The judge I selected for all disputes involving my property!  Who says it is your property?  The judge! Which judge?  The judge I selected for all disputes involving my property!  I want a different judge!  You have no choice, since you’re on my property!  According to who?  The judge! Which judge?  The judge I selected for all disputes involving my property!

Sustainable Anarchy

Anarchists are usually treated to a catch-22 when trying to defend the practicality of our views, by people asking for historical examples.  If we point out that there hasn’t yet been a complete anarchist experiment, that is treated as proof of utopianism.  If we provide clear examples from the current world, such as in Hasnas’ excellent The Obviousness of Anarchy, all our examples are dismissed because they are occurring within a society that still has a government (even though its existence has no credible connection to the examples). And if we provide historical examples, of which there are several, of reasonably close approximations to what we propose, we’re asked why they no longer exist.

Based on their great longevity, I think experiments in anarcho-capitalism have proven more successful than those under anarcho-communism.  But I think the anarcho-communists have the answer to why the former still eventually failed: concentrations of power are dangerous even when they result from voluntary behavior. In both Iceland and Ireland, voluntary law and private property prevailed for centuries, but the acceptance of Christianity and, more importantly, of the tithing of money to the church, led to increasing concentrations of wealth in the hands of those overseeing church operations, and what was voluntary became coercive once that concentrated wealth was used to project violent power.

Thus, it is right to question hierarchy in all of its forms, including landlord-tenant relationships and employer-employee relationships.  That doesn’t mean declaring them illegal, but it does mean being uncomfortable with ALL imbalances of power and addressing the reasons for them.  At present, enormous amounts of land are closed off to homesteading, even within cities, and both licensing and regulation are used to destroy countless opportunities for self-employment.  Intellectual property laws are used to prevent people from using their own tangible property based on their own knowledge, and the only people who can afford to enforce these laws are the wealthiest because of a monopoly legal system that is outrageously costly to use. Get rid of these restrictions and the imbalances of power blamed on capitalism become immensely smaller.

And if you pay attention to the words of the most intelligent anarcho-communists instead of strawmanning their views, you’ll discover that the methods they propose to get rid of the non-violent hierarchies they oppose are non-violent and completely consistent with a free market.  As a market anarchist, I have no problem with the views of, for example, db0 of A Division by Zer0, even though he probably has a problem with mine.  As I see it, we are not only allies on the most important issues of our time, such as military intervention, drug prohibition, corporate welfare, and the licenses, regulations, and taxes that destroy the opportunities of the average person, but we are even allies against hierarchy.  David Friedman, whose The Machinery of Freedom was the book that converted me to anarcho-capitalism (although I now prefer to call myself a market anarchist, common law anarchist,  or just plain anarchist), made it clear that he strongly preferred a society of individual business owners rather than large corporations, and saw extending free markets as the best way to achieve that.

In anarchy, networks replace hierarchies as tools for organizing society. Similarly, I see prices replacing bosses, as we coordinate activity through the price system rather than by having people who give orders and people who obey them.  But, in addition to that, we need vigilance against imbalances of power when they develop, even when the result of voluntary activity.   Boycotting businesses that treat workers poorly or use market power to restrict consumer choice is part of maintaining a free society (I’m currently planning to switch from my Apple iPhone to a Google Android for that very reason).  Ostracizing wealth accumulators who do nothing to help the less fortunate and praising those who use wealth for the benefit of society are also parts of it.

I especially like the idea of goodwill as the ultimate currency, as William Gillis wrote recently on his site, Human Iterations.   In an anarchist society, the rich never forget that they cease to be rich if the rest of society chooses not to recognize their property claims: the moment you claim the right to more than what you can personally control, you are relying on other people to honor your claim.  So be nice to people.

To Serve Man

Okay, time for the anarchist cookbook.  I believe that property is a problem solver, a useful tool for achieving social peace and economic efficiency that benefits society enormously.  However, it is a useful social convention, not a an absolute right derivable from self-ownership: there is no reason that a person born in the year 2100 should have fewer rights than a person born in the year 2000, but if all the world becomes private property, and property owners can establish all the rules for their property, then every person born after that date will be born a slave, and self-ownership will become a joke. Moreover, the limits on property rights have already been acknowledged in common law, and ancaps need to abandon the cartoon version of contract law, and learn about duress, undue influence, and adhesions: established common law concepts that go beyond the “well, he agreed to it” view of contractual obligations.  We’ve modified contract law enough in the US to recognize that employees have the right to quit their job even if they signed a multi-year contract (except for those who join the government military), and debtors can have their obligations cancelled in bankruptcy and never end up in prison if they don’t pay (except for those who owe the government taxes).  In short, the sanctity of contract is already recognized as an intolerable concept under law, because it violates self-ownership.  Self-ownership is inalienable.  Period.

All anarchy requires is that we accept the idea that other people are not our property.  With that alone, we’ll create whatever order and organization is needed in an environment of mutual respect.  When we have disputes we can’t resolve, we’ll create tools for resolving them.  History tells us that private property is one of those tools, but we shouldn’t raise it to the level of a fetish that overrides our common sense and our humanity.

We Can All Live Together

What makes me most optimistic about the future of the anarchist movement is that reality will always win out over theory.  Both the ancap who insists that homesteading creates total and permanent domination of a location and the ancom who insists that all private property is evil bow to the reality that, while they may continue to use the tools of persuasion, ostracism, and boycott, they ultimately will have to live in the world as it is.  I see no evidence whatsoever that anarchist societies can succesfully adopt either of the extremes (and if I’m wrong, I’ll bow to that reality).  The Hasnas piece I referenced earlier suggests that people create property rights when they can solve a problem and make exceptions when those exceptions solve a problem. Common law developed from the common sense of people.

Anarchy is not a system.  It isn’t even an -ism, although anarchism is a word we sometimes use.  It is an attitude of respect for other people, and a rejection of master-slave relationships (with no exception for government officials).  What grows from an atmosphere of mutual respect is unpredictable, differs from place to place, and changes over time.   I believe that private property has proven its value, but that it isn’t sustainable without a suspicion of all concentrations of wealth and power, even voluntary.   As much as I think anarcho-communists are dead wrong about the need to abolish rent and wages, I think they are dead right about the need to be suspicious of all imbalances of authority and to openly condemn those who take advantage of such imbalances.

Up with Property!  Down with Hierarchy!

[End Note: I am not claiming that my interpretations of Proudhon’s slogans are identical to his.  Proudhon didn’t even say these things, because he spoke French.  But I think he and I would have been friends, at least until we got into a discussion of French vs California wines.]


Written by Less

March 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Philosophy

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  1. […] what a coincidence!  <–a good piece on the same subject was apparently being written at the same time as […]

  2. they propose to get rid of the non-violent hierarchies they oppose are non-violent and completely consistent with a free market.

    Are you sure? I would expect that workers taking over their factories, tenants taking over their houses and unions violating the contracts the individual workers agreed to might be something you consider “unfree”.


    March 8, 2010 at 2:21 am

  3. @Db0

    Then you’d be wrong: I meant what I said.

    (1) I presume you don’t mean the workers and tenants would physically injure or kill people to take over the factories and houses. I would oppose violence to remove them. I also accept the view that employees always have the right to quit at will, regardless of their promises: self-ownership cannot be alienated by contract. I don’t support debtor prisons, either: credit rating systems are good enough.

    (2) In a free society that had no occupational licensing or land use restrictions, I doubt you’d gain the support needed for such takeovers. Workers and tenants would look upon wage employment and rentals as desirable alternatives when they didn’t want to take the risks of self-employment and weren’t sure where they wanted to settle, or didn’t want significant assets tied up in businesses and homes. The availability of wage employment isn’t the same as wage slavery. The availability of rental housing isn’t the same as compulsory landlordism. These are oppressive only when alternatives are restricted, as they are now.

    (3) Historical anarchy supports the view that common people favor private property systems and don’t consider them tools of oppression in such environments. Indeed, I said that more of the anarcho-communist suspicion of all concentrations of wealth might have prevented the eventual failure of various anarcho-capitalist societies of the past. I want the rich to know they need to treat people well if they want their wealth respected: I believe that a society in which social norms rather than force protects property rights will be one in which property owners will do everything possible not to be seen as oppressors. Again, I like the idea of goodwill as the ultimate currency.

    (4) Should you somehow persuade a community to adopt pure possession and reject all private property, I would probably move to a more sensible community and leave you to reap the consequences. I wouldn’t fight you.

    I believe in physical violence only as a response to physical violence (or an imminent threat of it). I believe that reputation, ostracism, and boycott mechanisms are more than sufficient to enforce social norms regarding property, and feel that a property system that can only be maintained by violence isn’t worth defending.

    To put it simply: because I believe you’re wrong about the inherently oppressive nature of property rights in an anarchist society, I’m willing to let my position stand or fall without using violent enforcement mechanisms. Can you say the same? If so, we are both anarchists and can live in peace and harmony.

    BTW, would you accept binding third party arbitration, chosen by both parties to the dispute, to resolve a worker or tenant takeover standoff? Just wondering.


    March 8, 2010 at 5:04 am

  4. 1) The tenants and workers wouldn’t have to use violence but those who consider themselves as “owners” certainly would (of outsource it to private thugs). It does not have to be a debt prison either. I consider all ownership claims that are not based on occupancy or use to be illegitimate and thus any worker or tenant is justified to take over their houses or workplaces.

    2) In a free society where alternatives to rent or wage-slavery were available to anyone, rent and wage-slavery would practically disappear. Looking at the history of landlordism and wage-work, we see how much people prefer those over alternatives. People would rather spill blood than submit to a landlord or boss which is incidentally why the state was required to force people to become proletarians and leave them no alternative than to become wage-slaves.

    3) Nonsense. Historical evidence shows quite the opposite. That people, given free choice and opportunity overwhelmingly favour collectivist structures. Goodwill as the ultimate currency is a nice fantasy but nothing more.

    4) And I would bid you farewell. I doubt any propertarian communities would survive given an valid alternative to those being exploited within them (i.e. their wage-slaves). That is, when those at the bottom of the economic ladder have the option of relocating to a community where they are equal with all, very soon the propertarian communities will implode.

    and feel that a property system that can only be maintained by violence isn’t worth defending.

    How do you reconcile this with the fact that there has not been a historical example of a private property system (that is, a system primarily using wage-slavery and landlordism) which did not rely on (the thread of) violence?

    BTW, would you accept binding third party arbitration, chosen by both parties to the dispute, to resolve a worker or tenant takeover standoff? Just wondering.

    You can’t have any objective third party arbitration unless you already have an agreed law system. And the rules a socialist would consent to are not the same as the rules a capitalist would consent to. In short, the arbiter I would choose would support concepts such as the abolition of PP and decide on this basis, which is obviously something a capitalist would never agree to.


    March 8, 2010 at 6:52 am

  5. Forgot this part.

    To put it simply: because I believe you’re wrong about the inherently oppressive nature of property rights in an anarchist society, I’m willing to let my position stand or fall without using violent enforcement mechanisms. Can you say the same? If so, we are both anarchists and can live in peace and harmony.

    “Live and let live” is not enough to label you an anarchist. Voluntaryism is not enough to label you an anarchist. Anti-statism is not enough to label you an anarchist. Unless you oppose hierarchical authority in all forms, you are not an anarchist as the political movement of the last 150 years is understood.

    As long as we magically reach the future anarchist society, then I would be very glad to let you do whatever you think you will. But it’s irrelevant to discuss the end result since it’s the way to get there that makes all the difference between us.


    March 8, 2010 at 7:01 am

  6. Voluntaryism is not sufficient to maintain a free society, but it is necessary. An opposition to all imposed authority is a minimum to qualify as an anarchist, and a suspicion of all imbalances in power, even non-violent, necessary for the long-term preservation of anarchy. I’ve already said that, and made clear that the anarcho-communist insight about the dangers of all concentrations of wealth should be taken more seriously by anarcho-capitalists. But:

    (1) You said that people will prefer the alternatives to rent and wages if given the choice, so it appears that we agree on the importance of removing all occupational licensing and land use restrictions (as well as all other government-imposed violations of liberty). In such an environment, those offering rentals and employment are providing a service, not oppression: tenants and workers don’t need to take over facilities when they can build their own.

    But I believe you are wrong to think everyone will want to live in their own house and work for themselves: many people want the mobility of renting when they are young and the ability to exchange their labor for things other than a house that will outlive them when they are old, and many people prefer to accept guaranteed pay for their work and transfer the risk of loss to an employer or investor. To violently interfere in such an arrangement would be a violation of anarchist ethics. If you simply think nobody would choose to be a tenant or employee, then I merely believe you are an anarchist who is mistaken in one of his predictions.

    (2) I’m afraid you’re starting to sound like a character in Les Miserables when you talk about the people preferring to spill blood than earn wages and pay rent. No, they don’t. The percentage of people who’d rather die than live in this world, with all its faults, is relatively small. As I recall, the students in Les Miserables discovered that. In any event, I favor a society in which they would only be wage earners or renters by choice, removing all the present obstacles which you and I both agree severely limit their alternatives (although less so in the United States than most of Europe, which may be another reason for our different perspectives).

    (3) Goodwill as the ultimate currency is not only NOT a fantasy, but perhaps the ONLY way for anarchy to function and last. If you prefer the word Reputation instead of Goodwill, that’s fine. People who become wealthier than others will, absent a coercive government, need to maintain reputations for fair play and generosity if they want the rest of society to respect their wealth. In a free society, the richest man in town is the one who has the most friends.

    As I’ve said, I don’t believe property rights are a necessary implication of self-ownership, and the extreme form clearly contradicts it, but I do believe they’ve proven to be a useful social tool in environments of mutual respect without a central authority. Lose the respect, and property cannot be maintained without violence (I think we agree on that).

    (4) The fact that you DON’T believe in the importance of goodwill will limit your influence. I hope you will reconsider, because most of your ideas are the same as mine, and I want us to win.

    (5) Since you are my ally on opposition to military intervention, corporate welfare, drug prohibition, and all restrictions on the ability of the oppressed to work for themselves and create their own personal homestead, I will continue to consider you an ally and an anarchist even if I believe your views on property rights and the legitimacy of rent and wages under anarchy are mistaken.

    But if it makes you feel better to say I’m not an anarchist because I wouldn’t suppress voluntary wage and rental agreements, so be it. This isn’t about a word, but an idea:

    Other People Are Not My Property


    March 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm

  7. 1) Wage-Slavery and Landlordism is always an oppression since nobody would consent to it given alternatives. If it’s being provided as a service, then it would become akin to a hotel or an apprenticeship where the person being subjected to them would be paying something to recompensate the workers or his teacher. However this is far form being the same as someone paying someone else for the privilege of using the tools they’ve grabbed first.

    That means that if I’m a student and I do not wish to buy a house (even though buying houses would be far cheaper once rent is abolished), any temporary location I lived in would charge me only for the cost of the services I received and it required, such as maintenance or cleaning costs. A rent in the sense we have it now would be and should be abolished as it’s only possible because people do not have an alternative.

    You also transpose our current society to the way an anarchist society would work and assume that people would be as willing to get themselves into temporary solutions. But this is a feature of a capitalist system. In pre-capitalist times, people rarely moved locations and when they did, it was permanent and this was because buying a house was cheaper and non-exploitative.

    2)I Do not say that people would rather die than live. I say that when people had a choice, they would rather fight than become wage-slaves or tenants. Read on the history of the enclosures and of the US labour movement, especially in the 19th century. See where the term “wage-slave” originated. When people have the choice, they simply do not wish to work for a boss. This is why enclosures and state-violence was required for capitalism to take hold.

    3) Again, fantasies. I’ve already explained why this is. You have no progression path. One might as well say that a Star-Trek replicator technology is the only way to have a functional anarchism.

    Lose the respect, and property cannot be maintained without violence (I think we agree on that).

    The fact that someone is earning money out of other people’s labour (i.e. wage-slavery, rent and interest) is the simplest and quickest way for them to lose any respect they had for them. The authority they would exercise while doing so would be another. Just look at how quickly money and business between friends ruins friendships as an example.

    4) Vaguely “wanting us to win” does not make you my ally. What are you doing about it? What acts do you support to bring this victory about?

    5) I say <a href=""you are not an ally or an anarchist because you will not be willing to work with us to achieve a future society. You will not seek the abolition of wage-slavery or landlordism. You will support the rights of the rich to exploit the poor (i.e. retain private property) and hope that some kind of reputation system will magically appear to limit this. I’ve mentioned before that it does not matter if we support a compatible future society but how we can fight to achieve it, and unfortunately AnCaps, when they’re not purely theoretical like LewRockwell, seem to only be using methods that either don’t work (Reformism) or simply play into the hands of the ruling elite as useful apologetics.

    I respect Mutualists because at least they try to organize and build structures which have a chance to derail the system. Co-ops, mutual banks, home-built decentralized industries etc. I can consider them allies, even though I give more weight to other tactics.

    AnCaps have no tactics to speak of as they would support a co-op business as much as they would support a capitalist business. In fact, they might support the latter more. And this has no chance of changing anything.

    Other People Are Not My Property

    If you want to oppose slavery, go ahead and say it. Don’t twist it about and go around to say that you support-private property.There’s perfectly good reasons to support slavery that don’t have to rest with inconsistent concepts such as self-ownership.


    March 9, 2010 at 11:56 pm

  8. I am following the same strategy to end government that the Quakers used to end slavery: persuasion, which led to ostracism and boycott of those engaged in evil. They changed the preferences of the British public, and that changed the incentives of those who benefited from supporting slavery. They were wildly successful, because changing people’s ideas changes the world.

    Or as you would put it: I’m doing nothing. 😉

    BTW, my mutualist friends are having a good laugh right now, since they know what I’m doing to support their activities. I really don’t care what you think of me, since the discussion isn’t about whether I’m doing anything for anarchy, but whether property rights are consistent with it. In my view, some are, and some aren’t. In your view, none are. The readers can decide for themselves which of us has made the stronger case.


    March 10, 2010 at 2:14 am

  9. I am following the same strategy to end government that the Quakers used to end slavery: persuasion, which led to ostracism and boycott of those engaged in evil.

    Slavery did not end up because of Quaker persuasion. It ended because of many many factors of which the Quakers are just one and probably not even the most important. Economic and stability factors played a far greater role in the abolition of slavery.

    Look into the world at large and see how much persuasion has achieved by itself when people have an incentive not to heed it. It is not much at all.

    the discussion isn’t about whether I’m doing anything for anarchy, but whether property rights are consistent with it.

    Given that your support of property rights will ensure that anarchy will never come to be, I’d say that they are in fact very incompatible with it.


    March 10, 2010 at 2:29 am

  10. For those interested in a highly respected history of the British antislavery movement, the National Book Award Finalist BURY THE CHAINS by Adam Hochschild starts with the 12 men at a printing shop in 1787 who began the first open movement against slavery. I believe it thoroughly documents the leadership demonstrated by the Quakers and the immense importance of pure persuasion. The Amazon link is:

    For a discussion of how law and property rights have arisen in anarchist societies of the past, I recommend The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without The State by Bruce Benson and Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights by John Hasnas. The former is a book available at Amazon at:

    The latter is available online at no charge at:

    Skim the initial discussion of Locke and Nozick and get to Hasnas’ own views toward the middle of the article.

    @ db0

    The problem with rental housing and employment is the violently-enforced restrictions on alternatives: the problem is not the people offering rental housing and employment. Even in today’s statist world, the more landlords and employers, the less power any one landlord or employer has to exploit people.

    Anyway, I said in my initial blog post that you probably wouldn’t consider me an ally. At this point, I think you’ve proven that to everyone’s satisfaction.


    March 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm

  11. You make a good case for property rights as a vehicle rather than primary. I’ve always considered appeals to tradition as kind of a cop-out, but the instances of common law that you’ve cited here easily reconcile with libertarian principles.

    Would you mind elaborating on proprietary communities a bit more? I’m not clear on why allowing the existence of a co-op, gated community or company town alienates the right to self-ownership.

    I think easements are fine, if they are consensual. The practicality of a stateless commons without a state seem more problematic. Does that make me an “extreme” propertarian?

    Re: buying up all the land around you, any decent libertarian will acknowledge (as you did) that response to aggression should be roughly proportional. So if I buy up all of the land around your house, clearly I’m going to have to deal with continual tresspass, it will harm my reputation, and I can’t respond with deadly force. If suppose that if I were nutty enough to buy up all of this land and the access road and box you in, I could take the next step and put up a gauntlet of razor wire, but that would reduce my own land value. I don’t think either of us are so cynical as to believe that wealthy sociopaths would be holding property access hostage as a business model. Of course there are still gray areas, but not where the rubber touches the road.

    Re: perpetual title, I may not have been paying close enough attention, because I thought we all accepted that land can be re-homesteaded. I think that the point at which a property is eligible is another vague call for all sides. I do think that there will naturally be fewer opportunities to homestead as time goes on. That’s unfortunate, as is the fact that my neighbor is better looking than I am, and that I didn’t inherit any of the wealth my family built up during prohibition.

    The “which judge?” bit is funny, but I don’t see it as a real issue. Wouldn’t any security or insurance provider check for title (with peers and/or independent agencies) before providing coverage? It would certainly be in their best interest to do so.

    Have you ever seen any of the socialist variety anarchists explain how their system would sustain itself without a state? Something like a “Market for Liberty” of that school of thought?


    March 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

  12. Less, I love this essay. It is a gem. A masterpiece! I will distribute it widely.


    Sheldon Richman

    March 28, 2010 at 7:27 am

  13. @ Morey

    You’ve brought up so many interesting issues that I don’t know where to begin. I need a bit of time to respond, and might need to turn the responses into blog posts.


    March 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

  14. Amazing essay! Thank you for your valuable insight. I have bookmarked it and I plan to re-read it in the near future.


    March 28, 2010 at 10:42 am

  15. It occurs to me that if someone acquired all the land around your parcel with the intent to box you in without means of exit, that would qualify as an aggressive act. By the way, this would require the highly unlikely scenario in which you didn’t already have an easement.

    Sheldon Richman

    March 28, 2010 at 10:55 am

  16. Fantastic article which offers quite a bit of food for thought (as well as some tasty looking avenues for further reading). Thanks for taking the time to write this up.


    March 28, 2010 at 11:11 am

  17. “Trespassers Will Be Shot On Sight” has nothing to do with libertarianism though it’s the sort of thing that some of the nutcases at love to argue for.


    March 29, 2010 at 1:13 am

  18. I think the “surrounding someone else’s property to isolate them” issue is actually quite easily handled by Less’s earlier point about homesteading: you only homestead your use of the property, and therefore only have the right to exclude those who interfere with your use. It seems to me that it would be near impossible to ring someone’s property with such high density use that walking across every foot of it would in fact interfere with said use.

    As for “title” searching and the like, I don’t think this system could possibly function absent the state. How many title agencies would there be? What about a start-up that started yesterday? The concept of title is thoroughly dependent on the existence of a monopoly (or at best oligopoly) provider(s) in a given geographic territory. If you go back far enough at common law, you’ll find elaborate ceremonies for transfer of real property, presumably because these ceremonies were sufficient to place neighbors on notice for the change in ownership. If you’re thinking of something larger than a local market in RE, you’re going to need some other form of advertising that is obvious to anyone who views the property – slips of paper held somewhere else, which others may or may not be aware of (in the absence of monopoly providers) just can’t satisfy this problem.


    March 29, 2010 at 3:10 am

  19. I think it rather sad how you keep offering an olive branch to Db0 and he keeps slapping it out of your hand with a snarl. If most anarcho-communists are so filled with seething hatred for anyone who wants to purchase another’s labor or exchange temporary use of any property (land or otherwise) for any consideration, then Db0 may be right about the impossibility of us ever being allies.

    But I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.

    Scott Bieser

    March 29, 2010 at 8:02 am

  20. I think it’s rather sad how I’m civilly pointing out that I cannot be allies with you any more than you can be allies with Social Democrats and you interpret this as me being irrationally hostile.

    It has nothing to do with “seething hatred” and everything to do with what I consider can be helpful towards progressing towards anarchy and what is moral.


    March 29, 2010 at 8:22 am

  21. actually db0, most market anarchists that I’ve ever encountered would gladly work with social democrats on issues that they both care about (ie war, corporate welfare, free speech).


    March 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

  22. Define “work with”. Work with in empowering the state by voting for a social democrat who promises to end wars and dismantle corporate welfare and protect free speech?


    March 29, 2010 at 9:19 am

  23. @Bill, I’m not convinced that title is an invalid concept in a stateless society. How many title firms? I don’t know. How many justice agencies or fire protection co-ops will service a given locale? The startup will probably want to join some sort of network, similar to the ones you see on the back of your ATM card.

    Contracting services from a security agency would be the easiest way to maintain recognized ownership, as the claim to the property would be continually renewed by the agency, in addition to other benefits.

    In order to homestead an unoccupied and unprotected property, the homesteader would need to occupy the space, and at some point, would probably want to get security coverage to have police protection and to assert “title”. The security agency could check to see that there has been no registration on that land as of late and grant probationary coverage to the new user. The agency would likely require an underwriter to verify continual proprietorship over a period of time before granting complete coverage.

    The weak piece of this theory is in the case of the unoccupied but still protected property, and what reasonable solutions might be possible to prevent it, as well as the case of preserving a natural space (e.g. a rain forest) free of human occupation or visitors. I’m still chewing on that.

    Still, I see third-party recognition of ownership as necessary, and using the same framework that allows multiple legal jurisdictions to co-exist within the same geographic area. If there is no way to validate ownership of my car, I’m going to need some fairly sophisticated security to avoid having it homesteaded when I go shopping.

    @Db0, I think “work with” means joining hands at the barricades in order to call attention to mutually perceived injustices, not advocating for the same comprehensive suite of governance policies. The anti-war coalition, for example, is fairly broad.


    March 29, 2010 at 2:57 pm

  24. @Morey: So by “working with” you mean that they would follow acts which are compatible to your ideology but opposing them on the acts which aren’t. You are “allies” with them as long as *they* do the stuff *you* like to do. Right. You thus use some of them as temporary allies when they agree to your ideas.

    When *you* do the acts that Anarchists like to do, such as support unions, takeovers, co-ops, mutual banks and opposition to capitalism, then I might consider you as an ally. If you simply join me in an anti-war protest, you’ll be an ally until the end of that protest. Because when the barricades are raised during the struggle to take-over capitalist businesses by their workers and abolish private property, you’re probably be on the other side.


    March 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm

  25. Thanks to all for either kind words or further thoughts on this matter. This is definitely a subject that needs more discussion.


    Do you want to take a shot at Morey’s question on a book that offers some ideas on how an anarcho-communist society would operate? I don’t have a good answer: I was thinking of Colin Ward’s ANARCHY IN ACTION, Daniel Guerin’s ANARCHISM: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE, or Howard Erlich’s REINVENTING ANARCHY, AGAIN, but you’re the expert on this topic, and I’m wondering if you have any other recommendation (or can pick among the 3 I offered which you think best).


    You are the Oprah of market anarchism: my blog stats exploded after your mention of this post. Thanks so much.


    I read your links with enjoyment, and hope others will take a look at your worthwhile contributions to this topic, but we do have at least one significant difference in perspective: you appear to believe that the issue of property boils down to the right of exclusion, and I am specifically suggesting that it is both better viewed and has been viewed under customary law as a bundle of different rights.


    Yes. Especially if we view property as a bundle of different rights, I agree that systems of formal title are unlikely to develop on the free market (although I remain, as always, ignorant of what a free society is capable of producing). Indeed, I see a Hayekian issue at play here, in that only the people on the premises will be able to fully understand what customs and expectations exist with respect to property. Robert Ellickson’s Order Without Law offers the marvelous example of how ranchers in Shasta County, California pretty much ignore the formal laws and recorded title in resolving disputes over land use.

    I’m guessing in a free society we probably WOULD start with the presumption that a piece of real estate belongs to those currently using it, and that the claim of another will require that they provide evidence of a rental or employment contract with the user to explain why their claim should supersede the possessor claim. As always, customary law will add common sense modifications where there is evidence of fraud or breaking-and-entering by the present user, and we will not be bound by an inflexible recording system which facilitated the theft from Native Americans and places respect for the law above respect for the reasonable expectations of the parties.


    Your example of the anti-war movement as a base for cooperation is obviously near and dear to my heart. The libertarians at the Randolph Bourne Institute running have reached out to both progressive and conservatives and interact regularly, with anti-war social democrats and conservatives given airtime to speak on Scott Horton’s Antiwar Radio nearly every day. The recent DC meeting that brought together 40 prominent social democrats, anarchists, minarchists, and even a couple of conservatives to develop strategies for a common opposition to the military-industrial complex shows that some people can focus on points of agreement on crucial issues while agreeing to limit the coalition to those points of agreement. Then, after we stop the slaughter, corporate welfare, and other violent interventions by the American Empire, others can get on with the REAL freedom work of overthrowing the landlady of their apartment building.


    March 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm

  26. @Less, I have not read any of those books so I cannot really recommend any of them. However I have written my own words on the subject


    March 30, 2010 at 9:37 pm

  27. […] March 31, 2010 in Syndication, property rights by Ideas&Minds Is Property Theft? […]

  28. The one hierarchy that all anarcho-communists believe in, to the extent they are willing to use force to inflict it in others, is the unassailable superiority of their ideology. They are the best anarchists, the only “true” anarchists, and they are not afraid to let you know it, in reliably condescending tones.

    Of course, hierarchy is unavoidable, a necessary by-product of diversity and human interaction, and to resist it is, as Rothbard described, a “revolt against nature.”


    March 31, 2010 at 11:45 am

  29. In fact dbzer0 has a blog post that makes a similar point.

    I’m surprised to see the word ‘moral’ in his mouth.

    I don’t think he sees himself as the best, true, kind of anarchist; rather, that, in his view, it makes no sense to oppose oppression by the state and not oppression by capital. It’s an either/or matter.


    March 31, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  30. I have been quite pissed with dbzer0 myself, and stopped short of posting a long tirade, three times. I’m never quite content with what I come up with.

    A question I would ask the man is why society will necessarily go one way, rather than break down into smaller units, as many other anarchists predict. And therefore, why free markets and communes cannot coexist, rather than one model ‘winning’ and the other having to ‘take over’ in order to have some chance of success.


    March 31, 2010 at 5:36 pm

  31. @Littlehorn, I don’t see why you’re pissed at me, but nevertheless ask and ye shall receive. I’ll try to wire about this soon.


    March 31, 2010 at 8:43 pm

  32. While I’m glad that anarchists are not gonna go to war on the mere basis of their political differences, I think we’re gonna need more than this in the present context. Because this entente is good enough only in a situation where the various free communities are already up and running.

    We’re mixed and scattered at the moment; hence the question of why town A will be hold this or that set of rules, whether there’ll be a split among the population, and how we’re gonna overcome the differences, etc.

    You are indulging in wishful thinking when you believe that society will go one way; I’m not counting on that, and that’s why I’m trying to strengthen links among the different branches of the anarchist movement. We’re gonna need to talk all the time, and I don’t feel you are of much help at the moment.


    April 2, 2010 at 10:03 am

  33. I think you’re indulging in wishful thinking if you believe we can strengthen links among political ideologies which is ideologically opposed. It’s like a Stalinist or other state socialist asking me to strengthen my links with their party. When our tactics in toppling the state (that is, when your camp has any) are so different as to be opposed, I don’t see how we can possibly be of help to each other. I’ll support you only in those actions which are anyway compatible with my practice and you’re support me in those who are compatible with yours but for the core of our acts, we’ll be opposed to each other.


    April 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm

  34. We might be opposed if we were in the same community, until such a time as one of us would go away. As far as I understand, we are definitely and always opposed with regards to the fake nation, which is part of why I disapprove of the assumption that society will go one way (society itself is not a unit/free community); but because we’re not running for prime minister/chancellor/whatever, that ain’t truly a problem. We are potentially allied in our deconstruction of the fake entity into smaller true units, because we find something in this for both of us.

    As for the difference in tactics, I find this to be a potentially moot point. Unless they are pacifistic, they are not pro-statist, and that’s all I care about in terms of anarchist tactics.

    Also, although I’m a mutualist, and have been arguing in favor of stronger links all along, I’m also deeply involved in Bath’s social anarchist movement (admittedly not as hot as Bristol’s), so I would question why I am automatically chucked into this category of people adopting “different tactics.”

    Maybe you mean to say different politics. In that case, we are again faced with the problem that, whatever happens, capitalists are gonna be capitalists, and communists are gonna be communists, etc., and there’s not much you can do about that, except give everyone a space to be. How will that come about? I don’t think you’re going to topple the state. What you can do is organize smaller communities, declare independance, and draw on every anarchist’s support and means to make it happen. Remember that I do not oppose self-defense, and neither can any consistent anarchist.

    Gelderloos called out the vagueness of the term violence, great. What about the vagueness of the term tactics then ? Doesn’t it pre-suppose a common goal ? What if your goal is different from mine ? Certainly tactics will determine the end result, but the contrary is also true. If you envision an end-society with one type of social organization, you will tell me things like: You need to wait until I’m done to get your free market thing going. I don’t think the end-society will be this, therefore the tactics I will adopt are different.


    April 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

  35. Littlehorn, I had understood that you fall into the propertarian side, i.e. supporting something like “Anarcho”-Capitalism, agorism and the like. Those are the ones I do not consider allies. I have no problem working with mutualists since their tactics are not incompatible to mine but rather complement each other. There is only a difference in focus.

    But the reason I’m speaking about tactics is because that’s what is important, not the ideological opposition to the state. Both Anarcho-Communists and “Anarcho”-Capitalists are theoretically opposed to the state but the ways they would use to topple it would run counter to each other rather than work together. And the kind of society we will have post-state will be decided by the way we crush the state.

    A society which topples the state via syndicalist action will most likely end up syndicalist or communist. A society which topples the state via mutualist action will end up mutualist and if against all odds a society manages to destroy the state via counter-economic means, it will probably end up as Agorist (the only remotely realistic tactic of the right-libertarians really). I will not oppose societies which manage to reach that stage unless they run counter to anarchist values where I would agitate those within them to reform their societies anyway.

    But when you have two different camps pulling for an anti-state result with tactics which go counter to each other and end up nullifying each other’s efforts then I will have to consider those efforts who thwart mine as hostile.


    April 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm

  36. db0, a kicker and a quarterback both have different tactics and slightly different goals, but no one is foolish enough to say that they “can’t work together.”


    April 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

  37. And a society which topples the state by using the force of ideas will result in worker/tenant councils, mutual organizations, and price-organized business activity ALL existing, with differing organizations based on people’s preferences, resources, and the task at hand. I want a society in which all three are permitted, respected, and utilized. I run a small business, bank at a credit union, and have a lover with whom I make all decisions by consensus.

    Those who prescribe one form of organization for all of society and for all activities missed their calling as central planners.


    April 2, 2010 at 8:15 pm

  38. I’m starting to think that you’re just not listening to me. Again: I’m talking about tactics which are not compatible with each other. Much like the tactics of Marxist-Leninists to built “vanguard parties” are not compatible with anarchism, so the tactics of Agorists to build Private Defence organizations (i.e. mini-private-states) and support wage-slavery are not compatible with anarchism

    You are suggesting mutualists tactics which I’ve already acknowledged complement syndicalist ones!

    As to what a society will result once a state is brought down by a host of tactics, I don’t much disagree that a post-revolutionary society will be a melting pot of ideas, but then again I fully believe that communism will take over once people realize the harmful effects of markets. But that’s another discussion.


    April 3, 2010 at 1:22 am

  39. > I’m starting to think that you’re just not listening to me.

    The feeling is mutual. 🙂

    I’m not an agorist, although I have enormous respect for many of those who accept that label. I think one of the failings of what you are calling the “right-libertarian” movement is an underappreciation of the non-profit sector of the market, just as I think one of the failings of the”left-libertarian” movement is an underappreciation of the profit sector of the market. I think the market anarchist movement as a whole is not guilty of either of those failings, though certain individuals accepting that designation are.

    As for “wage slavery”, we’ve gone around enough times to make it clear you won’t concede there is a difference between having the option of working for a wage and having self-employment opportunities restricted so that one is forced to work for a wage. So be it, but there’s no merit in continuing a conversation once it gets to the “is-not, is-too” stage.


    April 4, 2010 at 5:55 pm

  40. I think one of the failings of what you are calling the “right-libertarian” movement is an underappreciation of the non-profit sector of the market,


    just as I think one of the failings of the”left-libertarian” movement is an underappreciation of the profit sector of the market.

    It’s not an “underappreciation”, it’s recognition of its harmful effects, therefore it’s not a “failing” either.

    we’ve gone around enough times to make it clear you won’t concede there is a difference between having the option of working for a wage and having self-employment opportunities restricted so that one is forced to work for a wage.

    *Le Sigh*

    This is why I say you’re not listening. Of course I know there is a difference between these two propositions. But like you said, there’s no merit in continuing a conversation like this.


    April 7, 2010 at 4:28 am

  41. There are some good points about this essay. For instance, the bit about “the judge” is good. But there is an awful lot that is not-so-good.

    Us anarchists are not followers. We aren’t even followers of “great anarchists”. This essay places far more importance on Proudhon as a “founder” of anarchist thought than I consider healthy. Proudhon wasn’t “the anarchist Marx”, in fact nobody was the anarchist Marx. Marxists are Marxists, but we anarchists are not Proudhonists, and we never were…. See more

    As well as something of a “great man” focus, this essay also demonstrates a degree of USA-focus which suggests a very conventional US education, of the kind that fills the head with nonsense, a nonsense not yet sufficiently un-learned by the author. For example, look at the favourable mention of the slave-owner Jefferson and his hypocritical words.

    Apart from displaying an attachment to some comfortable Hollywood fictions which the author learned as what passes for history in the USA and has never really discarded, in addition, the essay displays an attachment to versions of history of other lands which have more to do with myth than with anything that actually happened here on this planet.

    It is suggested that, in both Ireland and Iceland, societies without government, and yet with private property “rights” respected, existed for many centuries. That isn’t history, it is fantasy, or perhaps science fiction, about some other Ireland and some other Iceland on some other Earth in some parallel universe. But it just didn’t happen on this Earth, in this universe. Both Ireland and Iceland had governments. Maybe not the strong centralised governments of later states, but government nevertheless. They also had slavery. The most famous slave carried off by Irish slave raiders was Saint Patrick, captured from Britain and taken to the Emerald Isle. But although he was the most famous slave in Ireland, there were hundreds of thousands of others whose names are forgotten or whose names were never recorded in the first place. The same is true also of Viking societies such as Iceland. Raiding for slaves was a major part of Norse economies. And OF COURSE there were Irish and Icelandic equivelants of the Fugitive Slave Act, and OF COURSE those laws were enforced by governments.

    The claim in this essay that, while anarchist or libertarian communist experiments were all short-lived, that contradiction in terms “anarcho-capitalist” societies existed for hundreds of years is simply untrue. Not necessarily a lie as such, since the naive author probably actually believes the nonsense they write.

    Also, the author displays a quite un-anarchistic degree of trust in “the law”, or “common law”. But the same respected system of laws and customs which defended property rights in land also defended property rights to have your runaway slave returned to you. How can anyone claiming to be an anarchist have such trust in “the law”?


    April 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm

  42. Brad, I like your focus on property as not something absolute, but as a useful problem-solving tool.

    I posted similar, but poorly-received, comments on the evolution of property on a post by Stephan Kinsella about patents:

    Perhaps you or others might find them interesting.


    April 23, 2010 at 2:50 am

  43. […] of Anarchy is, we need to remember first premise that made anarchy so favorable in the first place. We need to constantly question all concentrations of wealth and power. If we do that, we can always work side by side preparing the gift of a free and clean planet for […]

  44. Less, I think that this part you have backwards:

    “Moreover, the limits on property rights have already been acknowledged in common law, and ancaps need to abandon the cartoon version of contract law, and learn about duress, undue influence, and adhesions: established common law concepts that go beyond the “well, he agreed to it” view of contractual obligations.”

    It is current states that have this strange idea that “anything goes” much more in a contract than ancaps do. Certainly Rothbard did not advocate any contract that violated self-ownership. He was very specific that contracts may only be able to force transfer of title to things which are transferable in the first place, and he stresses that the title to oneself is NOT transferable. With this guide, contracts can never lead to slavery.

    In other words, an employment contract that FORCES an employee to stay employed for years would never be allowed in Rothbardian terms, but one that encourages it via explicit penalties would! So, one that imposes a property transfer as a penalty in the case of employment termination by the employee would be viable. I would hardly see this as exploitive, it is the foundation of good relations. I can’t see how cooperative work which requires at least two parties could ever be done consistently and fairly without it. Much of the exploitation of employees (and employers, it goes both ways) is because of today’s state which enforces punitive clauses which do not exist in contracts. Instead of explicit terms, the state determines terms as it sees fit. Naturally, this is a recipe for exploitation as each side continuously lobbies the state to support it instead of negotiating fair terms up front.

    Martin Fick

    July 9, 2010 at 11:12 am

  45. I’m coming a bit late to the party, with the help of George Donnelly’s link on Facebook.

    I think it is a sensible view that property is one problem-solving tool for minimizing conflict. Although, I am not so include to leave it to tradition (common law) to come up with answers. I would have liked to see more on the principles for which those common law decision should be based.

    I have to agree with commenter Db0 that it is going to be down-right impossible for market anarchists to form a lasting coalition if social anarchists do not recognize property rights.


    August 8, 2010 at 6:18 pm

  46. Excellent discussion, especially about customary law. Any of you ever check out the community forums? They are super into talking about all this, especially Friedman and Hasnas of late. Friedman even posted there a few times in the past few weeks.


    August 25, 2010 at 4:43 am

  47. Hey, just discovered your site. Glad you guys believe in anarchy without bombs -– not only because I do not believe in intiating force, but because the state has a lot more bombs than I do.

    On the conundrum of property, Henry George solved that 130 years ago. He outlined how, if we assume that all people are equal and possess equal rights, then some property must be undeniably, unassailably private and some must be undeniably, unassailably common.

    Things that individuals make must be private; things that no individual has made, or that all have made in common, must be common property.

    This means produced goods belong to the producer as an extension of self-ownership, while land (i.e., all of nature, excluding man) is common.

    This does not mean individuals have no right to exclusive possession. But it does mean that with possession of valuable land comes a responsibility to those being excluded. In George’s formula, the possessor compensates those being excluded by paying into a common fund (whether via a state per se, or some private association) in proportion to the value owned.

    This would provide the public revenue for essential services. The excess would be divided equally among individuals. The precise breakdown is to be determined by the community, preferably at a very local level. In essence this makes nature a common asset and makes everyone, landowner or not, an equal shareholder.

    In practicality, we start by modifying an already existing system, the property tax system. Raise the levy on land to capture nearly 100% of land value.* Lower the tax on improvements (buildings etc) to nothing.

    Concurrently, abolish all other taxes—the taxes on labor, production, and trade–whether local, State, or national. (Easy, right?) Voila, you have a “Single Tax” or earth-revenue-sharing system.

    The ramifications of redesigning public finance this way are so extensive and all-pervasive that George rightly called it “the first reform.” There are four main categories of legal privilege that enforce inequality and destroy liberty, and the so-called “Single Tax” (i.e., natural wealth-sharing) principle dispatches the first two, most basic of those privileges, and paves the way for leveling the latter two much more easily.

    The so-called “Single Tax” naturally creates a feedback loop of localism and decentralism (and, I believe, feeds a spirit of such among the citizens) that can go as far as the people take it. You want anarchy? This is a great vehicle to get you there.

    * Land value includes resource rents too, which are a bit different to assess than real estate but which is done all the time in the course of market transactions and allocation of exploration & extraction rights.



    November 12, 2010 at 10:56 am

  48. […] Less Antman takes inventory of the peaks and valleys of the perennial debate on property theory.  And he dares to hint at the […]

  49. […] of Anarchy is, we need to remember first premise that made anarchy so favorable in the first place. We need to constantly question all concentrations of wealth and power. If we do that, we can always work side by side preparing the gift of a free and clean planet for […]

  50. Isn’t alienability different from forfeitability?

    Roderick Tracy Long

    August 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  51. True enough. I need to find a different way to word the point I was making on the implication of giving total authority over the presumed homesteader of each piece of real estate, but I believe the substantive point remains.


    August 7, 2012 at 12:00 am

  52. […] Theft? was originally written by Less Antman and published on his blog, Anarchy Without Bombs, March 7th, 2010. The following is an updated version that Antman has graciously provided for […]

  53. How would you classify the society / economy described in “Invisible Hand”? (see with no ads and both text and MP3 copies freely available.)

    Larry Mason

    August 17, 2013 at 9:55 am

  54. That was awesome. Well written! Great contribution to the internet 😀


    January 7, 2014 at 1:26 am

  55. Funny that you would want to switch to Google when Google is one of the worst perpetrators, or at least one of the largest, where having no respect for self-ownership is concerned. And as a capitalist you can’t dislike heirarchy because what your entire system is about is heirarchy!


    March 29, 2014 at 12:57 am

  56. I didn’t propose a system. I described what I expected would arise in the absence of central planning in a society filled with people who shared a commitment to mutual respect. I also said I might be wrong about that outcome and would accept what mutual respect produced.

    And in choosing a phone, I’m willing to defend the position that the company who sues everybody for violating its “intellectual property” is not as worthy of support as one who virtually never initiates lawsuits against its competitors. If there is a better option, I’m all ears.


    March 29, 2014 at 1:18 am

  57. Well capitalism is a system, we could belabour on semantics if we felt very nostalgic about all those political meetings of yore! Capitalism necessitates hierarchy, was my maxim.

    I don’t use a smart phone, I use a Nokia. Of course it is very nearly a social imperative to have constant and mobile access to the Internet these days so that may just seem absurd to you, in which case I have no answer! you’ll be slave to it all regardless of which smart phone you use.



    March 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm

  58. I wasn’t trying to argue semantics: I don’t think what I’ve described in this article is capitalism as YOU define it. In particular, my rejection of location-based dispute resolution clearly doesn’t fit the type of propertarianism which we both consider inconsistent with a society based on equal authority. I respect that you disagree, but don’t believe you’re giving my elaboration the attention it deserves before pronouncing that it is simply capitalism. I believe that William Gillis’ idea of goodwill as the ultimate currency which only respects property as a second order good to the extent it is based on goodwill is a sustainable point of view without hierarchy. In any event, I know few self-proclaimed capitalists who’d be willing to accept such a foundation for their property claims.

    As for phones, in the absence of an argument in favor of Nokia, I still believe that Google has the best record among mobile phone manufacturers in avoiding the offensive use of intellectual property laws (I won’t deny that all of the current providers, Google included, reference IP in defensive actions and counter-suits). I know we agree, based on the fact that we are communicating via the Internet, that the avoidance of all use of products made by companies whose policies offend us is not a moral imperative.


    March 29, 2014 at 11:18 pm

  59. […] Is Property Theft? | Anarchy Without Bombs – "Property is Theft!" was the battle cry of one prominent French anarchist in the 19th century. "Au contraire, mon frère," retorted another. "Property is Liberty!" […]

  60. […] who support property rights. Context is everything. So are definitions. I recommend to read the whole article. Reply With Quote […]

    [INTP] Anarchy!!!! - Page 14

    November 15, 2015 at 8:22 am

  61. […] property gives individual important freedom and independence from state (or collective).Is Property Theft? What is Property? Anarcho-Socialists and Anarcho-Capitalists — Friend or Foe? […]

  62. […] falls on it's own sword (confused whether property is theft or liberty) as is nicely explained here. Reply With Quote […]

  63. […] are few things more contentious than the question of property. For those on the far left, property is theft. For extreme conservatives, it is a sacred right. Most of us come down somewhere in the middle. In […]

  64. […] at all. But it can be summed up in this pithy utterance oft-attributed to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: “Property is theft!” If anything, that is where libertarian socialism cleaves from most mainstream libertarians. And to […]

  65. […] “Property is theft” meaning […]

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