Bookbag: Property, Community, and the Good Life

Private property promotes individual good to the degree that it enables individuals to thrive. Secure property helps individuals live “a fully human life,” as legal scholar Joseph William Singer has put it:

Access to material resources is a precondition, not only of subsistence, but of the capacity to shape one’s life, to create a home, to develop relationships with others, and to engage in meaningful work. Access to property promotes security by ensuring stable control over the resources needed for a dignified life.


[A centrist position that balances liberty and community] needs to be resisted, for private property is not a product of these two elements, brought into some sort of balance. Property draws its philosophic justification from the common good, which means that the common good should supply the polestar for crafting property law. Individual liberty, vital and necessary though it is, enters the picture only to the extent that its recognition promotes the good of people generally.

[“Private Property for an Ecological Age,” pages two-hundred-and-nine and -ten, in The Land We Share: Private Property and the Common Good, Eric T. Freyfogle; my emphases. – NPO]

Liberty separated from community is, again, to quote Berry, “loneliness and meaningless … the freedom of our vices.” “Private property is important not because it is a precondition to the pursuit of happiness, but because it is bound up with the activities of man’s pursuit of the good; consequently it can only be understood properly in terms of that end.

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