Property, propriety and democracy

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The redefinition of rights of equality and liberty by radical and deliberative democrats during the last decades of the 20th century resulted in the denial that a consideration of property is integral to political philosophy. Theorizing property as intrinsically political demands a return to Marx but on terms he may not have recognized. I outline a politics of property in this paper contending that there can be no universal justification for any regime of property. Property is by definition the institution of a wrong. The articulation of something as property establishes a border, determining what can be owned, how far ownership extends, where it is limited, as well as terms of use and terms of abuse. It establishes a set of property relations, and defines a vocabulary of the proper. Here sovereign state power is enlisted to enforce relations of property beneficial to some, but not all. A challenge to any political regime must of necessity put in to question both the forms of proper behaviour, and the regime of property. These are intrinsically related to each other. I conclude by arguing that democracy is always improper. Property, in all of its forms entails enclosure. Enclosure requires the drawing and the maintenance of boundaries of exclusion and inclusion. The sovereign determination of the proper, as well as of the exception to the proper defines trespass. Trespass is a form of democratic enactment when, and if, it destabilises enclosure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-165
Number of pages17
JournalStudies in Social Justice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

© The author(s)


  • property
  • Locke
  • Marx
  • democracy
  • propriety


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