It is practically inconceivable that literally everything would be private property, including lakes and rivers, beaches, roads, railways, refuse-dumps, the postal service, all radio and television broadcasting, and so on and so forth (also the oceans?). And it is practically inconceivable that literally nothing would be under the dominion of an individual owner to the possible exclusion of everyone else, including a person's body and/or its parts, the food and drinks 'e consumes, the clothes 'e wears, the photographs 'e possesses, 'er ornaments at home, the works of art 'e has created in 'er spare time, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, logically speaking it is a contingent matter whether a state in which everything would be individual or private property is biologically and sociologically feasible, and whether a state in which nothing would be individual or private property is feasible in that, or some similar, sense. From a normative-philosophical point of view 'the course of wisdom' is --as has been insisted-- 'neither to attack private property in general nor to defend it in general'. Or --as has also been said-- 'the issue is not the maintenance or abolition of private property, but the determination of the precise lines along which private enterprise must be given free scope'. Both logically and normatively one may be indifferent to the issue whether ownership in general should be private or public, or some mix of both. One may have it depend on the circumstances of the time and place, unless of course, private ownership, or for that matter, public ownership, has become an end in itself.

The distinction between end and means is very important in theories of property and closely related to the limitation of property rights. When private property is an end in itself, all limits on private appropriation are lacking, and an unlimited accumulation of private property becomes possible. It was already correctly pointed out long ago that 'a human being that has made wealth 'er end has a desire for wealth without limit, whereas one who desires wealth as a necessary means to supporting life desires only limited wealth'. When property is a means, the end itself is something else, such as felicity or another kind of perfection, a good or happy life, utility, individual freedom or 'fulfilment of the will'. In pro-property theories the utility notion, which should center on the attainment of happy lives, has usually degenerated into an economic end of an ever-growing production to be maximized forever. (Or, is this why the end was called "utility" in the first place?) Those who do not treat property as a means need not defend a limited property right, but when they do allow a right of unlimited accumulation, they simply do not realize what its practical consequences are. It is this why private property, or unlimited private property, has been denounced as 'destructive of the human essence'.

Rather than overtly being treated as an end in itself, property may also be introduced as a primitive sort of 'exclusive right'. It then requires external limits in order not to collapse under the weight of the most irresponsible callousness (as we have seen in the case of a shipwrecked person reaching the beach of a historical-entitlement owner, and in the case where such an owner happens to have the only waterhole in the area not dried up). The theoretical problem with such an external limitation is that it may not only change the end of the story, it could, logically speaking, change the whole story. For the external principle appealed to is there not at all or it has been there all the time. This is also the case when property is treated as a means. The principle justifying both property and its limits is then internal tho. For example, if the right of property is deduced from the principle and right of self-preservation, then this right of property is a limited one; limited where unlimited accumulation would deny the right of self-preservation to others. Likewise, if utility is really a principle of happiness (or desires, preferences, interests), then a greater productivity may justify private property to a certain extent, namely insofar as greater productivity and the corresponding increase of private property maximize utility or create a happier world. Yet, as soon as a still greater productivity and/or a still larger extent of private property are responsible for an unhappier world, the same principle of happiness puts a limit on production and privatization. For not everyone is an infinite desirer of utilities and personal power (and no-one should be).

Those who have merely sought for the justification of an ideological bias could not care less about the limitation of property by its internal subprinciple(s) or about external principles needed for its limitation. Having justified a right of property by appealing to the right of self-preservation, for instance, a theorist could easily turn this property into an unlimited right, especially an unlimited right in land. And 'e would then only have to introduce money, which can be collected without restraint, to render the original limits on private appropriation completely ineffective -- as has been pointed out before. What ensues is, then, an unequal access to the means of labor, and therefore of a comfortable life, which pitiably undoes the original, 'natural, human equality' of the right of self-preservation. Theoretically this need not, and even is not, the result, but historically the argument has been construed this way to suit ideological purposes.

©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Traditional Proper and Improper Arguments