What is property? I’ve already written four posts on this, but I thought I’d throw out a particular formula that I came across and quite liked.
This is perhaps not the full definition of property but a part:
property is a set of social relationships, which function in such as way as to conceal their nature as social relationships. It is the organisation of masses of people in order to produce solitude.
For example, imagine I come across a field. I am not alone – like almost everyone else throughout history, I exist in relationships to others, to my family, my friends, my community, etc. I see the field, and I see how it relates to me and to them. What could we do with it? What could we grow here? How easy would it be to cross? Etc.
The set of relationships that turn it into my property all serve the goal of allowing me to forget about them, to make myself alone. My ownership is a relationship that involves me, those who are excluded from crossing or using the field because I say so, those who I permit to do so, those who I employ to work it, those who enforce my rights with batons and handcuffs, those who own other fields that I can trade with, etc.
In the absence of all those people, there is no ownership. But the net result of those relationships is to allow me to look at the field and see only how it relates to me – it is my domain, my personal ‘private sphere’. Decisions about what happens to it are decisions for me to make alone. The benefits it provides are benefits that I reap alone – and when I then turn to other people, to the rest of society, I and my field stand together as one item. If I let them eat some of the food grown there, I am giving them something that is ‘mine’, bestowing from out of myself.
In my relation to others, the field is an extension of myself; in my relation to the field, others have been banished, erased (though they are still, of course, ‘out there’, to be sold to or bought from, etc.). I have contrived that other people should relate to me in such a way as to allow me an unreal aloneness, to construct for me a ‘private sphere’ from which they have been banished.
I don’t think this (partial) definition has any direct consequences, but I thought it was interesting.