Private Property

For the Individualists, private property, as they defined it, was a necessary condition of the law of equal liberty and of the sovereignty of the individual, essential as a practical matter for allowing the individual her rightful sphere of discretion over her life. Without protection for the fruits of individual labor, they argued, a just social system and equitable economic system were both impossible. It was not private property in and of itself that allowed and protected the exploitation of labor, but rather the perversion of private property, the coercive monopolization of a politically connected ruling class over land, resources, and the means of exchange. The law of equal liberty was thus to establish the outer limits of private property, to function as its limiting principle, the more fundamental idea guiding it and providing its justification. The occupancy and use of land became the Individualists’ guidepost in discerning whether private property was a legitimate safeguard of labor and autonomy, or else a mere insulation of monopoly privilege. And while they never pretended that the line separating the occupancy and use standard from the standards of their day was definite or self-evident, it was no less important to make explicit that there was indeed a difference. Here are the Individualists in their own words...

"Those who imagine that industrial conditions can be made or unmade by this or that inadequate legal patchwork, find themselves in the midst of a frightful boiling of irreconcilable elements, which they weakly and childishly try to explain by some trivial reason, such as the attitude of this or that politician, or this or that capitalist, . . . The condition is so terrible that somehow they are compelled to "sit up and take notice"; but they do not perceive that it is the inevitable result of the whole politico-economic lie that man cannot be free and the institution of property continue to exist.

"I wish a sharp distinction made between the legal institution of property, and property in the sense that what a man definitely produces by his own labor is his own. It is the legal institution of property which has produced this condition, in which the elemental cries of humanity are swelling up in a frightful discordant chorus, because the elemental needs of humanity are being denied, -- and denied to masses of men." - Voltairine de Cleyre

"As an element in human progress, the right of private property, in importance, has taken first and almost only place in the current systems of law and of political economy. While admitting its great importance, we cannot conceal the fact that the writers on those subjects have wholly failed to distinguish between its use and its abuse, or to recognize its rational and equitable limits." - Joshua K. Ingalls

"Now Anarchists are not opposed to private property, except [as] it is defined as the sum of legal privilege, but we may go on with the argument. Shall we abolish the State, or private property? The Anarchist knows very well that the present State is an historical development, that it is simply the tool of the property-owning class; he knows that primitive accumulation began through robbery bold and daring, and that the freebooters then organized the State in its present form for their own self-preservation." - A.H. Simpson

"Liberty means to be free from as well as free to do. To be free means to be independent—not forced interdependence. Independence implies exclusion, hence a libertarian economy will involve property rights." - Laurance Labadie

"This taking of a man's property, without his consent, is a denial of his right of property; for the right of property is the right of supreme, absolute, and irresponsible dominion over anything that is naturally a subject of property—that is, of ownership. It is a right against all the world. And this right of property—this right of supreme, absolute, and irresponsible dominion over anything that is naturally a subject of ownership—is subject only to this qualification, viz., that each man must so use his own, as not to injure another." - Lysander Spooner

"Now, private property in land, not required by the owner for his use excludes labor from place and opportunity. There is no aim or logic for its existence, indeed, but to effect this very purpose." - Joshua K. Ingalls

"Violence, either direct or through law, accounts for the greater part of actual proprietary rights from the remotest past to the present time; as much in so-called free and civilized societies as in the most barbarous. The upholders of the existing order maintain the justice of current methods of obtaining wealth and the validity of present owners' titles to the possession of property, by hypocritically falling back on the true theory which declares, in the words of Adam Smith, that 'the property which each man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.' They defend their property on the assumption that it is acquired under the same conditions as the rights of those who obtain it by their labor without violating others' rights; and uplift their hands in holy horror in their desire to save the poor man’s goods and the toiler’s right to his own when the wicked Communists cry, in the words of Proudhon but without his meaning, 'Property is robbery.'" - William Bailie 

"As to the second count, that we repudiate property and the right of accumulating and exchange at will, we simply deny. We only repudiate the right of accumulating other people's property; and as for exchanges, they are the burden of our whole doctrine." - Stephen Pearl Andrews

"The fundamental concepts of Anarchism are absolutely sound. To me they present three things,—viz., that each individual should exercise the right of complete sovereignty, that each individual should own absolutely all the results of his own efforts, and that nothing which is not the result of human effort should be subject to unlimited ownership, or, in other words, that the results of human effort only should be property." - Joseph A. Labadie

"I do not agree with Mr. Owen that Anarchism does not commit its adherents to any economic dogma. Anarchism is a word without meaning, unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market—that is, private property. Whoever denies private property is of necessity an Archist. This excludes from Anarchism all believers in compulsory Communism. As for the believers in voluntary Communism (of whom there are precious few), they are of necessity believers in the liberty to hold private property, for to pool one's possessions with those of others is nothing more or less than an exercise of proprietorship." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"If the liberty of the individual, embracing in that idea the equal liberty of all, is accepted as a standard principle, the only measure of rights, and the fulfillment of justice; then, whatever ideas are entertained upon property or any other question of principle and rights must harmonize with that leading idea. Any conception of property which traverses it and denies complete individual liberty must be rejected: it is inconsistent with its acceptance." - William Bailie

"No; we have the competition of labor, but not in the same way the competition of capital. I repeat: You see the pernicious effects of that one-sided competition and of property forcibly invested with privileges, and you explain: 'Down with private property!' You do not see that it is this very property which makes us independent, and you do not see that it is therefore necessary to remove the obstacles in the way of acquiring it in order to abolish the false relation of masters and servants." - John Henry Mackay

"Defining [private property] with Proudhon as the sum total of legal privileges bestowed upon the holders of wealth, [Liberty] agrees with Proudhon that property is robbery. But using the word in the commoner acceptation, as denoting the laborer's individual possession of his product or of his proportional share of the joint product of himself and others, [Liberty] holds that property is liberty." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"It is not important to our purpose to inquire whether the plunderers or plundered are more to blame, or the greater sufferers. This is plain; with the land in the hands of the hereditary or speculative lord, the laborer has no resource for self-employment, however fit or unfit he may be." - Joshua King Ingalls

"When all forms of private property are abolished, exchange hampered or prohibited, competition wiped out, and money forbidden, the liberty and independence of the individual is gone and there remains a tyranny as totalitarian and despotic as can be imagined." - Laurance Labadie

"I have always maintained that liberty is of greater importance than wealth,—in other words, that man derives more happiness from freedom than from luxury,—and this is true; but there is another sense in which wealth, or rather property, is of greater importance than liberty. Man has but little to gain from liberty unless that liberty includes the liberty to control what he produces. One of the chief purposes of equal liberty is to secure this fundamental necessity of property, and, if property is not thereby secured, the temptation is to abandon the régime of contract and return to the reign of the strongest." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"In the first place, we find man having an existence; and therefore he must have a place in which to exist, and a natural right to occupy that place. . . . [But] [t]he present relations of man to his possessions and property, are inverted." - Joshua K. Ingalls

"Anarchism being neither more nor less than the principle of equal liberty, property, in an Anarchistic society, must accord with this principle. The only form of property which meets this condition is that which secures each in the possession of his own products, or of such products of others as he may have obtained unconditionally without the use of fraud or force, and in the realization of all titles to such products which he may hold by virtue of free contract with others. Possession, unvitiated by fraud or force, of values to which no one else holds a title unvitiated by fraud or force, and the possession of similarly unvitiated titles to values, constitute the Anarchistic criterion of ownership." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"The consequence of such a system of contracts so enforced can be readily imagined; constantly increasing dependence and poverty on the part of the workers, and which can hardly benefit the land owners or shopkeepers themselves. . . . If in person [the workers] are not liable to seizure, yet the product of their labor is subject to a lien, first for rent, and secondly for everything they have used or consumed in cultivating or managing their allotment of land. Denied access to the inheritance bestowed on them by nature, they have no resource but to submit to the terms of the land owner in the first place, and no means or opportunity to provide themselves with tools, seeds, manures, etc., except by mortgaging the future crop. Under such circumstances how can they make a contract which can justly bind them or which society can properly enforce?" - Joshua King Ingalls