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Propertarianism (also proprietarianism)[1] is an ethical discipline within right-libertarian philosophy that advocates contractual relationships as replacements for monopolistic bureaucracies organized as states. Propertarian ideals are most commonly cited to advocate for a state or other governance body whose main or only job is to enforce contracts and private property.


It appears that the term was coined (in its most recent sense at least) by Edward Cain in 1963:

Since [libertarians' in the United States] use of the word "liberty" refers almost exclusively to property, it would be helpful if we had some other word, such as "propertarian," to describe them. [...] Ayn Rand [...] is the closest to what I mean by a propertarian.[2]

Hans Morgenthau used propertarianism to characterize the connection between property and suffrage.[3]

Historian Marcus Cunliffe defined "propertarianism" in his 1973 lectures as "characteristic values of American history" in regard to property.[4][5][6][7]

Markus Verhaegh states that Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism advocate property may only originate by being the product of labor and may then only legitimately change hands by trade or gift. They term this as "neo-Lockean" (2006).[8]

David Boaz writes that the "propertarian approach to privacy", both morally and legally, has ensured Americans' privacy rights (2002).[9]

L. Neil Smith describes propertarianism as a positive libertarian philosophy in his alternate history novels The Probability Broach (1980) and The American Zone (2002).[10][11]

Brian Doherty describes Murray Rothbard's form of libertarianism as "propertarian" because he "reduced all human rights to rights of property, beginning with the natural right of self-ownership".[12]

Since 2013, Curt Doolittle has expanded the scope of propertarianism to make it a subset of natural law, defined rules of reciprocity between different cultures and socio-economic classes; defined low-context communication as deflationary truth; posited decidability as the key component of testimonial statements; and argued that cultures that practice deflationary truth within communication display attributes of scientific realism.[13]


In the science fiction novel The Dispossessed (1974), left-libertarian Ursula K. Le Guin contrasted a propertarian society with one that does not recognize property rights.[14][15] She used the term in a negative sense because she believed property objectified human beings. She has been described as an anarcho-communist.[16][17]

Other left-libertarian non-propertarians like Murray Bookchin also have been called anti-propertarians. Bookchin objected to propertarians even calling themselves libertarian:

We have permitted cynical political reactionaries and the spokesmen of large corporations to pre-empt these basic libertarian American ideals. We have permitted them not only to become the specious voice of these ideals such that individualism has been used to justify egotism; the pursuit of happiness to justify greed, and even our emphasis on local and regional autonomy has been used to justify parochialism, insularism, and exclusivity – often against ethnic minorities and so-called deviant individuals. We have even permitted these reactionaries to stake out a claim to the word libertarian, a word, in fact, that was literally devised in the 1890s in France by Elisée Reclus as a substitute for the word anarchist, which the government had rendered an illegal expression for identifying one's views. The propertarians, in effect – acolytes of Ayn Rand, the earth mother of greed, egotism, and the virtues of property – have appropriated expressions and traditions that should have been expressed by radicals but were willfully neglected because of the lure of European and Asian traditions of socialism, socialisms that are now entering into decline in the very countries in which they originated.[18]

Bookchin described three concepts of possession: property itself, possession and usufruct, appropriation of resources by virtue of use.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ralf M. Bader, John Meadowcroft (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 151.
  2. ^ Edward Cain (1963). They'd Rather Be Right: youth and the conservative movement. Macmillan. pp. 32–36. ASIN B0000CLYF9. 
  3. ^ Hans Morgenthua, p. 174.
  4. ^ Hans Joachim Morgenthau, (Kenneth W. Thompson, Robert John Myers, Editors), Truth and tragedy: a tribute to Hans J. Morgenthau, Transaction Publishers, p. 165, 1984 ISBN 0-87855-866-7.
  5. ^ Marcus Cunliffe, The right to property: a theme in American history, Sir George Watson lecture delivered in the University of Leicester, 4 May 1973, Leicester University Press, 1974 ISBN 0-7185-1129-8, ISBN 978-0-7185-1129-6
  6. ^ Rob Kroes, Them and us: questions of citizenship in a globalizing world, University of Illinois Press, p. 208, 2000 ISBN 0-252-06909-9
  7. ^ Marcus Cunliffe, In search of America: transatlantic essays, 1951–1990, p. 307, 1991.
  8. ^ Verhaegh, Marcus (2006). "Rothbard as a Political Philosopher" (PDF). Journal of Libertarian Studies. 20 (4): 3. 
  9. ^ David Boaz, Cato Institute, Toward liberty: the idea that is changing the world : 25 years of public policy from the Cato Institute, Cato Institute, p. 386, 2002 ISBN 1-930865-27-9
  10. ^ L. Neil Smith, The American Zone, p. 167, 2002.
  11. ^ John J. Pierce, When world views collide: a study in imagination and evolution, p. 163, 1989.
  12. ^ Doherty, Brian (2008). "Rothbard, Murray (1926–1995)". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. p. 442–445. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n271. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024. 
  13. ^ "Counter-Currents Radio: Interview with Curt Doolittle". Counter-Currents Publishing. Retrieved June 12, 2017. 
  14. ^ Ursela K. Le Guin, The dispossessed: a novel, HarperCollins, various pages, 2003 ISBN 0-06-051275-X.
  15. ^ John P. Reeder, Source, sanction, and salvation: religion and morality in Judaic and Christian traditions, p. 113, 1988. Reeder uses phrase "nonpropertarian" to describe Le Guin's views.
  16. ^ Laurence Davis, Peter G. Stillman, The new utopian politics of Ursula K. Le Guin's The dispossessed, Lexington Books, p. xvii, 2005.
  17. ^ On Triton and Other Matters: An Interview with Samuel R. Delany, Science Fiction Studies, November 1990.
  18. ^ Murray Bookchin, The Greening of Politics: Toward a New Kind of Political Practice, Green Perspectives: Newsletter of the Green Program Project, No. 1 January 1986 [1].
  19. ^ Ellie Clement and Charles Oppenheim, Department of Information Science, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leics Great Britain, Anarchism, Alternative Publishers and Copyright, Journal of Anarchist Studies, undated.