Private Property and Two Kinds of Force; Freethought and Freedom: Jean Meslier

Property, properly understood, does not restrict liberty. Well-defined boundaries help us differentiate between aggressive and defensive violence.

In a recent post critical of Matt Zwolinski’s paper “Property Rights, Coercion, and the Welfare State: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income for All,” Matt Bruenig poses the question, “Why Have Property At All?” Astonished that Zwolinski’s argument assumes “that property must exist,” Bruenig contends that “the natural reaction of a libertarian committed to the abstract principles of liberty above all else should be to reject property period once they realize it is liberty-infringing.” Property, says Bruenig, “is a form of violently coercive liberty restriction.” Bruenig goes on to set up a false choice that places property and liberty in unavoidable opposition, arguing that the “strong move for libertarians” is to abandon the defense of property in favor of liberty. I will assume that Bruenig is honestly confused about the contours of the libertarian opposition to coercion or aggression, that he is not being deliberately obtuse in order to set upon a straw man version of libertarian property theory. Bruenig states that private property “clearly relies upon the initiation of coercive aggressive violence to restrict bodily movements of others.” Certainly it is true (and libertarians readily admit) that all property, by definition, creates a monopolistic right, a right to exclude—ultimately, coercively exclude—others from the use and enjoyment of a particular piece of real estate.