Private Property in the USA

In the USA civil and property "rights" are legally organized into a hierarchy, as shown in the diagram. Although the USA constitution guarantees civil rights in the Bills of Rights (Amendments 1-10), the constitution does not guarantee property rights per se.

In the 5th amendment of the US constitution, private property is mentioned when it says "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."
Read about current Supreme court (state and federal) interpretations of eminent domain; and an update.

Read an article on "Private Property in America: An Ever Evolving Idea" by Harvey M. Jacobs.

Evolution of the Concept of "Property" in Western Civilization
1) Pre-medieval and medieval societies of Northern Europe were more concerned about the materials of value they could harvest from the land and the personal relations among those with interests in the products of the land than about the ground as such. This is the meaning of "right of common" -- the right to remove something of material value from the land.

2) Roman law recognized private ownership of land (at least for the elite) and its absolute powers over the land and all things of value attached to it. As Roman law spread across Europe, the doctrine of "private" property came in conflict with the older, local notion of "common" property.

3) In the 17th century, John Locke included "one's own person, one's capacities, one's rights and liberties" under property rights. These non-material aspects were actively (by the State) reduced to material property as a capitalistic economy developed. This material sense of property was beneficial to owners of capital, which was mainly in the form of land; but it excluded people without capital.

Up the 17th century, common and private concepts of property co-existed:
1) the inclusive "commons" or common areas could be used by every member of a community for their survival needs.
2) the exclusive private property could be used to prevent others for the material resources and even access to land.

Despite the narrowing of the concept of property, it remains the social web of behaviors and attitudes that recognizes a defined status relationship between the persons and land. Even private property is fundamentally socially defined and socially enforced!

Humans need two kinds of property:
1) to support life, property in consumable things, e.g., food, water, shelter, etc. These are by there by nature exclusive property rights; only one person can eat the same apple! Private property rights contradict democratic human rights.
2) to work, to develop capacities. This does not require exclusive property rights, but must indeed, be inclusive to have any meaning. There is work for everybody if only to produce for their own survival needs!

Societies define themselves by the values that inform how they answer these questions:
1) What are inalienable rights? -- free speech or food? --
"natural property rights" are based on use-value: all humans have need for the use of nature (food, fuel, shelter) for their very existence and survival.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." --Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776.
2) What are exclusive rights? -- food or property?

"artificial property rights" restrict "natural property rights" because they are based on market-values and so are restricted for the benefit of "owners" only.

Think of property as "communities of place" versus "communities of interest." The human ecology conception of rights is that all rights are collective and multi-generational. And rights are linked to responsibilities.

For conservatives, individual behavior equals public welfare. Rights express responsibilities in "communities of interest" -- Property rights over the civil rights of other people.

For liberals, individual rights must be regulated to assure the public interest, because individuals do not always do the best thing for others. Another example of  "communities of interest." Civil rights for all people with limited material rights as well support for property rights.

For radicals, private property is the fundamental problem in resource access and resource management. Rights and responsibilities are matched in "communities of place" -- Material rights as well as civil rights for all people over property rights.