Document Type

Article

Comments

"Forty Acres and A Mule - A Republican Theory of Minimal Entitlements," 13 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 37 (1990)

Abstract

Let me begin by mapping out what, for this Federalist Society audience, I take to be common ground. Pure socialism is bad. A system of private property, at least up to a point, is good. A regime in which the state controlled all resources would threaten both individual liberty and true democracy. Quite literally, in such a socialist society, the citizen would have no ground of her own on which to stand, to define herself, and to resist government tyranny.

I will now move from this common ground to stake out a position that for this group may seem far less obvious. Private property is such a good thing that every citizen should have some. Indeed, a minimal entitlement to property is so important, so constitutive, and so essential for both individual and collective self-governance that to provide each citizen with that minimal amount of property, the government may legitimately redistribute property from other citizens who have far more than their minimal share. But wait-there's more. The notion of minimal entitlements is not simply constitutive, it is constitutional- not just constitutionally permissible, meaning that the government may distribute or redistribute to insure every citizen a minimal stake in society, but constitutionally obligatory. The government must do so. The Constitution does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics, but it does enact Mr. Thaddeus Stevens's forty acres and a mule.

Date of Authorship for this Version

1990

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