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Property in Land, 102 YALE L.J. 1315-1400 (1993)


Because human beings are fated to live mostly on the surface of the earth, the pattern of entitlements to use land is a central issue in social organization. As the epigraphs suggest, this issue has been the subject of fierce ideological controversy. Blackstone's paean to private property comports with the mainstream Anglo-American exaltation of decentralized ownership of land. This vision underlies the Homestead Acts, the Jeffersonian wish for a polity of yeoman farmers, and the American dream of homeownership. Defenders of private ownership of land argue that it promotes individual liberty, political stability, and economic prosperity. Indeed, some economic historians have identified the emergence of freehold land tenure in Western Europe after the Dark Ages as a major source of the great release of energy that ensued there. To commentators such as Marx and Engels, by contrast, the creation of private property in land is a fount of evils, particularly inequality in wealth and the splintering of more organic communities into atomized, untrusting social environments of individual competition. The vision of collective living on shared land has had a broad and enduring appeal. It has inspired, among others, the Protestant sectarians, secular kibbutzniks, and counterculture experimentalists who have founded intentional communities. During the past century, skeptics of private property in land have come into power in a number of nation-states. In Israel, where the prevailing philosophy holds that land should belong collectively to the Jewish nation, 93% of the land area is stateowned; the Israeli Basic Law of Lands prohibits the government from transferring any of it except under special circumstances. Hewing to the program of Marx and Engels, Stalin collectivized Russian agriculture from 1929 to 1933 at the price of some nine million lives. Drawing on the same inspiration, Mao began China's Great Leap Forward in 1957, precipitating a famine that killed some 20 million. Two decades later, land collectivizations contributed to a million deaths in Kampuchea and another million in Ethiopia. Beyond dispute, botched land policies have been the-chief domestic source of human woe during the past century.

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