Stuart Banner


On his book American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own

Cover Interview of June 05, 2011


Philosophers and law professors sometimes try to discern property’s “true” nature.  But the stories in this book suggest that property is not something that has a true nature.

What one thinks property is depends on what one wants property to do—that is, what goals one is trying to advance by thinking of property in a particular way.

Property is not an end in itself but rather a means to many other ends.  Because we have never had unanimity on how to prioritize those other ends, we have never had unanimity on an understanding of property.

In the course of this push and pull, advocates on all sides have made, and still make, claims about property—about its origins, about its attributes, about its purposes, and about its outer limits.  Almost all our discourse about property has consisted, and still consists, of such claims.

The “property” we talk about now, however, is not the same as the property of 1900, which was not the same as the property of 1800.  Our conceptions of property have changed over time, to match the changes in the goals we think are worth pursuing.

© 2011 Stuart Banner