Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

"Property is theft" -Taken too literally?

–1 vote
Now on the subject on property and how Anarchists generally define property, I still have a lot to learn. From what I understand, Anarchists define private property as property owned by the few but ran by many. Also anything that is used to exploit others for profit is considered 'property'. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Anyways, my question is, is the 'private property' I live on considered property or possession? If someone owns private property and is uncomfortable with people 'trespassing', I think it's fair enough to handle that situation (whether it be warnings, violence, etc.) But is that considered "Private Property" by Anarchist definition? It's land that their home is on and they're not using it to exploit anyone or gain profit at the expense of others.
asked Mar 22, 2012 by AnarchicSaint (260 points)
Ah, the suburban nuclear family dwelling eh? Mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma and grandpa, cat and dog, in a house, on a lot, how very quaint, no? Perhaps too much, so.  For as many of us already know, there is far more to it all then just the quaint human equation of these institutions.

As with the liberal "sanctity" of small businesses vs big corporations, the ideological soil is yet left fertile, from out of which the capitalist order may yet again emerge. It's as if seemingly descent ideas have been corrupted and exploited throughout history by opportunists in our midst.

And yet it is not much out of moral sentiment that anarchist would shun such ideas but rather the rejection of such arrangements in the interests of individual autonomy, freedom, and self determination. Max Stirner wrote "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!"

There may not be an "Anarchist definition" but isn't "property" proper when it is held by those that would freely make use of it for their own survival? Self organized self defense in some such circumstances may certainly seem appropriate at times. Thus free people may 'posses' only that which they can hold and this too may be proper "property", but not necessarily "private".

How "private" can property be that requires the protection of public agencies or even paid security forces? In this sens the word privet can be seen as a way to subvert individuals, or even small voluntary formations like families or free communities.

4 Answers

+1 vote
Property is defined by what an 'owner' won't let other people use whether or not the 'owner' is using it.

If you wall something off, that others might need, including land and housing, and keep it just for yourself it is property.  You are robbing humanity and there is no way around that.

The only way for it not to be property is for it to be 'the commons,' which is to say, usable by whoever needs it, whenever they need it, on their own terms.

Property can also function through the 'owner' having unilateral say over how the property is used, who can use it, and at what cost.  This is not only an authoritarian relationship with the 'property,' but an authoritarian relationship to any person that needs uses of the property.  (but that's a conversation for another day.)
answered Mar 24, 2012 by Taigarun (1,720 points)
Alright, so what about a house? I read that a person's home is generally viewed as a 'possession'. Does this mean that owning a house is robbing humanity or is it land in general?
It's land in general, like the slogan in the Spanish revolution "land and freedom".

It isn't for anarchists to pass moral judgments any more so than owning a modest suburban dwelling qualifies as "robbing humanity". It has more to do with how certain domesticated every-day concepts can be exploited and reinterpreted completely out of proportion to their original utility. Whenever such a concept becomes a means of economic or political domination then it ceases to be a merely benign social practice. I imagine that some anarchist may be buying or even own a home but these are personal choices determined by personal economic circumstances. That said, every individual is still, in principal, responsible for the choices made, there is no escaping that. By the way the most common anarchist principals are voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, and direct action. Ask yourself how these apply to your questions.
The short answer is: if you OWN a house, then it is property.  (see: my previous definition of property).  If you live in a space, that does not necessarily make it property.  (The same way that you can use any 'thing' and not claim it as property.)

The longer explanation requires examining housing as a specific need.
Housing is a question that most anarchists and most people are particularly stupid about.  Housing is a need and a need that is currently denied to many people.  Housing is strongly tied to class, and what people consider to be 'adequate housing' is entirely class based.  The difference is not neatly between scummy houses and mansions, but rather a question of if people approach housing trying to meet their needs or endulge their comforts.  (I take this as a framework rather than looking at what the house actually consists of because housing needs can vary wildly for people with mental and/or physical disabilities)

With housing as with everything else, if you have more than you NEED while other people NEED and aint got, you are doing something WRONG.  (robbing humanity).  The concepts of 'possession' and 'personal property' are intellectually bankrupt.  They have no theoretical basis, no practical application, and they eschews the issue need.

Let's make this concrete:  I live in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment that me and my friends are renting.  There are 11 of us currently living here.  Many of us have a history of homelessness and we take housing seriously because it is a life and death matter.  The number of people in our house changes because people can come here when they have no other place to go, and will often leave as soon as they can get something better set up  (which is sometimes never).  We have electricity, hot running water, and internet, but we don't have enough money to pay for heat.  This is the only house I have ever lived in where the question of having another person live here rather than being homeless has only been an evaluation of if we could all get our needs met with another person here.  (In most houses it is a question of how much can they pay? can that money ofset my comfort loss?  To say another way, 'what do I get out of it?'  Under Capitalist logik, this evaluation is to determine whether or not the new situation will be 'fair.')
+3 votes
For myself, property starts to get really problematic when it is amassed by a particular person or group of people - this could include land and housing (land owners/lords), the means of survival or production (bosses, capitalists), or ideas (patent holders, etc.) If a collection of people live in a house, that is their house. Once they are gone, it is not. Theoretically at least (and in my experience of communal living situations), once a person leaves that house, it is not theirs anymore, it is still that of the commune (I have been trying soooo hard to avoid referring to "the commune," but in this case it is the best terminology I can think of).

Another piece of property as critiqued by anarchists is the way in which it is accumulated through heredity. So I own a house, and your dad rents a house. As it now stands, when I die, I can give my house to my child. When your dad dies, he can not give "his" to you, because, although he lived there, someone else owns it. That means that my child starts out with a house, whereas you are still beholden to a landowner. Over time (and especially in hierarchical and capitalist societies) this allows more and more property to be concentrated in the hands of a few. So instead of paying rent, my child can buy some more land or a business, where perhaps they employ you so you can pay rent, but at the end of the day, my child benefits from this more than you, even if he is benevolent, even if he pays himself equally to you, his employee, because when he dies, my grandchild now has a business and home, where as your child has no home (or maybe you bought one, but you are still a step behind), and no business.
 
As far as the trespassing questions, I dunno? depends what they are doing? I get a little ornery when randos come traipsing across the land I live on (though actually mostly that is because it sends my dogs into a fit of barking and rambunctiousness), but I am not going to attck them for merely passing through. On the other hand, if I looked out at my garden and saw some fool helping themselves to what I'd grown, I'd probably be really pissed off, though I also recognize that this is contradictory to some of my beliefs. But is this my ideal world? No. That is where this question is of interest to me.

Obviously we don't live in a world of free communal relations; most of the land on which (and homes in which) anarchists live are owned by others. In the context of existing now, it might make sense for some to "own" property, and it probably makes sense to defend that property, but this is certainly not our end goal, which would likely be, at least in part, to expand the commons (as Taigarun has defined it). It also in many cases probably makes sense not to own property, as it can (again, in a capitalist reality) become like an albatross thanks to things like property taxes, bills, and so forth.
answered Mar 25, 2012 by ingrate (21,620 points)
I'll say I have to agree with everything there and that's an excellent way of putting it. Thank you.

I think my concern comes in when I hear people take the phrase waaaay off and act as though they're in right to dominate what others possess, just adding more contradictions to the scenario. Way I see it, is if I have land, a home, garden, etc., and all these things are used to simply benefit myself or loved ones and not to gain profit or exploit, then it is justifiable but I definitely understand the concern of land being used for profit and how it can take away from others.
Where it gets a bit dicey might be if a person is accumulating things that others need, in which case I might answer very differently. Hashed some of this out here:
http://anarchy101.org/1957/how-would-life-without-possessions-work
+2 votes
capitalism, of which property as we understand it is a part, is a huge issue, and addressing only one part of it seems a little like the blind folks and the elephant story.
i don't take issue with the other two answers, except that perhaps by accepting the limits of your question, they do you a disservice.
capitalism encourages us to look at things as disparate pieces that can be bought, sold, that are separated and separate-able. if we are going to have a really different world, i think it will require that we look at *things* differently than we do now, as well as looking at living creatures differently. to give an example of one possible different perspective, the idea that land could be sellable was alien to the first people here.
i'm far more interested in thinking about how to shift our understanding in that kind of direction, than i am in parsing out how we will still Have-Our-Own-Stuff after the rev (which, by the way, is a preoccupation with anarcho-capitalists, and is hence doubly irritating to me).
answered Mar 26, 2012 by dot (51,120 points)
Well, my concern is the 'line' between property and possession. Some seem to take it too literally (e.g. "the land you and your family live on is theft from us so we'll go ahead and make ourselves at home"). That attitude and mentality just seems get to me. I understand the term property is theft but it's possessions that I'm more concerned about people trying to label as 'exploitative' when it can be something as simple as a stuffed animal for a child.

I guess I just want to know where that line is, exactly.
@AnarchicSaint
Your example of a stuffed animal is absurd and is still ignoring the issue of need.  There is no fundamental problem with keeping a stuffed animal to yourself because no one is ever going to NEED that stuffed animal for survival.  This is not the case with land or housing.
I am simply sayin that some have the attitude "what's mine is mine, what's yours is mine" and I'm giving a basic example of how some would act as though they are entitled to everything. If it comes to survival, then yes, cooperation and understanding should overcome personal greed but I'm talking about people who take it waaay too literally.
I have never met one.  I much  more frequently interact with people who see poor people as 'leeches.'
0 votes
Ownership is either a condition of control or of responsibility.  

But more importantly it can be a factor of maintainance or neglect.  

Stewardship may have help to find a better position for both sides.  If you use something or it is for the moment under your supervision then it is benefitial for you and everyone else to maintain and not abuse.

On matters of need, we no one should determine how much for another.  The answer is that in time, people will realize more than enough does not bring greater benefits or happiness that having what is needed for health, comfort, and enjoyment in life.   

To worry about how much others have for some reason is what remains of ourselves the concepts of a state mandated equality.  For those that do not have, we only need to give them what they determine what it is they need and desire; not to take away fromm others.  Anarchy should not be a threat to the rich but also offer to them a better life, not of abundance and waste, but of the same benefit anarchy offers to everyone: the condition to self-determine their own lives.
answered May 25, 2012 by afunctionalworld (2,030 points)
...