Propertarianism, or proprietarianism, is a political philosophy that reduces all questions of law to the right to own property.[1] On property rights, it advocates private property based on Lockean sticky property norms, where an owner keeps their property more or less until they consent to gift or sell it, rejecting the Lockean proviso.

Closely related to and overlapping with right-libertarianism, it is also often accompanied with the idea that state monopoly law should be replaced by market-generated law centered on contractual relationships. Propertarian ideals are most commonly cited to advocate for an anarcho-capitalist or minarchist society with governance systems limited to enforcing contracts and private property.

According to its advocates, propertarianism is synonymous with capitalism.[2]


The term appears to have been coined by Edward Cain in 1963:

Since their use of the word "liberty" refers almost exclusively to property, it would be helpful if we had some other word, such as "propertarian," to describe them. [...] Novelist Ayn Rand is not a conservative at all but claims to be very relevant. She is a radical capitalist, and is the closest to what I mean by a propertarian.[3]

Marcus Cunliffe defined propertarianism in his 1973 lectures as "characteristic values of American history" in regard to property.[4][5][6][7]

Philosopher Robert Nozick formalized Locke's approach in his book "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" with the Entitlement Theory of Justice, specifying criteria for just original acquisition, just transfer, and rectification.

David Boaz writes that the "propertarian approach to privacy", both morally and legally, has ensured Americans' privacy rights.[8]

Markus Verhaegh states that Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism advocates the neo-Lockean idea that property only legitimately originates from labor and may then only legitimately change hands by trade or gift.[9] Brian Doherty describes Murray Rothbard's form of libertarianism as propertarian because he "reduced all human rights to rights of property, beginning with the natural right of self-ownership".[10]

L. Neil Smith describes propertarianism as a positive libertarian philosophy in his alternate history novels The Probability Broach (1980) and The American Zone (2002).[11][12]

Alternative meanings

Hans Morgenthau used propertarianism to characterize the connection between property and suffrage.[13]


In the science fiction novel The Dispossessed (1974), author Ursula K. Le Guin contrasted a propertarian statist society with an anarchist anti-propertarian society[14][15] in an attempt to show that property and state objectified human beings.[16][17]

Murray Bookchin objected to propertarians calling themselves libertarians, arguing:

We have permitted cynical political reactionaries and the spokesmen of large corporations to pre-empt these basic libertarian American ideals. We have permitted them not only to become the specious voice of these ideals such that individualism has been used to justify egotism; the pursuit of happiness to justify greed, and even our emphasis on local and regional autonomy has been used to justify parochialism, insularism, and exclusivity – often against ethnic minorities and so-called deviant individuals. We have even permitted these reactionaries to stake out a claim to the word libertarian, a word, in fact, that was literally devised in the 1890s in France by Elisée Reclus as a substitute for the word anarchist, which the government had rendered an illegal expression for identifying one's views. The propertarians, in effect – acolytes of Ayn Rand, the earth mother of greed, egotism, and the virtues of property – have appropriated expressions and traditions that should have been expressed by radicals but were willfully neglected because of the lure of European and Asian traditions of socialism, socialisms that are now entering into decline in the very countries in which they originated.[18]

Bookchin described three concepts of possession: property itself; possession; and usufruct (i.e. appropriation of resources by virtue of use.[19])

See also


  1. ^ Ralf M. Bader, John Meadowcroft, eds. (2011), The Cambridge Companion to Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Cambridge University Press, p. 151.[ISBN missing]
  2. ^ Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Robert Hessen (1967). Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. New York City: Signet.[ISBN missing]
  3. ^ Edward Cain (1963). They'd Rather Be Right: Youth and the Conservative Movement. Macmillan. pp. 32–36. ASIN B0000CLYF9. OCLC 979693144.
  4. ^ Hans Joachim Morgenthau, (Kenneth W. Thompson, Robert John Myers, Editors), Truth and tragedy: a tribute to Hans J. Morgenthau, Transaction Publishers, p. 165, 1984 ISBN 0878558667.
  5. ^ Marcus Cunliffe (1974), The right to property: a theme in American history, Sir George Watson lecture delivered in the University of Leicester, 4 May 1973, Leicester University Press, ISBN 978-0718511296
  6. ^ Rob Kroes, Them and us: questions of citizenship in a globalizing world, University of Illinois Press, p. 208, 2000 ISBN 0252069099
  7. ^ Marcus Cunliffe, In search of America: transatlantic essays, 1951–1990, p. 307, 1991.
  8. ^ David Boaz, Cato Institute, Toward liberty: the idea that is changing the world : 25 years of public policy from the Cato Institute, Cato Institute, p. 386, 2002 ISBN 1930865279
  9. ^ Verhaegh, Marcus (2006). "Rothbard as a Political Philosopher" (PDF). Journal of Libertarian Studies. 20 (4): 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-01.
  10. ^ Doherty, Brian (2008). "Rothbard, Murray (1926–1995)". In Hamowy, Ronald (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; Cato Institute. pp. 442–445. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n271. ISBN 978-1412965804. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024. Archived from the original on 2023-01-09. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  11. ^ L. Neil Smith (2002), The American Zone, p. 167.[ISBN missing]
  12. ^ John J. Pierce, When world views collide: a study in imagination and evolution, p. 163, 1989.
  13. ^ Hans Morgenthua, p. 174 Archived 2024-02-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Ursela K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, HarperCollins, various pages Archived 2024-02-09 at the Wayback Machine, 2003 ISBN 006051275X.
  15. ^ John P. Reeder, Source, sanction, and salvation: religion and morality in Judaic and Christian traditions, p. 113, 1988. Reeder uses phrase "nonpropertarian" to describe Le Guin's views.
  16. ^ Laurence Davis, Peter G. Stillman, The new utopian politics of Ursula K. Le Guin's The dispossessed, Lexington Books, p. xvii Archived 2024-02-09 at the Wayback Machine, 2005.
  17. ^ On Triton and Other Matters: An Interview with Samuel R. Delany Archived 2021-07-19 at the Wayback Machine, Science Fiction Studies, November 1990.
  18. ^ Murray Bookchin, The Greening of Politics: Toward a New Kind of Political Practice, Green Perspectives: Newsletter of the Green Program Project, No. 1 January 1986 [1] Archived 2019-10-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ Ellie Clement and Charles Oppenheim, Department of Information Science, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leics Great Britain, Anarchism, Alternative Publishers and Copyright Archived 2018-02-16 at the Wayback Machine, Journal of Anarchist Studies Archived 2020-10-30 at the Wayback Machine, undated.