I posted this reply to Brad Spangler’s “Another note on the term ‘private property.'” I think it’s worth posting here, since it sums up my own present approach to the question of what makes a useful and theoretically “elegant” theory of property:
I’m constantly uncertain why modern Lockeans support Locke’s analysis. It seems to me that the strength of the model is that it gives us a clear mechanism for appropriation (labor mixing), a rationale for that appropriation (extension of the self), and a rule for avoiding the monopolization of property (the provisos.) That’s pretty elegant. Add an active, “unmixing” nature to the picture, and apply some attention and ingenuity to how expropriation will adjust property claims to fit the demands of the provisos, and you have some pretty simple, and fairly sustainable, guidelines. The provisos make the whole apparatus explicitly social in nature; changes of various sorts will require adjustments, expropriations and reappropriations (all of a voluntary sort, if folks are following the “rules.”) What puzzles me is that non-proviso Lockeans don’t seem to admire any of that except the fact that the rule of labor-mixing seems simple. It’s precisely all the dynamic potential, and the elegance of the rationale (the fact that self-ownership and the ownership of chattel or real property don’t have to be treated as separate) that they seem to oppose. What non-proviso Lockeans draw from Locke seems to be a ritual of appropriation with little or no logical connection to even the principles — like self-ownership — that they appeal to. Occupancy and use is certainly a lot less cut-and-dried, but compared to the “correct position” it certainly seems a lot more robust and complete.