Community and Property -- For Those Who Have Neither

Jeremy Waldron


Both community and property are, each in its own way, exclusionary concepts. Property — certainly private property — is defined in large part by a right of exclusion. And although "community" sounds like a warm, inclusive word, real-world communities (be they nations, municipalities, neighborhoods, or clusters of condominiums) often define themselves by reference to an array of excluded "others" and erect fences and patrol borders to keep these others out. Enthusiasm for these exclusions is made to seem legitimate by the thought that those excluded from my property probably have somewhere else of their own to go to, and those excluded from our community probably also have a community of their own to live in. In fact, neither proposition is entirely justified. We know that in most economically developed countries there are large numbers of people who live as transients and are not welcome or rooted in any community. Their only places of refuge are the substantial patches of public property (like parks and sidewalks) which society maintains for everyone’s use. But public places are not themselves unregulated, and often they are regulated according to norms of community and in response to communitarian pressures. If these communities are themselves exclusive in character, they tend to reproduce at the public property level the exclusions that manifest themselves at the private property level. This Article attempts to chart and analyze the deadly combination of exclusive community and exclusive property that these modes of regulation represent.

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