Sunday, June 27, 2010
Tanya's recent post on devising a first-year property curriculum, and my recent experience teaching and researching in the Czech Republic, have brought to the fore of my mind an important -- I'd say critical -- misstep in many property courses: we are under-selling the importance of property rights.
Now, that may seem counter-intuitive: it's a required course, after all, and usually the one that eats up the most credits. It covers, as Tanya discusses, such a wide range of issues that it runs the risk of dissolving into a coreless hodgepodge. So how can we be under-selling property rights?
Here's how: how many of us take the time to teach our students that property rights are at the center of the most massive struggles in world history? That the fundamental, irreducible core of capitalism is a particular conception of property rights, that the fundamental, irreducible core of communism is a different conception of property rights, and that these two conflicting ideas dominated the course of the 20th century and may yet dominate this one? That conflicting systems of property rights determined the courses of colonial empires and colonized cultures? That millions upon millions died as a result of these struggles?
Property, in other words, isn't so much about lost brooches as it is about lost generations.
What I think we are underselling is both the political economy of property rights, and the flesh and blood (with an emphasis on blood) results of ideas about property. This year I'll be revising my first-year property syllabus to include readings on the capitalist and communist conceptions of property rights and the concrete, historical results of these ideas. I'll be expanding the readings about colonialism beyond just Johnson v. McIntosh. And I'll be adding recent cases from places such as South Africa that may bring into sharper relief than our domestic cases that these struggles are not consigned to history, but are part of the present and future as well.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
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