Right to property

Tomas J.F. Riha (The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Publication date: 1 December 2000


Property is considered paramount to one’s existence, as a natural, absolute and inalienable right. Occupancy is required for man to secure what his thoughts have already made his. Property is realized in use but the right of occupancy and the status of res nullius are not established by the absence of use only, but in addition there must be also the absence of will of original owners. Arguing that appropriation precedes production dismisses the assertion that property is the fruit of labour. In contrast to the followers of the “state of nature” point of view, it is argued that common property is not natural and as such it is only transitory. Private property is at the root of man’s universality because it is common to all and individuals recognize each other only as owners. To base the origin of property in a social contract is erroneous because any contract must be based on the mutual recognition of parties involved who are already property owners. It is necessary that everybody have property not only in his or her persons but also to provide for subsistence. This would be regarded by natural law as just. Justice does not require the equality of property. Perpetual inequalities in property rights are not natural but the result of man‐made institutions which would not in themselves be right and would not have the obligatory power in virtue of their rightness. As such they would not be morally binding. Society that systematically consigns whole classes to conditions of poverty undermines the rationality of the ethical order and as such heads towards self‐destruction. Today, people are generally convinced that a person’s happiness depends on the satisfaction of that person’s actual desires. Property in things and enjoyment of one’s possessions, is often perceived as prerequisites for happiness. Individual happiness as an outcome derived from the distribution of property rights should be demoted from its status as the final good in preference to freedom.



Riha, T. (2000), "Right to property", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 27 No. 12, pp. 1148-1179. https://doi.org/10.1108/03068290010352966

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