Liberty, Equality, and the Boundaries of Ownership: Thomas Paine's Theory of Property Rights

Lamb, Robert
June 2010
Review of Politics;Summer2010, Vol. 72 Issue 3, p483
Academic Journal
Thomas Paine is customarily regarded as a pamphleteer, rhetorician, and polemicist rather than a significant political theorist. This article takes the philosophical content of Paine's thought seriously and argues that his account of property rights constitutes a distinct contribution to theoretical debates on the subject. Drawing on Paine's Agrarian Justice and other writings, this article shows that his theory of property defends a libertarian concern with private ownership that contains within its logic an egalitarian commitment to the redistribution of resources. Paine's justification of property is distinct from that of various other important figures in the history of ideas (including Grotius, Pufendorf, and Locke) and represents his simultaneous commitment to foundational liberal values of individual freedom and moral equality.


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