The Liberal Commons

Hanoch Dagan
Michael Heller, Columbia Law School


Must we choose between the benefits of cooperative use of scarce resources and our liberal commitments to autonomy and exit? No. Law can mediate community and liberty? a theory of the liberal commons provides the bridge that reconciles these two seemingly contradictory imperatives. Liberal commons institutions enable a limited group of people to capture the economic and social benefits from cooperation, while also ensuring autonomy to individuals through a secure right to exit. This Article shows how current theories obscure the most salient tradeoffs in managing commons resources; details the liberal commons model comprising the decision-making spheres of individual dominion, democratic self-governance, and cooperation-enhancing exit; and presents a case study on declining black landownership that illustrates the power of our approach.