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Professor Stephen Munzer's study of property rights is an ambitious work. Drawing on sources as diverse as Hohfeld, Hegel, Locke, civic republicanism, Marx, the classic utilitarians, and Rawls, he seeks to develop a "pluralist" theory of property, one that synthesizes a variety of philosophical perspectives into a single "basic theory" that can be used to assess and promote the reform of different property systems. Like most attempts to achieve a grand philosophical synthesis, however, this one ultimately fails. The most obvious problem is that Munzer's basic theory is too vague and unwieldy to generate determinate answers to the kinds of controversies that concern legislatures and courts. A less obvious but more fundamental problem is that, although the book begins by discussing property rights, it ends as a dissertation on the distribution of wealth. In the final analysis, his basic theory is a prescription not for determining the rights persons have in specific property but for achieving distributive justice.


Law | Property Law and Real Estate


A Theory of Property by Stephen R. Munzer, Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. x, 469.

This article was originally published in UCLA Law Review.