Private Property and Political Power

The legitimacy of political institutions in liberal-democratic societies depends upon a clear split between the private and the public sphere. In early-liberal political philosophy this was expressed by the concept of property: the state’s exercise of political power is legitimate to the extent that it protects private property, which is then left alone. However, the contemporary economy is diverging from this image due to three developments:

  1. spill-overs of inequalities in private wealth to the political sphere,
  2. political effects of the activities of corporations and
  3. quasi-public functions fulfilled by common property initiatives.

These interpenetrations of the private and public sphere risk hollowing out liberalism’s claim that political institutions are well equipped to protect public interests. This project investigates whether and how liberal political philosophy should be updated to take account of these developments, focusing on the need for a new conceptualization of property and its function in the legitimation of the exercise of political power.