(click here for a local download if the above link doesn’t work)
Authors: Alice Davis, Molly Morgan, Virginia Rasmussen, Paula Schnepp, Ben Sher, Charmaine Sprengelmeyer, Nadine Winslow and Mary Zepernick; Revised edition, 2006, by James Allison, Tomilea Allison, Sherry Hutchison, Maggie Rawland, Virginia Rasmussen and Rachel Crosby (Webmaster). Original production supervised by Kate Zaidan
Discussion Group Topic Outline
Session I – Introduction
Session II – Historical Overview of the Corporate Taking of Our Authority to Govern
Session III – Corporate Personhood
Session IV – The Regulatory State
Session V – Private Property and the Recovery of the Commons
Session VI – People’s and Workers’ Resistance Movements
Session VII – Economic Development and Militarism
Session IX – What Does Democracy Look Like?
Session X – Where Do We Go From Here: Local Campaign Development
Appendix – Glossary, Suggested Readings
Excerpt, Summary of Section V
Private Property and the Recovery of the Commons
If we want to take away the disproportionate power held by those who own property and wealth and shift it toward people and their governments, it is necessary to know more about the head start that property rights had over people’s rights in this country’s formative years.
The design of the federal government relied heavily on the principle of self-interest narrowly seen as the right for citizens (at that time elite, white males only) to acquire property and have that property protected and enhanced. The notion of liberty, so highly prized, was primarily taken as the liberty to own things. Jennifer Nedelsky, a student and writer of the Anti-Federalist period, states that the “court built upon the general acceptance of the sanctity of property… and aimed at containing the democratic threat to the rights the Federalists considered necessary to a stable market economy and a free and secure society.” (There will be more about Federalists and Anti-Federalists in Session IX.) The states were denied the power to make decisions about property — its definition, production, movement, or distribution. Such matters were the province of the law, the courts, and the minority, not of politics, legislatures, and the majority.
According to this theory, progress would come about not through the promise of community or wide democratic participation, but through the virtuous male seeking stable conditions for securing property (“virtue” comes from Latin, vir, for man). The Founding Fathers sought to establish a pre-eminence of the talented minority over the ordinary majority. Talent was measured largely by one’s capacity to accumulate material things.
With these sentiments written into the nation’s founding doctrines, men of property, using the corporate form (deemed “private” property by the courts), took themselves to great heights of power and control. The costs of this court-granted illegitimate authority — in a country where We the People are supposed to be in charge — grow apparent as they grow enormous. This discussion invites us to examine the role property should or should not play in our lives, rights, and governance.