Most people understand property as something that is owned, a means of creating individual wealth. But in Commodity and Propriety, the first full-length history of the meaning of property, Gregory Alexander uncovers in American legal writing a competing vision of property that has existed alongside the traditional conception. Property, Alexander argues, has also been understood as proprietary, a mechanism for creating and maintaining a properly ordered society. This view of property has even operated in periods—such as the second half of the nineteenth century—when market forces seemed to dominate social and legal relationships.
In demonstrating how the understanding of property as a private basis for the public good has competed with the better-known market-oriented conception, Alexander radically rewrites the history of property, with significant implications for current political debates and recent Supreme Court decisions.