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Waiting for Hohfeld: Property Rights, Property Privileges, and the Physical Consequences of Word Choice


Jerrold A. Long


University of Idaho College of Law

February 24, 2012

Gonzaga Law Review, Forthcoming

Abstract:     
An important part of our institutional and cultural history is our understanding of a system of property interests. The most common trajectory of land-use regulation (or the lack thereof) appears consistent with a property meta-narrative that informs multiple academic disciplines and levels of human interaction. This meta-narrative suggests that all land-use decisions begin with an assumption about the nature and extent of property rights held by potentially affected landowners, and that the ultimate end of any land-use regime is to “protect” those assumed property rights from unwarranted or unjustified intrusion by government. Because the law is a distinct linguistic environment in which word choices, and definitions, have significant consequences, the rhetorical landscape of a property dispute plays a significant role in determining the dispute’s ultimate outcome. In most land-use disputes, all participants make one important concession, or assertion, before the discussion begins. The often unchallenged assertion is the claim that the discussion is about property rights. Once a particular property interest is characterized as a “right,” the community’s political capacity to regulate that property diminishes substantially. Consequently, our decisions to characterize as “rights” those settings, circumstances and relationships that are better and more accurately understood as “privileges” changes our focus from the community to the individual, and necessarily weakens the political justification for, and community understanding of, most resource- or community-protective ordinances. This article considers contemporary property jurisprudence, theory, and conflict in a Hohfeldian context to demonstrate how our default rhetorical landscape leads to real and unnecessary negative social and environmental effects.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 54

Keywords: Property, Property Rights, Property Privileges, Hohfeld

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Date posted: February 26, 2012 ; Last revised: October 16, 2012

Suggested Citation

Long, Jerrold A., Waiting for Hohfeld: Property Rights, Property Privileges, and the Physical Consequences of Word Choice (February 24, 2012). Gonzaga Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2011089 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2011089

Contact Information

Jerrold A. Long (Contact Author)
University of Idaho College of Law ( email )
P.O. Box 442321
Moscow, ID 83844-2321
United States
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