Five Easy Pieces: Recurrent Themes in American Property Law

35 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2016

Date Written: August 31, 2016

Abstract

The title of my article, "Five Easy Pieces," may not resonate with those of you who are too young to remember Jack Nicholson as a budding young movie star cut out of the James Dean mold. For those who do remember, it is, of course, the title of one of Nicholson's early (and, to my mind, greatest) movies. Jack's five easy pieces were piano pieces, easy for him to perform, less so for others. There was a certain irony about the word "easy" in the title. The irony lay not only in the fact that just about everyone else consider those pieces difficult, but, more deeply, because those piano pieces were the only pieces of the life of Bobby Dupea, the character whom Jack portrayed, that were easy for him. Life as a whole, the big picture, was one great, almost impossible challenge for him.

My five easy pieces have their own ironic twist. They are rather different but equally challenging in their own ways that first-year law students here will readily recognize. My pieces, this piece, is really aimed at them. The pieces I will discuss are five recurrent themes in American property law, leit motifs, to continue the metaphor from the Nicholson movie, that run throughout American legal doctrines. These themes provide a way of structuring all of property law, adding coherence to what so often appears to law students as an unintelligible rag-tag collection of rules and doctrines that defy any attempt to construct an overarching framework for analysis. I have given five simple labels to these recurrent topics: "conceptualizing property," "categorizing property, " "historicizing property," "enforcing property," and "de-marginalizing property." We begin with how we conceptualize property.

Keywords: property, American property law, conceptualizig property, categorizing property, historicizing property, enforcing property, de-marginalizing property, discrimination, ownership, legal realists, values, autonomy, commercial property, industrial property, landlord, tenant, commodity, subsidies

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Gregory S., Five Easy Pieces: Recurrent Themes in American Property Law (August 31, 2016). University of Hawaii Law Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2016; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-33. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2832822

Gregory S. Alexander (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-3504 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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