Savagery, Civilization, and Property: Theories of Societal Evolution and Commons Theory

Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 19 (2018): 507-531

26 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2018  

David Schorr

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 20, 2018

Abstract

This article argues that modern commons theory has been substantially shaped by early modern ways of thinking about the evolution of civilizations. In particular, it has hewed closely to models that gelled in the Enlightenment-era works known as “stadial theory,” by authors such as Lord Kames and Adam Smith, and passed down to the twentieth century, to theorists including Garrett Hardin, Harold Demsetz, and Elinor Ostrom. It argues that stadial thinking reached modern commons theorists largely through the disciplines of anthropology and human ecology, paying particular attention to the debate among anthropologists over aboriginal property rights, colonial and international development discourse, and neo-Malthusian conservationism. The effects of stadial theories’ influence include a belief among many that private property represents a more advanced stage of civilization than does the commons; and among others a Romantic yearning to return to an Eden of primitive and community-based commons. Thus do deep cultural attitudes, rooted in the speculative thinking of an earlier age, color todayʼs theories — positive and normative — of the commons.

Keywords: stadial theory, property theory, commons theory, Garrett Hardin, Elinor Ostrom, Harold Demsetz, Lord Kames, Adam Smith, anthropology, Eleanor Leacock, Frank Speck, E. Barton Worthington, Lord Hailey

Suggested Citation

Schorr, David, Savagery, Civilization, and Property: Theories of Societal Evolution and Commons Theory (July 20, 2018). Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 19 (2018): 507-531. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3216977

David Schorr (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv 69978, IL
Israel

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