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Comment: The Ambiguous Work of 'Natural Property Rights'

10 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2006  

Gregory S. Alexander

Cornell Law School

Date Written: November 3, 2006


The three fascinating papers by Dick Helmholz, Jim Ely, and Mark Tushnet prompt me to ask, why was there so much talk among late 18th and 19th century American lawyers about property as a "natural" right and why has the language persisted today? More specifically, what work is the rhetoric of "natural property rights" intended to do? This is not the proper occasion for developing anything like complete answers to those questions, but I do want to offer three lines of thought that might begin to approach a fuller explanation of the puzzling persistence of natural-property-rights talk.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Gregory S., Comment: The Ambiguous Work of 'Natural Property Rights' (November 3, 2006). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-043. Available at SSRN: or

Gregory S. Alexander (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

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Cornell University
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