Property pp 1-8 | Cite as


  • Andrew Reeve
Part of the Issues in Political Theory book series (IPT)


In the middle of the nineteenth century, the political economist J. R. McCulloch wrote a book about the law of inheritance and succession. He was interested in the various ways in which property might be passed from one generation to the next, and in identifying the changes which had occurred in such practices historically. He drew his examples from Greek, Roman and European legal systems, aiming to identify the impact of these different ways of regulating inheritance on (what he called) ‘the public interests’. By that phrase, he seems to have understood ‘economic performance’, using that to determine the ‘best’ way to regulate inheritance. It might be thought, then, that McCulloch would have to face the prior question of whether the system of private property which allowed for inheritance was itself desirable. But he raised the question only to move on impatiently:

‘It is not necessary in prosecuting an enquiry of this sort to take up. the reader’s time by entering into any statements explanatory of the advantages resulting from the establishment of a right of private property. These are obvious, and have been universally admitted. Till such right has been established there can be neither industry nor civilisation … The utility, or rather necessity, of securing to every individual the peaceable enjoyment of the produce he has raised, and of the ground he has cultivated and improved, is so very evident that it must have been perceived at the first institution of society.’ (1848, pp.2–3)


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© Andrew Reeve 1986

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  • Andrew Reeve

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