Possession Versus Absentee Property

tty0 login: novatorine
login date: 2022-01-01


In this post, I'm just going to try to explain, as succinctly as possible, the important differences between possession and absentee property (generally just referred to as "property" by Proudhon, e.g. "property is theft"). I've covered this distinction several times before, but I think I've boiled it down enough that creating a self-contained blog post for it is relevant.


Someone's possessions are the material objects that they regularly or semi-regularly use or occupy. Such things might include my home, my car, my tools, my clothes, etc. Possessions can also include things that are purchased with the intention of use, as long as they are actually used within a reasonable timeframe, and the things that someone produces by their labor time, which are generally "in their possesion" right after they make them. Possession is a practical category, negotiable with those around you; it is an extension of one's autonomy, as it represents the sphere of actions that one can take without effecting others or without requiring their permission, and allows for some independance, self-sufficiency, etc. Respending the product of someone's labor protects their autonomy as it prevents someone else from having authority over them. Possession is a gift granted by everyone else in society in return for reciprocation, in order to ensure the prosperty and autonomy of all.


Property is generally the product of one's labor time alienated in material objects (the Lockean definition). Property can also be possessions, so I use the term "absentee property" to refer to property that is not also one's possession: things that one does not intend to sell, nor to use oneself. Because of this, absentee property is not an extension of one's autonomy in a direct manner: defending it neither protects one's sphere of free action, one's independance from the community, or anything else. Instead, absentee property extends someone's autonomy by granting them control over something that only other people use, granting them authority over those people by extension. Therefore, absentee property extends someone's autonomy in the same way that a dictator's territorial claim extends his: in his ability to tell other people what to do and to back it up with force. The only difference in this case is that absentee property still represents the product of someone's labor time, either produced directly by their labor or paid for by their labor. Absentee property is, however, a greater detriment to the autonomy of others than taking it is a detriment to the owner, and the owner of absentee property can still be paid for providing it to those who actually use it, paid for their risk and opportunity cost.