Property As Theft

Property As Theft

This comic is inspired by Angry Josh who actually threatened (in jest) to take a dump on a socialist’s bed. It’s very possible Angry Josh will return sometime in a future comic.

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Discussion (45)¬

  1. Al says:

    Awesome. I’ll have to do something like that the next time I hear some moron say something like that.

  2. Tristan says:

    Although Proudhon meant something more subtle - remember he also said ‘Property is liberty’.
    (not that most people who claim property is theft realise that - it just sounds cool to them)

  3. Kat Kanning says:

    Oh, I thought this one was for Bill Grennon.

  4. Ryan McGuire says:


    I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to read anarcho-communist writings, I’ve started and I stop at about the second paragraph when they pull this one out. My brain completely jams up and refuses to process anything until this logical fallacy is reconciled.

  5. John Delano says:

    Great. We have something funny to link to when we come across these “property is theft” types.

  6. anarchytoday says:

    Actually if there is no owner ship of property, Josh could not have taken a dump on a bed.

    Taking the dump requires ownership of said property, which would be theft. I am pretty sure Josh would not want to steal some poo.

    So in actuality: Josh put a dump on a bed,

    Great comic!!

  7. lordmetroid says:

    Some people haven’t read Proudhon don’t understand “Property is theft” refers to State privileged property, they think all property is theft for some odd reason. Whatever, it is just semantics in the end and not an issue worth getting divided on.

    There are so many shades to property and people can not agree on one definition of aggression so in the end we are going to have to turn to the market to define all kinds of property and solutions to people’s disagreements. A much better solution than this one fits all property definition that the states upholds.

  8. H. Rearden says:

    Regarding socialism, I recall back when Bill Maher had his show Politically Incorrect in 2000 the night after the Socialist Party candidate for POTUS was on his show , Harry Browne was on his show and Maher said to Browne that the previous night the Socialist candidate was on his show and Browne said, ” which one?”


  9. H. Rearden says:

    Regarding Proudhon, when one reads the words “property is theft” why wouldn’t they think that is refering to any property? Philosophers like Proudhon should have been more precise in their language even if their language was French so that their quotes standing alone would be clear as to their meaning. Btw, Proudhon was born the same year dishonest Abe Lincoln was and died the same year LIncoln did but any similarity between the ends there.


  10. Reply to: H. Rearden says:

    Brainpolice says
    Proudhon’s analysis of property is far more subtle and complicated than a first-reading or face-value-reading of his writtings may reveal. A statement such as “Property is theft”, followed by seemingly contradicting statements such as “Property is impossible” and “Property is liberty” is likely to confuse the reader. To a degree, Proudhon is probably being rhetorical and is purposefully trying to intimidate the reader or grab their attention….

    …What Proudhon is most strongly challenging is the arbitrary legal title to property, property as a legal construct that indeed is historically tracable back to theft in many ways. Property as a state legal construct often is the state doling out a privilege to the property that it initially stole. During Proudhon’s time, many of the old legal private property titles that used to belong to the noble class and the feudal landlords had not completely been abandoned or abolished, and in the process of transformation into more modern capitalism, this privilege was slowly being transfered to a new industrial managerial class in bed with the state. Proudhon was more keenly aware of this than most of his collegues and associates.

    There is also a context in which Proudon was very much in favor of private or individual property, viewing it as an indispensible counterweight to the state. Unlike the communists, Proudhon had no inherent problem with money, exchange and buisiness. The Marxist aesthetic distain for just about anything that has to do with commerence is nowhere to be found in him.

  11. Phyl says:

    This reminds me of all those times my friends used “property is theft” as an excuse to steal my bagel. If you take it at completely face value then you’re bound to come up with logical errors. That’s why you need to differentiate between different kinds of property. The way I see it, if someone were to hoard something needed by everyone, like land or “the means of production”, that would be like stealing from the whole community. Therefore, “property is theft”, when “property” means land, essential utilities, “the means of production”, etc. So taking a dump on a bed which someone else uses still makes you a jerk, as does taking people’s bagels.

  12. Giggan says:

    I have a libertarian-socialist friend (who I pointed out to him was using an oxymoronic label) who says the difference is between ‘possessions’ and ‘property’, property being anything you can ‘exploit’ people with. So you can’t own factories…but you can own cheese. If I try and sell cheese, does it become ‘property’?

    It’s a shame…people who love liberty, but don’t understand capitalism.

  13. Yay, You Can't Punch People Through the Internet says:

    That’s a misrepresentation of views. Lack of private property basically implies sharing, and taking an action that effectively prevents others from using the material when it’s clear they wish to use it, like taking a dump on a bed that’s being used, prevents others from using material as they see fit, aka not sharing.

  14. Justen says:

    There is no such thing as a libertarian-socialist. Libertarianism demands a bare minimum of state interference in social and economic policy - basically, the state’s function is to provide police, who’s only function is to capture people who have stolen through fraud or force, or who have killed, or enslaved others. In libertarian philosophy, you have a fundamental right to possess your body, your mind, and the products of your labor, and to freely contract and exchange with others; because these are fundamental rights, the state cannot violate them. That means it cannot tax - this would be theft; it cannot enact nanny laws, that would be violation of your sole ownership of your body; it cannot dictate when, where or how you work or what contracts you make; that would essentially be slavery.

    In socialism, the state (or in social anarchy, the community) collectively owns property, and nobody has a fundamental right to own anything or to the products of their labor. One of Marxism’s core tenants is “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability”. This is completely diametrically opposed to libertarianism.

    In short, Giggan, your friend is politically retarded :)

    There are certain forms of property ownership that arise from an authoritarian state that would be unenforcible without the state, and which tend to be exploitative. Look at from a standpoint of initiation of violence. In intellectual property, if you have an idea and I imitate it you have no means short of violence to prevent me. If I leave you alone and you leave me alone, we may both go on our way and cause each other no loss or harm. In contrast if I want to take your cheese and you are not interested in parting with it, you can hold onto it and I must commit violence to take it from you. Other forms of contract are also unenforcible and probably unethical without an authoritarian state which arbitrarily takes the position of one side; for instance, if you go to work at Disney as an animator you sign a contract that says you will animate in any way for profit for anyone during your employment for some number of years after you leave Disney; in a sense Disney not only owns the product of your work while you are employed, but also your *right* to work. This kind of contract is unenforceable without violence because there is no mutual exchange or loss. If I choose to work for others in my free time while I work at Disney, Disney can fire me; if I don’t like what Disney pays me, I can quit. But once we part ways, the only way Disney can extend its control over my behavior is through threat of violence. You can argue the merits of these different concepts of ownership and property, but there is a clear distinction.

  15. This. Comic. RAWKS!

  16. susan 28 says:

    wow i was just talking about Proudhon moments ago in an email, weird..

    this is what i said based on my infomral understanding of him (only ever read abstracts of his work, no complete works):

    Proudhon (the “property is theft” guy) made a similar argument for non-hoarding of resources; he didn’t actually think all property was theft, but defined property as “the fruits of one’s labour derived from the transformation of resources”, and though he didn’t believe folks had an obligation to share their “fruit” (so he wasn’t socialist in that respect), he did feel that the “resources” themselves were un-ownable because we didn’t make them, (just “transformed” them).

    this was in response to the custom of nobles of the time to stake out large parcels of land with private armies and claim “ownership” of them, then skim off the fruits of the labour of those actually living on the land on the grounds that it was a tax for living on “their property”, which wasn’t bought from the peasants, merely claimed (a false claim, said Proudhon, because it was based on force not contract, except for the coerced contract of indentured servitude which he saw as invalid due to the soldiers in the background with the maces and the shit-eaten grins, who for a nominal fee would protect you from all thugs but themselves; the original “protection” arrangement). so Proudhon saw this and thought you were at least entitled to a shot at transforming the ground beneath your feet and what came of that was yours and no-one else’s, but the catch was you couldn’t “control” (not technically “own”) any more resources than you needed to produce enough “property” (food, shelter) for you and your family. so he really meant “Real Estate is Theft”, or something like that.

    so if an anarchist steals your car on the grounds that Property is Theft, tell him to go read his Proudhon because that’s your car, you earned it by the sweat of your brow and Proudhon surely would not deny you a means of transportation. indeed by appropriating your stuff like that they’d be doing the very thing Proudhon blasted the nobles for; taking things (in their case the fruit of your labour based on what he saw as a false land claim) just because they could.

    he also made allowance for one party controlling more than “their share” of resources if the excess property produced was for the benefit of others, ostensibly because that person was a good resource-manager and had contracted to fill that role while others contracted to work the land, to the mutual benefit and by consensus of all involved, but you couldn’t just build a fence around 100 acres and say “mine”.

  17. Yay, You Can't Punch People Through the Internet says:

    @ Susan and others- I don’t get how forcing everyone other than the person who produced something or traded for it from acting as freely as possible with that something is an essential freedom. To me, having maximum control over your being is freedom, and since sharing is the least coercive arrangement, that would be the most fee.

  18. Vesuvius says:

    The “owner” of the bed I threatened to spackle with defecate simply refused to acknowledge the existence of any property whatsoever, whether real estate in the form of his parents home or even his own possessions. Frustrated to my wits end, I simply made it as personal as possible. And I AM NOT A GINGER!

  19. susan 28 says:

    28 <~~~~ GINGER!!

  20. Sady M. says:

    That was hysterical, I need to make similar threats from now on.

  21. Smash the State says:

    Most of you folks, the ones sneering at Proudhon are not anarchists, you’re minarchists. To quote Errico Malatesta, “Individualism is, in theory, a kind of Anarchy without cooperation. It is therefore no better than a lie, because liberty is not possible without Solidarity, without cooperation. The criticism which Individualists pass on government is merely the wish to deprive it of certain functions, to hand them over virtually to the capitalists. But it cannot attack those repressive functions which form the essence of government, for without an armed force the proprietary system could not be upheld.”

    Your sneering derision is a result of your failure to understand what Proudhon means when he speaks of “property.” No one has ever said that you can’t own your food, clothing and shelter. If you pick an apple from a tree, and you’re hungry, then you own the apple by right of both necessity and the labour put into picking it. What you CAN’T own is the tree itself and land in which it grows. When Proudhon says property is theft (you people really need to read “What Is Property?” before you go shooting your mouths off about what you don’t understand) what he means is that individuals cannot and must not own the means of production. If the means of production is privately controlled, then those who own it are bosses and those who do not are slaves.

  22. Tel says:

    The meaning of “property is theft” is simple enough. You can start with the slippery definitions of special types of property and maybe even start splitting hairs over different types of theft if you like.

    The thing is that, if you don’t have laws, you can’t have crimes. By creating a rule that people must behave this way and not that way, we also create a crime of breaking the rule — and this applies for any rule you ever want to create. Now, you can either decide to have no rules whatsoever, or you can decide that you will have rules, and as a consequence you will have crime and criminals, and also require someone to enforce those rules and someone to arbitrate those rules.

    It seems reasonably obvious that the concept of property is quite useful in many contexts, primarily as an incentive to encourage people to work. By implication this means that it is also useful to create a crime called “theft” and go about enforcing the law and prosecuting that crime. Then you also need sufficient legal machinery to make decisions, etc.

    “… what he means is that individuals cannot and must not own the means of production …”

    So a skilled craftsman, artist or designer must not be allowed to own the tools of their own trade, and presumably not allowed to own their own unique and specialized skills and knowledge? Please, show a little sense here.

  23. Smash the State says:

    Dude, you can believe whatever you want. If you think capitalists enslaving workers is just peachy, then fine, go cut yourself a glory hole in Atlas Shrugged; but would you PLEASE stop calling yourselves anarchists? You’re dirtying up the name for those of us who really ARE anarchists. If you believe there should be a government which protects property, YOU ARE NOT AN ANARCHIST. The word “anarchy” comes from the Greek word “anarkos,” which means, literally, “WITHOUT GOVERNMENT.” If you believe in ANY kind of government, even and especially one whose sole duty is to protect the stolen wealth of the bosses, you are NOT an anarchist. Period.

  24. RFS says:

    “Property is liberty.” — P.J. Proudhon

    “Property is impossible.” — P.J. Proudhon

    “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Proudhon, by piling up his contradictions this way, was not merely being French; he was trying to indicate that the abstraction “property” covers a variety of phenomena, some pernicious and some beneficial. Let us borrow a device from the semanticists and examine his triad with the subscripts attached for maximum clarity.

    “Property1 is theft” means that property1 created by the artificial laws of feudal, capitalist, and other authoritarian societies, is based on armed robbery. Land titles, for instance, are clear examples of property1; swords and shot were the original coins of transaction.

    “Property2 is liberty” means that property2, that which will be voluntarily honored in a voluntary (anarchist) society, is the foundation of the liberty in that society. The more people’s interests are co-mingled and confused, as in collectivism, the more they will be stepping on each other’s toes; only when the rules of the game declare clearly “This is mine and this is thine,” and the game is voluntarily accepted as worthwhile by the parties to it, can true independence be achieved.

    “Property3 is impossible” means that property3 (=property1) creates so much conflict of interest that society is in perpetual undeclared civil war and must eventually devour itself (and properties 1 and 3 as well). In short, Proudhon, in his own way, foresaw the Snafu Principle. He also foresaw that communism would only perpetuate and aggravate the conflicts, and that anarchy is the only viable alternative to this chaos.

    It is averred, of course, that property2 will come into existence only in a totally voluntary society; many forms of it already exist. The error of most alleged libertarians — especially the followers (!) of the egregious Ayn Rand — is to assume that all property1 is property2. The distinction can be made by any IQ above 70 and is absurdly simple. The test is to ask, of any title of ownership you are asked to accept or which you ask others to accept, “Would this be honored in a free society of rationalists, or does it require the armed might of a State to force people to honor it?” If it be the former, it is property2 and represents liberty; if it be the latter, it is property1 and represents theft.

    – The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Hagbard Celine

  25. RFS says:

    Forgot the “Property is theft” part in my last post my bad.

  26. Max says:

    It’s annoying to see the never-ending spectacle of right-wing libertarians systematically misrepresenting (either out of ignorance or intellectual dishonesty) the ideas of traditional anarchism and then marvelling at how intelligent they are for not agreeing with these ideas. It ridicules only yourselves, guys.

    Proudhon’s (and the other traditional anarchist thinkers’) stance is that individual property ought to be protected to the extent where it guarantees your freedom and independence (i.e. you should be in control of your your bed, house, car, sofa, PlayStation, individual tools and means of production etc), but not to extent where it allows you to exploit the labor of others or to place yourself in a position of domination, forcing other human beings to degrade themselves by having to crawl in front of you if they want to access the means of life necessary for their survival (i.e. unused land and resources belong to no one - or to everyone -, factories, large workplaces etc ought to be handled in cooperative way by the organized producers who will thus be in control of their productive lives and retain control over the fruits of their labor- and should not be under the exclusive control of a private tyrant; and so on.). (Anarchists often reject the word ‘property’ and talk of the abolition of ‘property’ and use ‘possession’ instead to refer to their restricted conception of property - but that’s just semantics)

    Note that the extended conception of private property that’s now in force pretty much everywhere, and that rigth-wing libertarians want to extend even a bit more, is one that requires the existence of a state, whether a national state or privatized states, as anarcho-capitalists advocate, to protect property- unlike the traditional anarchists’limited conception of private property. (i.e. to enforce your exclusive control over a piece of land that you do not use, or over a workplace that you do not use, etc, you need to use the threat of violence to bar people from using it. That’s got to be done either with propretarian national state, or with a private army at your service.)

    In anti-propretarian anarchism, we would then have an economy of boss-less democratic cooperatives either trading goods on the market (mutualism) or federating themselves on a large scale and supplying each other directly according to their needs (which implies a massively decentralized kind of rational management of production and distribution within these mega-coops, through a system of producers’ and consumers’ assemblies and councils), which would be anarchist-collectivism if the worker is remunerated proportionally to his work, or anarchist-communism if the material gain motive is eliminated (i.e. in this theory, people would work just for social recognition and for every human’s fondness for doing a creative activity — while trade wouldn’t be used and everything would provided for free).

    I’m all for a vigorous debate between the traditional libertarians and the right-wing libertarians, there’s much common ground between us that we could build upon, but to start that it would be good if you at least aquainted yourselves with the basic positions of left-libertarianism instead of just smearing us by misrepresenting our views to a ridiculous extent (I mean, does the guy who drafted this cartoon really believe that traditional anarchists advocate anybody should be allowed to use your bed?? Is he just being knowingly dishonest, or is he plainly retarded?)

  27. Max says:

    And Tel, no, the producer being in control of the tools of his own trade (as opposed to control by the government or by somebody else), -i.e. being free, in control of his productive life and not having to degrade himself by crawling in front of a master and being subjugated to domination and control by somebody else- is EXACTLY the goal of traditional anarchism and this is PRECISELY the reason why anarchists don’t believe in protecting private property to the point where it allows for the exploitation of the labor of others. Our goal is that the producer be in control of his own tools and of his own life, either individually if labor is individual (as is the case for craftsmen) or collectively with his fellow producers (as is the case for all large scale industry workers).

  28. Dale says:

    “(I mean, does the guy who drafted this cartoon really believe that traditional anarchists advocate anybody should be allowed to use your bed?? Is he just being knowingly dishonest, or is he plainly retarded?)”

    Did you bother to read the text underneath? It explains exactly the inspiration for this comic. Josh was arguing with a not very deep-thinking or well-read socialist, not a left-libertarian by any far stretch of the imagination, who said he didn’t believe in property. Josh made an empty threat to make a point, that he was going to take a shit on his bed, which he didn’t actually do, but it was funny as Hell.

    People have been analyzing the crap out of fucking comic strips. It’s not a doctoral thesis. Grow a sense of humor for fuck’s sake. I don’t choose a label for my own anarchism but I have quite a few local friends who call themselves left-libertarians and it would be quite a struggle to find anything we disagree about, except maybe movie preferences and which gender is sexually attractive. Did you see the video below? The guy I’m interviewing is now a close personal friend.

    Josh (Vesuvius) also elaborated on this in a comment above. I never studied Proudhon and the expression which I’ve only heard in passing was never meant as a critique of him. And the guy Josh was debating was certainly no follower of him either. He’s a moron with an extremist notion of property that had nothing to do with Proudhon’s philosophy.

    I think a blog post expounding on my personal views on property in a stateless society is called for. I’ve been giving thought to it for some time.

  29. eibz says:

    To the people saying libertarian socialism doesn’t exist:

    use google before you make stupid statements

  30. [...] this reminded me of a very recent comic that was done by Dale Everett on Anarchy In Your Head named Property as Theft. It’s meant to be funny, but as usual on AIYH to also make a point. While it’s somewhat [...]

  31. Jim Profit says:

    A bed was not intended to be crapped on, it was designed by the workers you be slept in and I would love to see my fellow comrades kick the crap out of you for daring to deficate on the worker’s creation. (Communists are pretty cool guys, eh smash the capitalism, and doesn’t afraid of anything)

  32. Martin Franco says:

    Question inspired by the “property is theft” argument: Can you own land, or merely own the human labor invested in the land?

    I do not see how owning property which does not contain human labor can be reconciled with the premise of self-ownership. (i imagine another premise such as “the world exists /for/ man” would be needed to prove such a claim.)

    Suppose you wash up on an uninhabitted island. If you can own land, then the island would soon become your property. Suppose that another man washes ashore later. Can you evict him? Can you charge him rent for the rest of his life? Or does it make more sense to say that you only own the hut you built and the trails you blazed?

    Second question: Does rent have mutual consideration even though the renter gains a claim to the rentee’s property (money) without relinquishing a claim to his own?

  33. Dale says:

    Some very valid questions in there.

  34. RanDomino says:

    Martin: There is no more uninhabited and unclaimed land (and there practically never was, as far as history is concerned). If someone wants to use some land, they should ask the locals. If some land is apparently vacant, they should confirm that no one is using it by asking around, observing it, digging into history, posting flyers or on the internet, whatever makes sense. If it’s pretty obvious that no one’s using it and whatever you do won’t have too deleterious effect on the local environment, go for it.

    Basically, Anarchist property is based on Use, not Title as capitalist/statist property is. If you use something, it’s yours; if you and other people use something (such as tools, buildings, or transportation), you own it together (and should all have an equal voice in its use); if you cease to use it, you cease to own it. Therefore rent is not legitimate, since the person collecting the rent does not actually use the property and so has no claim of ownership.

  35. lalala says:

    If we lived in an anarchist society (mind that I’m not considering anarcho-capitalism as an anarchist society), that bed would belong to anyone. So, yeah. There is that.

    Even though, I like the comics so far.

  36. Communard says:

    I don’t think this particularly refutes the idea that property is an imaginary concept. The whole point is that with the concept of property ownership removed from this exchange, there is an un-mediated relationship between the two characters based on each others needs. The guy craps on a bed which he knows the other has to sleep on, it is a hostile act because it is perceived as a violation by the victim and the perpetrator - we don’t need to invoke ‘property’ to determine this.

  37. All this “proves” is that you are too stupid to understand the difference between private property (as defined by capitalism) and ownership. Stupid Libertarian…

  38. Josh says:

    I have talked to a few self described socialists and communists. And honestly they have never argued that “personal property is theft”, to me at least…. they have just argued that the means by which people accumulate personal property is unethical. … do some people say this?

  39. Dale says:

    The means by which _some_ people accumulate personal property? Yes. Most libertarians would say that also.

  40. Francois Tremblay says:

    Do you really need a political theory to tell you that shitting on ANY bed that’s used is an imbecilic thing to do? You are an idiot.

  41. […] lives, just live the best slave lives possible. I was just chatting with the guy who inspired the Angry Josh character [editor’s note: a recurring character in the late, great online comic Anarchy In […]