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Professor Eric Claeys’s forthcoming book, Natural Property Rights, offers a deep perspective on property rights principles. However, while the law tends to focus—as I believe it must—on property rights, rights are inextricably intertwined with duties or responsibilities. The natural rights framework for property is, as Claeys says, “good enough for government work.” It reflects a principled way for the government to allocate property rights and use the law to protect them.

However, it is necessary to look beyond what is desirable for government to protect through law. Other sources propose parameters for reasoned use of property with an emphasis on duties. The Catholic social tradition offers a perspective on the moral duties and responsibilities that accompany property rights. This is not a substitute for natural property rights and their robust legal protection. Rather, it is a way to supplement legally defined rights with a moral perspective stressing the correlative duties and responsibilities that come with those rights. This paper argues that the more focus there is on a rights-based view of property from a legal perspective, the more important it is to look at moral frameworks to promote a healthy and holistic vision of property. Modern Catholic social theory offers just such a framework.

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