reynolds on the international history of expropriating land for the common good

28Jan10

I was made aware of the following book by a post at the Legal History blog. According to Susan Reynolds in her new book, the legal technique of acquiring land from certain individuals for the common good, from the Medieval period to around 1800, is one that is fruitfully compared across Europe and settler North America.

In this concise history of expropriation of land for the common good in Europe and North America from medieval times to 1800, Susan Reynolds contextualizes the history of an important legal doctrine regarding the relationship between government and the institution of private property.

Before Eminent Domain concentrates on western Europe and the English colonies in America. As Reynolds argues, expropriation was a common legal practice in many societies in which individuals had rights to land. It was generally accepted that land could be taken from them, with compensation, when the community, however defined, needed it. She cites examples of the practice since the early Middle Ages in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, and from the seventeenth century in America.

Reynolds concludes with a discussion of past and present ideas and assumptions about community, individual rights, and individual property that underlie the practice of expropriation but have been largely ignored by historians of both political and legal thought.



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