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Friday, September 30, 2005

John Locke Lives…in a Commune?

In the October issue of National Geographic [Geographica department], Peter Gwin wrote an article (“Free Love, Not Land”) describing the current situation of the commune Christiania.  Located at an abandoned fort on the inner harbor of Copenhagen; Christiania now sits on valuable land that the Danish government wants tax revenue from.  It should come as no surprise that the land has become highly valued and developers want to build new apartments along with other redevelopment projects.  According to Gwin, “In 1989 [Danish] parliament recognized the enclave as a legal ‘social experiment’ but retained the state’s ownership of the land.”  That may be all well and good, you might say, but what does this have to do with John Locke.  Using Locke’s normative framework of liberty two interesting points can be made.
First Point:  It can be argued, and I would concur, that the commune of Christiania has taken the abandoned fort from the state of nature and mixed it with their labor to make it their own. The fort, and the land it rested upon, is still recognized as belonging to the Danish government, but the abandonment of the fort I think can be considered as returning the property to the state of nature.  That being the case, the commune would have a claim to the property by removing it from the state of nature through their improvements to the abandoned fort.
Second Point:  Some may have found it strange that I have discussed the abandoned fort as the property owned by the residents of the commune; ownership is the last thing one expects to find in a commune but that’s exact what is found in Christiania.  Property ownership can be seen in the homes of the residents.  Being an abandoned fort, dwellings were in scarce supply so they built their own homes which were then decorated with colorful murals.  These houses are owned by those who built them, and there doesn’t seem to be much dispute about this.  
More striking than property is the existence of markets in the commune.  Among others, Christiania had drug market which, according to Gwin, ‘was shut down last year by the police.’  Markets are inextricably linked to capitalism, but here we have a market in the last expected place: a commune.  This I see as another example that markets are everywhere.  The way I see it, it is not the commune (with its ownership of property and markets) that is peculiar, but people’s conception of what a market is.  Far too long markets have been conceived as some physical place, but a market should more properly be defined by the actions that take place.  Another way to say this is that: a market is the transactions of buyers and sellers of goods and services to make each better off.  As such markets are not just an aspect of capitalism, but are a fundamental aspect of human life.
In the end, I found that this article about Copenhagen’s besieged commune demonstrates the fundamental inalienable right to life, liberty, and property.

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