Property' has Moral Limits
The essential relativity of "property" emerges perhaps most clearly in the proposition, discussed earlier in this paper, that claims of "property" may be abridged in order to further more highly rated social objectives. "Property" is not a value-neutral phenomenon. "Property" in a resource stops where the infringement of more basic human rights and freedoms begins. There are distinct moral limits to the concept of "property". As the Supreme Court of New Jersey observed in State v. Shack, "[p]roperty rights serve human values. They are recognised to that end, and are limited by it." The same Court confirmed that "an owner must expect to find the absoluteness of his property rights curtailed by the organs of society, for the promotion of the best interests of others for whom these organs also operate as protective agencies".
Quite profound-although as yet barely acknowledged-consequences flow from this recognition of the moral limits of "property". The moral qualification has, of course, a major significance for those who endorse the rhetoric of stewardship and the communitarian theory that the earth's resources are effectively held on trust for a number of social and environmental interests. Thin air, for instance, may not be made thick with pollutants. Land in particular takes on the character of a social commodity-a realisation which impacts just as keenly on patterns of land use and development as it now does on the increasingly contentious issue of recreational access to wild country.
In some deeper and broader sense it is the collectively defined moral baselines of the property concept which alone secure the foundations for cultural development, personal fulfilment and the enjoyment of a civilised and dignified way of life.