Both courts of law and political theorists have grappled with the problem of giving the concept of ‘need’ a place in our reasoning about the rights and wrongs of property regimes. But in the U.K., legal changes in the last fifteen years have eroded the legal possibilities for striking some compromise between the claims of the needy and the rights of property owners. Against this backdrop this article compares three theoretical accounts of how the fact of human need should impact upon our thinking about property rights: the rights-based arguments of Jeremy Waldron, the radical democratic theory of Lawrence Hamilton and the anarchist commentary of Colin Ward. While ‘theories’ of need have paid much attention to the nature of need ‘itself’, the article argues that this comparison reveals another issue that is just as important: where and how should claims of need be registered in legal and political processes?
Patrick J. L. Cockburn studied philosophy and sociology at the University of Exeter and continental philosophy at the University of Dundee. In 2012 he received his Ph.D. at the Department for Culture and Society at Aarhus University, Denmark, where he is now part of the interdisciplinary project on ‘Contested Property Claims’, funded by The Carlsberg Foundation and The Danish Council for Independent Research. His research focuses on the role of rhetoric in public struggles over economic legitimacy.