Working within a Lockean tradition, William Blackstone (1765) characterized property as the ‘sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over th external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.’ In practice, though, property rights in the Anglo-American tradition have always been hedged with restrictions. The dominion to which Blackstone refers is limited by easements, covenants, nuisance laws, zoning laws, regulatory statutes, and more generally by the public interest. The resulting institution does not embody a theory so much as a path-dependent history of real people solving real problems, shaping mutual expectations about rights of way as they go.
This article came out of my experience teaching 1st-year Property at Florida State. It comes at the end of a long train of articles on property. You can see that I'm still learning, and gradually knitting that line of research together with my reflections on what it would be like for institutions, and theories about institutions, to serve a purpose in the real world.