Cornell Law Review Volume 92 Issue 6

The Social Responsibility of Ownership

Gregory Alexander’s new book, The Global Debate over Constitutional Property: Lessons for American Takings Jurisprudence, provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the functions of comparative law and the nature of ownership. This Essay highlights the role of comparative law in upsetting law’s tendency to turn contingency into necessity, but also warns against using comparative law to yield normative conclusions without an independent and critically constructive legal inquiry. The Essay offers such an inquiry in order to substantiate Alexander’s call to adopt the German constitutional model of incorporating social responsibility into the concept of property. It studies the reasons in favor of incorporating a social responsibility norm as well as the potential risks that such a move entails, and outlines the contours of a takings doctrine that deliberately incorporates the social responsibility of property owners.

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