The Yale Law Journal

January 2001

The Liberal Commons

Hanoch Dagan and Michael A. Heller

110 Yale L.J. 549 (2001)

Must we choose between the benefits of cooperative use of scarce resources and our liberal commitments to autonomy and exit? No. Well-tailored law can mediate between community and liberty, between commons and private property. Our theory of the liberal commons provides a framework to reconcile these seemingly contradictory moral imperatives and analytic categories. In our definition, an institution succeeds as a liberal commons when it enables a limited group of people to capture the economic and social benefits from cooperation, while also ensuring autonomy to individuals through a secure right to exit. This Article shows how current theories and categories obscure the most difficult tradeoffs in managing commons resources; then details our liberal commons model comprising the decisionmaking spheres of individual dominion, democratic self-governance, and cooperation-enhancing exit; and finally presents a case study to show how our approach can enrich legal and social inquiry.