It has come to my attention recently that some people consider Shrek to be a model libertarian, because he sets up his home in a swamp and defends his private property against all comers. Of course, in the sanitized version of this private property myth he doesn’t repeatedly sign and then break treaty agreements, kill the original occupants of the land and call on the full power of the state to defend his property “rights” when the relatives of the original occupants come to get him; but this strengthens the value of the story as a libertarian model, rather than weakens it. Presumably somewhere on earth there is a society of private property that isn’t based on killing people and stealing their stuff, and it’s in that place that we might be able to look for a libertarian model. So let’s suppose that such a model is possible, and look at whether or not in this case Shrek provides us with a good example of the possibility of private property as a concept of political value.

I think Shrek’s unilateral decision to expropriate land previously held for the common benefit is a good example of some of the problems with the libertarian romanticisation of private property. I believe libertarians call Shrek’s expropriation of land “homesteading,”  but even assuming he didn’t “Homestead” over someone’s grave, there are still important issues of consent and community cohesion to be considered. For example:

  • it’s well established that in setting up his swamp, Shrek drove a small number of will ‘o wisps and troglodytes away from the area, increasing the rate of attacks by these pests in other, nearby communities. It’s well-established that one should drive these creatures away but there are also systems in place for balancing the risk and coordinating activities with other communities that Shrek ignored.
  • run-off from his farming activities is known to have contaminated valuable stocks of fairy floss in nearby forested areas. Communities of boggarts that market products based on fairy floss have been dislocated and may have to move to urban habitats, which both reduces their wealth and creates costs for urban communities. Everyone knows that boggarts are particularly difficult to integrate into complex multicultural (and often multidimensional!) fairysteads
  • he will undoubtedly start producing children soon, and this will place a heavier burden on the fragile swamp ecosystem. This swamp provides an important component of downstream water supplies for a community of sylphs, who you are no doubt aware cannot move away from the river they are born in due to their ethereal connection. Thus Shrek’s “individual” decision to set up his home here may lead to the destruction of a community of (admittedly slightly pesky, but no doubt still sentient) fairies
  • his decision to move there led to significant social order problems for his immediate neighbours, in the form of (amongst other things) dragons, crazy donkeys, kung fu princesses and, ultimately, war. When the neighbours are rebuilding their homes after the strife he brought with him they probably won’t be thinking about how admirable his rugged individualism is
  • due to unfortunate and unavoidable aspects of Ogre personality, it’s well known that property values go down after an ogre moves nearby. I think we can see why clearly from the available documentary material. I’m not racist, but the neighbouring fairies should gain some compensation from this, and from the environmental effects of his decision to set up a small band of adventurers and launch a violent attempt to overthrow the fairly appointed leader of a neighbouring state.

Surely the fairies should be allowed to consult with him and others, and perhaps to levy some kind of compensation for the imposition of this situation on their previously ordered lives? Just as in real life, in the fairyworld there is no such thing as genuinely private property.