Were I to tell my neighbour that his land was not really his, he might pull a gun. But I would nonetheless be correct. My one-and-a-half wooded hectares aren’t fully mine either, though I hold the title free and clear. What I and my neighbour do possess are certain rights to the land we like to think of as ours. We can sell the rights, or lease them to someone else, or bequeath them to our heirs. But we cannot do everything we please on the land itself. I am having some Amish around next week to raise me a man cave, but before I could do that I had to get planning permission, install concrete footers at prescribed intervals, and have an inspector approve them. More importantly, my tenure is contingent. If I fail to pay the tax the state assesses on “my” acres, the state will take them back. Back? Yes back, because in the wonderfully archaic language of property law, the state is the “donor” or the “allodial owner”. The state in my case is Maryland, which inherited my and every other...

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