For Amish community members in USA, are their means of production (land, tools, possibly cattle) owned by individual community members/families; or by the whole community?

By "owned", I mean "practical" ownership. This is commonly defined as the three of four property rights:

  1. Usage

  2. Usufruct (right to benefit/profit from these means of production - e.g. sell the grain grown in the field)

  3. Alienation (right to transfer the good to others)

    To clarify, this mostly means the right to sell at all (e.g. if you can sell to another Amish, you have the right, even if you aren't allowed to sell to non-Amish "English". This is somewhat similar to shares in Chinese companies - you as a Chinese citizen own them, but you can't freely sell them outside of China outright). The only condition is, you must be allowed to sell as opposed to gift - you get back goods equally valuable to the means of production you give up.

If different Amish communities abide by different rules, I would prefer an answer that either (a) applies to a majority of communities/members or (b) if too much variation to have a majority, the variation that is most communal/least private but still has a meaningful amount of communities.

  • They're owned by individuals, what kind of question is this? Your Chinese example is just about nationalist protectionism not "means of production". Dec 19, 2016 at 14:36
  • @hownowbrowncow - legally, yes. Practically, they may be owned by community, but custom.
    – user4012
    Dec 19, 2016 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


By the definition provided in the question, the answer is probably closer to yes than no, however the Amish would consider that definition a decidedly "English" view. Meaning that their concept of community and order, "Ordnung" it is not that simple.

“The order is not written down. The people just know it, that’s all.” Rather than a packet or rules to memorize, the Ordnung is the “understood” behavior by which the Amish are expected to lfe. In the same way that the rules of grammar are learned by children, so the Ordnung, the grammar of order,

The general life principle that the Amish live by could best be described as:
God has provided everything and he is the sole owner of everything, we the caretakers of that which he has provided for us.
This wording is mine from my dealings with the Amish of Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky, and should not be considered as my claiming it to be an official religious doctrine.

If by the definition all three characters are absolute rights then the answer is no.

  1. Usage

The concept of Usage would infer that you have the first right to make use of your equipment or items. In the Amish culture the Church has the first right of usage. If church comes for something of yours then you are expected to give it to the church regardless of your need. The expectation and assumption of the community is that the Elders do not abuse this, though through western eyes I suspect many times we would consider it abusive. The church elders do make use of this, and quite often. It is done privately, and quietly and it is not something that the Amish gossip about.

  1. Usufruct (right to benefit/profit from these means of production - e.g. sell the grain grown in the field)

For the most part yes but again the church could come in and claim some or all of it. This rarely happens and most times as a form of penance for breaking a the Ordnung.

The community is considered first for anything an Amish man. If something they produce is in need by the community they are forbidden to sell it to the "English" (they don't care that you came from South America or China or where ever you are either Amish, Mennonite, Brethren or English.) Even if they could get considerably more from elsewhere. In addition if they need something they are expected to buy from the Amish when possible even if it is cheaper/better from the "English."

The Amish are also expected not to be exploitative of each other in their dealings. So while they may be the only producer of a piece of furniture in a community, and could make a huge profit selling it out side of the community, they are expected to provide it for a price that is reasonable with respect to its costs to other Amish.

  1. Alienation (right to transfer the good to others)

This is probably where the definition is closest to no. Anything in the community is expected to stay in the community if it is needed in the community. This is a lot like China's policy. It is quite rare for the Amish to move out of a community. All that I know of is those that retired tend to go to a New Order Amish Retirement community. In those cases the farms and property go to their sons.

All of this comes with the caveat that the church will abide the laws of the State and US with regards to possession and ownership should a member wish to exert them. However doing so is likely to result in first shunning and eventually being excommunicated from the church.

  • I'm not sure you're seeing #3 as correct as far as what you're trying to analyze. The right is "to sell the means of production within the community", not "to sell unrestricted to outside the community" (e.g. I can't sell my GPS factory shares to foreigners in US, but doesn't mean I don't truly actually own those shares). In other words, the main question in Alienation is, whether one Amish can sell his field (not his produce) to another Amish, without the community in general having to approve such sale -and "within reasonable community norms" restriction doesn't remove the right 100%
    – user4012
    Nov 18, 2016 at 18:47
  • 1
    @user4012 - That is kinda hard. Everyone of my Amish friends live on land that they were born on. Its very rare for the Amish to move, except to retire. When they retire the land usually goes to a son and his wife. I suspect they would have to get approval should they want to sell it to an outsider but that is just a guess. Nov 18, 2016 at 19:02
  • @user4012 - I would think of it more in the china fashion than GPS Shares. In china you can not sell your rice to a foreign firm if it is needed in china. Even if the State market is paying far below the going international rate. Nov 18, 2016 at 19:06
  • Yes, China is definitely a better example, but then you get into a possible wooly area of whether China is a communist counry (which in case of shares, I don't think it is, but don't want to be having that argument :)
    – user4012
    Nov 18, 2016 at 19:35
  • My concern is that, just because they can't sell to an ousider, doesn't tell anything about whether or not they are allowed to sell WITHIN the community (e.g., say, you have 1000 acres, you get old, you can't work that much, and only want 500 acres. Are you allowed to find another Amish to sell 500 acres to, and get paid - without having to ask the community's permision AND getting something of equal value in exchange?
    – user4012
    Nov 18, 2016 at 19:38

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