In the development of legal categories, the ability to execute exchange transactions is only one of the concrete phenomena of the general quality of the capacity to have legal rights and to conduct transactions. However, it is historically mainly the exchange transaction which furnished the idea of a subject as the abstract bearer of all possible legal claims. Only in the conditions of a commodity economy is the abstract form of a right created, i.e. the capacity to have a right in general is separated from specific legal claims. Only the constant transfer of rights taking place in the market creates the idea of their immobile bearer. The person receiving an obligation in the market undertakes an obligation himself at the same time. The position of a creditor is transferred to that of a debtor. Thus, the possibility is created of abstracting from the concrete differences between these subjects of legal rights, and of putting them under one generic concept. 
Similar to the way in which the exchange transactions of developed commodity production were preceded by random exchange acts and such forms of exchange as mutual gifts, the legal subject with the sphere of legal domination expanding around him was morphologically preceded by the armed individual or, more often, group of people, clan, horde, tribe, capable in a dispute or a battle of defending that which was the condition of their existence. This close morphological tie dearly unites the court with the duel, and the parties and the proceedings with the parties in armed struggle. With the growth of social regulatory forces, the subject proportionally loses his material tangibility. His personal energy is replaced by social power, i.e. class power, organization, which finds its highest expression in the state. This impersonal and abstract subject corresponds, as his expression, to the impersonal abstract state authority which acts in ideal equilibrium and continuity in space and time.
But before enjoying the services of the state mechanism, the subject relies upon the organic continuity of relationships. Similar to the way in which the regular repetition of acts of exchange constitutes value, as a general category raised above subjective evaluations and random exchange ratios, likewise a regular repetition of one and the same relationship – custom – gives a new meaning to the subjective sphere of domination, justifying its existence by an external norm.
Custom or tradition, as a higher basis than the individual for legal claims, corresponds to the feudal system with its limitations and stagnation. Tradition or custom is in essence something included in notoriously rather narrow geographic boundaries. Therefore, every right is thought of merely as an attribute of a specific concrete subject or of a group of subjects. In the feudal world, “each right was a privilege” (Marx). Each city, each estate, each guild lived according to its law which followed a man wherever he was. The idea of a formal legal status, common to all citizens, general for all people, was absent in this period. Corresponding to this in the economic field were self-sufficient closed economies, prohibitions of import and export etc.
“The content of individuality was not one and the same. The estate, property position, profession, belief, age, sex and physical strength led to deep inequality in legal capacity.”  Equality between subjects was assumed only for closed relationships in a definite narrow sphere; thus, members of one and the same estate were equal to one another in the sphere of estate rights, members of one and the same guild were equal in the sphere of guild rights etc. At this stage the legal subject, as the general abstract bearer of all conceivable claims to rights, appears only in the role of the possessor of specific privileges.
At this stage “legal consciousness sees that the same or equal rights were attributed to individual persons or collectives, but it does not conclude that these persons and collectives were one and the same in their attribute of having rights.” 
To the extent that in the Middle Ages the abstract concept of a legal subject was absent, so also the idea of an objective norm, directed to an imprecise and broad circle of persons, was mixed and merged in the establishment of concrete privileges and “liberties”. As late as the thirteenth century we find traces of some clear impressions of the difference between objective law and subjective legal rights or powers. In certificates of privileges and dues, which were given to cities by emperors and princes, the mixture of these two concepts is encountered at each step. The usual form of establishing some general rules or norms was the recognition of a definite territorial unit, or of the population in a collective sense as having specific legal qualities. Such a character was borne by even the famous formula Stadtluft macht freiThe abolition of judicial battles was conducted in the same form; along with these decrees, and as something entirely of the same type were included the rights of city dwellers, for instance in the use of the prince’s or emperor’s forest.
The same mixture of objective and subjective elements was at first: observed in municipal law itself Municipal statutes were in part provisions with a general character and in part a list of individual rights or privileges which were enjoyed by some group of citizens.
Only with the full development of bourgeois relationships did law obtain an abstract character. Each man became a man in general, all labour was equated with socially useful labour in general, every subject became an abstract legal subject. Simultaneously, the norm also assumed the logically perfected form of the abstract general law.
Thus, the legal subject is the abstract commodity owner elevated to the heavens. His will – will understood in a legal sense – has its real basis in the wish to alienate in acquisition and to acquire in alienation. For this desire to be realized it is necessary that the desires of commodity owners be directed to one another. Legally, this relationship is expressed as a contract or an agreement of independent wills. Therefore, contract is one of the central concepts of law. In haughty language, it becomes a component part in the idea of law. In the logical system of legal concepts the contract is only one of the forms of transaction in general, i.e. one of the methods of concrete expression of the will with whose aid the subject acts upon the legal sphere around him. Historically and in reality, on the contrary, the concept of transaction grew from contract. Outside contract, the very concepts of subject and will exist only as lifeless abstractions in the legal sense. In contract these concepts obtain their full movement, and simultaneously the legal form, in its simplest purest aspect, receives its material basis in the act of exchange. The act of exchange thus concentrates, in its focus, all the essential elements of political economy and law. In exchange, in Marx’s words, “a volitional or legal relation is produced by economic relationships themselves”. Once it has arisen, the idea of contract strives to assume universal significance. Before possessors of commodities “recognized” each other as owners, they were of course already such but in a different, organic and extra-juridical sense. “Mutual recognition” signifies nothing other than an attempt to interpret, with the help of the abstract formula of contract, those organic forms of appropriation which depend on labour, conquest etc., which a society of commodity producers finds ready at its inception. By itself the relationship of man to an object is deprived of all legal significance. This is felt by jurists when they try to make sense of the institution of private property as a relation between subjects, i.e. between people. But they construe this purely formally and negatively, as a universal prohibition which excludes everyone except the owner from the use and disposition of the object; this conception, while suitable for the practical purposes of dogmatic jurisprudence, is most unsuitable for theoretical analysis. In its abstract prohibitions the concept of property loses all actual meaning, and renounces its own pre-legal history.
Karner states “an owner decides to cultivate a legal relationship of property by way of alienation”.  Does Karner not think that “the legal” begins from this “cultivation”, and until its acquisition does not go beyond the bounds of the natural or organic?
Karner agrees that “purchase, sale, loan and rental existed earlier but with a minimal objective and subjective sphere of action”. Yet these legal forms of the circulation of economic boons existed so much earlier that we find a clear formulation of the relationships of rental, loan and deposit before the very formula of property was developed. This alone already provides the key to the proper understanding of the legal nature of property.
On the contrary, it seems to Karner that people were independent owners before they pledged, bought and sold objects. These relationships seem to him merely “auxiliary and secondary institutions filling the gaps of petit bourgeois property”. In other words, he proceeds from the idea of entirely isolated individuals who (it is unclear for what purpose) decided to create a “general will”, and in the name of this general will to order each one to refrain from infringements upon an object belonging to another. Then considering that the owner could not be treated as a universalist, either in terms of his labour power or as a consumer, these isolated Robinson Crusoes decide to supplement ownership with the institutions of purchase and sale, loans, rental etc. This artificial scheme puts the true development of objects and concepts on its head.
The bond between a man and an object which he produced or won himself, or which figuratively (as arms, or decoration) constitutes part of his personality, undoubtedly emerges historically as one of the elements in the development of the institution of private property. It represents its initial crude and limited form. Private property obtains its perfected and universal character only with the transformation to a commodity or, rather, to a commodity-capitalist economy. It becomes indifferent to the object and severs all connection with any organic union of people (kinship-group, family, commune). It appears in the most general meaning as “an external sphere of freedom” (Hegel), i.e. as the practical realization of the abstract ability to be the subject of rights.