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Property and Freedom Hardcover – April 27, 1999

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The Conservatarian Manifesto by Charles C.W. Cooke
The Conservatarian Manifesto by Charles C.W. Cooke
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Editorial Reviews Review

Richard Pipes offers a vigorous defense of a fundamental freedom--private property--in this engaging mix of history, economics, and political theory. Western historians "take property for granted," complains the acclaimed scholar of Russian history (and author of the masterful The Russian Revolution). Pipes argues that a greater appreciation for this institution is necessary if liberty is to survive in the 21st century. "While property in some form is possible without liberty, the contrary is inconceivable," he says. Property rights give rise to the political and legal institutions that secure freedom. Their absence practically invites atrocity. The sinister regimes of Communist Russia and Nazi Germany were fiercely opposed to private property. Those regimes' "simultaneous violation of property rights and destruction of human lives," he emphasizes, "were not mere coincidences."

While the bulk of the book compares England and Russia, showing how varying attitudes toward private property led these two nations in totally different directions, the final section examines the broad theme of property rights in the late 20th century--a period when they have come under assault, and have been made increasingly conditional, by the growing strength of the welfare state. Pipes concludes with a broadside against New Deal and Great Society programs. Although liberal readers may bristle, none can deny that Property and Freedom is the product of a great mind tackling a big theme with great enthusiasm. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Renowned Sovietologist Pipes (The Russian Revolution, etc.) offers a powerfully argued coda to the Cold War triumph of capitalism. Private property, his thesis runs, is a prerequisite for the development of liberal, democratic legal and political systems. The books central comparison of 17th-century England with patrimonial Russia provides a potent argument in support of this assertion. The emergence of private estates in England required a legal system, while the czars ruled by decree; dependent on estate holders for revenue, the English Crown convened parliaments, while the czars required obligatory state service from Russian landowners. British citizens ability to accumulate wealth, backed by common law, resulted in modern capitalist democracies. Not surprisingly, Pipes has little patience with socialist ideals and with what he sees as their penchant for artificially imposed equality. He explicitly states that what a man is, what he does, and what he owns are of a piece, so that an assault on his belongings is an assault also on his individuality and his right to life. As Pipes takes Rousseau and Marx to task for their attacks on property, some readers will be put off by his untempered vehemence. While Pipes begrudgingly concedes that the reformist demands of various social movements have placed valuable checks on the unfettered accumulation of property, his message is most clear when he states human beings must have in order to be.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375404988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375404986
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,208,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kirk H Sowell on June 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
In this book, Richard Pipes examines the role of property in the cause of human freedom from every angle. One, Pipes discusses ideologies of property: what classical thinkers thought about property, what later Europeans thought, especially the philosophes and utopians of the early modern era, and so on.

Two, Pipes discusses the anthropology of property. I consider this chapter to be the most valuable in the book because I've never seen a discussion like this anywhere as it relates to property rights and political theory. I have studied anthropology and sociobiology, so the terminology and the science is familiar, but the application is different. Pipes notes that property is universal; land is not always considered property, but all peoples have things which are considered such, and even when communist regimes outlawed property, theft became rampant. This was human nature revolting against ideology. He notes that human beings know property intrinsically; parents have to teach their children to share, not to covet. He notes that other primates, and many nonprimates, have property, and that across species females tend to find propertyless males unattractive. There has never been a society without property, and the contrast between reality and the mythical visions of propertyless societies is clear.

Three, Pipes discusses and compares the historical development of property rights in England and Russia, the latter being his field of expertise. Whereas secure property rights gave English landowners leverage against the monarchy, in patrimonial Russia there was nothing to check Tsarist absolutism.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By The Independent Review, Winter 2001 on October 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
By way of The Independent Review (Spring 2000)
Richard Pipes is best known as an important scholar of Russian and Soviet history. In Property and Freedom, he combines his mastery of Russian history with a much broader subject, the relationship between private property and liberty. Relying primarily on the histories of England and Russia, Pipes makes a compelling argument that freedom and private property are intimately linked. As he puts it, "While property in some form is possible without liberty, the contrary is inconceivable" (p. xiii)...
Pipes begins his investigation with a brief but useful survey of some of the common but frequently vague terms he uses in the book. The term property, he explains, has several levels of meaning, the broadest of which can "encompass everything that properly belongs to a person . . . including life and liberty" (p. xv). It is this broad understanding of the term property that "provides the philosophical link between ownership and freedom" (p. xv)...
Chapters 1 and 2 are entitled "The Idea of Property" and "The Institution of Property." The first is a kind of intellectual history of the development of the concept of property, and the second is a historical narrative of how the institution of property developed. Both chapters provide clear, concise reviews of the main points of each history, including well-chosen examples from the historical and anthropological literature...
Chapters 3 and 4 illustrate different ways in which two specific states, England and Russia, actually developed historically. These case studies are the strongest part of the book.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Leonard J. Wilson on February 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Richard Pipes is one of the leading academic authorities on Russian and Soviet history. He starts this book by admitting that its subject matter is outside his area of special expertise. Despite this discalimer, he has produced a useful and interesting work on the relationship between property rights and freedom.
Pipes' approach draws on his expertise as a historian. He describes the historical development of the idea of property rights with particular emphasis on the contrasting experiences of England and Russia. He demonstrates that the development of political and economic freedom in England is directly linked to the early establishment of property rights in that country while the total lack of freedom in Russia (prior to 1991 and excluding the brief 1905-1917 period) is equally linked to the total lack of property rights there.
This book is not a complete answer to the very broad question of how property and freedom are related. It does, however, make a valuable contribution from the historical perspective. To more fully understand this question, I recommend the following: For an economic perspective: Mancur Olsen, Power and Prosperity; for a legal/social perspective, Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital. Together, these three books provide a fairly complete answer to the question.
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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Allan from San Francisco on September 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Pipes does an excellent job of tracing the history of the concept of property, as well as refuting the laughable utopian idea (still held by many writers and even anthropologists) that the original form of society was communistic, with no concept of private property. The author saw the necessity of also refuting environmental determinism--the idea that mankind is infinitely malleable, with behavior shaped completely by "cultural conditioning" rather than by human nature (as if culture arrived from outer space, instead of being itself a human creation)!
He musters an impressive and diverse array of facts to prove his case, but his text never becomes dense or boring, remaining easily accessible to the average reader and quite stimulating. Pipes demonstrates that contrary to the contentions of the intelligentsia, acquisitiveness is universal and has never been eliminated by conditioning, despite numerous attempts. After all, as he points out, even animals are territorial. He also shows that private property arises more by mutual agreement than by forceful appropriation. Using England and Russia as his main historical reference points, he shows how the existence of (and respect for) property has limited the power of monarchs and the state, prevented oppression, and fostered both freedom and progress (in England, "property" and "liberty" were almost synonymous), while the absence of a concept of property rightfully owned by individuals (as in Russia throughout most of its history) has inevitably fostered oppression and general impoverishment.
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