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Property and Freedom Paperback – June 13, 2000
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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 --This text refers to the Digital edition.
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. --This text refers to the Digital edition.
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Top customer reviews
Pipes begins by establishing that we and many other animals have an instinctive urge to possess and to mark territory. He goes on to describe how the institution of property arose and debunks the myth of a "propertyless Eden", a Utopian ideal to which some dreamers would want Man to return. He follows with a description of how property rights protected the freedoms of the people in England from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and how badly instituted property rights in Russia failed to protect even a minority of nobles from the whims of the Czar. Pipes then analyzes how in the 20th century property rights fared under Nazi and Communist rule in Germany and Russia.
Up until this point Pipes's analysis is faultless, bold, original, and convincing. However he fails to convince when he begins examining property rights in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. He doesn't like paying taxes, which hardly surprises anyone familiar with Pipes's very conservative political views. But, complex tax codes notwithstanding, taxes redistribute wealth in a transparent and well ordered manner.
People don't live in isolation; people live and work in society. Property is only one of the institutions that make up our world, albeit an absolutely necessary one as Pipes argues. But when wealth is created and becomes the creator's property, society has a duty through its institution to take a share. Call it a royalty or a rent.
Pipes is understandably frustrated by the sense of entitlement created by an overstretched meaning of rights (e.g. abuse of rent controls) and by government overactivity (e.g. busing) but is the solution to the abuses found in stronger property rights and in voluntary charity? Pipes did not convince me it did.
Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
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. The submission of the country to Soviet totalitarianism and the current move toward "managed democracy" in Vladimir Putin's Russia have been natural consequences of Russia's heritage. (Pipes has an article in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs about popular acceptance of authoritarianism in modern Russia that is very insightful as to the current situation.)
Four, Pipes discusses the politics of property. He argues that, while property rights were essential to the foundation of democracy, democracy can become a threat to property rights as people begin to realize that they can regulate the property of others and redistribute some of it to themselves through the electoral system. Unfortunately, the last few decades of Western history seem to bear this out.
Overall, I would suggest this book for anyone seeking to understand the role and importance of property in the development and freedom of human societies.