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Property and Freedom Paperback – June 13, 2000
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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. Pipes marshals an impressive battery of evidence to demonstrate how in England the importance of private property led steadily to the development of a strong spirit of individual freedom and a vigorous democratic tradition...The history of Russia is so different from that of England, Pipes argues, largely because of the historically weak tradition of private property in Russia. Pipes uses the Weberian concept of a "patrimonial" state to describe Russia. Unlike their counterparts in England (or, indeed, in western Europe in general), the Russian monarchs historically considered themselves and were considered by others as not only the rulers but the owners of their realm. Although private property existed, it did not exist independently of the state, but "emanated from it"...
The final chapter, "Property in the Twentieth Century," picks up the historical narrative appoximately where the two case studies end. During the twentieth century, the institution of private property comes under relentless attack, first from the totalitarian ideologies of fascism and communism and, finally, from the welfare state. Pipes makes a strong argument that the welfare-state policies that have emerged in western Europe and North America over the past several decades (including the increasing acceptance of the concepts of "positive rights," "entitlements," government "takings," and so forth) undermine private property and, hence, individual liberty...
Pipes continues with this theme in the last section of the book, entitled "Portents." Neither a conclusion nor an epilogue, this section amounts to a warning of coming disaster if the antipropertarian spirit of the welfare state is not checked. Pipes cites Tocqueville in stressing the dangers of a despotic democracy in which, as Tocque-ville described it, the "nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd" (p. 292)...
Property and Freedom is an important contribution. By providing two very closely argued historical case studies, Pipes has issued a kind of invitation (challenge?) to historians with expertise in other civilizations or national histories to corroborate or refute his thesis. If he successfully provokes such further studies, he will have advanced the discussion of the link between property and liberty even more significantly.
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.