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 Using England and Russia as his main historical reference points, he shows how the existence of (and respect for) property has limited the power of monarchs and the state, prevented oppression, and fostered both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. Property, as he points out, is a bulwark between the state and the individual, and property rights allow the people to be co-sovereign with the state--as opposed to having sovereignty vested in the state alone, a condition only too conducive to abuse.
In the case of Russia, he is able to draw upon his expertise on the subject of Russian history, in which he is one of the world's leading authorities. (His massive book, THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, is sure to become a standard reference work on the subject.)
The only missing item I would like to have seen in this book is a very important and much-neglected one--an attempt to explain WHY so many writers and intellectuals remain hostile to property, while poor and working-class people are not, seeking to acquire it rather than to denigrate it. Perhaps the identity of the contestants supplies the answer: intellectuals, almost by definition, tend to feel guilty about having a much easier life than working-class people. (In the case of today's journalists, this has blossomed into out-and-out self-hatred, as watching the "news" confirms. Is there ANYTHING that journalists believe in that doesn't involve SOME form of self-punishment?) As Arthur M. Schlesinger once noted, such theories as Marxism appeal to intellectuals partly because of "the intellectual's sense of guilt over living pleasantly by his wits instead of unpleasantly by his hands." Thus, for the typical intellectual, the ideal society would be one in which the state allocates all property and all resources, taking decision-making power (and hence, responsibility) away from individuals, so that the burden of appearing to be "privileged" is automatically removed from those who feel uneasy about having comfortable lifestyles. No wonder "rich kids," from Plato and Seneca to Marx, Engels, and Lenin, have always been in the forefront of the battle to eliminate private property--the ultimate source of their guilt and self-hatred--and to increase the authority of the state. Not surprisingly, this longing for socio-political absolution came to the world in the form of theories because it came from theorists.
A more complete treatment of the relationship between property and liberty would have taken such factors into account. Nevertheless, Professor Pipes is to be commended for giving us a book that covers such a wide range of disciplines and historical data, and still makes a point (and a much-needed one at that).