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Property and Freedom [Paperback]

Richard Pipes


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Book Description

Jun 2000
Richard Pipes, Harvard scholar and historian of the Russian Revolution, brings his remarkable erudition to an exploration of a wide range of national and political systems to demonstrate persuasively that private ownership has served over the centuries to limit the power of the state and enable democratic institutions to evolve and thrive in the Western world.

Beginning with Greece and Rome, where the concept of private property as we understand it first developed, Pipes then shows us how, in the late medieval period, the idea matured with the expansion of commerce and the rise of cities. He contrasts England, a country where property rights and parliamentary government advanced hand-in-hand, with Russia, where restrictions on ownership have for centuries consistently abetted authoritarian regimes; finally he provides reflections on current and future trends in the United States. Property and Freedom is a brilliant contribution to political thought and an essential work on a subject of vital importance.

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Property can be studied from two distinct points of view: as a concept and as an institution. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Central Role of Property in Society 1 July 2004
By Kirk H Sowell - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Praise for Property and Freedom 18 Oct 2000
By The Independent Review, Winter 2001 - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Property and Freedom: Historical Perspective 17 Feb 2003
By Leonard J. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
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.
39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Quite Clear: No Property, No Liberty 3 Sep 1999
By Allan from San Francisco - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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).
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stick with Pipes' analysis of Russia 8 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The general discussion of property at the start of the book is very enlightening. Pipes' non-legal background helps him touch upon how ingrained property is to the human psyche.
It is when he starts to compare England to Russia that I have some problems with the book. As a Russian scholar he is unparalleled, and the book contains some interesting theses about Russian history (and Peter the Great in particular). But the application of his ideas to England is this book's downfall. Although the English experience certainly protects property more than Russia, he is blind to those instances in England's history and legal development when property fell to the whims of the majority (Pipes neglects to mention, say, the enclosure acts, and glosses over Henry VIII's seizure of ecclesiastical land since it was "approved" by Parliament - as if majority rule justified this move). I walked away from this part of the book with the idea that when the British lost their land, he felt it was for the greater good of property - even though at the very end of the book he specifically rants against the tyranny of the majority.
I think as a Russian scholar, his pro-property stance amplifies his resistance to Marxist ideas. So he never considers how law is to some extent a captive of those with property, who use it to consolidate their own while depriving others of it. Ultimately, this static analysis of property law paints a rosier picture than reality.
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