Notes and quotes from Richard Pipes' "Property and Freedom"

  • No society has ever existed without some kind of property, the vision of an ideal propertyless world must be grounded not in collective memory but in a collective longing. p 5
  • Politics for those in The Republic were largely a matter of custom, not law. Hence for Plato, the ideal state would have no statutes.  According to Plutarch, Lycurgus would not permit the rules he laid down for Sparta to be committed to writing. p 9
  • The Stoic school emerged with the rise of the Macedonian Empire.  The legal disparities between the different peoples (Armenian, Bactrians, Jews, Egyptians, Indians, etc.) forced an important question that we have never really gotten away from—given all of the conceptions of justice between the different nations, was there no universal standard of right and wrong, or were the diverse legal canons and procedures merely adaptations of the same universal law to local conditions? p 9
  • We tend to think of the effect of the voyages of discovery mainly in political and economic terms, but it has no less a bearing on the social theories of the day. The discovery of America and the South Pacific islands encouraged a utopian idealism that clashed with the pragmatic idealism of Christian theology and new currents of thought associated with the revival of Natural Law theories. p 22
  • Lenin promised that once Communism triumphed globally, gold would be used exclusively for the construction of lavatories on the streets of the some of the largest cities in the world.
  • Beginning with Helvetius, French philosophes maintained that the decisive factor in shaping human attitudes and conduct was education by which they mean in addition to formal schooling, man’s social milieu and laws.  Private property they saw as the principal obstacle to a virtuous life because it corrupted the personality and produced intolerable social inequalities.  p 40
  • Communism was born halfway through the eighteenth century before the emergence of industrial capitalism and the glaring social inequalities to which it would give rise. It was pure intellectual construct, conceived in the imagination of thinkers who looked backward to a Golden Age. p 43
  • It took time for public opinion to become aware that capital was displacing real estate as the principal form of wealth. p 46
  • Engel’s view was that private property developed first through barter with strangers till it reached the form of commodities.  But until very recent times—Engel’s own in fact—the principle form of property has been land, which for most of history was not a commodity in the ordinary sense of the word and which never had any connection with the division of labor. p 53
  • The whole body of German law is in fact a law in which property reigns supreme.  There was no evidence of common ownership of land which would require periodic redistribution of the soil. p 56
  • Rawls nowhere hints as to how the principles are to be realized.  In his quest for justice, Rawls proposes to reform or abolish “laws and institutions, no matter how efficient and well arranged..if they are unjust.” And for Rawls, injustice is inequality. p 60
  • Arguably though, justice and freedom, and all of the ideals we want to see realized in society become policy issues.
  • Rawls is trying to connect the ought with the is, the normative with the descriptive, but he does not talk about the prescriptive.
  • An Irish observer explained as early as 1903 the constant number of birds of the same species in any given area by the fact that only those birds procreate which manage to acquire a territory on which to breed and raise progeny. In other words, territorial constraints act as an efficient means of population control. p 68
  • Animals defend their territory more fiercely as it shrinks. p 69
  • Evidence gathered by child psycholgists indicates the very opposite to be the case, namely that toddlers are exceedingly possessive and learn to share as they grow up because they are taught to do so. p 71
  • The total population of England during the early Paleolithic is estimated at 250 persons and in France 10,000. p 81
  • The whole territory claimed by each tribe was subdivided into tracts owned from time immemorial by the same families and handed down from generation to generation. The almost exact bounds of these territories were known and recognized, and trespass, which indeed was a rare occurrence, was summarily punishable.

First published Jul 13, 2012