We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
In response to my shout-out about MacFarlane's book last weekend, our friend Tom Brewton sent this (which he had posted previously):
The simple, undeniable, and clarion fact is that our personal freedoms came about only, exclusively, and entirely because, centuries before, enough Englishmen had owned enough private property to compel the crown to recognize their rights. When individuals hold the nation’s purse strings, the rulers can’t afford to be too arbitrary.
Evolution of individual property ownership and individual liberties was a process that took place only in England, and it was the very heart of the ethos brought to America by the English colonists.
As Alan Macfarlane (The Origins of English Individualism) explains, England’s traditions of property ownership and the rights of contract, along with its supporting legal system, are historically unique in the world. Only in England did the legal right exist for individuals to own and freely dispose of property. As a consequence, according to accounts by visiting merchants and diplomats from the 15th century onwards, England had a per capita wealth and standard of living, even among the peasant farmers, vastly greater than that of any other European country. It is no accident that the 19th century industrial revolution was more extensive and more effective in England than on the Continent.
Elsewhere in Europe, property was a vague concept based, not on a legal title as in England, but on the feudal tradition of occupancy by generations of the same family. A peasant farm was “owned” by the whole family. No member of the family had any legal way to dispose of any of the property by contract. Every member of the family was entitled by tradition to live on the farm. When a family grew larger, there was less produce from the farm for each member.
The Continental peasant economy was characterized by subsistence farming. Peasant families hardly ever possessed money, but lived by bartering produce at local markets. There was almost no hired labor working for wages. The effect was social and economic stagnation with little prospect for increasing the wealth or living-standards of individuals.
In contrast, England at least as early as the 13th century, around the time that Henry II instituted the common law, had a well developed legal system of individual ownership. Church and court records of the time, both in the rural districts and in the cities, show continual sales of all or parts of farm land and other property by the legal owner, who was always an individual, not a family. Fathers could, and did, disinherit individual children; women owned and sold property in their own name, appearing by legal right to represent themselves in such transactions before the local courts.
The expected pattern in rural England, described by Henry de Bracton in the 13th century (On the Laws and Customs of England), was for sons to leave their families at an early age and hire themselves out as laborers on other farms or in the trades. They usually worked and saved their wages until they had accumulated enough to buy a small farm or business, then they married and began to raise their families. Harder-working and more capable individuals often became well-to-do by continually adding to their property holdings, but there was nothing guaranteed by law or tradition. Indeed, records over several generations in any given local jurisdiction show a constant turnover of family names in the property ownership and tax records. The grandchildren of a wealthy yeoman farmer could easily be poor, if they were not equally hard-working and prudent.
The result of this ethos was an unparalleled degree of economic and political individualism in England, and later in the British North American colonies. For an additional perspective, note the striking contrast between British North America and Latin America, where the Spanish crown originally controlled or owned all property. Latin Americans have never enjoyed the secure personal freedoms found here from the earliest days of the English colonists.
For non-English immigrants to America, especially the millions after the Civil War from historically-feudal Continental Europe, this almost universal private ownership of property was both a jarring social and legal ethos, and, at the same time, the source of their great opportunity for a better life in the New World. Their European heritage led them to identify property ownership with the hereditary landed aristocracy and therefore with repression. They had heard all their lives that liberty was to be taken with armed revolution against existing authority. With no conception of the English heritage of working and saving to accumulate private property over the long term, small numbers of them simply transferred their radical socialism to American soil.
The whole concept of property rights and, more importantly the right to decide where the ownership of that property goes when you die can be boiled down to this. Families that have worked, sometimes for generations, to accumulate real estate or build a business hold sacred the right to choose the next owner/s of their property. Families who have no interest in making the commitment or sacrifice it takes to accumulate assets figure "Hey, no one is leaving me anything so you shouldn't get anything either. Capitalism vs Socialism, in its purest form. Immigrants from all over the world still come here because we offer opportunities that exist in very few places. Will that be the case 100 years from now?