July 23, 2009

Feudal Property

In a previous post
 I began a critique of the American version of landed property, which I contend has bogged down in feudal stagnation and lost its legitimacy. I’d now like to begin developing the idea.
America’s concept of a property right in land is derived primarily from
John Locke
and the labor theory of property. According to this theory when you work a piece of hitherto unworked nature and add value to it, you gain a property right in that piece of nature. Your value-adding work justifies this. Just putting a fence around a piece of land is not sufficient. You have to work the land. According to Locke this right applies as long as there’s “enough, and as good, left in common for others”.
It’s easy to see that property as enshrined in modern America does not qualify on either of these counts. America has abdicated its imperative to improve the land. On the contrary there has been a retrogression. The two main examples are industrial agriculture and suburban sprawl.
Big Ag is less efficient and less productive than a multitude of small, independent organic farmers. It is socially and economically malevolent, leaving a trail of environmental devastation, soil degradation, livelihood destruction, financial ruin, drug addiction, and despair in its wake. CAFOs are bioweapons factories, a clear and present danger to public health, vastly more likely to launch a biological attack than any terrorist. Meanwhile sprawl is simply destroyed land. We took productive farmland and covered it with pavement, bloated residential structures, and lawns. And then there’s the little matter of some financial problems which stemmed from this sprawl….
None of this represents an improvement of the land. It certainly is not working the land. Rather it’s the old sin of an idle squatter taking up space. He puts up a fence, not to mark off an area of productive activity, but simply to enclose it. Nor was any of this land “reclaimed” from nature in the first place. One acquired or stole some money (or more likely borrowed phony money from a phony bank) and bought the existing cleared space. How does this qualify as staking a claim through working the land?
These “uses” are even less “productive” than the original wilderness. The wilderness had aesthetic and spiritual value. You could gather wood, forage, and hunt. People could cultivate frontier values and the frontier spirit. But suburbia is a pure dead zone. The land has been completely destroyed.
This memory of the frontier is not here for nostalgia value. Rather it goes to the second abdication. The right to a piece of land to call your own, where you carved out that piece through the work of your own hands, depended on the existence of a frontier where the freedom-seeker could always go if he didn’t want to live as a slave. But today the frontier has been destroyed, and there is nowhere left for freedom to seek itself.
But this does not mean freedom has to die. It means where a property regime has become the murderer of freedom, the “property” must die. No one has the right to sit on a piece of land and remove it from productivity, where there are millions who ardently desire to farm and live free. America needs  these millions of farmers. It needs them socially, economically, and relative to its energy infrastructure which will soon need to get by without cheap, plentiful fossil fuels. Otherwise America will starve.
Similarly, no big feudalist has the right to monopolize a vast stretch of farmland in order to render the multitude his serfs, because he prefers a worthless fat, sedentary, luxury lifestyle to a life of honest work and freedom. No, those who wish to work and be free have the right to that land.
What we have today is a complete bottleneck. The reason everything is frozen is because all space for movement has been blocked. That’s why no reform can go forward, why on every front, at every point the condition of the people and the country is crumbling, why even in the face of vast systemic problems like Peak Oil, climate change, malfunctioning health care and educational systems, and “Too Big to Fail”, nothing can be done. It’s because everywhere a handful of feudalists has achieved a stranglehold on the pivot points, a hold which the system as it exists refuses to break. Within the bounds and bondage of this system the people have been dispossessed and disenfranchised, completely and irrevocably. The distribution of land is the most important aspect of this stranglehold.
How can a whole country be bottled up to stagnate, fester, and die in order to preserve the feudal entrenchments? This is a Dark Age recrudescence. We shouldn’t be living in medieval times.
It’s clear that the distribution and use of land in America has become an antisocial stagnation. It has therefore abrogated all legitimacy form the point of view of the labor theory of property. Today only a complete Land Reform, the distribution of land on a productive farming basis, would constitute the improvement of the land which property legitimacy requires. This would also be the big step toward solving all of America’s social, economic, and environmental problems. Most of all, for the first time in history we’d have a society where it was actually true that anyone who is willing to work hard would prosper.
I focus on the labor theory of property because as formulated by Locke it was the wellspring of Anglo-American political philosophy on the subject, as in classical liberalism. Of course, as the true derivation of property has been rendered obsolete, the feudalists have tried to substitute their own justifications for idle rent-seeking and non-productive monopoly. 
A characteristic attempt to justify parasitic concentration came from Frederic Bastiat. Through a pseudo-religious sleight-of-hand he trumpets capitalist production as generating ever-greater “communal” wealth. So the fact that you have no land or property of your own, perhaps no job, most of all no freedom, is insignificant next to how much you benefit from this mystical and invisible communal property. It’s a justification of Walmartization.
But the real feudalists don’t need any such pseudo-philosophical justification. Those who may call themselves “propertarian libertarians” or “anarcho-capitalists”, but who usually just call themselves “libertarians” (the mainstream media stupidly goes along with this, confounding them with those who truly care about civil liberties) or property-rights activists, openly espouse a brutal Hobbesian might-makes-right accumulation regime. They may have some fancy talk, but at bottom it means this:
* Reversion to medieval land organization, just without the king;
* Direct dictatorship of big landowners (medieval nobles) and big corporations;
* Socialization of all costs on the people and the environment, while all proceeds are privately monopolized;
* Monopoly of violence by private death squads.
(They of course deny all this and talk like hippies about liberty and individual freedom and non-coercion. It’s funny how right-wingers, who take such pride in allegedly being realists in other ways, pretend to be such flower children when they talk about how benevolent and peaceful a corporate dictatorship would be.
But the historical record is clear and unanimous on the robbery, enslavement, and massacre it really entails. And today the record is clear in America: all four of the elements I listed are well advanced, and continue to advance.)
This sums up the feudalist/corporatist program as we see it unfolding today. This is the real goal of the resource fascist ideology. You don’t need to read the minutes of any secret meeting or listen to any speech. The structural trends are clear:
* Concentration of farmland.
* The whole impulse of “bipartisan” economic policy and market action is to drive up land prices so only the rich and rat race slaves can afford anything.
* All government policy is intended to redistribute wealth to the existing feudal concentrations. This process of looting society to the barest bleached bone started in the 70s, picked up steam through Reagan and Clinton, became the obsessive focus with Bush; and now Obama is dead set on perpetuating the Bush agenda at all costs.
Where it comes to land and food production, the agenda can be summed up this way: Big Ag, CAFOs, and biotech get complete domination of the farmed land, food distribution markets, government food and farm policy, and social infrastructure of farm states, while the rest of the land is destroyed by sprawl.
They will try to secure this slave plantation before Peak Oil really sets in. 


  1. What are you doing to secure your own long-term liberty? Are you a farmer yet?

    Comment by Ross — July 23, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  2. Nope. So far all I have is my first vegetable garden.

    If I can find my way there, I’d certainly like to take a shot at farming.

    If I could do that as my own boss, I think I could own that as a worthwhile way of life.

    Comment by Russ — July 23, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: