Russell Kirk, “Property Healthy for Man” (THE FREEMAN, 1964)

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One of the most evil works of collectivism — whether it be called communism, state capitalism, so­cialism, “people’s democracy,” or what you will — is the destruction of true private property. For the longing of man to have something genuinely his own goes back be­yond the roots of civilization.

In the Nazi and communist concentration camps, the wretched prisoners clung, as their last hope, to some particular patch of floor in cell or barracks, where they could sleep every night and crouch during the day. The most extreme cruelty which their jailer could contrive was to shift their vic­tims, frequently, from spot to spot or building, so that even this last show of private property was denied them. They had nothing to call their own.

As the bull, doomed in the ring, returns after every charge to his little patch of stamping ground, so man requires innately some tiny territory that is his. This point is made sagaciously by Mr. Robert Ardrey in his book, Afri­can Genesis: A Personal Investi­gation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man.

In man, as in most other ani­mals (not counting insects), Mr. Ardrey points out the instinct for status and one’s own domain is stronger even than the appetite for sex. It is this fact which Marx­ists and other utopian reformers ignore, to the great suffering of modern mankind.

“We, the approximate Class of 1930,” Mr. Ardrey writes, “today furnish trusted and vital leader­ship to world thought, world poli­tics, world society, and to what­ever may exist of world hope. But we do not know that the hu­man drive to acquire possession is the simple expression of an animal instinct many hundreds of times older than the human race itself.” The rediscovery of this fact, Ardrey goes on to explain, refutes Marxism.

Nearly 90 years ago the great legal authority, Henry Maine, de­clared that civilization is the prod­uct of personal property. This thesis is reaffirmed in our time by Dr. Gottfried Dietze, in his slim, important book, In Defense of Property. If you deprive man of true property, you work for the destruction of culture and a just civil social order.

Human nature is constant. We moderns are not really different, in longing and character, from the ancient Egyptians whose hopes and lamentations we can read in their tombs. And if we deprive modern humanity of one of its natural satisfactions and sup­ports, we reduce mankind to some­thing less than it ought to be.

So it is necessarily evil to be rootless, to own nothing, to be simply a little insecure speck in a kind of tapioca pudding society. And the more personal a piece of property is, the healthier for man it becomes. Merely owning a stock certificate or a bond or a deposit book does not satisfy the instinct for property — though doubtless this is better than no property at all.

Thus the crofter in the Heb­rides, or the Portuguese fisher­man in his tiny cottage, in one considerable sense is a happier and truer man than the most suc­cessful industrial manager in So­viet Russia. He possesses his own little domain, while the industrial commissar is lost in an imper­sonal, propertyless, gray insect world.

–Russell Kirk, “Property Healthy for Man,” THE FREEMAN (September 1, 1964).  For the link at FEE: http://fee.org/freeman/detail/property-healthy-for-man

About bradbirzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author, a biographer, and a prog rocker. Interests: Rush, progressive rock, cultural criticisms, the Rocky Mountains, individual liberty, history, hiking, and science fiction.
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