Little Red Blogger

This blog looks at radical politics(with a libertarian socialist slant), music and culture. Marx to Mises, Girls Aloud to Steve Reich...

Location: Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Late Feudal Theme Park Opening in Hanworth Norfolk!(Complete with revolting peasants or your money back!). Contact your nearest Judge for further deta

Forget contract feudalism who said the old variety was dead. A case in point being the Hon Robert Harbord-Hamond, youngest son of the 11th Baron of Suffield who recently tried to assert some various dubious property rights over a local village green. This distant descendant of William the Conqueror following in fine family tradition by trying to expropriate yet more common land from the peasantry. Like the supposedly extinct coelacanth this land dispute is a living fossil from which it is possible to see the origins of modern land disputes and the nature of statist property rights and how they act as the building blocks upon which modern capitalism rests. While also pointedly reminding us that Britain is very much not a classless society.

The villagers have asserted their right to own this land in common and use it for their own purposes, while the land owner in contrast like many of his ilk before him sees it as a resource to which he has prior claim. Now any good anarchist or libertarian socialist, unlike the vulgar libertarian flacks would see this attempt by the landowner to appropriate yet more land as inherently unfair and exploitative and as a blatant attempt by the landowner to ignore the prior common claims to the land. Like a pathetic reprise of the great enclosures of the 16th century he tried to fence his way round the property, to which the commons committee was not amused. This story unsurprisingly got a small mention in the Guardian and no further comment in the newspaper in a whole, despite what I see as its importance in illustrating how property rights of the past inform the present.

What this interesting and unusual case does is remind us of the origins of the modern distribution of land in the UK and the ancient conflicts and struggles that have shaped this distribution of the land. It also reminds us of how the ownership of land has always been a concern of the powerful and how it continues to animate their concerns. Possession of land like most assets translates into political power and influence, the aristocracy like large companies and governments have not forgotten this fact. After all they’re not making anymore of it, as the ole’ georgists say!

The majority of people in the UK are oblivious the historical iniquities that seem frozen in time around, it’s perfectly natural to accept the layout of the landscape and division of the land as ‘natural’ or as the result of inexorable economic forces over which we have little influence. This would be mistake and any socialist worth his salt would argue that had certain events gone one way or another things might be very different today(the enclosures being a case in point). Being a materialist doesn’t make one a determinist let alone a pessimist.

Land distribution is the result of deliberate decisions and deliberate exploitation of changing circumstances. As Kevin Carson points out in his splendid class analysis of the transition from feudalism to state-capitalism the people who expropriated the land from the peasantry were the usual suspects who used this transition to extend and strengthen their own power. The mechanics of exploitation may change but the kinds of people doing it have remained pretty much the same. The Baron’s son being a beautiful example of this demonstrating how the aristocracy retain old reflexes and habits when it comes to dealing with the ‘rabble’.

Luckily the Norfolk villages faced the baron’s son down and he has stated that he will be not defending the case in the court. Whether the bad publicity got the better of him or he had a sudden attack of conscience it is a good result for villagers and should alert us all to how the past as so often in this country can become the present.