SOC/ECON/LAW: Richard Pipes' "Property and Freedom"

Date: Mon Jan 15 2001 - 06:29:36 MST

I have just finished reading and highly commend Richard Pipes' latest book,
"Property and Freedom". Pipes is a leading American scholar of Russian
history and former senior advisor to the US government on foreign policy and
arms control and defense policy.

As the title suggests, this book looks at the relationship of two fundamental
concepts, property and freedom. The book is divided into five sections. In
the first section, Pipes considers the "idea" of property as developed by
Western philosophers and social and legal theorists. In the second, Pipes
reviews the natural and social history of property in practice
("institutions" of property), from animal behavior through human
developmental psychology and human anthropology and legal institutions and
practice. This section ends with a general overview of the institution of
property in the West from the time of the Greeks through the Renaissance, and
its relationship with civic life, especially the development of concepts of
individual liberty and the relationship of individuals with larger social
institutions. The next two sections review in detail the political and
social history of the relationship of property and liberty in the two
societies with which Pipes is most familiar, Anglo-America and Russia, from
pre-modern times through the present. The last section discusses the
developing relationship of the concepts of property and individual liberty in
20th century America, and includes a good layman's discussion of the
evolution of U.S. constitutional law as it bears on that relationship, as
well as a review of the historical roots and over-all progress of the
"welfare state" in the U.S.

Pipes is not by any means a "hard-core" libertarian, nor is he a technical
economic historian, but rather presents a balanced, well-informed and very
readable overview of the interplay of the theory and practice of civil
liberty and property rights as a social historian and a chronicler of ideas,
rather than ideals. I highly recommend this book as one which will provide
an excellent historical grounding in the actual development of these vital
streams of human history in the West.

[A personal footnote on Pipes, regarding my one meeting with him - which I'm
sure he doesn't recall. Back in 1978 I was an undergraduate student at the
University of Washington in Seattle, studying Chinese language and "area
studies". At that time, Asian studies at UW were part of the "Institute for
Comparative and Foreign Area Studies (with the tongue-twisting acronym
"ICFAS"). The primary nuclei of ICFAS were the Russian and Chinese area
studies curricula. Thus, we "China hands" often sat in on talks given by

Pipes, who was already one of the giants of Russian historiography, came to
ICFAS to speak at a seminar. I had just read the (in)famous special issue of
Aviation Week and Space Technology on space-based anti-missile defenses,
which in hindsight is now seen as one of the opening shots in the "Star Wars
debate". As I have written here before, I am an inveterate "space cadet",
and was very enthused by the ideas discussed in that piece. After Pipes'
talk, I was among a group of students and professors who took part in an
informal discussion with Pipes. I asked him whether he knew anything about
the proposals for a space-based system that Edward Teller was pushing. He
hadn't heard of it and dismissed it with a brief, skeptical comment, which
left me feeling pretty foolish.

A few years later, Pipes had become the Reagan administration's senior
advisor on Soviet affairs and national defense policy toward the East Bloc.
I saw a televised debate in which he took part, where he was enthusiastically
describing and promoting the idea of space-based missile defenses. By that
point, I had become deeply skeptical of the plan as Teller proposed it. I
could only grunt in ironic satisfaction and wonder whether he remembered the
gangly young student whom he'd dismissed as a "science fiction fan" . . .]

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:19 MDT