sábado, 22 de outubro de 2016

ON PRIVATE PROPERTY

"Russia's absolutism showed particular qualities that distinguished it from that of the Bourbon's, Stuart's, or Hohenzollern's. European travellers to Muscovy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when ancien régime absolutism stood at its zenith, were impressed by the differences between what they were accustomed to at home and what they saw in Russia. The peculiar features of Russian absolutism in its early form, which lasted from the fourteenth until late eighteenth century, were marked by the virtual absence  of the institution of private property, which in the West confronted royal power with effective limits to its authority. In Russia, the very concept of property (in the Roman sense of dominion over objects) was unknown until introduced in the second half of the eighteenth century by the German-born Catherine II. Muscovite Russia had been run like a private estate, its inhabitants and territories, with everything they contained, being treated as property of the Crown. (...)
The Great Russian peasant, with centuries of serfdom in his bones, not only did not crave for civil and political rights, but... held such notions in contempt. Government had to be willful and strong - that is, able to exact unquestioned obedience. A limited government, subject to external restraints and tolerant to criticism, seemed to him a contradiction in terms. To the officials charged with administering the country and familiar with these peasant attitudes, a Western-type constitutional order spelled one thing only: anarchy. The peasants would interpret it to mean the release from al of obligations to the state which they fulfilled only because they had no choice: no more taxes, no more recruits, and, above all, no more tolerance of private property in land".

Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919, Fontana Press, 1992, pp.54-56

sábado, 15 de outubro de 2016

STRANGERS TO THE FATE OF ALL OF THE REST

"The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all of the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his follow citizens, he is close to them, but does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided that they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labours, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all of the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared man for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and restrained form acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannise, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrous animals, of which the government is the shepherd".

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, II, 4, VI (1835)