An English translation by Bernard Bouvet of the post “QUESTIONS À RÉSOUDRE (VI) DILEMMES DE LA PROPRIÉTÉ PRIVÉE”.
Private property, as we saw previously, allows you or I to selfishly take advantage of our planet’s generosity towards us and claim ownership of what she bears within her or what she produces spontaneously thanks to the sun, the wind, the rain, and derive a rent from it.
The impact of such an institution is quite obviously unfair. The French Revolution, nonetheless, stopped at its edge. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen even affirms: “Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.”
Gide and Rist comment on the revolutionaries’ attitude in this regard: “The Revolution removed the benefits of caste; it abolished primogeniture (the rights of the first born) which consecrated the children’s’ inequality within the family. But it upheld individual property rights – property rights which confer the most unjust of privileges, the right for the owner to “levy a premium on another’s labour”” (1909 : 247).
What justifies that tolerance towards private property, when no principles can and when its inherited redistribution becomes arbitrary after a few generations?
Private property, according to its proponents, at the very front the Physiocrats such as Richard Cantillon (1680-1734), François Quesnay (1694-1774), or Turgot (1727-1781), stimulates production and wealth creation.
Private property, supposedly, optimally brings out the best in people, first to their own benefit, but above all, in their view, to the benefit of their own children. This the prodding force: the care of their offspring is the motivation that is proposed that brings out the best in people.
But right then the Saint-Simonians protest: admitting that private property permits, to a certain extent, a production’s optimisation thanks to the motivation it provides, inheritance, as far as it is concerned, is counterproductive: the benefits of being productive are undermined if property is transmitted according to the “randomness of birth.”
On this topic Gide and Rist remark with a kind of fatalism: “One can justify inheritance only if one sees it as a strong excitant for the fathers to accumulate capital, – or again, for lack of a rational method, one cannot argue against randomness of birth any more than any other distribution’s method.” 190 251)
Private property officialises the spoliation of the community. Inheritance exaggerates its arbitrariness. Attempts to abolished it have so far proved at best inconclusive, at worst disastrous. Mother Earth has shown tremendous patience until now towards such little idiosyncrasies, but certainly the time is approaching when she will judge enough has been given.