Et In Arcadia Ego: The Paradox of Democracy and Property

To live in a country run by a popular government (democracy, republic, etc.) and yet be denied free and open access to property, the ability to establish oneself on a piece of land for shelter and sustenance, regardless of one’s means, seems to contradict the very core principles of a popular government.

In a monarchy,  the monarch owns everything. They grant portions of their land and authority to the aristocracy in exchange for loyalty and promises of money/goods/manpower when necessary. The aristocrats in turn grant access to their land to everyone else in exchange for the same. This is the basis of feudalism. The monarch is, quite literally, the landlord, while the aristocrat rents from them and then sublets it to someone else. If you do not have the ability to provide the requested compensation, the landowners can restrict you from access to their land.

A side-effect of this system is poverty. It becomes possible for a group of people, for whatever reason, to not have the resources to pay the required rent for access to land, and thus the security of food and shelter. Furthermore, it is possible for someone comfortably renting property from the landlord to, by twist of fate, find themselves unable to continue payment and, consequently, be denied access to the land and be relegated to poverty. In this system, complete security afforded by unfettered access to land is enjoyed only by the landowners, and in truth only with the monarch.

I’m not saying that this is just or moral, only that, within this system, it is lawful.

A popular government, such as a republic or a democracy, places sovereignty in the hands of the people, and through them to their elected representatives. These are states that have either cast off their monarchies, or never had one in the first place. The state then is a commons, administered jointly by its people for common use and benefit.

Everyone owns the state.

And yet, within these states, landlordism and poverty are still present. How is that possible? How, in a state where all people have joint rulership and sovereignty over its territory, can a portion of the people still be denied access to a plot of land on which to live and subsist?

What seems even worse is that nations like the United States, France, and India actively  did away with their monarchies, and yet retained the land-owning system that had developed under them. Their revolutions were conducted in the name of liberating their people from the oppression they suffered under the monarch. Yet these revolutions seemed only to succeed in toppling the previous governing structure and replace it with a new one. The poor and landless, largely, remained so. The renters merely replaced the old landlords with new ones; ones with which, in theory, they share equal ownership of their state and territory.

I am not prepared to here sketch out a detailed solution to this problem. In general, I think that it is criminal for any state that claims to be ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ to allow systems to remain in place whereby its citizens to not have free and equal access to the land and its resources for their subsistence. Solve that problem, and you put a massive dent in issues relating to poverty and toxic notions of work as well. I merely wish to point out this rather glaring paradox, in the hopes that others will find it as disgusting as I do.



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