Private property as state instrument

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine,"and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

Contra Rousseau putting the blame on people against their neighbours, Scott seems to assert in various books that private property & the enclosure of the commons came into vogue due to the state (they make it easier to tax & conscript people).

Everywhere they could, states have obliged mobile, swidden cultivators to settle in permanent villages. They have tried to replace open common-property land tenure with closed common property: collective farms or, more especially, the individual freehold property of liberal economies. They have seized timber and mineral resources for the national patrimony. They have encouraged, whenever possible, cash, monocropping, plantation-style agriculture in place of the more biodiverse forms of cultivation that prevailed earlier. The term enclosure seems entirely appropriate for this process, mimicking as it does the English enclosures that, in the century after 1761, swallowed half of England’s common arable land in favor of large-scale, private, commercial production.

art-not-govch. 1

The principles of standardization, central control, and synoptic legibility to the center could be applied to many other fields; those noted in the accompanying table are only suggestive. If we were to apply them to education, for example, the most illegible educational system would be completely informal, non-standardized instruction determined entirely by local mutuality. The most legible educational system would resemble Hippolyte Taine's description of French education in the nineteenth century, when "the Minister of Education could pride himself, just by looking at his watch, which page of Virgil all schoolboys of the Empire were annotating at that exact moment." A more exhaustive table would replace the dichotomies with more elaborate continua (open commons landholding, for example, is less legible and taxable than closed commons landholding, which in turn is less legible than private free-holding, which is less legible than state ownership). It is no coincidence that the more legible or appropriable form can more readily be converted into a source of rent-either as private property or as the monopoly rent of the state.

seeing-like-a-statech. 6


seeing-like-a-state Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. ↩︎ 1

art-not-gov Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press. ↩︎ 1