Getting Used to Owning Again

Distributism, about which Campion College recently hosted a day conference, is based on the notion of nurturing as wide a network of property owners as possible, as a corrective to the centralisation of property ownership that marks many contemporary economies. 

Whilst we are talking about private property, one is not talking about property in the Liberal sense, that is, as a means for the autonomous individual to close oneself off from dependence on or connections with others. Rather, one is talking about a situation where property, to paraphrase Emmanuel Mounier, the means by which one is able to open up and become a gift to another.

This plank of the distributist program is a necessary structural change, having witnessed countless times the ill effects of the combination of centralised property ownership combined with the exigencies of centralised markets. Certainly, there will be many structural challenges to bringing about a widespread ownership of property. What many seem to neglect, however, is a more fundamental, cultural problem, where a whole generation has been brought up on a life for rent, to paraphrase the song by Dido. Such a generation rents everything from real estate to chattels, and is no longer used to owning property of its own.

Hilare Belloc, (pictured above, between Goerge Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton) who wrote extensively on the restoration of property in the early twentieth century, spoke of a cultural attitude to property  that can be just as applicable to the present context. He wrote in The Servile State that 

The present instinct, use and meaning of property is lost to [this generation]. Property is no longer what they seek, no longer what they think is obtainable for themselves...they regard the possessors of property as a class apart whom they always must ultimately obey, often envy and sometimes hate; whose moral right to so singular a position most of them would hesitate to concede, and many of whom now strongly deny, but whose position they...accept as a known and permanent social fact, the origins of which they have forgotten and the foundations of which they believe to be immemorial.

There will be little point in bringing about the structural changes if these new property owners, so conditioned by the rental mindset, are just going to sell their share of the property for short term monetary gain. Before such structural change can come about, a lasting change will have to be dependent on nurturing a culture that is used to owning property again.

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