Why ev­ery­thing re­turns to land

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

LAND has al­ways held a spe­cial place in men’s hearts. Land to set­tle, to till and to own. Hold­ing land and fight­ing for it is a con­stant theme of his­tory and a con­tin­ual cause of con­flict. It is, there­fore, Bri­tain’s great­est good for­tune that we haven’t been fought over for more than 250 years.

What an un­covenanted ad­van­tage it has been not to have been in­vaded or oc­cu­pied since Bon­nie Prince Char­lie fled and the Hanove­rian suc­ces­sion was se­cured. Since then, the se­cu­rity of prop­erty has been en­trenched by the rule of law. No won­der that the right to own prop­erty is one of the fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights de­lin­eated both in the Euro­pean Char­ter and that of the United Na­tions.

None of our neigh­bours has had our good for­tune. The quest for ter­ri­tory con­tin­ues to con­vulse coun­tries on the con­ti­nent of Europe even to­day. Napoleon, the Prus­sians, the Kaiser, Hitler, the Sovi­ets: the bat­tles over land have been con­stant. They still con­tinue in Ukraine and the threat is pal­pa­ble in the Baltic states and Moldova.

It’s easy to see all this ag­gres­sion in the sim­ple terms of po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion—in­di­vid­u­als and na­tions seek­ing wealth and power—yet it’s never merely been the sim­ple quest for power. It’s the ter­ri­to­rial im­per­a­tive ex­pressed in terms of im­pe­ri­al­ism, Leben­sraum or the search for an eth­nic home­land. Be­neath it all is the search for se­cu­rity that pos­sess­ing land gives to na­tions and to in­di­vid­u­als alike.

For gen­er­a­tions, the Bri­tish have spent the money they made in the towns on buy­ing land in the coun­try­side. Land has given a so­lid­ity to achieve­ment and es­tab­lished roots for the trader and the en­trepreneur. The ebb and flow of commerce or of a pro­fes­sion has found its sta­ble state when a man has be­come lord of all he sur­veys.

All of this has been, for we Bri­tish, part of the nat­u­ral or­der of things for nearly three cen­turies, so much so that we take it for granted and hardly recog­nise the im­por­tant part it plays nor how un­threat­ened it has seemed to be. It must have been much like this for the Ro­mans in the com­fort of the Pax Ro­mana im­me­di­ately be­fore the world as they knew it col­lapsed. Prop­erty, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity: these formed their bedrock. How­ever, these were things that much of the world lacked and longed for. Ul­ti­mately, they were the things from which the dis­pos­sessed were no longer will­ing to be ex­cluded, the things they fi­nally took by force.

We are at such a turn­ing point to­day. Global com­mu­ni­ca­tion lays bare our priv­i­lege for the whole world to see. Our very sta­bil­ity por­trayed on tele­vi­sion, the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia is a con­stant re­minder to three-quar­ters of hu­mankind of what they lack. How­ever, it’s at this time that the in­sti­tu­tions that pro­tect our so­ci­ety are un­der siege.

Don­ald Trump side­lines the United Na­tions, draws back from NATO and threat­ens the Paris agree­ment. The Bri­tish me­dia at­tacks over­seas aid, glo­ri­fies Brexit and be­lit­tles the rule of law. France, Ger­many and the Nether­lands en­ter­tain pop­ulist na­tion­al­ist al­ter­na­tives and Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu pushes for more set­tle­ments on other peo­ple’s land.

All the ap­pa­ra­tus of in­ter­na­tional law and lib­eral democ­racy is un­der at­tack by the very peo­ple it most de­fends. In­stead of re­dou­bling our ef­forts to build a world in which more and more can en­joy what we take for granted, we sab­o­tage the in­sti­tu­tions that en­sure our sta­bil­ity. We should re­mem­ber that prop­erty pro­vides se­cu­rity only where law pre­vails. We should never for­get just how frag­ile is our good for­tune and how im­por­tant are the in­sti­tu­tions upon which it de­pends.

‘We should re­mem­ber that prop­erty pro­vides se­cu­rity only where law pre­vails

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