Total Pageviews

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Private Property

Minoti pointed me towards Paolo Grossi’s book, An Alternative to Private Property (U of Chicago Press 1981). Grossi is or was at the University of Florence, director of the Institute of the Theory and History of Law, now, with familiar campus reorganisation The Centre for the Study of Modern Legal Thought. He first published the book in Italian in 1977, long before I became as curious and as earnest as I am now to learn about my great great grandfather Henry Sumner Maine. Minoti -  mine and my mother’s assiduous tutor on our ancestor - has spent her academic career in India with international visits, including the UK and US, studying land law and common rights in village communities, actively engaged with academics across the world in land use and the ideal of the Commons and their governance.
“Grossi” she said “has much to say about Maine.”
Minoti discovered us about two years ago and was delighted that a descendant of Henry Maine was still alive. She’s made several visits to see my mum in Scotland and helped me understand much more about Maine’s 19th century work, writing regularly about 'the commons'.
Her email this morning:
Dear Simon,
Thank you for your detailed memory of residence and if we have to search it may be in old books shops in the area but I will have to abandon that for the time being simply because I fly back tomorrow to Delhi.
    I just could not manage to go to Inverarnie and I just have to pray I can see Theodora when I get back in December...Only God keeps her here to enrich my life it would seem. She is two years older than my mother was. You are two years younger than me. My mother knew everything about my work on Sir Henry but alas she was very frail only my father was capable of keeping her in cotton wool as he did.
    Theodora is a gift of God to me and so are you. I declare I must have done something good in my last life to deserve this. May God grant me this Christmas with you all. I have tickets to return on the 2nd of December.
     I will give you a detailed response to this message when I settle down in Delhi. I begin then a very busy period of writing and presentations of what I hope will be the beginning of a workshop on archival material in history. My village maps will also be curated and put up in an exhibition. I am hoping all this to start in November by which time my paper on New Delhi's century must be completed for publication and I begin then the Maine book.
     I will discuss this on the email with you I promise just give me a few weeks.
    I will keep the details you have sent here for future reference.
yes press on with Grossi. He may be retired now from the judiciary in Rome. He was a judge in the High Court there. When I corresponded with him he was teaching in Florence and one of my friends in the Forest Department knows him well.
     If all goes well I will be trying to go to a conference in Tunisia in April next year and it occurred to me to visit Corfu in your den before I reach Tunisia.
Do keep well and running with our joint Maine trail - what a heritage!! No one, not even George caught on to the significance at the most significant level of Sir Henry's work. It compares with the Origin of Species in social evolution. More later. Love and regards to Linda. Minoti
I asked M if it was OK to put her letter on Democracy Street:
Not to worry. it is OK. The comparison with Darwin produces amazing conclusions about these two great scholars. Except that Darwin had inherited a large fortune from both his wife [the Wedgewoods] and his father [the Darwins]. Maine had earned it the hard way and had to worry about money and social connections, without which the nineteenth century was a hard time.  He rose by sheer brilliance - no social ladder for support. I admire the sheer grit. Minoti  
Grossi’s work strives for the seriousness of a judgment in the highest court on a matter that has worked its way through many lower courts, a judgement that seeks a credible conclusion on a subject that has been debated passionately in and out of those courts; a case that he suggests cannot be settled within existing understandings of the law, because informed by a vast array of controversial new evidence about the origins of law. It is as though an assembly of creationists engrossed in debate about the theology of Genesis has been asked to consider the implications for their discussions of findings made during the voyage of The Beagle.
Minoti says ‘The writing of Maine is not complicated”
Henry Maine
I think she’s right, but whereas the simple idea of evolution replacing the idea of Special Creation is obvious in its challenge to the authority of holy text, Maine’s account of how human law took over from human custom – a research-based discovery which explains why, as an undergraduate at Cambridge I was told by Edmund Leach, that my ancestor was a father of anthropology – lacks the dramatic social and psychological impact of Darwin’s discoveries.
Another comparison is the way Marx took Hegel’s idea of a dialectic in human reasoning and demonstrated – again with vast data -  that this was how human history unfolded. There is a comparable problem of popular comprehension. Marx’s association with the ideology of communism almost entirely obscures his ideas on dialectic, surplus value, immiseration, embourgeoisment  and commodification.
Maine having done something equivalent with existing explanation of the origin of law has never, for which I should probably by grateful, been a political icon. Minoti writes that Maine, about whom she’s preparing a book, showed how when law took over from custom, village communities – aboriginal human groupings – lost the means of taking their own decisions.
Maine studied village communities in east and west, documenting with vast comparative detail drawn from reports, diaries, journals, translations of local law books, personal interviews and the work of researchers with similar interests outside the borders of Empire, how the rules by which people lived had evolved from a situation where status dictated rules of conduct to one where rules are laid down by contract. His work was summarised in the phrase - from Status to Contract.
Maine’s analysis was written into the constitution  of India, linking its legal system to the codes not of British law with roots in English Common Law, but to deliberations based on the ancient custom of Scandinavian, Russian, Chinese, North American and Irish communities and, in India, of the panchayat – village government. Maine’s concerns were not with politics, but with scholarship, most especially with showing that what had for generations been regarded as a part of human nature, original rather than historical, was a human construction. Maine swept away myths surrounding the primacy of individual rights in property, a belief that was becoming, in the 19th century, a vehement counter to the spread of socialist ideas, but his case was always that of the scholar vexed by assumptions unsupported by research.
Grossi, p.46 ‘He avoided polemics: even though his argument is pitiless, one is rarely given to read pages that are more relaxed and less rancorous than those of Ancient Law…it was from a platform rigorously chosen and defined as scientific and with the calm certitude of a man of studies reorganising the papers on his desk that Maine launched the process of demolishing the edifice of individual property as an institution of natural law. But we must note that in demolishing it, he acted not as an enemy to private property, but as one who sought to confirm the antiscientific nature of its particular theoretical construction.’
*** ***
We'll take a 1300 bus into town next week to have a meal with Richard Pine. His latest in The Irish Times helps explain the deafening silence that seems to pervade the crisis here...he ends his article thus:
...Samaras had by this stage announced he would seek to renegotiate the bailout, but after the election he stated unequivocally that this was not the right time to do so. With so many U-turns, the electorate cannot understand what is going on. In fact nothing is going on.
We have had elections in May – inconclusive. We have had elections in June – inconclusive. In fact, absolutely nothing has happened in the past four months to indicate any resolution of the crisis, or Greece’s relations with the European superpowers. It’s as if the party leaders have taken a firm decision to be indecisive.
The reason is obvious: the reforms demanded by the troikato bring Greece into line with the economies of greater Europe would require a complete dismantling of Greek society. There are so many vested interests in Greece (protected professions being just the tip of the iceberg), there is no way that society can be reformed without a collective lobotomy.
The fact that the crisis is deepening rather than getting better suggests the remark in 1919 by David Ben-Gurion (later Israeli leader) about the emerging Arab-Jewish conflict: “Not everybody sees that there’s no solution to it. There is no solution!”
The crisis in Greece, followed by those in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, has been a huge learning curve for Europe, especially the architects and policemen of the euro zone.
There has been a gradual shift from the insistence that Greece could under no circumstances leave the euro zone, to today’s position where many member states are not only saying that a “Grexit” is likely, but are even considering strategies for survival in the event of the euro itself collapsing.
The Finnish minister for Europe, Alexander Stubb, has said that we must not build another Berlin Wall, this time between north and south, but that is precisely what seems to be in the offing.
and via Jim Potts I pick up another piece on Greece, in particular Corfu, and the European Union from Debora L Spar, President of Barnard College:
...In 1986, and again on a trip in 1993, my husband's relatives were reveling in a prosperity that only years ago would have seemed unimaginable. Nico, the son of a tailor and some-time olive farmer, parlayed an English-language tutoring business into a full-fledged school, then a grocery store, and one of the island's first new car dealerships. Spiros, once a small-time mechanical engineer, had become a master contractor, outfitting the McMansions springing up along the coast with rotisserie spits and Jacuzzi tubs. Yianni, the village baker, had a string of fancy shops and a factory outside of town. Lovingly, the nouveau riche of Corfu jostled my poor father-in-law, who had left the island in 1960 to work as an immigrant, underpaid tailor, and who lacked the foresight to see that his family's barren and sandy land would some day be a mecca for sun-starved European vacationers.
When we returned to Corfu in 1998, however, the riches had already started, subtly, to evaporate. Nico's store and dealership had gone bankrupt, victims to the larger, better capitalized businesses that flocked to Greece in the wake of 1992. Yianni's bakeries had shrunk, pushing him back to the original shop. Entangled by debt, Spiros and his wife had fled the country. By 2004, all of my family's friends had lost the trappings of wealth -- the houses, the cars, the pride -- they displayed on my first visits. Today, they are destitute. Nico's ex-wife sells decorated stones outside a monastery. Yianni painted houses in Toronto until his death last year. And my father-in-law is the wise one. The story of my friends is the tragedy of Greece, a tragedy, like many, based on faith and love and hubris...
She continues with an argument I've ever endorsed, that the dream of the EU was about never having another war in Europe. That intention shared by a few visionaries was sold to the larger population on the material prosperity that would accompany the idea of a Union; not the more important idea of how much work had to be done to maintain peace on a continent that had for centuries taken periodic and devastating war for granted. If only that idea could have been more publicly maintained, rather then the dreams of everyone getting richer, but the resident of a well maintained home, certainly its children, swiftly forget the intentions and attentions of the architect and builder, taking its stability so for granted. After a while they even forget the purpose of a home, and focus only on its decoration and the status it confers and its monetary value.
...Years ago, when I used to teach about the European Union (Spar continues) at Harvard Business School, I always began my classes with the same assertion. "The Europeans," I would state, "have embarked upon one of the greatest political experiments the world has ever known. They are trying, through peaceful means, to merge some of the most powerful nations on earth. This has never been done before." Then we would discuss the how's and why's of Europe, the ways in which the state-not-yet-a-state was governed; the economic hope that was blinding its inhabitants to the noble, messy, quixotic goal that sat still at its core. The European Union was a utopian ideal, forged from war with the goal of peace. It was sold as an economic program, though, and bought as such by millions of Europeans who saw their future in the little cluster of 12 gold stars on a band of blue. These fortunes, alas, have now evaporated, and Europe must decide whether to accept the political bargain that was always there -- the loss of national sovereignty implicit in union -- or whether, more dangerously again, to try to go it alone.
*** ***
Being without a car isn't the same for Linda as it is for me. I have my bicycles. Yesterday in the continuing heat of late afternoon I went for a ride to explore the country west of the Paleocastritsa Road at the turning opposite Sgombou - two kilometres north of Tzavros. I had a slow puncture, so stopped for a cold Corfu beer outside the small grocery shop there, while I changed inner tubes, always a satisfying procedure when time's unimportant. I asked the way to Poulades and was directed up a gentle winding ascent, past mainly deserted villas, some with enthusiastic barking dogs and deserted swimming pools - "yasoo skillo. Woof woof woof" I say as I pedal by. I turned north west at the first junction until on level ground on a road edged by dry shrubs and the remains of yellowing grass...

... I arrived at a farm after which the road became a track towards which I was directed by a boy on a bicycle - pointing towards το παλιό δρόμο - easy to negotiate and mainly downhill
I drank regularly from a large bottle of water. Enjoyed the quiet but for occasional planes ascending swiftly into the haze, carrying people back to northern Europe. I realised I was in the area of 'the ponds' to which Mark had referred a few days ago and so came to a building that had been used as a set for one of the Durrell homes in a BBC film made a few years ago. he'd shown me the distinctive Venetian arches of the building, now a barn of sorts, on Youtube with actors going to and fro from a horse and cart.
The building sat on a ridge looking down on the scrubby fields and hedgerows that edged into the Ropa Valley, one of those vantage places on the island where you can recognise the profile of higher ground at every point of the compass. I sat for a while. Ate a nectarine. The road became metalled and a moment later I was back on the busy Paleocastritsa  road opposite the small road that winds north to Skripero, where I went. On a bend near the village I came upon a sloping meadow covered in beehives
How ridiculous I thought that we'd had to go through such a  rigmarole to install one hive on my allotment in Birmingham including surrounding it with 8 foot nets to protect the public and submitting a risk assessment. I waved a greeting at the beekeeper who arrived in a van to check his hives, wandering among them at ease. I stopped longer to gaze back where a road-side fire hydrant was clustered with drinking bees.
I got good news about the beehive on Plot 14 from Gill Rose, who cares for them. She told me that when the old colony divided and she brought one half to the VJA this July, hers were the half without a Queen, but she writes 'the new colony have now grown their own', by that almost miraculous process of feeding one larva royal jelly so that it grows into a queen rather than just another bee. I pray that ‘our’ colony will have built up enough supply of honey from flowers on and around the VJA to survive their first winter here.
I cycled into Skripero, then a swift run downhill to the small turn that leads up into Ano Korakiana. We had melon with prosciutto for supper and finished off the trifle Lin made for our friends the other evening.
*** ***
Earlier a neighbour had printed out an insurance document we need to have completed for the Handsworth Helping Hands transit van. Lin will complete most of it and mail it to John R in Handsworth to complete. It can't be filled in on the web. While he was printing my document my neighbour said that driving earlier down the corniche road that looks over the straits he'd seen ten men walking along the road in carefully spaced pairs wearing colourful short trousers pretending, rather artlessly to anyone who looked, to be tourists, their shirts under their arms, wrapped to look like towels.
"They looked African, and Middle Eastern. Probably paid an enormous fare to traffickers in Albania thinking they were being shipped to Italy."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Back numbers

Simon Baddeley