‘In the 1960s, if you looked in American dictionaries, instead of “property”, which should have followed “progress” and “prohibition” alphabetically, you would see “prostitution”’, Prof. Pipes joked.
Since the early evolution of the USA as an independent state, the idea of property was obvious, not needing to be explained in dictionaries. It was as natural as a child’s feeling of property or the territorial instinct in animals. ‘”It is mine, it is my own” is an expression kids often use’, Richard Pipes said. Animals, as well as children, have a territorial instinct, which forces them to defend their habitat to survive.
So, the USA has always seen the right to private property as an expression of the natural order of things. Has it been the same in Russia?
Historically, the ruling elite had the right to property in Russia. During the Russian empire a patrimonial regime emerged, where the right to rule and the right to ownership belonged solely to the monarchy. Only in 1795 did noblemen receive the right to land ownership. During the Soviet period, the situation was similar: the right to rule and the right to own in fact were in the hands of the ruling elite. Fully-fledged private property rights in Russia only began to develop in the 1990s.
This all-too-short history of property rights in Russia is the reason for the current specific attitude to the institution. ‘Today only one quarter of Russians believe that property is sacred. In the USA about 90% of the population would answer like this’, Pipes emphasizes.
So, how are the concepts of property and freedom related? According to Richard Pipes, in order to feel free, you have to first of all feel free from the state, which is impossible when a person has no right to own, use and dispose of basic material goods. ‘In the USA, unlike in Russia, we see the state as something that depends on the citizens, not vice versa’, professor said.
According to Pipes, in order to introduce freedom of personality in Russia, to build democracy and stimulate the development of market capitalism, the principle ‘property is sacred’ should be implemented in the legal system and become a central tenet of state and civil ideology.
Participants of the roundtable discussion supported these theses. The only aspect on which various points of view were expressed was the question about the role of orthodoxy in the development of capitalism in Russia. According to Richard Pipes, Russian orthodoxy with its idea of ‘The Russian nation’s exceptionality’ prevents Russia from rapidly adopting Western experiences in terms of building private property and democratic institutions.
Evgeny Yasin, moderator of the discussion, said that it was the Mongol-Tatar invasion rather than orthodoxy that prevented Western-type development in Russia.
Marek Dabrowsky, a renowned Polish economist, added that there is no scientifically proved correlation between religion and success in building a free capitalist system. ‘It was only recently that we thought that Protestantism was the only religion that responds best to the needs of capitalism, But today we see that successful economic development is also possible in countries with the prevailing religions of, for example, Buddhism or Islam’.