Land Commons

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In the Medieval Low Countries

Tine De Moor:

"Overall, one can distinguish two types of common. The first type comprises land that was only temporarily open to a group of people, typically members of the local community, usually after the harvest for the remaining grain to be reaped or for cattle to be pastured on the stubble left behind. This type was generally indicated by the term ‘‘common arable’’, was often not formally organized, and is therefore not included in this survey. The other type of common was land open throughout the year, although perhaps with agreed periods to allow the land to recover, to a group of entitled users who could be defined differently from the rural community. This type of common can be divided into common woodland, common pasture, and common waste, the last usually being rather poor land open for pasture and other activities during most of the year. Rights were assigned to groups, in some cases comprising the whole local village and sometimes even more than one village; in other cases rights of use were limited to those who met certain qualifications, such as ownership of certain farms, or payment of a certain fee."[1]


Land as Community Property

Gene Callahan:

"Reading James C. Scott's excellent Seeing Like a State. He gives, as an example of how land was traditionally held, the following: "Rural living in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Denmark, for example, was organized by ejerlav, whose members had certain rights for using local arable, waste, and forest land. It would had have been impossible in such a community to associate a household or individual with a particular holding on a cadastral map."

This is just an example of the way land was typically held before the current system of clearly defined freehold of lots was imposed by the state on a reluctant society, and not by any process of "mixing one's labor" with virgin land. Land was owned by communities first.

I fully anticipate the objection, "But communities can't own anything!" Like "Only individuals choose," this is an obvious falsehood which is embraced precisely because it defends radically individualistic property arrangements against the force of historical truths such as those noted by Scott."[2]

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