The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the question “who owns the land”, is the most important to be asked in political philosophy.
There are two main answers:
1. The People at large.
2. The individual.
Before discussing the consequences of each of these, I need to mention a third semi-promising answer. The theologian R.J. Rushdoony would very likely respond: “God Almighty owns the land!” And while I have a very high view of Rushdoony, this answer of his highlights two bad things about him. He has a tendency to over-simplify many subjects. This is perhaps due to how widely read he was. He was able to apply theologian Cornelius Van Til’s “reconstructionist” enterprise to all areas of academia, and, as such, was more of a general practitioner of all disciplines, rather than a specialist in any. This failing is somewhat evident in the answer “God owns the land” – an ambiguous statement at best. Enterprising reconstructionists might reason out what he meant though (as I’ll do presently).
The second bad thing, and more directly relevant to this discussion, is, the vast amount of his work is audio files. I’ve listened to hundreds of his lectures. I know he says “God owns the land”, but it’s buried somewhere in his audio. In fact, I know he’s said it more than once. I tried finding a citation to link to here, but was unsuccessful. (If any of my readers know, off hand where it might be, please let me know).
Gary North, another prominent reconstructionist, has said similar things about land, especially in his economic commentary of the Old Testament, where private ownership is a particularly interesting topic far as he’s concerned.
So for the sake of these men, I’ll add the following option:
3. God owns the land.
Now concerning 1: “The people at large own the land”.
If a society assumes this view, as most all modern ones do, then men are obliged to utilize their land as society sees fit. But here, immediately, is a problem: “society” represents some ruling body. They represent a system of government outside the individual, outside the family, and outside the church.
From whence comes this body’s authority?
“By force” is the usual answer.
This view automatically pushes the various God-ordained institutions (individual, family and church) to a subordinate position. They must give way to an abstract and arbitrary ruling body.
While most all Christians strongly disagree with me on this point, I see no warrant for this sort of ruling body in Scripture. It’s a pagan creation – a monstrosity arising from the blackness in men’s hearts. Always, and every sin, finds its root in a desire to usurp God’s order and replace it with the fiat will of man (or devil, as the case may be).
This must be rejected.
Now, considering 2: “The individual owns the land”.
To the cynic, this option immediately portends a form of anarchy, where every man fights to keep his own property. But history, at least the history of white people, shows that, over time, it leads to a confederacy of land-owners (ie: Kingdoms). And, while the various kingdoms exist in a sort of “anarchy”, with constant feuds between kingdoms, nevertheless, internally, the God-ordained institutions find a natural and honored home.
In the middle ages, society was broken into spheres, each with a legitimate role and function. The “Great Chain of Being” idea, governed the hierarchy of life, and everyone, regardless of their station, had a dignity inherent therein. The evil jews in Hollywood have made much of the indignities suffered by peasants (all of whom are portrayed as doe-eyed, multi-racial innocents) at the hands of the sadistic lords (all of whom are blue-eyed villains), but this seems far from the truth.
When we take account of Christian chivalry, the relationship between these feuding land-owners (kings) takes on an even more admirable context. “True”, some historians admit, “the middle ages were violent. But the violence of man was tempered by civility and rules of knightly conduct”. Chivalry restrained passions and funneled them towards healthy, less-destructive ends. (Knights taken in battle, for instance, weren’t killed, but were ransomed home, their dishonor and loss of armor, as well as their conqueror’s bragging rights, satisfied the blood lust).
The only problem with this, is when land ownership makes the individual all-powerful and reckless. To whom is the land owner accountable?
It’s very important he be accountable to God; which leads me to the third option:
3. “God owns the land”
Rushdoony and North argue that God owns all the land (what Christian can disagree on that?) and that He’s parceled it out to mankind, so that we might take dominion over it in His name. This was Adam’s charge in the garden and is equally our charge today.
This dominion, to be Godly, must be in accordance with His will; governed according to His propriety.
This answer, however, doesn’t seem to help our current discussion in any clear way, as Christians in history have taken it in both the first two contexts. It may be that God has parceled out the land to the people at large, or it may be that He’s given it to individuals.
It seems prima-facie obvious to me that He’s parceled it out to individuals with the intent of them grabbing it and raising their families (as best they can) on it. Thus, as families grew in history, nations developed, taking as their name, the name of their patriarch.
Evidence for this is legion in the Old Testament alone.
Developing this argument further, however, is a task for another time.