Over the weekend photog posted a nice little post on his blog, Orion’s Cold Fire, with the title “The Western View,” a clever bit of double entendre: it’s about both the view of the western end of his property, and the Western view of republicanism—independent self-government.
It’s appropriate that photog used his home as the centerpiece—the “hook,” as he put it—for a short essay on the nature of liberty and republicanism. At the most basic level, one’s home—one’s land, property, and the people that reside there—is one’s guarantee of liberty. That scrap of land and the house upon it is one’s castle, and every man is the king of his little estate.
Such is the backbone of the United States. We were, for much of our history, a nation of small-scale yeoman farmers, scraping out a meager but independence existence in the forests, the hills, the prairies, and everything in between. Russell Kirk wrote about a similar phenomenon in England in the nineteenth century, “shop-and-till conservatism,” that focuses on the small craftsman and farmer as the twin supports of a self-governing republic. Whether as a small-scale shopkeeper or farmer, America and our cousins in Britain enjoyed freedom when production was small and local.
Now that I own a home, I appreciate the almost magical effect homeownership has upon a person. When I dig in my garden or pull weeds, I relish the feeling of my soil between my fingers. Keeping the place cleaned and picked up seems like a tiny act of maintaining my fiefdom. Sitting on the front porch on a cool evening is a bit like holding court, nodding magisterially to passing neighbors.
I also have the deep sense that my dominion ends at the boundaries of my property, and that in maintaining my own little patch of land, I’m aiding in the patchwork improvement of my neighborhood and town. One reason the Founders limited voting rights to men who owned land was because they realized that property holders possess a physical, visceral stake in the decisions of government. A property owner is less likely to deal recklessly with the property of others in his community, and certainly not with his own.
I believed all these things when I rented, for many years, but the immediacy was not there. As a renter, I was a passive participant in my own living space, treating it largely as a book-filled flophouse after hours of plodding through relentless work. As a homeowner, my home is a castle, a respite and refuge from the world.
“The Western View” may be threatened, as photog writes accurately; indeed, liberty is under active assault. But decentralization and land ownership can slow this assault—and give a true sense for the joys of simple living.