What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
There are parts of Africa, Oceania, Latin America and some of the fringe areas of Asia where the tenure of land remains in some sense communal. Either all or some of the land available to a group of people is seen as belonging to them collectively, or to a chief acting as in some sense the group’s trustee. Most colonial governments in such societies made it possible for individuals, or individual families, to get, either from their own or from some other land-owning group, secure, legally protected and heritable rights to particular parcels of land. In fact they generally tried to promote such a change. By and large, post-independence governments have not altered that policy. There is, however, a common, not implausible and indeed attractive argument in favour of holding back the process of individualizing communal tenures. It runs as follows. The communal tenure of land provides a material basis for a take-off into co-operative or collective farming. The limitations of individual family smallholdings are everywhere increasingly apparent. Wherever agriculture is progressive and go-ahead, farmers are forming ever closer co-operative links. The bonds of community solidarity should not be destroyed but preserved, and gradually rationalized into modern co-operative forms. People who already are a group will take more easily to group farming than a collection of individualistic farmers. The argument is not new. It was propounded by the Russian populists of the nineteenth century, who saw the traditional Russian village community, the mir, as a basis for modern co-operatives. The...
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