[Reprinted from the Henry George News,
As we move from year to year, we wonder what else will be new. We
always hope it will be better, but above all, "what's new?"
Mostly, the same pieces are merely changed around. We rarely
anticipate -- or want-a basic change. Some jackanapes always comes
along to pipe a new tone, and we dance to it-and don't anybody whistle
last year's tune.
Wait long enough and the out-of-date will become in style again. We
are reminded of what Nietzsche called die
ewige Wiederkehr -- the eternal return.
There is one particular thing that keeps coming back. The most
persistent recurring force in history is the power wielded by the
landed proprietor. Historians love to dwell upon social changes, and
the old order yielding to the new. They would do well to examine more
closely the eternal return of the landlord.
We learn in history that in ancient Greece a new merchant class took
the dominance away from the old landowners; and that in Rome a
bureaucratic elite took power away from the landed classes. But let a
little time elapse and lo! in the late Greco-Roman world patrician
landlords with their great estates reign over all, while trade is
languishing and government falling to pieces.
Then barbarian tribes break in and everything is disrupted -- but
when the smoke clears, again the landed gentry are in the saddle!
Next we are taught that Renaissance town life gave rise to bankers
and traders who ruled the roost. But somehow or other the outmoded
land barons were managing to enclose the common lands and "add
house to house, field to field" -- and add to their power.
The industrial revolution gave rise to capitalists who put an end to
the supremacy of landlords. But the old decrepit nobility somehow got
into the twentieth century still reaping their rents, still making and
breaking governments, still calling the tune.
Systems rise and fall, political big wheels come and go, something
new gets started then gets discarded, a new elite based on this, that
or the other has its day in the sun then fades, nations arise,
flourish, go too far in one direction or another, then go smash
and when everything is levelled to the ground, why -- the ground is
left! He who has fenced it off has a head start over every one else
and over every new thing that raises its head.
Look you . . . he has discarded his bowler and wears a Homburg . . .
he has put away his Rolls-Royce and drives a Vespa . . . he has oil
fields in his pocket . . . the old, old landed aristocrat in the
latest style . . . die ewige Wiederkehr!