Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
The English Village Community
Frederic Seebohm (1833–1912)
English Village Community, The, by F. Seebohm (1883). The question propounded in this book is whether English Economic History began with the freedom or the serfdom of the masses of the people, whether the village communities were free or lived in serfdom under a manorial lordship. The problem is of wider interest than might appear on the surface because (1) the English and German land systems were the same, and there are also fundamental analogies between the village communities of the Eastern and the Western worlds, and (2) because on the answer to the question may depend the attitude of modern statesmen to the solution of present-day problems of social and political freedom. After a careful examination of the available evidence Mr. Seebohm is of the opinion that “the manorial system grew up in Britain as it grew up in Gaul and Germany, as the compound product of barbarian and Roman institutions mixing together during the periods first of Roman provincial rule, and secondly of German conquest.” Throughout the whole period from pre-Roman to modern times there were in Britain two parallel systems of rural economy, the village community in the east, the tribal in the west, each of which were distinguished by the characteristics of community and equality, though their systems of open or common fields were different. Neither the village nor the tribal community can have been introduced later than 2,000 years ago. The village community lived in settled serfdom under a lordship, though this serfdom was to the masses of the people, not a degradation, but a step upward out of a once more general slavery. The tribal community was bound together by an equality of blood relationship, which involved an equal division of land amongst the sons of tribesmen. “The fundamental principle of the new economic order,” says Mr. Seebohm, “seems to be opposed to the community and equality of the old order in both its forms. The freedom of the individual and growth of individual enterprise and property which mark the new order imply a rebellion against the bonds of the communism and forced equality, alike of the manorial and of the tribal system. It has triumphed by breaking up both the communism of serfdom and the communism of the free tribe.” It would seem, however, that the Great War may annihilate, or for a time submerge, the individualist economic order.  1

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