The commons in agriculture, tragedy or apology?

This excellent 136-page book brings together the eleven papers presented at the Rural Law Meetings of 11 April 2019 organised by the Agridées think tank, the French Academy of Agriculture and the French Association of Rural Law, among others.

These texts constitute a capital contribution to the reflection and even the enthusiasm of many French specialists of all disciplines who discovered late the contributions of Garrett Hardin and especially Elinor Ostrom on the modalities of management of environmental resources.

Indeed, private property accompanied the invention of agriculture some 10,000 years ago and in various forms has succeeded in feeding a growing number of people. It also accompanied the emergence of economic and political freedom.

In France in particular, the detestation of private property is at the heart of socialist and communist doctrines. The environmental question has come to the rescue of the contestation of the legitimacy of private property, as shown by the concomitance of the collapse of communism in 1992 and the rise of ecology. The theory of common goods therefore emerged as an alternative to private property.

In their introduction, Jean-Baptiste Millard and Hubert Bosse-Platière rightly recall the warning by fifteen intellectuals: “You start with common good and you end up with the Committee of Public Safety” (Le Monde, 15 June 2018). They also mention the efforts to introduce this concept into the French Constitution, in contradiction with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, and in particular its article 17.

In fact, for at least a century, agriculture has been subject to countless regulations that have progressively reduced the autonomy of property on the grounds of economics, social justice, the environment and even ideology.

Eleven excellent papers were divided into two parts:

  1. Agriculture: what common goods?
  2. Agriculture: a shared governance.

In his concluding article “Common goods versus the Common Good”, François Robbe warns: “Our most precious common heritage is that of our individual freedoms, won over the centuries and guaranteeing the personal fulfilment of each individual. It is up to the men and women of the 21st century to demonstrate that it is possible to meet the environmental challenges they face without sacrificing these essential assets”.

If by misfortune the militants of the “Common Good” aim at the collectivization of agriculture, we must remember that it has always led to famine, servitude and dictatorship.

Jean-Baptiste Millard (dir.), Hubert Bosse-Platière (dir.), Les biens communs en agriculture, tragédie ou apologie ?, LexisNexis, 2020.