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Community: More Than Property

by J. Michael Atherton

The seventh plank in the NH Republican Platform states, “We believe as the New Hampshire Constitution states, that acquiring, possessing and protecting property is a natural, essential and inherent right.”

This seems uncontroversial, even obvious. Who objects to owning property? If Republicans love it and seem proud of it, so what? However, in obsessing about property they neglect something


Mickayla Miller/Lancasteronline

They promote one view of property where individuals may acquire, possess, and protect property. This narrow view neglects community. Crucially, they ignore the community surrounding any given property. Republicans must view properties as isolated dots disconnected from anything else. Focusing on property without a single word about community reveals Republican myopia.

Note well, the word “community” appears nowhere in the entire NH Republican Platform. This suggests that Republicans value property more than community, human relations, and neighbors around that property. The platform pays exclusive attention to individuals in isolation while ignoring individuals in community. Properties are envisioned as islands separated from one another and lacking any coherent relationship to their neighbors. Yet, in the real world, community is property situated in the relational context of owners and neighbors.

Photo: Voice of America

Let’s be clear. If you value property as dirt you own, then dirt fills your vision, and you look no further than gathering more dirt. Dirt is, after all, your standard of value. For you more dirt = more value. But what you own is just more dirt. Dirt-based myopia prevents anyone from even asking questions about relating their dirt to a community where we always have a reciprocal relationship with those around us. Those suffering from dirt-based myopia bury their heads in the ground and never stand to see greater things on the horizon or even next door. They don’t see community because they have dirt in their eyes.

Granted, dirt-loving (dirtophilia?) is easier than community-building. Dirtophiles don’t have to continually negotiate or persuade. They can just buy dirt and squat on it. In contrast, community-centered people must constantly dialog with neighbors about a variety of topics: taxes, highway repairs, climate change, fence-lines, snow plowing, and so on. All this dialoging takes time, energy, and patience. Not so with dirt. However, the apparent simplicity of just owning property hides the fact that community rewards us more than dirt; community helps us when we need help where dirt does nothing; community sustains us in times of loss where dirt affords no consolation.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a moment of pride as we look at our long driveway, our expanse of lawn, or a stand of trees that we call our own. But if we wait a bit, the shine dims and reasonable people grow bored constantly looking at these things. Eventually property-only people find themselves alone watching a long driveway that no one uses. The property-obsessed person watches a lawn that resembles a golf course where nobody plays. And the dirt-proud person finds their trees cannot substitute for community.

We need to put more effort into community-building than dirt-protecting. Property obsession confuses several things: it attempts to replace community with property; it limits our concern for others; and, it focuses attention solely on the self. Community is always more than property. The NH Republican platform needs to embrace community because it rewards us more than dirt. We should not elect people in a party that is completely unaware of the basic concept of community. Let them go out back and play in their dirt.

About the author

J. Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy (after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). He spent four years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage to Cynthia Walter, the birth of their first child, and a PhD all at the University of Chicago. They moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where Cynthia taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. They moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. And they are great fun to be around. A winning combination!


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