Steve Teles is surely right to say that it was “The New Property,” not The Greening of America, that made Charles Reich’s academic reputation. But I’ve come to doubt that the consensus at the time — that the article was epochal and the book just silly — was entirely correct.
I recall distinctly the anticipation my friends and I felt, back when I was a college senior, when The Greening of America came out in The New Yorker: almost as distinctly as I recall our disappointment that Reich hadn’t done it again. (Josiah D. Thompson, the Kierkegaard scholar in Haverford’s philosophy department, summed it up: “So the Revolution is going to consist of shifts in the demand curves?”)
But it seems to me now that there was more to Reich’s book than we gave it credit for at the time. He was praising what was later to be called “Bourgeois Bohemianism,” rather than satirizing it, but is there actually any idea in Brooks’s book that wasn’t in Reich’s? Reich managed to guess what Brooks would later report. And I’m not sure that big enough sifts in preference orderings don’t constitute a revolution, social though not political.
By contrast — and I write here under correrction by those who know more — I’ve come to wonder how new the “new property” really was. It may have been a new idea in American public law, but aren’t all the tranditional English land tenures “new property” as Reich describes it?
The case of clerical and academic benefices is even clearer. Macaulay describes how even Tory squires sympathized with the dons of Magdalen College after their expulsion by James II, because their fellowships constituted “freehold property.” What’s the difference between that sort of “property” and an entitlement under a public-benefit program?