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Encyclopedia > Landed possession

Landed property or landed estates is a real estate term that usually refers to a property that generates income for the owner without himself having to do the actual work at the estate. It was a hallmark of feudalism, and freed the owner for other tasks, such as government administration, military service, or religious practices. A landed property typically consisted of a manor, several tenant farms, and some privileged enterprises such as a mill.

In later times, the dominant role of landed estates as a basis of public service faded. Capitalist development of manufacturing and commerce created other means of obtaining income, but ordinarily demanding the attention of the owner; at roughly the same time, governments began imposing taxes to fund government bureaus and the military so that people of talent could perform government services for salaries without need for the proceeds of absentee ownership of farmland. Parts of the United States of America, typically New England and Pennsylvania, never had a landed aristocracy, so their armed forces and government agencies could never be organized on the basis of a landed aristocracy. Exactions through taxation to support armies and navies or government bureaus with a civil service typically proved less onerous than the exactions of absentee landlords who maximized income through the oppression of the peasantry; where the government practiced the separation of church and state, as in America and, later France after the 1789 revolution (and other countries afterwards), churches could survive only through voluntary contributions from the membership.

By 1800, a landed aristocracy became obsolete in most places, and the separation between land ownership and public service became a reality. Capitalist enterprise increasingly created more income (and hence potential tax base) than did traditional agriculture, and professional officers in military service who had no responsibility for securing their own funds but selected through military academies that weeded out gross incompetents, and civil service that earned regular salaries proved generally more competent than those who attained such appointments in the past through family connections, and at lesser cost to the State. Such traditional aristocracies that survived became targets for revolutionary and radical opposition as class privilege often survived without any assumption of social responsibility.

The last large exemplar of the principle of a landed aristocracy as a basis of rule, Russia under the Romanov dynasty, literally died in the Bolshevik Revolution due to the venality and incompetence of the landed aristocracy that had long underpinned the empire.

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