Enjoying Inequality

Cycling and walking around the Stonor Park estate near Henley, on a good, warm but not stupid-hot day, and

  •  yes, as claimed, it is a beautiful setting for a house;
  •  yes, the whole valley is lush and attractive; English Chilterns countryside at its best;
  •  yes, the whole area is criss-crossed by footpaths and bridle paths and so there’s plenty of access for the likes of Josephine and Joe Public (albeit some of it in a fairly poor state – broken stiles, overgrown tracks etc); and
  •  yes, for sure, the whole area wouldn’t look the way it does if it hadn’t been owned by the same family for centuries: the land doesn’t just look after itself; it has been managed to end up the way it is; it has been kept the way it is only because this particular ownership model (repeated with variations all over England) has allowed it to happen.

And it’s disconcerting to realize that something I’m enjoying and valuing can only exist by dint of extraordinary inequality. I have no ready response to that realization.

Stonor House

Stonor: made possible through inequality


I suspect the extent that that inequality is acceptable hinges on the social quid pro quo between the rich and the rest of society. I also suspect the newly rich in our current society don’t understand that implied contract. There seems to be a grubby, base greediness about today’s ‘fat cats’ and many other ‘successful’ people in the news that puts them at odds with those who society rewarded in the past.

But then again, time mellows things: quite possibly the people who first established Stonor and all the similar estates were just as venal in their day, and it’s only over the years that any kind of social responsibility developed.

Quite possibly though, I’m simply thinking about the wrong thing. Perhaps the real question is whether any general, to-be-enjoyed-by-all gains only possible through such gross inequality are worth the social and human costs, and that’s a question that can be asked at any and every stage of the acquisition of wealth, a question that doesn’t mellow over the years. It’s a question that could do with being asked now, of an awful lot of people.