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Had this curious change of front occurred in one of our Keltic fellow-subjects, it might naturally have been attributed to that peculiar ataxy of our Hibernian cerebral convolutions which produces the familiar psychological phenomenon known as a bull. But in the sound and consecutive Teutonic intellect, it obviously called for further explanation. Land, the Tory begins by assuming, is property. As property, it belongs inalienably to its existing holders, except in so far as they may willingly give it away, sell it, or surrender it. To interfere with its tenure, even in a small way, and for a public purpose of supreme utility, is robbery and confiscation. The State bas no right to act in such a manner. Books, on the other hand, are not naturally property, as land is, but merely become so by a special series of State enactments, known as the law of copyright. The State condescends to protect them, but levies a special tax for the protection. It takes, without payment, a certain number of volumes —whether four or four hundred is immaterial in principle--and it excuses the robbery on the casuistical plea of public advantage. It is spoliation for the State to make fresh regulations as to the holding of land by the starving peasantry of Connaught; since land is property, and the sacred right of property overrides all considerations of utility: but it is perfectly just of the State to rob poor authors of their books for the benefit of the wealthy Universities and of a rich learned profession; since here the sacred right of property doesn't count, and the utility of the books to the class who can afford to buy them (though they prefer to read them gratis) is undeniable.
Now, I have ventured to introduce this little apologue because it represents the actual circumstances under which the present paper was conceived; and I believe it is often best to set forth a question in the midst of the concrete surroundings which actually called forth the ideas one wishes to communicate. These two notions, that land is naturally property, and that books are naturally not property, represent the opposite poles of the whole great subject which is now filling all our minds. Little as they seem to be connected at first sight, they are really the obverse aspects of a single question. And I may as well begin by saying outright that in my profound respect for the sacred rights of property-which are but a special outcome of the still more sacred rights of individuality-I yield to no Liberal and to no Tory whatsoever. Every attempt to interfere with those rights, whether made by despot abroad or by false democracy at home, I equally abhor. When a Bonaparte levies unjust taxes to squander upon the sweetmeats of a Prince Imperial's birthday, or when a mob levies unjust taxes to spend the savings of the industrious upon the comfort or amusements of the improvident, I see alike an attack upon those sacred rights. The only question that we have to decide is this :- What constitutes property? not this :—What claim has property to our collective guarantee as a civilised community? The great danger of Liberalism at the present day is the danger that the demand for equal justice to all may be turned aside by ignorant or unscrupulous demagogues into a crusade of the class who have never earned any permanent property against the class whose industry and economy has placed them in the position of capitalists and employers. This much I say at starting, not because I suppose my opinions a matter of any interest to the world at large, but merely to clear the ground from any unnecessary prejudice before we get under weigh with our main question. That main question is, the origin and nature of private property.
A primitive hunter, seated beside an ancient river, fashions himself an axe or an arrow-head from a splinter of flint. The raw stone exists abundantly in all the cliffs about, and as yet it is nobody's, or rather everybody's who needs it. But the labour expended in fashioning it into a weapon or an implement gives it the intrinsic character of property. The hunter has made it for himself, and it is his own. True, he may be too weak to protect it personally, and his tribe may not efficiently protect it for him, or may not protect it at all : but even if a stronger man takes it from him, there remains the root-form of the idea of property, a sense of injustice in the deprivation. It is this sense of injustice, first personal and then sympathetic, which gradually evolves the law of property amongst all the races of mankind. But deeper down than all law lies the feeling upon which it is based. The hunter feels he has a right to his stone hatchet: and when a stronger man takes it away, he feels hurt and ill-treated, even though he might himself similarly use a weaker comrade. When three or four men, sympa
. thising with one another in this feeling as against all outsiders, do in fact mutually guarantee one another by force of arm against actual or possible depredators, the tribe has begun. Of course, as a matter of fact, they are originally bound by ties of blood, their sympathy is at first very imperfect, and they do commit much injustice against one another within the tribe : but still, a beginning of that mutual guarantee constituting public justice has thus been made. No social contract, in Rousseau's sense, is ever entered into : but a vague social contract nevertheless grows up, and becomes more and more definite as societies pass from the savage to the civilised state.
The hunter goes out with bis bow and arrow, and shoots a bird. The live bird, flying wild in the woods, belonged to nobody : but the dead bird, being insomuch a product of his industry, belongs to him. If another savage wants a bird, he must not take this one, already secured, but must go out and hunt a live one on his own account. He may take it, to be sure, by force or fraud : but in either case he leaves the same impression of injustice behind, in the mind of the original owner. There is no depth of human life where you will not find this feeling. The man who has laboured for his own benefit expects or hopes to reap the fruits of his labour : and however common injustice may be in his tribe or country, however often he may aid in it himself, he cannot avoid feeling it as injustice when turned against his own person.
Slavery is a state in which this sort of injustice has become hardened into an organic custom. The slave labours, and is compelled to labour, for some one other than himself. His property is all taken away from him, and he himself is artificially made into property for somebody else. But such a state is itself a logical absurdity. If a man has not a right over his own person, there is no natural foundation for right at all. In slave-holding communities, law is merely the expression of an unjust convention between a small body of stronger and more powerful men, the slave-holders, against a larger but artificially weaker body, the slaves. It is impossible to discuss questions of right and wrong with slave-holders :
we lack any common ethical ground. The public sense of Europe has now recognised this, and we conduct all political controversy at the present day upon the general ground that no one individual can justly own, or take away, the whole products of labour from another. We have reached a universal convention, a stage of unwritten social contract, at which every man's sympathies in the main go so far with every other man as to guarantee him (roughly speaking) in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the products of industry. For this purpose we keep up collectively a police force, courts of justice, an army (often misused), and other material guarantees : while we also rely upon a certain moral or reserve guarantee in the common sense of justice to be found in the body of citizens generally and in most individual citizens in particular.
What is true of the savage hunter with his bird and his axe, is thus also true, and more practically true, of the more civilised workman with his shoe or his coat. Setting aside for the present the difficulty of raw material, whatever object a man makes is his own. He can freely sell or barter it, and he can get in exchange the objects similarly produced by other workmen. If a man goes out into the unappropriated sea, and catches a sole, it is his; and we all agree to protect him in his enjoyment of it, whether he chooses to cook it and eat it himself, or to exchange it for some other product. To take it from him by force or fraud we all recognise as a breach of that law which we have collectively agreed to acknowledge ourselves and to impose equally upon others. If he makes a chair out of materials honestly bought, we similarly protect him. We have decided between ourselves to guarantee every man in the fruits of his labour: and even when we fail to do so, as in the case of the books—where we are parties to the forcible deprivation of individuals under the shield of law-we do so because we cannot collectively quite see the true parallelism of the facts. If we are once all convinced that it is just as unfair to take away a man's books as to take away his fish or his chair, we shall all vote for sweeping away the unfair law at once. It is only a certain congenital British inability to grasp an abstract principle in its abstractness, which ever inakes us hold to an inequitable practice. What a political reformer has to do at the present day is to show that some existing habit of the nation involves injustice and inequality to individuals. If he can succeed in making the nation see the inequality as he sees it, he necessarily and inevitably carries his reform. But then, to make Englishmen see the sun in the heavens at mid-day is often a hard thing; owing doubtless to the frequent and remarkable density of the British atmosphere.
So far I have spoken of raw material, as though it were practically inexhaustible and illimitable. If it were really so, there would be no land-question. But as a matter of fact, every kind of product involves raw material of some sort, and this raw material is always more or less limited, and often very strictly so. The primitive hunter can get abundant flint, it is true; practically leaving equal abundance for all who come after him; and so we may fairly say that the hatchet which he shapes from it is absolutely his. But the birds and beasts in his tribal hunting-grounds are comparatively few : and so in equity he can only share them equally with his tribe. Every other member has as good a right as he has to the wild animals themselves : and if he wantonly kills or injures more than bis fair proportion, they have a just ground of complaint against him. Moreover, from a very early stage of human life, the land itself (that is to say in other words, roughly speaking, the aggregate of all raw materials) has been to some extent appropriated, if not by individuals, at least by tribes. The Algonquins and the Iroquois have their recognised hunting-ground, and they cannot trespass on one another's boundaries without the probability of bloody reprisals. As time goes on, however, the tribal proprietorship in the land almost invariably merges into individual proprietorship : which at last becomes an exclusive personal claim as against the community: and the rise of agriculture has much to do with this change. Hunting or nomad communities can own their land in common, seeking game or feeding cattle over it together : but agricultural plots must almost necessarily be made over to individuals, either in perpetuity or for terminable periods. In fact, one sees that right to pasture is often held in common, after the possession of arable land has become strictly personal. Somebody must cultivate the soil in civilised communities, and it has been a rough and ready way of securing cultivation to let the soil drop, either intentionally or through pure carelessness, into the hands of individual proprietors. More must shortly be said as to the steps by which this has been generally accomplished : but first a word as to the wide meaning of this rough expression “ land' itself. It must be remembered that it practically includes, not only the cultivable soil, with its annual products, but also every kind of raw material whatsoever. Wood, water, coal, iron, metals, beasts, building materials, and all the various objects which we use in every industrial art, are all ultimately derived from land.' So that the land-question really means the question of individual rights to the enjoyment of raw material. No man can make a shoe without leather, derived from a beast, fed upon appropriated land: no man can write a book without paper, derived from plants, grown on appropriated land : no man can live in a house that is not built on appropriated land, with bricks or stone derived from appropriated land. The land-question is not, as many people fancy, a mere agricultural question for farmers and labourers : it is a question that interests us all every day and all day long. We are paying rent to landlords on everything we eat, drink, or use. Only two things in or around civilised countries (roughly speaking) are unappropriated, the air we breathe, and the open sea : and the first of these we can only breathe from appropriated land or the Queen's highway, while the second we can only reach by swimming from appropriated land, or by taking an appropriated boat. Every morsel of raw material about us is practically made over to somebody in some form or other.
But raw material is not and cannot be in itself property; and there can be no sacred right in it as there is in individuality and its products. The soil, the coal, the iron, and the stone, were not made by any man, and do not by nature belong to any man.
To adopt the language of one school, they were made by God, and are the natural heritage of all men; to adopt the language of another school, they existed there before we came, and they are the common stock divisible between us all by equitable arrangement. If a man in a Pacific island claims to own a certain stone hatchet on the ground that he made it, we cannot without conscious injustice deprive him of it; and we can always supply ourselves with a similar one by manufacturing it for ourselves from the raw stone or by bartering with him for it some product of our own industry. But if a man in a civilized State claims to own a certain field, or a certain mine of flints, we may ask him how he came to have a peculiar title to this special piece of our common heritage. Why should he possess it rather than any or all of us ? Mind, I do not say we should at once decide against him; I merely mean that his claim to it is not selfevident; that it is not an obvious inference from our rough universal contract to guarantee one another in the free use of our own energies, as is his claim to the stone hatchet. On the contrary, it is at first sight a clear contravention of such contract. We have to ask first, how ought an ideal society to proceed in the apportionment of raw material amongst its members ? Secondly, how have real societies actually proceeded in such apportionment in the past ? And thirdly, if the two disagree, how must existing societies act so as to reduce any inequalities which may have arisen in the apportionment, with due regard to all equitable claims on every side? These are difficult questions, beset no doubt with many prejudices, but honest Liberalism must face them fairly and answer them candidly. There are some timid people who would prefer not to look the underlying principles in the face, because they fancy they see in them the awful hint of revolution. Depend upon it, revolution only comes when people shirk reform for fear of consequences. There are others who see in them the vague shadow of Communism. As anyone who questions