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LANDOWNING AND COPYRIGHT.
TROLLING through the old town of Edinburgh on a summer's afternoon with an English barrister, a quiet Tory of the modern school, it happened to the present writer (who may perhaps be excused for introducing himself as an Irish Liberal, more or less) to fall into some discourse concerning the existing state of the Irish land-question. Thereupon, the English barrister, with much warmth of manner, launched forth into an oration on the sacred rights of property, which, somewhat to his surprise, met with his companion's entire approval. Any attempt to interfere with property,' the Irish Liberal agreed, whether on the part of the State or of an individual, is equally robbery and confiscation. To propose a redistribution of property, a Solonian seisachtheia, at the present day, would be a return to the unjust usages of a barbaric time, wholly out of concord with modern ideas of equity or common right.' The English barrister was mollified by this concession to his opinions, as he considered it, and continued his walk untroubled toward the Advocates' Library. When we reached the interior rooms of that great collection, the Irish Liberal humbly returned to the previous question, and observed that all the store of books we saw around us had been gathered together by unjustifiable confiscation of property from private persons. The authors of those books had printed and published them, paying for paper, binding, and workmanship, at their own expense: and the State had then stepped in, with a demand that, besides meeting their share in all the taxes ordinarily due from other subjects of the crown, these particular authors should also give four volumes of their works to the British Museum, the two English University libraries, and the institution in which we then stood. Such a demand was a clear injustice. But here the English barrister wholly disagreed. He had forgotten at once all about the sacred rights of property, and he merely observed in an offhand way that the regulation in question was closely connected with the law of copyright.' The State protected authors in their claim to the exclusive monopoly of their own books; and in return it required of them these few volumes, obviously for the public good. When the Irish Liberal asked why the State should specially demand a return in kind from authors, when it protected the property of shoemakers without compelling them to give four pairs of shoes each for the use of the Indian army, he was informed that his ideas were wholly unpractical; and when he remarked that the Irish land-question at least was beginning to assume a practical shape, the barrister manifested such decided symptoms of unstable mental equilibrium as determined him not to pursue the subject at that moment, for fear of uselessly disturbing old and friendly relations.
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 has 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, sympathising 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 his 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 makes 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 his 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,