Equity therefore does not permit property in land. … Not only have present land tenures an indefensible origin, but it is impossible to discover any mode in which land can become private property. … Ethical truth is as exact and as peremptory as physical truth; and that in this matter of land tenure the verdict of morality must be distinctly aye or nay. Either men have a right to make the soil private property, or they have not. There is no medium. We must choose one of the two positions. There can be no half-and-half opinion. In the nature of things the fact must be either one way or the other—
Herbert Spencer, 1850.


Chapter I— The Fate Of Social Statics
Chapter II— The Place Of JUSTICE In The Synthetic Philosophy
Chapter III— The Synthetic Philosophy
Chapter IV— The Idea Of Justice In The Synthetic Philosophy
Chapter V— Mr. Spencer’s Task
Chapter VI— The Rights To The Uses Of Natural Media
Chapter VII— Justice On The Right To Light And Air
Chapter VIII— Justice On The Right To Land
Chapter IX— Justice The Right of Property
Chapter X— The Right Of Property And The Right Of Taxation
Chapter XI— Compensation
Chapter XII— Justice—”The Land Question”
Chapter XIII— Principal Brown


Chapter I—
The Fate Of Social Statics

We now come to the purpose for which the preceding lengthy examination has been made: the consideration of Mr Spencer’s present opinions on the land question, as set forth with all the weight of the “Synthetic Philosophy” in its author’s most recent volume, Justice, which bears date of June, 1891, and was published somewhat later in that year.

But it will be best to break the chronological order, and record here the fate of Social Statics. Even after Mr Spencer had made The Timesand Mr Greenwood believe that he had suppressed it years before, that book still continued to be published by Mr Spencer’s authorised publishers, D. Appleton & Co., and their edition of Justice, published in October, 1891, contains an advertisement of it in its original form. But now, at last, it has been done for. It has not been killed outright; that would be mercy compared with its present fate. It has—and I cannot but feel that Progress and Poverty, the Edinburgh reviewer, and Mr John Laidler of Newcastle, have been innocent causes of its fate—it has been disembowelled, stuffed, mummified, and then set up in the gardens of the Spencerian philosophy, where it may be viewed with entire complacency by Sir John and his Grace.

Soberly, the original volume has with this year been withdrawn from publication, to give place to a new Social Statics, dated January, 1892, and published in February. This volume, which is, of course, now to pass in the publisher’s lists as Social Statics, has for full title, Social Staticsabridged and revised, together with The Man versus the State. It consists of disjointed fragments of the old Social Statics, which, in order to make some approach to the bulk of the original, is padded out with the magazine articles before referred to. In the preface Mr. Spencer says:

My first intention was to call this volume, or, rather, part of a volume, Fragments from Social Statics, and afterwards, Selections from Social Statics. Both of these titles, however, seemed to indicate a much less coherent assemblage of parts than it contains. On the other hand, to call it an abridgement is somewhat misleading, since the word fails to imply that large and constructively important parts are omitted. No title, however, appears appropriate, and I have at length decided that Social Statics, abridged and revised, is the least inappropriate.

If appropriateness was what Mr. Spencer sought, it does seem as if a title much less inappropriate might have been found. For the only discernible principle of revision is the chopping out of all that might imply a God or offend vested interests, in the same fashion that Russian censors revise distasteful works, the result being a Hamlet from which not only Hamlet himself, but the Ghost, the Queen Mother, and Ophelia, have gone. The “First Principle” is left, but everything large or small relating to land is omitted. The only allusion to land is in the cavilling at Locke, which is retained, and that what was originally Section 3, Chapter X, now converted into a chapter, headed “Socialism,” is left by careless editing to begin, as in the original:

The doctrine that all men have equal rights to the use of the earth seems at first sight to countenance a species of social organization at variance with that from which the right of property has just been deduced.*

The foot-note indicated by this asterisk is:
*Referring to an omitted part of the last chapter, the argument of which, with modifications, will now be found in Part IV of the Principles of Ethics.

Thus revised, Social Statics no further concerns us. All that Mr. Spencer originally said about the relation between men and the earth having now been definitely withdrawn, we are referred for his present opinions to the book we are about to consider.

But the advertising of the revised Social Statics is worth noting, as by some blunder it lays before the American reader what was originally intended for English circulation only, and brings to mind the fiction about the suppression of Social Statics, which did duty in the St. James’s Gazetteand the London Times. Here is the advertisement as published at the head of D. Appleton & Co.’s announcements in May, 1892:

  • SOCIAL STATICS. BY HERBERT SPENCER. New and revised edition, including “The Man versus the State,” a series of essays on political tendencies heretofore published separately. 12mo. 420 pages. Cloth, $2.00.

Having been much annoyed by the persistent quotation from the old edition of Social Statics, in the face of repeated warnings, of views which he had abandoned, and by the misquotation of others which he still holds, Mr. Spencer some ten years ago stopped the sale of the book in England and prohibited its translation. But the rapid spread of communistic theories gave new life to these misrepresentations; hence Mr. Spencer decided to delay no longer a statement of his mature opinions on the rights of individuals and the duty of the State.

This is a queer statement to come from D. Appleton & Co., who have been publishing and advertising the old edition ofSocial Statics up to this year, without the slightest warning to purchasers that the author had changed his views otherwise than as stated in the prefaces and notes, which, as I have before said, made no reference to any change on the land question. It is strange to hear from them, that the annoyed Mr. Spencer ten years ago stopped the sale of his book in England, when it had not been in print for over twenty years, serenely leaving it to be sold in the only country where it was in print, and that he also at the same time prohibited its translation. Why is Mr. Spencer so careful of what Englishmen in the little home island and even the “foreigner” may read, yet so careless of what is read by Americans, Canadians and Australians? And why have D. Appleton & Co., for nearly ten years, been passing off on their great constituency a book that its author would not allow to be sold in his own home or in foreign countries? These are questions this advertisement suggests but does not answer.

Chapter II—
The Place of JUSTICE in The Synthetic Philosophy

JUSTICE, to which we are to look for Mr. Spencer’s present opinions on the land question, is esteemed by its author his most important book. This volume, the full title of which is, The Ethics of Social Life—Justice, is also entitled Part IV of Ethics. It is the tenth of the ponderous volumes already published, which are advertised as “Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy.” The grand divisions of this Synthetic Philosophy, as now advertised, are: First Principles, The Principles of Biology, The Principles of Psychology, Principles of Sociology,and Principles of Morality. Of these five grand divisions, the Principles of Morality, as it is styled in the advertisements, or Principles of Ethics, as it is styled in the title-page of the book itself, is the grand division to which Justicebelongs in the Spencerian scheme. The first volume of this grand division, The Data of Ethics, has been already published. Volume II, The Inductions of Ethics, and Volume III, The Ethics of Individual Life, have not yet appeared,[1]Mr. Spencer, as he states in the preface to Justice, preferring to hasten this volume, as most important. After these two deferred volumes have been completed, there are, as he also tells us, two more volumes, The Ethics of Social Life—Negative Benevolence, and The Ethics of Social Life—Positive Benevolence, to which he will turn his attention, thus completing his full philosophical scheme.

This scheme of “Synthetic Philosophy” is the most pretentious that ever mortal man undertook, since it embraces no less than an explanation to mankind, without recourse to the hypothesis of Originating Intelligence, of how the world and all that is in it contained, including we ourselves, our motives, feelings, powers, instincts, habits and customs, came to be. Of this large scheme, the ethical part is the most important, being, as Mr. Spencer tells us, “that to which I regard all the preceding parts as subsidiary.” And of this most important part, he also tells us that this volume, The Ethics of Social Life—Justice, is the most important.

Thus Justice, which so far as it treats of the land question we are about to consider, is by its author deemed the very summit and capstone of his whole philosophy.

And that, indeed, it must be, follows from the supreme importance of its subject matter. For it treats of right and wrong, of what should and what should not be, in those social relations of men from which spring the most fiercely debated practical questions of our time-questions that involve the happiness or misery, the physical, mental and moral development of vast populations, the advance of civilization or its retrogression. As to the principles of right and wrong in individual relations there is little if any dispute; and not merely through Christendom, but “from Paris to Pekin” mankind are substantially agreed as to what constitutes good or bad. It is when we come to the social relations of men—to those social adjustments which prescribe and control rights of ownership, which affect the production, distribution, accumulation and enjoyment of wealth, which are the main ground of legislation, and which over and above the injunctions of individual morality throw around men a perfect network of shalls and shall nots, that we reach the befogged and debatable land—the region of burning questions.

It is where the philosopher thus passes from the region of mere curious speculation into the arena where, for men living and men yet to come, the issues of want or plenty, of ignorance or enlightenment, of slavery or freedom, must be decided, that the ordinary apprehension may best apply to his teachings the tests of usefulness and sincerity. That the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that the tree is best known by its fruit, are maxims not to be disregarded in philosophy. What matters the teaching of any philosophy as to the origin of things, compared with its teaching on matters that affect the fullness, happiness and nobleness of life? And how shall we tell whether the philosopher be an earnest man or a mere prater, so readily and so clearly as by noting whether he takes the side of wronger or of wronged, the undeservedly rich or the undeservedly poor? Thus, Justice is not merely the roof and crown of the Spencerian Synthetic Philosophy; it is its touchstone as well.

Chapter III—
The Synthetic Philosophy

I wish to keep close to the land question. But to understand fairly Mr. Spencer’s views on the land question as expressed in Justice, and to discover what ground there may be for the changes they show, it is necessary to get some idea of the system of which it is the crown.

Justice is in fact the real revision of Social Statics in the new light of the system of philosophy which its author has since elaborated. Both books go over the same ground, that of social economics, and the title of one might serve for that of the other. This ground it was that first attracted Mr. Spencer, and he went over it forty-two years ago in the temper of a social reformer. He now returns to these living, burning questions of the time with the reputation of a great philosopher, after assiduous years spent in what purports to be a wider and deeper survey. For of the philosophy which he has in the meantime elaborated it is claimed not only that “it is more logically complete than any other system,” but that “it is more practical than any other, because it bears immediately upon common experience, takes hold of the living questions of the time, throws light upon the course of human affairs, and gives knowledge that may serve both for public and individual guidance.”[2]

I speak of Herbert Spencer in Social Statics as a social reformer, to distinguish his attitude at that time from his present attitude. But he was not content in that book to advocate empirical remedies for the disorder, waste and wrong that he beheld about him. He saw that expediency offered no sure guide; that such was the infirmity of human powers, and such, in the complexity of social actions and reactions, was the impossibility of calculating results, that legislation based on mere policy was constantly bringing to naught the best-laid schemes, constantly entangling men in blind ways, constantly resulting in the unforeseen and unwished. The burden of Social Statics is that there is a better guide in social affairs than the calculations of expediency; that what men should look to is not results but principles; that the moral sense may be trusted where the intellect is certain to go astray. Its central idea is that the universe bespeaks to us its origin in an intelligence of which Justice must be an attribute; that there is in human affairs a divinely appointed order to which, if it would prosper, society must conform; that there is an eternal rule of right, by which, despite all perturbations of the intellect, social institutions may be safely measured.

This rule of right, as expressed in the first principle of Social Statics—this “law of equal liberty,” that “each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other”—what is it indeed but an expression in primary essential of the Golden Rule? What Mr. Spencer declared in Social Statics is in fact what the National Assembly of France declared in 1789, “That ignorance, neglect or contempt of human rights are the sole causes of public misfortunes and corruptions of government.” And with clearer vision than the French Assembly, he saw and did not hesitate to assert that the most important of human rights from the neglect and contempt of which society to-day suffers, is the natural and equal right to the use of the planet.

It is its protest against materialism, its assertion of the supremacy of the moral law, its declaration of God-given rights that are above all human enactments, that despite whatever it may contain of crudity and inconsistency make Social Statics a noble book, and in the deepest sense a religiously-minded book.

In the course Mr. Spencer thus entered in his early manhood there was work enough to have engaged the greatest powers for the longest lifetime; but work that would have involved a constant and bitter contest with the strongest forces—forces that have at their disposal not only the material things that make life pleasant, but present honour as well. Mr. Spencer did not continue the struggle that in Social Statics he began. He turned from the field of social reform to the field of speculative philosophy, in which he has won great reputation and authority. It is the scheme of philosophy thus developed that forms the basis of Justice, as the ideas of a living God, of a divinely appointed order, and of an eternal distinction between right and wrong, just and unjust, form the basis of Social Statics.

In its earlier volumes this philosophy was styled “Spencer’s Evolutionary Philosophy.” This title has since been abandoned for the less definite but more ambitious one of “Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy.” Since synthesis is the opposite of analysis, the putting together, instead of taking apart—a synthetic philosophy is a philosophy which explains the world (a term which in the philosophic sense includes all of which we can become conscious), not by the process of taking things apart and seeing of what they are composed; but by assuming an original principle or principles, and from that starting-point mentally building up the world, thus showing how it came to be. The Book of Genesis embodies probably the oldest synthetic philosophy we have record of. Mr. Spencer’s is the latest.

Spencer’s “Synthetic Philosophy” is in the main a fusion and extension of two hypotheses—the nebular hypothesis of the formation of celestial bodies, and what is best known as the Darwinian hypothesis of the development of species, with a bridging over of such gulfs as the passage from the inorganic to the organic, and from matter and motion to mind, and some infusion of what I take to be Kantian metaphysics. Though Mr. Spencer objects to the characterization, I can only describe this philosophy as materialistic, since it accounts for the world and all it contains, including the human ego, by the interactions of matter and motion, without reference to any such thing as intelligence, purpose or will, except as derived from them. It does not, of course, any more than other materialistic philosophies, pretend to explain what matter and motion are, or how they came to be. That, for it, is the unknowable, while it deals only with what may be known by men. But within the region of the knowable, all things to it have come to be, or are coming to be, by the interactions of matter and motion, in a process which it terms “evolution,” and which it describes as “an integration of matter, and concomitant dissipation of motion, during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity, and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.”

After evolution has reached its limit and all the motion is dissipated, comes a temporary equilibrium, and then dissolution sets in, by the integration of motion and the dissipation of matter, so that, according to the Synthetic Philosophy, the universe goes on, so far as we can see, to infinity, like one of those disks boys play with, which by means of a twisted string is made to spin around one way, then to come to a momentary stop, and then spin back the other way, the process continuing so long as the boy will gently extend and then gently bring together his hands. What is it that supplies the force furnished in the case of the toy by the boy’s hands? And has it, like the boy’s hands conscious will behind it? This to the Spencerian Synthetic Philosophy is the unknowable.

This unknowable is not God, though Mr. Spencer presents it to the religious sentiment as something with which it may be satisfied, and some of his followers, and sometimes even he himself, speak of it in ways that suggest identity. In Social Statics, however, Mr. Spencer frequently uses the term “God,” but he certainly never thought that he knew God in the sense of comprehending him, or that it was possible for man so to know him. And if the unknowable of his philosophy means that—

Being above all beings! Mighty One,
Whom none can comprehend and none explore!
Who fill’st existence with thyself alone—
Embracing all, supporting, ruling o’er—
Being whom we call God, and know no more!’[3]

—why should he with the development of his philosophy have abandoned the use of the old term for that which beneath the myths and fables and creeds by which men have endeavoured to formulate spiritual perceptions has been always recognized as apparent to the human soul yet transcending human knowledge?

This unknowable must be distinguished from the unknown. It is that which not only is not, but never can be known in any way; that which not merely we cannot comprehend, but of which we can know nothing at all, even of its intelligence or non-intelligence, its consciousness or non-consciousness, its nature or its attributes. It is difficult indeed to see how we may predicate even existence of it, as we may of an unknown person or unknown thing. For this requires at least some knowledge. But of the unknowable we lack the capacity of knowing anything whatever. Air is unknowable directly to our sense of sight; we cannot directly see air. But by its resistance, its weight, its chemical and other qualities, it is knowable by our other faculties; and it is indirectly knowable even to our sight, through the moving of leaves, the motion of watery surfaces, etc.; while if air were unknowable, we could not be conscious of it in any possible way. It would be precisely the same to us as no air.

By the constitution of the human mind it is impossible for us in attempting to trace back the line of causation to find any stopping-place until we reach that which thinks and wills—that to which the volition is akin which to our consciousness is an originating element in the trains of sequences that we ourselves set in motion, or at least modify and divert. Thus any materialistic or mechanical philosophy must either beg the question by assuming the eternity of matter and motion, or admit something behind them which it must take for granted and leave out of its explanation, simply denying that it can be recognized as intelligence or will apart from matter and motion, i.e., spirit. If the unknowable in the Spencerian philosophy means anything more than the vacuum that is thus left where a spiritual First Cause is denied, it seems to mean what by some metaphysicians is styled “the thing in itself.”

This “thing in itself” is in metaphysical language the noumenon as distinguished from the phenomenon: the thing as it really is, as distinguished from the thing as it is recognized in its qualities by the percipient being. But this, if not another name for spirit, really amounts to vacancy. Such idea of “the thing in itself” as opposed to the thing as known in phenomena, seems to come from the habit, to which our use of language leads, of associating independent existence with qualities to which we give independent names. Thus no man ever saw white except as a white thing. But as things have other colors we can readily separate the idea white from the idea thing. Forgetting, since we are dealing only with words, that the abstraction of one color implies its replacement by another color, and the abstraction of all colors would render the thing non-existent so far at least as our sight is concerned, we may mentally separate the idea of color, and imagine the thing in other respects as remaining. Extending the process of abstraction to all other qualities, we may fancy that we have still remaining the idea of the thing separated from all idea of its qualities. But what we have remaining is really only a verbal simulacrum, that sounds like something, and may be written or parsed, but which on analysis consists of negations, and means really no thing or nothing. This, as well as I can understand it, is that “thing in itself,” of which, in some part, or in some aspects, Mr. Spencer’s unknowable seems to consist.

But if the Spencerian philosophy is thus indefinite as to what precedes or underlies matter and motion, it certainly shows no lack of definiteness from the appearance of matter and motion onward. With matter and motion begins its knowable, and from thenceforward, without pause or break, it builds up the whole universe by the integration of the one, and the dissipation of the other, in the mode described as evolution, without recourse to any other element.

In this elimination of any spiritual element lies, it seems to me, the essential characteristic of the Spencerian philosophy. It is not, as is largely supposed, the evolution philosophy, but an evolution philosophy; that is to say, its rejection of any spiritual element in its account of the genesis of things does not follow from its acceptance of the principle of evolution; but the peculiarity of its teachings as to evolution arises from its ignoring of the spiritual element, from its assumption that, matter and motion given, their interactions will account for all that we see, feel or know.

In reality the Spencerian idea of evolution differs as widely from that held by such evolutionists as Alfred Russel Wallace, St George Mivart, or Joseph Le Conte, as it differs from the idea of special and direct creation. It is only when this is recognized that the real point of issue raised by or perhaps rather around the doctrine of evolution is seen. We all see that the oak is evolved from the acorn, the man from the child. And that it is intended for the evolution of something is the only intelligible account that we can make for ourselves of the universe. Thus in some sense we all believe in evolution, and in some sense the vast majority of men always have. And even the evolution of man from the animal kingdom offers no real difficulty so long as this is understood as only the form or external of his genesis. To me, for instance, who, possibly from my ignorance of such branches, am unable to see the weight of the evidence of man’s descent from other animals, which many specialists in natural science deem conclusive, it yet appears antecedently probable that externally such might have been his descent. For it seems better to accord with the economy manifested through nature, to think that when the soul of man first took incasement in physical body on this earth it should have taken the form nearest to its needs, rather than that inorganic matter should be built up. And while I cannot conceive how, even in illimitable time, the animal could of itself turn into the man, it is easy for me to think that if the spirit of man passed into the body of a brute the animal body would soon assume human shape.

Let me illustrate the distinction I wish to point out:

Here is a locomotive of the first class, or a great Corliss engine, capable on the pressure of a child’s finger of exerting to definite ends a mighty force. How did it come to be?

“It came to be,” some one might answer, “from the integrations of matter and motion. This matter existed not to go further back than is necessary, in ores of iron and copper and zinc, and in the wood of trees. By motion acting on matter these materials were transported, separated, combined and adjusted, until integrated into this definite, coherent heterogeneity that you see.”

Such answer would not satisfy me. I would indeed see that it was quite true that from the first wresting of the ores from their beds, to the last touch of file or emerypaper, every step in this construction involved the action of motion on matter; but I would know that this was not all, and that what so ordered and directed the action of motion on matter as to bring this construction into being was the intelligence and volition of man. And I would reply, “You do not go deep enough: what this construction really bespeaks is something you have omitted; something to which matter is but the material, and motion the tool-the intelligence, consciousness and freedom of human will.”

Or, here is a picture. Let it be a reproduction of a Madonna of Raphael’s, such as are made or might be made by selffeeding presses. Shall anyone explain the impression of grace and beauty and loving purity that it produces on him who contemplates it, by explaining on the undulatory theory of light how impressions of color are produced on the retina of the eye? Or shall he account for its genesis by telling me that by integrations of matter and motion certain pigments have become disposed on paper in a certain way? Should he attempt to do so I would say to him, “You are telling me merely of the medium through which in this picture soul speaks to soul; you are merely telling me of the means by which the thought of the painter found expression in outward form.”

But suppose he should answer—
“You delude yourself. I have investigated the matter, and have been to the place where such pictures as this are brought forth. I saw no painter; I saw only a series of revolving cylinders, through which an endless roll of paper was drawn by steel fingers. By the automatic motion of this machinery one cylinder impressed on the paper some patches of one color, and another some patches of another color, till at last, by such successive actions of motion on matter, a picture like this came forth.”

Would I be any more convinced that such a picture could have come to be without that power, essentially different from matter and motion, which we feel in ourselves and recognize in other men, which draws a deep gulf between man and all other animals; that power which plans, contrives, and by using matter and motion creates; that power in short which we call spirit? Would I not say to him, “What you tell me of the way this picture was brought forth by no means lessens my certainty that it could primarily have originated only in the mind and soul of a painter, but only shows me in the automatic working of the presses of which you speak a higher expression of the same power of using tools to body forth thought that was shown in the use of palette and brush. In this reproduction, as in each and all of the various processes and machines by which it was brought to be, I see a manifestation of the same essential thing that the original picture would show to me originating will, adapting mind; in short, not matter and motion, but spirit, or soul.”

And of what moment would be the question whether this picture came into existence by the direct action of human will upon the paper, or indirectly through its action upon automatic machinery, as compared with the question whether its existence involved human action or not?

It is on this vital point of the existence or non-existence of spirit as a prime motor that the real issue raised by theories of evolution comes. Such evolutionism as is represented by the men of whom I have spoken, sees in evolution only a mode in which the creative spirit works. Such evolutionism as is formulated in the Spencerian philosophy eliminates spirit from its hypothesis, and takes into account only matter and motion.

Here is where all materialistic or mechanical theories of the universe ultimately fail. The belief in God, that is to say, in a Spiritual Originator, has no such utterly inadequate and ridiculous genesis as that which we shall shortly see Mr. Spencer gives for it. It springs from the same primary ineradicable perception that universally leads men, whenever they see in a thing destitute of life the evidence of adaptation involving choice, to attribute it to man. No civilized man, after inspection, ever took the rudest huts raised by savages for the structures of lower animals. No savage who might at a distance have thought a ship a bird, or a steamer a marine monster, ever failed on closer view to know that it was a man’s building. No wandering Bedouin ever attributed to natural forces ruins so vast that they transcended his ideas of man’s ability. On the contrary, so clear is the impress and testimony of that creative power which so widely and unmistakably distinguishes man from all other animals, that rude peoples invariably attribute constructions which they deem beyond man’s ability, to genii, fairies or demons—beings possessing powers of the same kind as man, but in larger degree. And they do this for the same reason that they attribute the bringing into being of the highest of adaptations, those that embody life, to a highest of spiritual beings—the Great Spirit, or God. And when our larger knowledge shows us no wavering or confusion in the line which marks conscious adaptation, so that to the specialist the chipping of a flint taken from a long-buried river-drift, or the scratching on a tusk of a preglacial animal, shows the same unmistakable evidence of man’s work as does the engine or the picture, how shall we otherwise interpret the evidences of design similar in kind but infinitely higher in degree which nature on every hand reveals than as indicating the work of God?

But to return again to our illustration: If when, to him who contends that the engine or the picture has come to be by the integrations of matter and motion, I say that such structures unmistakably bespeak man’s work, suppose he should reply to me:

“What is man’s work but the interaction of matter and motion? What is man’s hand but a certain arrangement of matter? What is the force it exerts but a dissipation of motion? Did they, too, not exist in an indefinite, incoherent homogeneous shape in the primordial mass? Do they not come to man from unnumbered transmutations in the food he eats, the water he drinks, the air he breathes, to pass from him into other numberless mutations? If you think man is not included in matter and motion, shut off even for a little while his supplies of matter and motion, and where is your man?”

“Your explanation no better satisfies me than before,” I would reply. “While it may be true as far as it goes, it is inadequate and false in omitting an essential factor, and that a factor which is not last but first. Matter and motion acting to all eternity could not bring forth such a structure as this. I know, from all my experience of how things come to be, that this structure had its primary genesis in thought; that in all its parts, and as a combined whole, it was thought out before it was worked out. I grant you that, at least normally, our perceptions of thought in others are dependent on our perceptions of matter and motion. But I too think. And I know from perceptions that are even closer and truer than my perceptions of matter and motion, that thought is something different from matter and motion, and from any combination of them. I think when my body is still, when my eyes are shut, even when my senses are locked from the external world by sleep. And though I can only look out, not in; though I cannot tell you what I myself am, any more than you can tell me what matter and motion are; although I can no more tell you how I came to be than you can tell me how matter and motion came to be, nor in what way this, that I feel is I, is embodied in a material frame, I do feel directly, and know from its capacities, that it is something different from and superior to the matter and motion of that frame, and that it endures while they change. And so your explanation of the genesis of things that excludes everything but matter and motion, is to me as superficial as if you were to explain a Caesar or Shakespeare by the food he ate; an In Memoriamby pen and ink; or my recognition of my friend’s voice, and our communication of thought through the telephone, by the copper wire and the current of electricity.

“So clear, so certain, am I that what I can recognize, better than I can define, as spirit, is alone competent to produce things in which I see conscious, willing intelligence that if you were to show me a brush that seemed of itself to paint pictures, a pen that seemed of itself to write intelligible words, or even an animal that seemed to show that power which is the essential characteristic of man, I could only account for it as a manifestation of spirit acting in a way unfamiliar to me—if not spirit in a human body, playing a trick upon me, then spirit in some other form. And this would be the conclusion of all men.”

While less acute thinkers profess to sneer at the evidence from design, Schopenhauer, whose great ability certainly entitles him to high rank among atheistic philosophers, is able to avoid the conclusion of an Originating Intelligence only by eliminating intelligence from will, and assuming that bare will, or desire unconjoined with intelligence, directly originates, just as the will to make a bodily movement brings about that movement without knowledge or consciousness of how it is brought about.[4]

But within the sphere in which we can trace origination does it anywhere appear that will without intelligence can accomplish anything? So far as we can see clearly, is it not always true that where volition without commensurate intelligence seems to result in accomplishment it is because the needed intelligence has been supplied by another will? Thus an engine-driver desires his train to move forward or backward, fast or slow, and by a motion that seems directly responsive to his will, his desire takes effect through the pulling of a lever. He may know nothing of the adjustments of the machine that in response to his will thus converts heat into motion, and utterly lack the intelligence needed to construct it. But that knowledge and intelligence were none the less necessary to this moving of the train. If not conjoined with his will they were conjoined with other wills—the wills that have constructed a machine by which a train may be moved on the pulling of a lever. The little intelligence needed in use proves the great intelligence exerted in construction.

So a lady at the opera puts her glass to her eyes and turns a screw as she wishes to make what she sees appear nearer. She may not know how many lenses her glass contains; still less their nature and properties; and is utterly without the knowledge required for making such glasses. But that she may accomplish at will results requiring such knowledge is because others possess it.

So, if we look through any part of the wide field in which human advance has brought volition nearer to result and lessened the knowledge and intelligence required by the will to use, we find its reason in the greater knowledge and intelligence shown in adaptation. If the ordinary shipmaster of today can with the aid of a quadrant, a nautical almanac and a table of logarithms learn from the heavens his position on the trackless ocean, it is because of the high intelligence and tireless studies of others. If girls who know only how to strike a key and interpret a click, or put a peg in a hole, can talk with each other hundreds of miles apart, it is because of discoverers, inventors and constructors.

If, then, in the only field in which we can see origination taking place, we find that the originator is always intelligent, conscious will, and if we find that where the will that uses an adaptation does not possess the knowledge or intelligence necessary to originate it, another will or wills conjoined with deeper knowledge and wider intelligence has done so, what is the reasonable inference as to adaptations of a higher kind, the genesis of which we cannot see, and which so far transcend the knowledge and intelligence of the creatures that through them are enabled to give their own wills effect?

What are our bodies but a more perfect adjustment of parts, such as we see in machines? What are our eyes but a more perfect adjustment of lenses, such as we see in operaglasses? If, then, my hand closes when I will to grasp, without any knowledge on my part of the correlated movements that must necessarily intervene; if when I merely will to look, the lenses of my eyes are by delicate and complex machinery directed to the position and adapted to the distance; if all through animal and even vegetable nature I may see utilisations of knowledge and adaptations of intelligence transcending, not merely the powers of their users, but the highest human knowledge and intelligence, shall I infer that these utilisations and adaptations come without knowledge and intelligence? Or shall I regard them as evidences of a deeper knowledge and wider intelligence, which, since we find intelligence and knowledge invariably associated with consciousness, must pertain to a higher consciousness?

But to come back to the Book of Genesis that is offered to us in Mr. Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy.

First—if we will insist upon a first—comes the unknowable; then force; then from force, matter and motion. Matter first appears, permeated with motion, in a state of indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, from which a principle which is styled “the instability of the homogeneous” starts the “integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion,” called evolution, “during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity, and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.”

This is in brief the whole story:

Matter revolving in accordance with the nebular hypothesis gives rise to nebulous aggregations; these to suns, which throw off revolving satellites, that in the course of time cool into earths, on the crust of which continuing evolution separates gases and differentiates the strata of inorganic matter. By the multiplying effects of motion acting on matter, the earth becomes fitted for life; and from the differences in the physical mobilities and chemical activities in the segregations of matter produce in colloid or jelly-like substances, such as starch, the beginnings of life, which is defined as “the definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with external coexistences and sequences.” And then by forces of various kinds, but all derived from motion, and being its mechanical equivalents, all the forms of life, vegetable and animal, proceed.

By this process of evolution man was finally developed from a lower animal—he himself, with all his attributes and social institutions, being like everything else an outcome of this process, which, acting through survival of the fittest, heredity and the pressure of conditions, has been and is moulding him into harmony with those conditions.

Of primitive man we have much and very definite information from Mr. Spencer. He was smaller and less powerful, especially in the lower limbs, than man is now, but had a larger abdomen and came earlier to maturity. He was wavering and inconstant; he had no surprise or curiosity or ingenuity; his imagination was reminiscent only, not constructive; he lacked abstract ideas, was without notion of definiteness and truth, or of benevolence equity or duty; he was unable to think even of a single law, much less of law in general; had neither the habit of expressing things definitely, nor the habit of testing assertions, nor a due sense of contrast between fact and fiction; and for him deliberately to weigh evidence was impossible. He was a cannibal; was entirely promiscuous in his sexual relations; had no idea of any other life or of any supernatural existences or powers, and no care for, no sympathy with, and no idea of the goodness or badness of acts toward any of his fellows, except so far as female primitive man was concerned with her offspring during infancy. 

How this sorry monster, this big-bellied, short-legged, bad lot of an ancestor of ours managed to avoid the fate of the Kilkenny cats, and keep in existence, we are not definitely informed; but it seems from the Synthetic Philosophy that he did, and went on evoluting.

Various processes of his further evolution are in the Synthetic Philosophy described. Seeing shadows cast by the sun, the primitive man took them for other selves, which, aided by his dreams, brought him to a belief in doubles, more extensive even than that which Mr. Stead has expounded in his Real Ghost Storiesand More Ghost Stories.

This led him to believe in another life, and his fear of chiefs and efforts to propitiate them after they were dead evolved the idea of God. Some regard for others, and some crude notion of property, was also evolved by fear of reprisal from others when he injured them or took their belongings, and by the punishment inflicted by chiefs. Cannibalism declined as the practice of slavery grew, and it became more profitable to work a captive than to eat him. But primitive man was not only a cannibal, he was a trophy-taker, given to the practice of gathering human heads and jaw-bones as evidences of his prowess. This led to mutilations of the living, or self-mutilations, as marks of respect or deference, and this again led to the giving of presents; and this in its turn evolved on the one side into political and ecclesiastical revenues, and on the other into a greater respect for property, and a recognition of value, and finally into barter, and then trade. In similar ways all our perceptions, feelings, instincts and habits have arisen. As for the mooted question, whether we have innate ideas or whether all our ideas are derived from experience, the solution of the Synthetic Philosophy is, that while all our ideas are originally derived from experience, they are of two kinds—those which the experience of our ancestors has registered in our inherited nervous system, and which therefore seem to us original, or innate, and those which we ourselves derive from experience.

Such, in brief, is the scheme of philosophy that in the interval between the publication of Social Statics and the publication of Justice Mr. Spencer has developed; and which it is the purpose of the last book to apply to the moral questions gone over in the first.

Of the inadequacy of such a philosophy to account for human progress, or coherently to marshal the great facts of human life and human history I have already treated at some length in Book X of Progress and Poverty, entitled “The Law of Human Progress.” But what we are now concerned with is the question, Where in such a philosophy is a basis for moral ideas to be found?

I cannot see, nor can I find that Mr. Spencer has been able to. Though still continuing to condemn Bentham, as he did in Social Statics, all his efforts to obtain something like a moral sanction reach no further than expediency.

And how can it be otherwise? If, in all we are and think and feel, we are but passing phases of the interactions of matter and motion?—if behind the force manifested in matter and motion is nothing but the unknowable, and before us nothing but dissipation—personal dissipation when we die, and the matter and motion of which alone we are composed seek other forms; and then a death of the race, followed by a dissipation of the globe?—why should we not eat, drink, and be merry to the limit of opportunity and digestion? If our ideas of God and of a future life come merely from the blunders of savages so stupid that they took shadows for other selves and dreams for realities? if we would still be eating each other had it not been discovered that man might use man more profitably as a laborer than as food? if what we call the promptings of conscience are merely inherited habits, the results of the fear of punishment transmitted through the nervous system?—why should I not lie whenever I may find it convenient and safe to lie? why should I avoid any omission or commission that will bring no legal or social or personal penalty or inconvenience? why should I refrain from selling my ability, whatever it may be, to any cause or interest that has power to give me what I desire, whether it be wealth or honour?

Mr. Spencer’s philosophy makes no distinction between motives and results, nor does it admit of any. If it has any gospel, it is the gospel of results, and the results that it treats as to be sought are only results that make life pleasurable. Temperance, chastity, probity, industry, public spirit, generosity, love! They have in this philosophy no promise and no reward, save as they may directly or indirectly add to the pleasure of the individual. For the self-sacrifice of the hero, the devotion of the saint, the steadfastness of the martyr; for the spirit that ennobles the annals of mankind, that has led and yet leads so many to endure discomfort, want, pain, death, for the love of the true and the pure and the good; for the noble hope of doing something to break the chains of the captive, to open the eyes of the blind, to make life for those who may come after fuller, nobler, happier; for the faith that has led men to dare all things and suffer all things; it has no breath of stimulation or praise. In the cold glare that it takes for light, such men are fools. For it knows no more of human will as a factor in the advance of mankind than it does of the Divine Will. To it what conditions exist, and what conditions will exist, are determined by the irresistible grind of forces that in the last analysis are resolvable into the integration of matter and the dissipation of motion. Its fatalism eliminates free will. Environment and heredity are everything, human volition nothing. Carry this philosophy to its legitimate conclusion, and the man is a mere automaton who thinks he is a free agent only because he does not feel the strings that move him. That I am a man is because I have been evolved from the brute, as the boulder is rounded from the rock; as the brute, my ancestor, was evolved from colloid, and colloid from indefinite, incoherent homogeneous matter. And that I am this or that kind of a man, with such and such powers, tastes, habits, ways of thinking, feeling, perceiving, acting, is simply the result of the external influences that registered in my ancestors the nerve impressions transmitted to me, and that have continued to mould me. Social institutions, the outgrowth of a similar evolution in which free will had no part, will continue their evolution without help or hindrance from anything which is really choice or volition of mine.

Extremes sometimes curiously meet. The philosophy of Schopenhauer, which in deriving everything from will is the antipodes of the Spencerian philosophy, and which, like the philosophies of India, of which it is a European version, holds existence an evil, and looks for relief only to the renunciation of the will to live, would, if it were generally accepted, produce among the European races the same social lethargy, the same hopelessness of reform, the same readiness to bow before any tyrant, that have so long characterized the masses of India. It seems to me that the essential fatalism of the philosophy of Mr. Spencer would have a similar result.[5]

And as the pessimistic philosophy of the one seems to flow from the abandonment of action for mere speculation, and from the satiety and ennuiwhich under certain conditions accompany it, so the evolutionary philosophy of the other seems to be such as might result from the abandonment of a noble purpose—from a turning from the thorny path which an attack upon vested wrongs must open, to embrace the pleasanter ways of acquiescence in things as they are.

It is not for me to say what is cause and what is effect; but the correspondence of Mr. Spencer’s philosophy, which ignores the spiritual element and knows nothing of duty, with his own attitude as shown in his letters to the St. James’s Gazetteand The Timesand in The Man versus the State, is very striking. In Justicewe shall see more of this correspondence.

Chapter IV—
The Idea of Justice in The Synthetic Philosophy

As the culminating development of his evolutionary or Synthetic Philosophy, Mr. Spencer now comes to treat of those social-economic questions that involve the idea of justice, in a book which he entitles Justice.

But what is justice?

It is the rendering to each his due. It presupposes a moral law, and its corollaries, natural rights which are self-evident. But where in a philosophy that denies spirit, that ignores will, that derives all the qualities and attributes of man from the integration of matter and the dissipation of motion, can we find any basis for the idea of justice?

“Justice,” says Montesquieu, “is a relation of congruity which really subsists between two things. This relation is always the same, whatever being considers it, whether it be God, or an angel, or lastly a man.” This, too, in Social Statics, was Mr. Spencer’s conception. Justice he tells us there means equalness—that is to say, a relation of congruity or equality which is always the same, and always apprehensible by men, no matter what be their condition of development or degree of knowledge. As the basis of all his reasoning he postulates an inherent moral sense, which “none but those committed to a preconceived theory can fail to recognize”—a perception that bears to morality the same relationship that the perception of the primary laws of quantity bears to mathematics; and which enables us to recognize an “eternal law of things,” a “Divine order,” in which, and not in any notions of what is expedient either for the individual or for all individuals, we may find a sure guide of conduct, the apprehension of right and wrong. And this it seems to me is necessarily and universally involved in the idea of Justice, so that when a man, whatever be his theories, thinks of right or wrong, just or unjust, he thinks of a relation, like that of odd and even, or more and less, which is always and everywhere to be seen by whoever will look.

But this self-evidence of natural rights the Synthetic Philosophy denies. It admits the existence of natural rights—that is to say, rights which pertain to the individual man as man, and are consequently equal; but it derives the genesis of these rights, or at least their apprehension by man, from this process of his gradual evolution, by virtue of which they evolve, or he becomes conscious of them, after a certain amount of “social discipline,” and not before. If such rights exist before, it must be potentially, or in some such way as the Platonic ideas. But as this would involve an appointed order; and hence intelligent will, to which we must attribute equity; and hence God; it seems inconsistent with Mr. Spencer’s present view—not necessarily with that part which derives our physical constitutions from lower animals and primarily from the integrations of matter and motion for this is a mere matter of external form, and that our bodies come, somehow, “from the dust of the earth” as the Scriptures put it, is as clear as that ice comes from water but with that part which gives to the ego the same genesis, and accounts for our mental and moral qualities by variation, survival of the fittest, the pressure of conditions, social discipline and heredity of acquired characteristics.

Mr. Spencer realizes this inconsistency, for, abandoning altogether his original derivation and explanation of justice, he proceeds in Justiceto make another derivation and explanation in accordance with his new philosophy, devoting to this the first eight chapters, or something more than a fifth of the book. With its validity or invalidity, its coherency or incoherency, I am not here concerned; my object being merely to show how he arrives at the conception of justice and what it is, so that we may judge the teachings of Justicefrom its own avowed standpoint.

To present Mr. Spencer’s argument as intelligibly as I can, I will make a synopsis of the first eight chapters of Justice, as far as possible in his own words, but without quotationmarks, employing smaller type where the exact words can be used at some length.

These chapters are

1.—Animal Ethics.
During immaturity, benefits received must be inversely proportioned to capacities possessed. After maturity, benefits must vary directly as worth, measured by fitness for the conditions of existence. The ill-fitted must suffer the evils of unfitness, and the well-fitted prove their fitness.

2.—Sub-Human Justice.
The law of sub-human Justiceis that each individual shall receive the benefits and the evils of its own nature and its consequent conduct.

3.—Human Justice.
Each individual ought to receive the benefits and the evils of his own nature and consequent conduct, neither being prevented from having whatever good his actions normally bring him, nor allowed to shoulder off this evil on other persons.

4.—The Sentiment of Justice.
Our feeling that we ourselves ought to have freedom to receive the results of our own nature and consequent actions, and which prompts maintenance of the sphere for this free play, results from inheritances of modifications produced by habit, or from more numerous survivals of individuals having nervous structures which have varied in fit ways, and from the tendency of groups formed of members having this adaptation to survive and spread. Recognition of the similar freedom of others is evolved from the fear of retaliation, from the punishment of interference prompted by the interests of the chief, from fear of the dead chief’s ghost, and from fear of God, when dead-chief-ghost worship grows into God worship, and, finally, by the sympathy evolved by gregariousness.

5.—The Idea of Justice.
It emerges and becomes definite from experiences, generation after generation, which provoke resentment and reactive pains, until finally there arises a conception of a limit to each kind of activity up to which there is freedom to act. But it is a long time before the general nature of the limit common to all cases can be conceived. On the one hand there is the positive element, implied by each man’s recognition of his claims to unimpeded activities and the benefits they bring; on the other hand there is the negative element implied by the consciousness of limits which the presence of other men having like claims necessitates. Inequality is suggested by the one, for if each is to receive the benefits due his own nature and consequent conduct, then, since men differ in their powers, there must be differences in the results. Equality is suggested by the other, since bounds must be set to the doings of each to avoid quarrels, and experience shows that these bounds are on the average the same for all. Unbalanced appreciation of the one is fostered by war, and tends to social organization of the militant type, where inequality is established by authority, an inequality referring, not to the natural achievement of greater rewards by greater merits, but to the artificial apportionment of greater rewards to greater merits. Unbalanced appreciation of the other tends to such theories as Bentham’s greatest happiness principle, and to communism and socialism. The true conception is to be obtained by noting that the equality concerns the mutually limited spheres of action which must be maintained if associated men are to co-operate harmoniously, while the inequality concerns the results which each may achieve by carrying on his actions within the implied limits. The two may be and must be simultaneously asserted.

6.—The Formula Of Justice.
It must be positive in so far as it asserts for each that, since he is to receive and suffer the good and evil of his own actions, he must be allowed to act. And it must be negative in so far as, by asserting this of every one, it implies that each can be allowed to act only under the restraint imposed by the presence of others having like claims to act. Evidently, the positive element is that which expresses a prerequisite to life in general, and the negative element is that which qualifies this prerequisite in the way required, when, instead of one life carried on alone, there are many lives carried on together.
     Hence, that which we have to express in a precise way is the liberty of each limited only by the like liberties of all. This we do by saying, Every man is free to do what he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

7.—The Authority of this Formula.
The reigning school of politics and morals has a contempt for doctrines that imply restraint on the doings of immediate expediency. But if causation be universal, it must hold throughout the actions of incorporated men. Evolution implies that a distinct conception of justice can have arisen but gradually. It has gone on more rapidly under peaceful relations, and been held back by war. Nevertheless, where the conditions have allowed, it has evolved slowly to some extent, and formed for itself approximately true expressions, as shown in the Hebrew Commandments, and without distinction between generosity and Justice, in the Christian Golden Rule, and in modern forms in the rule of Kant. It is also shown on the legal side, in the maxims of lawyers as to natural law, admitted inferentially even by the despotically minded Austin.

These, it will be objected, are apriori beliefs. The doctrine of evolution teaches that a priori beliefs entertained by men at large must have arisen, if not from the experiences of each individual, then from the experiences of the race. Fixed intuitions must have been established by that intercourse with things which throughout an enormous past has directly and indirectly determined the organization of the nervous system, and certain resulting necessities of thought. Thus had the law of equal freedom no other than a priori derivations, it would still be rational to regard it as an adumbration of a truth, if not still literally true. And the inductive school, including Bentham and Mill, are, on analysis, driven to the basis of a priori cognitions.
     But the principle of natural equity, expressed in the freedom of each, limited only by the like freedom of all, is not exclusively an a priori belief.
     Examination of the facts has shown it to be a fundamental law by conformity to which life has evolved from its lowest up to its highest forms, that each adult individual shall take the consequences of its own nature and actions: survival of the fittest being the result. And the necessary implication is an assertion of that full liberty to act which forms the positive element in the formula of justice; since, without full liberty to act, the relation between conduct and consequence cannot be maintained. Various examples have made clear the conclusion manifest in theory, that among gregarious creatures this freedom of each to act has to be restricted; since if it is unrestricted there must arise such clashing of actions as prevents the gregariousness. And the fact that, relatively unintelligent though they are, inferior gregarious creatures inflict penalties for breaches of the needful restrictions, shows how regard for them has come to be unconsciously established as a condition to persistent social life.
     These two laws, holding, the one of all creatures and the other of social creatures, and the display of which is clearer in proportion as the evolution is higher, find their last and fullest sphere of manifestation in human societies. We have recently seen that along with the growth of peaceful co-operation there has been an increasing conformity to this compound law under both its positive and negative aspects; and we have also seen that there has gone on simultaneously an increase of emotional regard for it, and intellectual apprehension of it.
     So that we have not only the reasons above given for concluding that this a priori belief has its origin in the experiences of the race, but we are enabled to affiliate it on the experiences of living creatures at large, and to perceive that it is but a conscious response to certain necessary relations in the order of nature.
     No higher warrant can be imagined; and now, accepting the law of equal freedom as an ultimate ethical principle, having an authority transcending every other, we may proceed with our inquiry.

8.—Its Corollaries.
That the general formula of justice may serve for guidance, deductions must be drawn severally applicable to special classes of cases. The several particular freedoms deducible from the laws of equal freedom may fitly be called, as they commonly are called, rights. Rights truly so called are corollaries from the law of equal freedom, and what are falsely called rights are not deducible from it.
     It is not worth while to examine this argument. It is sufficient for our purpose to see that in JusticeMr. Spencer re-asserts the same principle from which in Social Statics he condemned private property in land.

Chapter V—
Mr. Spencer’s Task

THE first eight chapters of Justice, as we have seen, bring Mr. Spencer by a different route to the same “first principle” which he had laid down forty years before in Social Statics, and from which he had deduced the equal right of all men to the use of land and the ethical invalidity of private property in land—”all deeds, customs, and laws notwithstanding.”

We are not concerned now with Social Statics. We are not concerned with any of Mr. Spencer’s changes in opinion, teleological, metaphysical, or of any other kind. We have here merely the Synthetic philosopher, who from grounds based on the doctrine of evolution lays down as the fundamental formula of justice, the axiomatic principle from which all the rights of men in their relations with each other are to be deduced: that all men have freedom to do as they will, provided they infringe not the equal freedom of all others.[6]

What follows, with regard to the use of land, from this fundamental principle of the evolutionary philosophy? Is it not, unavoidably and irresistibly, what Mr. Spencer stated years before?—

Given a race of beings having like claims to pursue the objects of their desires—given a world adapted to the gratification of those desires—a world into which such beings are similarly born, and it unavoidably follows that they have equal rights to the use of this world. For if each of them “has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other,” then each of them is free to use the earth for the satisfaction of his wants, provided he allows all others the same liberty. And conversely, it is manifest that no one, or part of them, may use the earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from similarly using it; seeing that to do this is to assume greater freedom than the rest, and consequently to break the law.

Is there one single deduction in Chapter IX of Social Statics that does not as clearly follow from this reasoning of Justice—one single word that requires alteration to fit it for a place in the deductions to be drawn from this formula, except the single word “God”? And the substitution of “The Unknowable” or “Evolution” for “God” would in no wise alter or lessen the force of the reasoning.

How, then, shall Mr. Spencer justify private property in land, which in his letters to The Timeshe had bound himself to do? How shall he deduce the rights of land-owners to compensation for their land or in any way assert for them rights that will lessen or modify, or in any way condition, the equal right of all their fellows to the use of land?

To men like Professor Huxley there is a short and easy way of doing this. It is simply to deny the existence of natural rights; that is to say, rights having any higher or more permanent sanction than municipal regulation. To be sure this opens a most awkward dilemma, for if power, or if you please legislative enactment, be the only sanction of right, what remains for the House of Have, when the House of Want shall muster its more numerous forces, either on the field of brute strength or in legislatures already controlled by popular suffrage? But, “after us, the deluge!” and such considerations do not much trouble those who take this short and easy way. Mr. Spencer, however, is debarred from taking it; not by what he has before said on the land question, for that could be unsaid, but by his philosophy. If there is no right but might, what does that philosophy mean and what is it for? If there is no law but that of the state, why does he write books to tell us what the state ought and ought not to do? And, furthermore, he has just deduced as his formula of justice, having, he says, the highest imaginable warrant—the same first principle from which in Social Statics he deduced the invalidity of private property in land.

The short and easy way of justifying private property in land, because it exists, or because it is sanctioned by the state, is therefore not open to Mr. Spencer, unless he is ready to abandon the last shred and figment of philosophic claim. His is a more difficult task. What he has to do, is to prove that the disinheritance of nineteen-twentieths of his countrymen accords with his “ultimate ethical principle having an authority transcending every other”—his formula of justice, that “Every man is free to do that which he will, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.” To show that the so-called rights of existing landowners to monopolise the land on which all must live are real rights, he must, on his own statement, show that they are deducible from the law of equal freedom.

Knowing, then, from Mr. Spencer’s more recent utterances that he is determined at any cost to get on the comfortable side of the land question, we may be certain in advance that Justicewill afford a spectacle both interesting and instructive. Interesting as the effort of a man of ability to accomplish a feat of intellectual legerdemain equivalent, not to swallowing a sword, but to swallowing himself. Instructive as showing how far a man so able that many people think him the greatest philosopher that has ever yet appeared; a man who has the advantage of knowing what can be said on the other side, can, on grounds which admit the equal right of men to be in the world, succeed in justifying that existing social arrangement which gives to a few the exclusive ownership of the world, and denies to the many any right to its use, save as they purchase the privilege of these few world-owners.

A Lord Bramwell or a Professor Huxley or a Duke of Argyll would rush in boldly and proceed frankly. But Mr. Spencer knows that to accomplish his task the attention of the reader must be confused and the real issue avoided. The effort to do this is to be seen at a glance the moment we come to the vital part of Justice.

In Social Statics the discussion of “The Rights of Life and Personal Liberty” occupies hardly more than a single page, being treated as “such self-evident corollaries from our first principle as hardly to need a separate statement.” In Justiceit is padded out into two chapters—”The Right to Personal Integrity” and “The Rights to Free Motion and Locomotion,” which, by references to the Fijians, the Wends, the Herculeans, the Homeric Greeks, and so on, are made to occupy some twelve or thirteen times as much space. But although Mr. Spencer also refers to the Abors, the Nagas, the Lepchas, the Jakuns, and other far-off people, he takes no notice of such infractions of the right of free motion and locomotion by landowning dukes as in 1850 excited his indignation.

In place of the chapter on “The Right to the Use of the Earth,” which stands out so clearly and so prominently in Social Statics, we find in Justicea chapter on “The Rights to the Uses of Natural Media,” of which only a part is devoted to the right to the use of land, though a short note, having something of the same relation to it that the traditional lady’s postscript has to her letter, is inserted in the Appendix.

This treatment of land, or the surface of the earth, as but one of the natural media is in the highest degree unphilosophic, and could be adopted only for the purpose of confusion. For so far as man is concerned all natural media are appurtenant to land; and the term “land” in political economy and law comprises all natural substances and powers. To treat land as one of such natural media as light and air is therefore as unphilosophic as it would be to treat it as one of such sub-divisions of itself as water, rock, gravel or sand. The clearest and only philosophic terminology is that adopted in Social Statics—the right to the use of the earth, or the right to the use of land. For the right to the use of all natural elements comes from and with, and is inseparably involved in and annexed to, the right to the use of land.

Mr. Spencer’s reasons for thus treating land as but one of the natural media appear as we read. Not merely is the burning question thus minimized and confused, but it becomes easier by means of analogy to slide over the injustice of the present treatment of land—an injustice which, as Mr. Spencer had himself previously seen, is inferior only to murder or slavery—and to bring private property in land into the category of things with which we need not concern ourselves.

Chapter VI—
The Rights To The Uses Of Natural Media

Here in full is Chapter XI of Justice:

  • Chapter XI—The Rights to the use of Natural Media
    § 49. A man may be entirely uninjured in body by the actions of fellow-men, and he may be entirely unimpeded in his movements by them, and he may yet be prevented from carrying on the activities needful for maintenance of life, by traversing his relations to the physical environment on which his life depends. It is, indeed, alleged that certain of these natural agencies cannot be removed from the state of common possession. Thus we read:
    “Some things are by nature itself incapable of appropriation, so that they cannot be brought under the power of any one. These got the name of res communes by the Roman law; and were defined, things the property of which belongs to no person, but the use to all. Thus, the light, the air, running water, etc., are so adapted to the common use of mankind, that no individual can acquire a property in them, or deprive others of their use.” (An Institute of the Law of Scotland, by John Erskine (ed. Macallan), i., 196.)
         But though light and air cannot be monopolized, the distribution of them may be interfered with by one man to the partial deprivation of another man—may be so interfered with as to inflict serious injury upon him.
         No interference of this kind is possible without a breach of the law of equal freedom. The habitual interception of light by one person in such way that another person is habitually deprived of an equal share, implies disregard of the principle that the liberty of each is limited by the like liberties of all; and the like is true if free access to air is prevented.
         Under the same general head there must, however, by an unusual extension of meaning, be here included something which admits of appropriation—the surface of the Earth. This as forming part of the physical environment, seems necessarily to be included among the media of which the use may be claimed under the law of equal freedom. The Earth’s surface cannot be denied to any one absolutely, without rendering life-sustaining activities impracticable. In the absence of standing-ground he can do nothing; and hence it appears to be a corollary from the law of equal freedom, interpreted with strictness, that the Earth’s surface may not be appropriated absolutely by individuals, but may be occupied by them only in such manner as recognizes ultimate ownership by other men; that is—by society at large.
         Concerning the ethical and legal recognitions of these claims to the uses of media, not very much has to be said: only the last demands much attention. We will look at each of them in succession.

    § 50. In the earliest stages, while yet urban life had not commenced, no serious obstruction of one man’s light by another man could well take place. In encampments of savages, and in the villages of agricultural tribes, no one was led, in pursuit of his ends, to overshadow the habitation of his neighbor. Indeed, the structures and relative positions of habitations made such aggressions almost impracticable.
         In later times, when towns had grown up, it was unlikely that much respect would forthwith be paid by men to the claims of their neighbors in respect of light. During stages of social evolution in which the rights to life and liberty were little regarded, such comparatively trivial trespasses as were committed by those who built houses close in front of others’ houses, were not likely to attract much notice, considered either as moral transgressions or legal wrongs. The narrow, dark streets of ancient continental cities, in common with the courts and alleys characterizing the older parts of our own towns imply that in the days when they were built the shutting out by one man of another man’s share of sun and sky was not thought an offence. And, indeed, it may reasonably be held that recognition of such an offence was in those days impracticable; since, in walled towns, the crowding of houses became a necessity.
         In modern times, however, there has arisen the perception that the natural distribution of light may not be interfered with. Though the law which forbids the building of walls, houses, or other edifices of certain heights, within prescribed distances from existing houses, does not absolutely negative the intercepting of light; yet it negatives the intercepting of it to serious degrees, and seeks to compromise the claims of adjacent owners as fairly as seems practicable.
         That is to say, this corollary from the law of equal freedom, if it has not come to be overtly asserted, has come to be tacitly recognized.

    § 51. To some extent interference with the supply of light involves interference with the supply of air; and, by interdicting the one, some interdict is, by implication placed on the other. But the claim to use of the air, though it has been recognized by English law in the case of windmills, is less definitely established: probably because only small evils have been caused by obstructions.
         There has, however, risen into definite recognition the claim to unpolluted air. Though acts of one man which may diminish the supply of air to another man, have not come to be distinctly classed as wrong; yet acts which vitiate the quality of his air are in modern times regarded as offences—offences for which there are in some cases moral reprobations only, and in other cases legal penalties. In some measure all are severally obliged, by their own respiration, to vitiate the air respired by others, where they are in proximity. It needs but to walk a little distance behind one who is smoking, to perceive how widely diffused are the exhalations from each person’s lungs; and to what an extent, therefore, those who are adjacent, especially indoors, are compelled to breathe the air that has already been taken in and sent out time after time. But since this vitiation of air is mutual, it cannot constitute aggression. Aggression occurs only when vitiation by one, or some, has to be borne by others who do not take like shares in the vitiation; as often happens in railway carriages, where men who think themselves gentlemen smoke in other places than those provided for smokers: perhaps getting from fellowpassengers a nominal, though not a real, consent, and careless of the permanent nuisance entailed on those who afterwards travel in compartments reeking with stale tobacco-smoke. Beyond the recognition of this by right-thinking persons as morally improper, it is forbidden as improper by railway regulations; and, in virtue of by-laws, may bring punishment by fine.
         Passing from instances of this kind to instances of a graver kind, we have to note the interdicts against various nuisances—stenches resulting from certain businesses carried on near at hand, injurious fumes such as those from chemical works, and smoke proceeding from large chimneys. Legislation which forbids the acts causing such nuisances, implies the right of each citizen to unpolluted air.
         Under this same head we may conveniently include another kind of trespass to which the surrounding medium is instrumental. I refer to the production of sounds of a disturbing kind. There are small and large trespasses of this class. For one who, at a table d’h6te, speaks so loudly as to interfere with the conversation of others, and for those who, during the performance at a theatre or concert, persist in distracting the attention of auditors around by talking, there is reprobation, if nothing more: their acts are condemned as contrary to good manners, that is, good morals, for the one is a part of the other. And then when inflictions of this kind are public, or continuous, or both—as in the case of street-music and especially bad street-music, or as in the case of loud noises proceeding from factories, or as in the case of church bells rung at early hours, the aggression has come to be legally recognized as such and forbidden under penalty: not as yet sufficiently recognized, however, as is shown in the case of railway whistles at central stations, which are allowed superfluously to disturb tens of thousands of people all through the night, and often to do serious injury to invalids.
         Thus in respect of the uses of the atmosphere, the liberty of each limited only by the like liberties of all, though not overtly asserted, has come to be tacitly asserted; in large measure ethically, and in a considerable degree legally.

    § 52. The state of things brought about by civilization does not hinder ready acceptance of the corollaries thus far drawn; but rather clears the way for acceptance of them. Though in the days when cannibalism was common and victims were frequently sacrificed to the gods, assertion of the right to life might have been received with demur, yet the ideas and practices of those days have left no such results as stand in the way of unbiased judgments. Though during times when slavery and serfdom wore deeply organized in the social fabric an assertion of the right to liberty would have roused violent opposition, yet at the present time, among ourselves at least, there exists no idea, sentiment, or usage, at variance with the conclusion that each man is free to use his limbs and move about where he pleases. And similarly with respect to the environment. Such small interferences with others’ supplies of light and air as have been bequeathed in the structures of old towns and such others as smoking fires entail, do not appreciably hinder acceptance of the proposition that men have equal claims to uses of the media in which all are immersed. But the proposition that men have equal claims to the use of that remaining portion of the environment—hardly to be called a medium—on which all stand and by the products of which all live, is antagonized by ideas and arrangements descending to us from the past. These ideas and arrangements arose when considerations of equity did not affect land tenure any more than they affected the tenure of men as slaves or serfs; and they now make acceptance of the proposition difficult. If, while possessing those ethical sentiments which social discipline has now produced, men stood in possession of a territory not yet individually portioned out, they would no more hesitate to assert equality of their claims to the land than they would hesitate to assert equality of their claims to light and air. But now that long-standing appropriation, continued culture, as well as sales and purchases, have complicated matters, the dictum of absolute ethics, incongruous with the state of things produced, is apt to be denied altogether. Before asking how, under these circumstances, we must decide, let us glance at some past phases of land tenure.
         Partly because in early stages of agriculture, land, soon exhausted, soon ceases to be worth occupying, it has been the custom with little-civilized and semi-civilized peoples, for individuals to abandon after a time the tracts they have cleared, and to clear others. Causes aside, however, the fact is that in early stages private ownership of land is unknown: only the usufruct belongs to the cultivator, while the land itself is tacitly regarded as the property of the tribe. It is thus now with the Sumatrans and others, and it was thus with our own ancestors: the members of the Mark, while they severally owned the products of the areas they respectively cultivated, did not own the areas themselves. Though it may be said that at first they were members of the same family, gens, or clan, and that the ownership of each tract was private ownership in so far as the tract belonged to a cluster of relations; yet since the same kind of tenure continued after the population of the Mark had come to include men who were unrelated to the rest, ownership of the tract by the community and not by individuals became an established arrangement. This primitive condition will be clearly understood after contemplating the case of the Russians, among whom it has but partially passed away.
        “The village lands were held in common by all the members of the association [mir]; the individual only possessed his harvest, and the dvoror inclosure immediately surrounding his house. This primitive condition of property, existing in Russia up to the present day, was once common to all European peoples.” (The History of Russia, A. Rambaud, trans. by Lang, vol. i., p. 45.) 
         With this let me join a number of extracts from Wallace’s Russia, telling us of the original state of things and of the subsequent states. After noting the fact that while the Don Cossacks were purely nomadic—”agriculture was prohibited on pain of death,” apparently because it interfered with hunting and cattle-breeding, he says:—
    “Each Cossack who wished to raise a crop ploughed and sowed wherever he thought fit, and retained as long as he chose the land thus appropriated; and when the soil began to show signs of exhaustion, he abandoned his plot and ploughed elsewhere. As the number of agriculturists increased, quarrels frequently arose. Still worse evils appeared when markets were created in the vicinity. In some stanitzas [Cossack villages] the richer families appropriated enormous quantities of the common land by using several teams of oxen, or by hiring peasants in the nearest villages to come and plough for them; and instead of abandoning the land after raising two or three crops they retained possession of it. Thus the whole of the arable land, or at least the best parts of it, became actually, if not legally, the private property of a few families.” (Ib. ii. 86.)
         Then he explains that as a consequence of something like a revolution:
    “In accordance with their [the landless members of the community’s] demands the appropriated land was confiscated by the Commune and the system of periodical distributions … was introduced. By this system each male adult possesses a share of the land.” (Ib. ii. 87.)
         On the Steppes “a plot of land is commonly cultivated for only three or four years in succession. It is then abandoned for at least double that period, and the cultivators remove to some other portion of the communal territory. … Under such circumstances the principle of private property in the land is not likely to strike root; each family insists on possessing a certain quantity rather than a certain plot of land, and contents itself with a right of usufruct, whilst the right of property remains in the hands of the Commune.” (Ib. ii. 91.)
         But in the central and more advanced districts this early practice has become modified, though without destroying the essential character of the tenure.
         “According to this system [the three-field system] the cultivators do not migrate periodically from one part of the communal territory to another, but till always the same fields and are obliged to manure the plots which they occupy. … Though the three-field system has been in use for many generations in the central provinces, the communal principle, with its periodical reallotment of the land, still remains intact.” (Ib. ii. 92.)
         Such facts, and numerous other such facts, put beyond question the conclusion that before the progress of social organization changed the relations of individuals to the soil, that relation was one of joint ownership and not one of individual ownership.
        How was this relation changed? How only could it be changed? Certainly not by unforced consent. It cannot be supposed that all, or some, of the members of the community willingly surrendered their respective claims. Crime now and again caused loss of an individual’s share in the joint ownership; but this must have left the relations of the rest to the soil unchanged. A kindred result might have been entailed by debt, were it not that debt implies a creditor; and while it is scarcely supposable that the creditor could be the community as a whole, indebtedness to any individual of it would not empower the debtor to transfer in payment something of which he was not individually possessed, and which could not be individually received. Probably elsewhere there came into play the cause described as having operated in Russia, where some, cultivating larger areas than others, accumulated wealth and consequent power, and extra possessions; but, as is implied by the fact that in Russia this led to a revolution and reinstitution of the original state, the process was evidently there, and probably elsewhere, regarded as aggressive. Obviously the chief cause must have been the exercise of direct or indirect force: sometimes internal but chiefly external. Disputes and fights within the community, leading to predominance (achieved in some cases by possession of fortified houses), prepared the way for partial usurpations. When, as among the Suanetians, we have a still extant case in which every family in a village has its tower of defence, we may well understand how the intestine feuds in early communities commonly brought about individual supremacies, and how these ended in the establishment of special claims upon the land subordinating the general claims.
         But conquest from without has everywhere been chiefly instrumental in superseding communal proprietorship by individual proprietorship. It is not to be supposed that in times when captive men were made slaves and women appropriated as spoils of war, much respect was paid to pre-existing ownership of the soil. The old English buccaneers who, in their descents on the coast, slew priests at the altars, set fire to churches, and massacred the people who had taken refuge in them, would have been very incomprehensible beings had they recognized the landownership of such as survived. When the pirate Danes, who in later days ascended the rivers, had burned the homesteads they came upon, slaughtered the men, violated the women, tossed children on pikes or sold them in the market-place, they must have undergone a miraculous transformation had they thereafter inquired to whom the Marks belonged and admitted the titles of their victims to them. And similarly when, two centuries later, after constant internal wars had already produced military rulers maintaining quasi-feudal claims over occupiers of lands, there came the invading Normans, the right of conquest once more over-rode such kinds of possession as had grown up, and still further merged communal proprietorship in that kind of individual proprietorship which characterized feudalism. Victory, which gives unqualified power over the defeated and their belongings, is followed, according to the nature of the race, by the assertion of universal ownership, more or less qualified according to the dictates of policy. While in some cases, as in Dahomey, there results absolute monopoly by the king, not only of the land but of everything else, there results in other cases, as there resulted in England, supreme ownership by the king with recognized sub-ownerships and sub-sub-ownerships of nobles and their vassals holding the land one under another, on condition of military service. supreme ownership being by implication vested in the crown.
         Both the original state and the subsequent states have left their traces in existing land laws. There are many local rights which date from a time when “private property in land, as we now understand it, was a struggling novelty.”[7]
         “The people who exercise rights of common exercise them by a title which, if we could trace it all the way back, is far more ancient than the lord’s. Their rights are those which belonged to the members of the village community long before manors and lords of the manor were heard of.”[8]
         And any one who observes what small tenderness for the rights of commoners is shown in the obtainment of Inclosure Acts, even in our own day, will be credulous indeed if he thinks that in ruder times the lapse of communal right into private rights was equitably effected. The private ownership, however, was habitually incomplete; since it was subject to the claims of the overlord, and through him, again, to those of the over-over-lord: the implication being that the ownership was subordinate to that of the head of the community.
         “No absolute ownership of land is recognized by our law books except in the Crown. All lands are supposed to be held immediately, or mediately, of the Crown, though no rent or services may be payable, and no grant from the Crown on record.”[9]
         And that this conception of landownership survives, alike in theory and in practice, to the present time is illustrated by the fact that year by year State authority is given for appropriating land for public purposes, after making due compensation to existing holders. Though it may be replied that this claim of the State to supreme landownership is but a part of its claim to supreme ownership in general, since it assumes the right to take anything on giving compensation; yet the first is an habitually enforced claim, while the other is but a nominal claim not enforced; as we see in the purchase of pictures for the nation, to effect which the State enters into competition with private buyers, and may or may not succeed.
         It remains only to point out that the political changes which have slowly replaced the supreme power of the monarch by the supreme power of the people, have, by implication, replaced the monarch’s supreme ownership of the land by the people’s supreme ownership of the land. If the representative body has practically inherited the governmental powers which in past times vested in the king, it has at the same time inherited that ultimate proprietorship of the soil which in past times vested in him. And since the representative body is but the agent of the community, this ultimate proprietorship now vests in the community. Nor is this denied by landowners themselves. The report issued in December, 1889, by the council of “The Liberty and Property Defence League,” on which sit several Peers and two judges, yields proof. After saying that the essential principle of their organization, “based upon recorded experience,” is a distrust of “officialism, imperial or municipal,” the council go on to say that:—
         “This principle applied to the case of land clearly points to individual ownership, qualified by State suzerainty. … The land can of course be ‘resumed’ on payment of full compensation and managed by the ‘people,’ if they so will it.”
         And the badness of the required system of administration is the only reason urged for maintaining the existing system of landholding: the supreme ownership of the community being avowedly recognized. So that whereas, in early stages, along with the freedom of each man, there went joint ownership of the soil by the body of men; and whereas, during the long periods of that militant activity by which small communities were consolidated into great ones, there simultaneously resulted loss of individual freedom and loss of participation in landownership; there has, with the decline of militancy and the growth of industrialism, been a reacquirement of individual freedom and a reacquirement of such participation in landownership as is implied by a share in appointing the body by which the land is now held. And the implication is that the members of the community, habitually exercising as they do, through their representatives, the power of alienating and using as they think well, any portion of the land, may equitably appropriate and use, if they think fit, all portions of the land. But since equity and daily custom alike imply that existing holders of particular portions of land may not be dispossessed without giving them in return its fairly estimated value, it is also implied that the wholesale resumption of the land by the community can be justly effected only by wholesale purchase of it. Were the direct exercise of ownership to be resumed by the community without purchase, the community would take, along with something which is its own, an immensely greater amount of something which is not its own. Even if we ignore those multitudinous complications which, in the course of century after century, have inextricably entangled men’s claims, theoretically considered—even if we reduce the case to its simplest theoretical form; we must admit that all which can be claimed for the community is the surface of the country in its original unsubdued state. To all that value given to it by clearing, breaking-up, prolonged culture, fencing, draining, making roads, farm-buildings, etc., constituting nearly all its value, the community has no claim. This value has been given either by personal labor, or by labor paid for, or by ancestral labor; or else the ve-lue given to it in such ways has been purchased by legitimately earned money. All this value artificially given vests in existing owners, and cannot without a gigantic robbery be taken from them. If, during the many transactions which have brought about existing landownership, there have been much violence and much fraud, these have been small compared with the violence and the fraud which the community would be guilty of did it take possession, without paying for it, of that artificial value, which the labor of nearly two thousand years has given to the land.

    §53. Reverting to the general topic of the chapter-the rights to the uses of natural media—it chiefly concerns us here to note the way in which these rights have gradually acquired legislative sanctions as societies have advanced to higher types.
         At the beginning of the chapter we saw that in modern times there have arisen legal assertions of men’s equal rights to the uses of light and air: no forms of social organization or class interests having appreciably hindered recognition of these corollaries from the law of equal freedom. And we have just seen that by implication, if not in any overt or conscious way, there have in our days been recognized the equal rights of all electors to supreme ownership of the inhabited area-rights which, though latent, are asserted by every Act of Parliament which alienates land. Though this right to the use of the Earth, possessed by each citizen, is traversed by established arrangements to so great an extent as to be practically suspended; yet its existence as an equitable claim cannot be denied without affirming that expropriation by State decree is inequitable. The right of an existing holder of land can be equitably superseded, only if there exists a prior right of the community at large; and this prior right of the community at large consists of the sum of the individual rights of its members.
    NOTE. Various considerations touching this vexed question of landownership, which would occupy too much space if included here, I have included in Appendix B.

Let us take breath and gather our wits. It is like going through a St Gothard tunnel. Here we are on the other side, sure enough! But how did we get there?

Mr. Spencer brought us in, asserting the law of equal freedom as “an ultimate ethical principle, having an authority transcending every other”; declaring that “rights truly so called are corollaries from the law of equal freedom, and what are falsely called rights are not deducible from it.”

He brings us out, with a confused but unmistakable assertion that the freedom to use land belongs only to the small class of landlords; with an assertion of the strongest kind of their right to deprive all other men of freedom to use the earth until they are paid for it.

How has he got there?

Has he shown that the law of equal freedom gives freedom to the use of land only to a few men and denies it to all other men? Has he shown that the right so called of the small class of landowners to the exclusive use of land is a true right and not a false right, by deducing it from the law of equal freedom? Has he met one of the conditions called for by his elaborate derivation and formula of justice in the preceding chapters of this very book? Has he shown the invalidity of a single one of the deductions by which he proved in Social Statics that justice does not permit private property in land?

It is worth while to examine this chapter in detail. Its argument is divisible into two parts—(1) as to the right to the use of light, air, etc., and (2) as to the right to the use of land. Let us consider the one part before passing to the other.

Chapter VII—
Justice On The Right To Light And Air

Mr. Spencer’s carelessness of thought is shown in the very opening sentence of this chapter on “The Rights to the Uses of Natural Media”:

A man may be entirely uninjured in body by the actions of fellow-men, and he may be entirely unimpeded in his movements by them, and he may yet be prevented from carrying on the activities needful for maintenance of life, by traversing his relations to the physical environment on which his life depends.


To ordinary apprehension, the only way in which men can be deprived of the use of “the physical environment on which life depends” is either by such bodily injuries as killing, maiming, binding, imprisoning, or by such restrictions on movement as have the threat of bodily injury behind them, like the taboo among the South Sea Islanders, or private property in land among us. Nor have the tyrants of the world, much as they would have liked to, ever been able to find any other way.

Without condescending to explain, Mr. Spencer goes on to quote Erskine to the effect that “the light, the air, running water, etc., are so adapted to the common use of mankind, that no individual can acquire a property in them, or deprive others of their use.”

This again shows carelessness in apprehension and statement. What Erskine really means is that the law does not, and that because it cannot, give property in the substance of matter, so that the molecules or atoms of which it is composed may be identified and reclaimed through all changes in form or place; but that ownership can attach to matter only in its relation to form or place. For instance, I buy today a dog or a horse. I acquire in this purchase the ownership of what matter is now, or at any time in the future may be, contained in the form of this dog or horse, not the ownership of a certain amount of matter in whatever form it may hereafter assume. That no law could give me, nor could I even set up a claim to it, for it would be impossible for me to identify it. For the matter which my dog or horse embodies for the moment, like the matter of which my own frame is composed, is constantly passing from that form to other forms. The only thing tangible to me or other men is this form. And it is in this that ownership consists. If my dog eats your mutton-chop, your property in the chop does not become property in the dog. If the law gives you any action it is certainly not that of replevin.

The principle of the law that Erskine refers to is thus stated by Blackstone (Chapter 2, Book II):

I cannot bring an action to recover possession of a pool or other piece of water either by superficial measure for twenty acres of water or by general description, as for a pond or a rivulet; but I must bring my action for what lies at the bottom and call it twenty acres of land covered with water. For water is a movable, wandering thing, and must of necessity continue common by the law of nature, so that I can only have a temporary, transient, usufructuary property; wherefore if a body of water runs out of my pond into another man’s I have no right to reclaim it. But the land which that water covers is permanent, fixed and immovable, and therefore in this I may have a certain substantial property, of which the law will take notice and not of the other.

Now the comparatively rough distinctions that are amply sufficient for the purposes of the lawyer are not always sufficient for the purposes of the philosopher. If we analyze this principle of the law, we see that no real distinction is made as to ownership between the substance of water and the substance of land—that is to say, between the more or less stable forms of matter of which the body of the universe consists. The distinction is as to tangible form. I may bring an action for ice, which is water that has assumed tangible form by the lowering of temperature, or for water in barrels or bottles, which in another way gives it form. And the real reason why, in an action for the possession of a body of water I must describe it as land covered by water, is that it is the land which holds the water in place and gives it form.

So, on the other hand, if a freshet or a water-burst carry the fertile soil from my field into that of my neighbour, I can no more reclaim it by action at law than I can reclaim the water that runs out of my pond. Or if a volcanic convulsion were to shift the position of a mineral deposit, it would cease to belong to one landowner and the other would acquire legal possession. The legal result would be precisely the same as the legal result of a change in a rivulet’s course. In ruder times, ere the art of surveying was so well developed as now, it was customary to fix the boundaries of legal possession by natural objects deemed immovable, such as mountains, ocean shores, rivers, etc., and in places where this method has been retained changes in landmarks frequently change the ownership of considerable bodies of land, as on the shifting banks of the lower Mississippi. But our modern surveying takes for its basis latitude and longitude. And this is the essential idea of landownership: It is the ownership, not of certain atoms of matter, be they rock, soil, water or air, or of certain forms of energy, such as heat, light or electricity, but the ownership of a certain section of space and of all that may be therein contained.

Mr. Spencer is confusing two essentially different ideas—the idea of substance and the idea of form or locality. In the one sense nothing whatever may be owned—land no more than light or electricity. In the other, all natural substances and powers may be owned—water, air, light, heat or electricity, as truly as land. And they are owned, though, since in our legal terminology space and its contents are known as land, they must in law be described as land. Whoever, under our laws, acquires ownership in land may deprive others of light, air, running water, etc., and does acquire a property in their use, which is frequently a tangible element, and at times the only element in the value of an estate—as where the purity of the air, the beauty of the view, the abundance of sunlight which a favourable exposure gives, the presence of mineral springs, or the access to streams, are elements in the price at which land can be sold or rented.

In the next sentence we are told that “light and air cannot be monopolized.” But they are monopolized in the monopolization of land, and this as effectually as any monopolizer could wish. It is true that air and sunlight are not formally bought, sold and rented. But why? Not that they could not be measured off and determined by metes and bounds, but simply because they are to our physical constitutions inseparable from land, so that whoever owns the land owns also the air it is bathed in and the light that falls on it. Light and air are monopolized whenever land is monopolized; and the exclusive use to them is bought and sold whenever land is bought and sold.

It is not merely that, as the flying-machine has not yet been perfected, the owner of land holds the means of access to the air above it and the light that falls on it; it is that the owner of land is the owner of such light and air, not merely virtually, but formally and legally. And were the air-ship perfected, he would have the same legal right to forbid trespass on his light and air, and to demand payment for any use made of it or any passage through it, thousands of feet above the surface, as he now has to forbid trespass on his ground or to demand payment for any use of or any passage through what lies thousands of feet below it. In English law, land does not mean merely the surface of the earth within certain metes and bounds, but all that may be above and all that may be below that surface; and under the same legal right by which the landowner holds as his private property any certain part of the surface of the globe he also holds the rocks and minerals below it and the air and the light above it. As Blackstone says: “The word ‘land’ includes not only the face of the earth, but everything under it or over it. … By the name of land everything terrestrial will pass.” The landowner is, in law as well as in fact, not a mere surface-owner, but a universe-owner. And just as in some places landowners sell the surface right, retaining mineral rights; or sell mineral rights, retaining surface rights; or sell the right of way, retaining rights to other use: so, where there is occasion, the right to use light and air may be separated, in sales and purchases and title-deeds, from the right to the use of the ground.

An invention which would make practicable the use of light and air without possession of the surface, would at once bring out the fact that, legally, they belong to landowners, just as subterranean mining and the projection of underground railways have brought out the fact that landowners are legal owners of all beneath the surface. In fact, existing deeds furnish instances in which the real thing bought and sold, though properly enough styled land in the conveyances, is not land at all in the narrow meaning, but light and air, or the right to their use. To cite a case: The city of Cleveland, O., some years since, desired to convert the viaduct bridge over the Cuyahoga River into a swinging bridge. To do this it was necessary that one end of the bridge should in its swing pass for a short distance through the air over a strip of land belonging to a private owner. The city of Cleveland had, therefore, to buy the right to use this air, and I have before me a copy of the deed, executed on the 28th of February, 1880, by which, in consideration of $9994.88, Meyers, Rouse & Co. sell and convey to the city of Cleveland the right to swing such bridge over a small area thirty-five feet above the ground. Of this estate in the air the grantors describe themselves as holding a good and indefeasible title in fee simple, with the right to bargain and sell the same. Were it thirty-five hundred or thirty-five hundred thousand feet above the surface, the legal right of ownership would be the same. For the ownership which attaches to land under our laws is not to be really measured by linear feet and inches, but by parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude, starting from the centre of the earth and indefinitely extendible. And while Meyers, Rouse & Co. have sold to the city of Cleveland a slice of their air of perhaps fifteen feet in depth, they still retain the legal ownership of all the air above it, and could demand toll of or refuse passage to any flying-machine that should attempt to cross it.

The same lack of analytic power continues to be shown by Mr. Spencer when he goes on to tell us that the equal rights to the use of light and air, though not recognized in primitive stages, have, in the course of social evolution, come to be completely or all but completely recognized now. So far is this from being true, that in such countries as England and the United States there is no recognition whatever of the equal right to the use of light and air. To the list of interdictions which he cites as recognitions of this equal right, he might as well have added that of shying bricks through these media at passers-by. For where the interdictions he mentions—of interceptions of light and air, of smoking in certain places, of the maintenance of stenches and fumes, of the making of disturbing noises—are not mere interdictions of certain species of assault; they are interdictions based on and involved in the ownership of land.

Mr. Spencer might have seen this for himself, where he speaks of “the law which forbids the building of walls, houses, or other edifices within prescribed distances of other houses … and seeks to compromise the claims of adjacent owners as fairly as seem practicable.”

Owners of what? Why, owners of land. It is only as an owner of land, or as the tenant of an owner of land, that under our English law any one has a right to complain of the interception of light and air by another landowner. The owner of land may intercept light and air, may make noises and create stenches to any extent he pleases, provided he infringes not the equal rights of other owners of land, for light and air are considered by English law as what they truly are, so far as human beings are concerned, appurtenances of land. No one in England, be he stranger or native-born, has any legal right whatever to the use of English light and English air, save as the owner or grantee of an owner of English land. That even on the Queen’s highways the public are deemed to have such rights as against adjacent landholders I am not sure. Certain it is, that one may travel for miles through the public roads, amid the finest scenery in those countries, and find the view wantonly shut out by high and costly walls, erected for the express purpose of intercepting the light, and crowned on their tops with broken glass, to tear the clothes and cut the flesh of any one who dares climb them to get such a view as the unintercepted light would give.

The rights to the use of light, air and other natural media are in truth as inseparable from the right to the use of land as the bottom of that atmospheric ocean which surrounds our globe is inseparable from the globe’s surface; and the pretence of treating them separately could spring only from Mr. Spencer’s evident desire to confuse the subject he is pretending to treat, to cover with a fog of words his abandonment of a position incapable of refutation, and from the false assumption that the liberty of each to the use of air and light, limited only by the like liberty of all, is practically and legally recognized, to lead to the still more preposterously false assumption that equal rights to the use of land are also fully recognized.

But before examining this last assumption, there is one form of it which he incidentally makes that is worth noticing—the assumption that the equal right to personal liberty and freedom of movement is already fully recognized.

It is a pity that Mr. Spencer had not intermitted his studies of the Abors, the Bodas, the Creeks, the Dhimals, the Eghas, and other queer people, to the end of the alphabet, of whom his later books are as full as those of the pedants of the last century were of classical quotations, and made some observations in his own country. They would have saved him from the astounding statement that—

At the present time, among ourselves at least, there exists no idea, sentiment, or usage, at variance with the conclusion that each man is free to use his limbs and move about where he pleases.

The truth is, that instead of every one being free in England “to use his limbs and move about where he pleases,” there is no part of the British Isles, even though it be wild moor, bleak deer-forest or bare mountain-top, where a man is free to move about without permission of the private owner, except it be the highroads, the public places, or other strips and spots of land deemed the property of the community.

Mr. Spencer seems to have forgotten this now, but he knew it when in Social Statics he denounced the system that permitted the Duke of Leeds to warn off tourists from Ben Mac Dhui, the Duke of Atholl to close Glen Tilt, the Duke of Buccleuch to deny Free Church sites, and the Duke of Sutherland to displace Highlanders with deer.

“Verily, they have their reward.” The name of Herbert Spencer now appears with those of about all the Dukes in the Kingdom as the director of an association formed for the purpose of defending private property in land that was especially active in the recent London County Council election.

Chapter VIII—
Justice On The Right To Land

At last, however, as all men must, even after the flyingmachine becomes practicable, Mr. Spencer is forced to come down from light and air to solid earth.

But observe how reluctantly, how tenderly, he approaches the main question, the subject he would evidently like to ignore altogether. Land—to us the one solid, natural element; our all-producing, all-supporting mother, from whose bosom our very frames are drawn, and to which they return again; our standing-place; our workshop; our granary; our reservoir and substratum and nexus of media and forces; the element from which all we can produce must be drawn; without which we cannot breathe the air or enjoy the light; the element prerequisite to all human life and action—he speaks of as “that remaining portion of the environment, hardly to be called a medium,” which “by an unusual extension of meaning” is included in the things to which the equal liberty of all extends.

Yet, at last, and thus tenderly, after having shown to his own satisfaction that with regard to personal rights and the liberty of movement, “things as they are” in such countries as England do not differ from “things as they ought to be,” except, perhaps, that there is too much smoking in railway carriages, Mr. Spencer does at last get to the burning question of the land. And no sooner does he get there than the power by virtue of which a truth once recognized can never be entirely forgotten or utterly ignored, forces from him this recognition:

If, while possessing those ethical sentiments which social discipline has now produced, men stood in the possession of a territory not yet individually portioned out, they would no more hesitate to assert equality of their claims to the land than they would hesitate to assert equality of their claims to light and air.

“If, while possessing those ethical sentiments which social discipline has now produced.”This “if” is the assumption of the Spencerian philosophy, that our moral sentiments have been evolved by pressure of conditions, survival of the fittest and hereditary transmission, since the time when, according to it, primitive men wore accustomed to eat each other. Having told us that social evolution has brought mankind in the Victorian era to the recognition of equal rights to air and light, Mr. Spencer now assumes that the idea of equal rights to the use of land is the product of a similar development instead of being a primary perception of mankind.

Now this assumption is not merely opposed to all the facts; it is inconsistent with the Spencerian philosophy.

To consider the philosophy first: It holds that man is an evolution from the animal. He comes to be man by gradual development from the monkey or from some form of life from which the monkeys have also sprung. In the course of this evolutionary process, continued since he became man, he has acquired his present instincts, habits and powers.

Now I will not ask how, since the highest animals that habitually eat their own kind are on the synthetic genealogical tree far below any of the animals, existing or extinct, from which man can have descended, the oft-repeated assumption that primitive men were habitual cannibals can be reconciled with the assumption that they derived their habits from their animal ancestors.

But I will make bold to ask how the assumption that men have only now arrived at the perception of the equality of rights to the use of the natural media, and especially land, can be reconciled with the assumption that our moral perceptions are derived from animals. Animals fight with their own kind, as men fight; or at least some of them do occasionally, though none fight so frequently and so wantonly. But is there an animal, from the monkey to the jellyfish, that does not, with animals of its own kind, and when at peace, fail to claim for itself and accord to others the liberty to use natural media, bounded only by the equal liberty of all? If there is not, how can the assumption that it has taken man all these ages to recognize the equality of rights to the use of natural media be made to harmonize with the assumption that he primarily derives his perception from the animal?

I ask this question to emphasize the fact that, in his effort to smooth away the monstrous injustice of private property in land, Mr. Spencer does violence to his own theories—not alone to the theories which he held when he wrote Social Statics, but to the theories of his Synthetic Philosophy—the theories set forth in Justice; that he stands ready to sacrifice to his new masters not only his moral honesty, but even what the morally depraved often cling to—the pretence of intellectual honesty. In order to ignore the gist of the land question while pretending to explain it, he is endeavouring to create the impression that the present treatment of land, if not indeed the best, is at least the highest form which the progressive development of the idea of the equality of rights to the use of natural media has assumed. But to say that the idea of equal rights to land is the product of advancing social discipline is to say that it has proceeded from the contrary idea—that of unequal rights, or private property in land. Since the animals show no trace of this idea, this assumption is inconsistent with the doctrine that primitive man came closest to the animals. And to assume, as Mr. Spencer does in this chapter, that men start with the idea of unequal rights to land, and have been working up through social discipline the idea of equal rights, is likewise with all the points in the elaborate derivation of the idea of justice, which occupy the first eight chapters of this very book.

The assumption that the idea of equal rights to land is the product of social discipline is at both ends contradicted by the facts. In America, Australia and New Zealand, men of English speech, possessing “those ethical sentiments which social discipline has now produced,” have stood in possession of territory not yet individually portioned out; but, instead of asserting the equality of claims to land, they have proceeded to portion out individually this territory as fast as they could. Thus the effect upon their ethical sentiments of the social discipline to which they have been subjected has been the precise opposite of what Mr. Spencer asserts. Instead of leading them from non-perception to a perception of the equality of rights to land, social discipline, dominated by landowners, and continued steadily and rigorously, had, within comparatively recent times, almost entirely crushed out the idea of natural rights in land among the English people, and taught them to look on private property in land as in no wise differing from property in other things.

Or, try Mr. Spencer’s assumption from the other end.

Among the aboriginal races in the countries we modern English have overrun, the idea of equal rights to land, and of course to other natural media has been so clearly perceived that they were unable to comprehend the artificial notion of private property in land—could no more see than could Mr. Spencer in 1850 how land could equitably become private property. To this very day, and in spite of the pressure of the national government and of the surrounding whites, the Cherokees, the Choetaws, and other civilized remnants of the aboriginal tribes of the United States, though recognizing fully the right of property in things produced by labor, and recognizing also the right of private possession of land, refuse to recognize land as the property of the individual; and no man can hold land among them except while putting it to use. The idea that land itself can become subject to such individual ownership as attaches to things that man produces by labor, is as repugnant to the human mind, undisciplined by generations of cruel repression and undistorted by persistent misteachings, as the idea that air or sunlight may be so owned.

Mr. Spencer himself, while stating that the perception of the equality of natural rights to land is the product of the social advance that has brought men of the highest civilization to their present ethical condition, goes on in the next paragraph to show at length that “in early stages private ownership of land is unknown,” and that private property in land has arisen from “the exercise of direct or indirect force, sometimes internal but chiefly external.”[10]

What Mr. Spencer thus admits is that private property in land has no derivation from perceptions of justice, whether these be original or acquired by evolution, but that its only genesis is force. And then comes his supreme effort. In the reference to the feudal system and the assumption that the rights of the monarch, as representative of the whole people, are still exercised by the people’s representatives, lies the pivotal point of his whole argument.

To return to my illustration of the tunnel. This is the way he gets there:

We are told that when private property in land did arise, it was habitually incomplete, since it was subject to the claims of the over-lord, the implication being that the ownership was subordinate to that of the head of the community; and that this conception survives alike in theory and in practice to the present time, since the state now takes land for public purposes after making due compensation to existing holders. The supreme power of the monarch having been replaced by the supreme power of the people, the people are now the supreme owners of the land, and may take it, if they please, on payment of full compensation. Thus, individual freedom has been reacquired with regard to land, and to-day, in the existing theory and practice of English law, and like their equal rights to light and air, the equal rights of all to the use of land are fully recognized.

All that has gone before is the by-play of the juggler to distract attention. In this the transmogrification is worked.

Here, with one flash of synthetic logic, the horse-chestnut becomes a chestnut horse! Here is the explanation of what was averred in Mr. Spencer’s letter to The Times—that the view of landownership he has taken all along is “congruous with existing legal theory and practice.” Here is his reconciliation of his formula of justice—that “each is at liberty to do all that he wills, provided that he infringes not the equal  liberty of any other man”—with the views of that august body, the Liberty and Property Defence League, “on which sit several Peers and two judges.” Both are harmonized in the assumption that the equal rights of all to the use of land are to-day recognized in the right of Parliament to take land for public purposes on paying for it.

What, it may be asked, has become of the nineteentwentieths of the people of England who, as Social Statics told us, were being robbed of their birthright—their heritage in the earth—by a gigantic injustice inferior only in wickedness to murder and enslavement? Why, having the privilege of voting for members of one branch of the Legislature, which Mr. Spencer has, in this very book, page 49, described as “a motley assemblage of nominees of caucuses, ruled by ignorant and fanatical wire-pullers,” they have been transmogrified into supreme owners of the land.

What, it still may be asked, has become of that part of them that do not have even the poor privilege of voting for this motley assemblage of nominees of caucuses?

There is no answer. We may search Chapter IV of the Principles of Ethics—The Ethics of Social Life: Justice, in vain. They have incontinently dropped out of sight.

It may be worth while to examine that part of Mr. Spencer’s logical process where it is assumed that the legal theory and practice by which the British Legislature, on the payment of compensation, now takes land for public purposes is identical with the theory and practice by which the feudal monarch, as representing the whole people, was the supreme owner of land. This is all that he ventures specifically to assert, and the question raised by it is much narrower than the real question, whether the present legal theory and practice does adequately recognize the equal rights of all to land. Yet, even here, Mr. Spencer clearly suppresses the vital fact.

The taking of land for public purposes on payment of compensation—or by process of condemnation, as it is termed—is neither an exercise nor recognition of the supreme ownership of land. In the American States where the ownership of land is by their constitutions declared allodial, the same powers of condemning land are exerted, and more freely exerted than in England. If pictures are bought for the national galleries, not condemned, it is merely because there is no need for condemnation. The same legal power exists to take pictures for public use as to take land. In case of necessity, such as war, the power of taking any-thing is habitually exercised, and ships, horses, railways, provisions, and even men are taken for public uses. The power to do this is a power incident to the supreme authority and at times necessary to society.

When, in 1889, Johnstown, Pa., was cut off from the rest of the world by the flood that destroyed pre-existing organization, a British subject, Arthur J. Moxham, was placed ill charge by what a Quaker would call “the sense of the meeting.” His first acts were to seize all food, to destroy all liquor, and to put every able-bodied man at work, leaving the matter of compensation to be determined afterwards. He voiced the will of the society, driven by crushing disaster into a supreme effort for self-preservation, and the man who had resisted his orders would, if need be, have been shot.

But the theory of English law that the crown is the only owner of English land, and that the highest estate an individual can hold is that of tenancy, though often confused with the right of eminent domain, has in reality a different origin. Now a mere fiction, it had in feudal times expression in practice. When William the Conqueror divided England, he conditioned his grants on the payment of rent in dues or services. This was the essence of the feudal principle. In a rough and partial but still substantial way, it recognized the right of the community to rent. It was a rude attempt to carry out that system of land nationalization which Mr. Spencer in Social Statics declares the only equitable system of land tenure. Under it the holding of valuable land entailed payment or service. The crown lands maintained the sovereign and the civil list. From the church lands the expenses of public worship, and of education, the care of the sick and the relief of wayfarers were provided; the holders of military tenures had to maintain the army and do the fighting, and on occasions, such as the ransom of the king, the knighting of his eldest son, the marriage of his eldest daughter, etc., were called on for extra payments; while the right of all Englishmen to the use of some portion at least of English soil was recognized in the numerous public commons. This spirit of the feudal system was the origin of primogeniture, of wardships and liveries and other feudal incidents, which, where they remain on the law books of to-day, are but meaningless and useless survivals.

Mr. Spencer, in his “glance at some past phases of land tenure,” has told us of the Sumatrans, the Don Cossacks, the Russians, the Suanetians, and the Dahomeans, but he has failed to tell us how we of the English speech have lost those fragments of the equal right to the use of land that we retained long after the last conquest of England. I do not charge him with ignorance. If he does not tell us, it is not because he does not know, for Political Institutionsshows that he does know.[11]But he does not tell us, because the facts are inconsistent with the juggle by which he is trying to impose on the reader. It was in reality by a gigantic series of no-rent declarations on the part of the class that had got possession of English land on condition of paying rent for it. The crown lands were given away by profligate sovereigns without any stipulation of return in rent to the community. Henry VIII made over the greater part of the church lands to his favourites, and the people were robbed of the services and benefits that they had received from the former holders. Finally, by act of the Long Parliament, confirmed after the Restoration by a close majority, the military dues were abolished; and, growing in power by what they fed on, the landholders, now actually land-owners, appropriated to themselves, by the simple process of inclosure, nearly all the common lands.

The essence and meaning of the supreme ownership of the land of England by the crown is thus gone. What remains is but a legal fiction, a mere survival of form, of no more validity than was in the time of George III the form by which he styled himself King of France. Yet in this empty phrase, and in the taking of land for public use on payment of full compensation, Mr. Spencer tells his disinherited countrymen that their equal rights are actually recognized.

Thus the equal right of Englishmen to the use of English land amounts to the privilege of buying it at its full value! What, then, has the Englishman as Englishman? A Russian or a Turk, a Winans or a Carnegie, may use land in England by paying for it.

If we put the conclusion as to the right to the use of land to which Mr. Spencer thus comes in Justicein the same form which he uses in Social Statics, we have this:

Given a race of beings having like claims to pursue the objects of their desires—given a world adapted to the gratification of those desires—a world into which such beings are similarly born, and it unavoidably follows that they have the right to use this world as soon as they have paid the full value of it to those of their number who call themselves its owners.

But this telling the disinherited masses that their equal rights to land are already acknowledged seems hardly satisfactory to Mr. Spencer himself, for he at once proceeds to reinforce it, by the plea that for them to claim any more than the right of buying land at its full value would be ethically wrong. This is a putting of the cart before the horse. For a wrong is only the violation of a right. Rights, as Mr. Spencer has just before told us, are the particular freedoms deducible from the law of equal freedom, and to assert wrong he must show violation of that law. Let us, however, follow his reasoning.

The first proposition is that—

Since equity and daily custom alike imply that existing holders of particular portions of land may not be dispossessed without giving them in return its fairly estimated value, it is also implied that the wholesale resumption of the land by the community can be justly effected only by the wholesale purchase of it.

Is it? By equity and custom when the state takes any part of the wealth of a particular person it compensates him. But when it takes part of the wealth of all persons, or of all persons of a special class, as it is constantly doing by taxation, does it compensate them?

The reason for compensation, when land is taken from particular owners, is that otherwise a discrimination would be made between them and other landowners. Equity, as Mr. Spencer once told us, means equalness. It would not be equitable for the community to resume possession of the land of this or that particular landowner without compensation, while leaving to other landowners their land, for while this would be to leave unredressed the unequalness between landholders and others, it would be to treat landowners unequally as between themselves. But if all land were resumed equity would require no compensation, for while landowners would be treated equally as between themselves, the inequality between them and other members of the community would be removed, and all would be treated with equalness. And since they, too, are members of the community, the resumption of all land by the community would place all in a condition of equalness with respect to the land.

But, continues Mr. Spencer—herein admitting that the community may in equity take the land

Were the direct exercise of ownership to be resumed by the community without purchase, the community would take, along with something which is its own, an immensely greater amount of something which is not its own.

How so? The proposition is only to take the land, not to take anything else.

Because, Mr. Spencer continues—

Even if we ignore those multitudinous complications which, in the course of century after century, have inextricably entangled men’s claims, theoretically considered—even if we reduce the case to its simplest theoretical form—

Well, all classes of land-resumptionists would quickly reply, we are quite willing to do so. Since, as laid down in Social Statics, men derive their equal rights to the use of the world from their equal presence in the world, there can be no complications that can entangle their equal claims to the use of land, either considered theoretically or in any other way.

But without heeding this, Mr. Spencer goes on to say, that evenif we ignore what no one proposes to consider, and evenif we reduce the case to simple theoretical form—

We must admit that all which can be claimed for the community is the surface of the country in its original unsubdued state. To all that value given to it by clearing, breaking up, prolonged culture, fencing, draining, making roads, farmbuildings, etc., constituting nearly all its value, the community has no claim. This value has been given either by personal labor, or by labor paid for, or by ancestral labor; or else the value given to it in such ways has been purchased by legitimately earned money. All this value artificially given vests in existing owners, and cannot without a gigantic robbery be taken from them. If, during the many transactions which have brought about existing landownership, there have been much violence and much fraud, these have been small compared with the violence and the fraud which the community would be guilty of did it take possession, without paying for it, of that artificial value, which the labor of nearly two thousand years has given to the land.

What does Mr. Spencer mean? If he means that all that can be claimed by the community is the land itself, and that landowners should retain the value of their improvements, and of all things else that they may possess, we admit it not entirely as a matter of strict justice, for much of things other than the land itself, which existing landowners now possess, they have obtained by their unjust appropriation of land. But we wish to be within our right, and to let bygones be bygones, and so all that we propose is just what Mr. Spencer in Social Statics proposed—the resumption of equal rights in land, leaving to existing landowners, without question as to how it was obtained, the whole value of their improvements in or on land, and all their other property.

But what, then, does Mr. Spencer mean by talking of “the surface of the country in its original unsubdued state,” as all the community can claim? What does he mean by talking of that “artificial value which the labor of nearly two thousand years has given to the land”? Vague as are his notions of value, can it be that he means that, even if their natural rights are admitted, the people of England are entitled only to what value the land had before there were any people? and that they must pay the landowners for the value of all the labor that has been expended on that land since Cæsar landed?

What the people of England are entitled to by natural right, and what we propose by the single tax to take for their use, is the value of land as it is, exclusive of the value of improvements as they are in or on the land privately owned. What would thus be left to the landowners would be their personal or movable property, the value of all existing improvements in or on their land, and their equal share with all other citizens in the land value resumed. This is perfectly clear, and if not perfectly fair, is only so because it would leave to the landowners in their personal property and the value of their improvements much not due to any exertion of labor by themselves or their ancestors, but which has come to them through the unjust appropriation of the proceeds of others’ labor.

The value of the land when the country was in its original unsubdued state has nothing to do with the matter; what we have to deal with is the value of the land as it is. Nor has the labor expended since Cæsar’s time anything to do with it; the value of improvements to be left to landowners is the value of existing improvements. Surely if Mr. Spencer were to try to formulate his notions it would be too preposterous even for him to contend that in resuming our rights in the land—not the rights of the ancient Britons, nor the rights of primitive man, nor the rights of the animals that existed before man was—we should credit the existing landowners with the value which attaches to the land from our presence, and charge them only with what value the land might have if we did not exist. And surely he would not contend that the landowners are alone entitled to the value which the existing social environment gives to land—to the sole benefit of the introduction of Christianity, the extirpation of wolves, the beating off or civilizing of the Danes, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the building of public roads and the lighting of public streets, the introduction of vegetables and fruits and the improvement of domestic animals, the utilization of steam and electricity and labor-saving appliances, the discoveries of science and the progress of the arts!

Nor yet would he formally assert the notion that in addition to the present value of their improvements the landowners must be credited with the value of all such improvements when they were new, and with the cost of all the draining, hedging, fencing, digging, manuring, building, etc., that have gone on for two thousand years—that the owner of land in the city of London, for instance, must be credited, not only with the present value of his houses, but with the value of the houses that existed before the great fire, and from the time of the first Roman camp! This would be equally preposterous.

It is hard to say what Mr. Spencer really does mean. But he is evidently trying to get some sort of vague excuse for assuming that it would not pay the disinherited to claim their rights in land, since to compensate landowners would take more than the land is worth. Let us, therefore, try to form some idea of what would be the present value of the land of England in its “original, unsubdued state,” population and social environment, and the existing buildings, which we propose to leave to the landowners, remaining as they are.

If, whenever a house was pulled down, or destroyed by fire, in Threadneedle Street or Lombard Street, in Cheapside or at Charing Cross, the ground on which it stood were to spring into its original condition, how much less would be its value to those who, in renting or buying it, seek not so much soil or rock or sand, but so many square feet of standing-place in those centres of population and trade? How much less would be the value of the land that around London and Manchester and Liverpool and Birmingham and Leeds and all the growing English towns is being turned from agricultural uses into house-sites, were it to revert to its condition in Roman times? While as for the country outside the cities and towns, would it not, could such a miracle be worked, become more rather than less valuable? Something of draining, hedging, walling, manuring and digging would be lost; but would not the accumulated richness of virgin soil, the great forests that in England now would have enormous value, the stores of coal and iron and other minerals that have now been exhausted or can be worked only at great depths, much more than make up?

If Mr. Spencer would go to the greater Englands growing up in Australia and the American West, he would cease thinking of Romans or Saxons or Normans as having anything to do with the present value of English land; for he would see that it is not what has been done in the past, but the population and activity of the present, that give value to land. He would see from Chicago or Johnstown that London might be swept by fire or flood, and yet, if the causes that concentrate population and trade there still remained, land, instead of being less valuable, would really become more valuable, from the better improvements that the clearing would bring about. He would see that, if the population and business of London could be transported to a newly risen island in the antipodes, land there would become as valuable as land in London now; and that, though all improvements were to be left behind, the value of land in London would disappear.

What the new countries will show us is, that as man lives in the present so he lives by the labor of the present and the immediate past, truly from hand to mouth; and what we get from our ancestors is little more than language, traditions, laws, habits, and the store of transmitted knowledge, including also prejudices and superstitions. And thus rich and poor, learned and ignorant, we are alike “the heirs of all the ages.” While if some of us are richer than we ought to be, and more of us are poorer than we ought to be, it is not because of the wrongful appropriations of wealth that took place in a dead and gone past, but from the wrongful appropriations of wealth that are taking place now.

Barring the appendix, which is yet to be considered, we have now gone through Mr. Spencer’s defence of existing landlordism—his answer, in his maturest years, to the arraignment of private property in land which he made in Social Statics. Stripped of its padding it amounts simply to the assumption (1) that the equal rights of all to the use of land are recognized in the right of the state to take land for public purposes on paying compensation; which is backed by the assumption (2) that equity requires that existing owners shall be paid the full value of the land they hold before equal rights to land can be acknowledged.

Of the first assumption, the only attempt at support is in the last paragraph, the reasoning of which on analysis will be found to be this:

The equal right of all electors to the use of land is recognized by implication in the right asserted by Parliament to take land for public use on paying full compensation for its value; because—

If it is not, there is no equitable warrant for the state so taking land for public uses, since the only right by which the landowners can be superseded is the right of the community at large: hence—

As the state has this right, which it can get only as the sum of the individual rights of its members; therefore, by its exercise, the individual rights of members of the state to the use of land are now recognized.

Of the second assumption, the only attempt at support is another obviously false assumption—that the value of land cannot be distinguished from the value of improvements.

This is the argument of the lauded Synthetic Philosophy in the most important part of the most important book of its most important sub-division.

I commend the study of such logical processes to those who on authority of Herbert Spencer’s philosophy believe that man is an evoluted monkey, who got the idea of God from observing his own shadow.

As for anything deserving the name of reasoning, anything on which may be founded either a denial of the equal right of all to the use of land, or an affirmation of the exclusive right of existing landowners, there is nothing whatever. It is not merely that the reasoning of Social Statics is not impugned: it is that the reasoning of Justice itself is utterly ignored. No connection whatever is made between the conclusions here assumed and the formula of justice, the law of equal freedom, which in preceding chapters of this very book has been declared the ultimate ethical principle.

The reader has just been told that rights are the particular freedoms deducible from the law of equal freedom; that what are truly called rights are deducible from it, and that what are falsely called rights are not deducible from it. But where does Mr. Spencer, or how can he, deduce the right which he asserts for landowners, the right to the exclusive use of land until they are paid its full value, from the law of equal freedom? Or, if we go back through all the links of his derivation of the formula of justice can we find any connection between what he now asserts as right, and what he has just asserted as justice in any of its evolutionary stages?

Does not the ownership by some to the exclusion of others, of elements essential to all life, the legal giving of the products of labor to those who do no labor, by taking it away from those who do labor, violate what he declares to be the principle of animal ethics—that the ill-fitted must suffer the evils of unfitness, and the well-fitted prove their fitness?

Does it not violate what he declares to be the principle of sub-human justice, that each individual shall receive the benefits and evils of its own nature and consequent conduct?

Does it not violate what he declares to be the principle of human justice, that no one should be prevented from having whatever good his actions normally bring to him, nor allowed to shoulder off on other persons whatever evil they bring?

Does it not violate what he declares to be the sentiment of justice, the feeling that we ourselves ought to have freedom to receive the results of our own nature and consequent actions, and which prompts the maintenance of this sphere of free play for others?

Does it not violate what he declares to be the idea of justice, the equality as to mutually limited spheres of action, the inequality in the results which each may achieve within these mutual limits? Does it not establish inequality by authority—an inequality referring not to the natural achievement of greater rewards by greater merits, but to the artificial apportionment of rewards to no merits at all? Does it not violate what he declares to be the formula of justice, that every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man?

Does it not set at defiance what he declares to be the authority of this formula, the relation between conduct and consequence, which he bases on his compound law?

Private property in land, which Herbert Spencer in Justicedefends by the darkening of counsel and baseless assumptions! Does it not openly, notoriously, flagrantly, deny to men the equal use of natural opportunities to live their lives, develop their powers, and reap the rewards of their conduct? Does it not give to the idle, the stupid, the profligate, the vicious, through the accidents of birth or luck, or successful forestalling, the natural rewards of industry, energy, temperance and thrift? Does it not proportionately, and far more than proportionately (for it involves enormous wastes), deny these rewards to those who have really earned them? Does it not give wealth, honour, the command of everything that labor in a high civilization can produce, to idlers, idiots, gamesters, profligates? Does it not, on the other hand, condemn toil to penury, and honest labor to contempt and grinding want? Does it not, wherever our civilization extends, make the mere opportunity to work a boon? keep men in idleness whose strongest desire is to earn a living? fill prisons and almshouses? condemn to ignorance minds that might enlighten and bless mankind? debase and embrute great masses of men and women? rob little children of the grace and sweetness and glory of life, and force them before their time out of a world in which monopoly denies them room?

Try Herbert Spencer by the ideas that he once held—the idea of a Living God, whose creatures we are, and the idea of a divine order, to which we are bound to conform. Or try him by what he now professes—the idea that we are but the evolutionary results of the integrations of matter and motion. Try him by the principles of Social Statics, or try him by the principles of Justice. In this chapter he proves himself alike a traitor to all that he once held and to all that he now holds—a conscious and deliberate traitor, who assumes the place of the philosopher, the office of the judge, only to darken truth and to deny justice; to sell out the right of the wronged and to prostitute his powers in the defence of the wronger.

Is it a wonder that intellectually, as morally, this chapter is beneath contempt?


In Justiceas in Social Statics, the chapter on the right to land is followed by a chapter on the right of property. That in Social Statics I have reprinted in full, to meet Mr. Spencer’s subsequent assertion that it modified the radical conclusions of the preceding chapter. But it is hardly necessary thus to treat the similar chapter of Justice. It begins (Section 54):

Since all material objects capable of being owned are in one way or other obtained from the earth, it results that the right of property is originally dependent on the right to the use of the earth. While there were yet no artificial products, and natural products were therefore the only things which could be appropriated, this was an obviously necessary connection. And though, in our developed form of society, there are multitudinous possessions, ranging from houses, furniture, clothes, works of art, to bank-notes, railway shares, mortgages, government bonds, etc., the origins of which have no manifest relation to use of the earth; yet it needs but to remember that they either are, or represent, products of labor, that labor is made possible by food, and that food is obtained from the soil, to see that the connection, though remote and entangled, still continues. Whence it follows that a complete ethical justification for the right of property is involved in the same difficulties as the ethical justification for the right to the use of the earth.

Since all material things capable of being owned consist either of land or products of land, the roundabout connection between such things as are here specified and the earth, through the food consumed by laborers, is a queer one, which indicates what in some parts of Social Statics may be suspected, that in speaking of land Mr. Spencer, as is often the case with English writers, is really thinking only of agricultural land.

The difficulties of which he speaks are the difficulties he raises in Social Statics, by confounding equal rights with joint rights, and he here again takes issue with Locke and assumes, as before, that for production to give title, the right of the producer to the use of material must be shown to be “greater than the pre-existing rights of all other men put together.” The forty-one years that have elapsed have left Mr. Spencer still entangled by this self-raised difficulty. But he now goes on to say that the difficulty arising from the question whether by labor “a man has made his right to the thing greater than the pre-existing rights of all other men put together[12]… may be avoided however. There are three ways in which, under savage, semi-civilized, and civilized conditions, men’s several rights of property may be established with due regard to the equal rights of all other men.”

In the savage condition, he says there is a tacit agreement that having equal opportunities of utilising such products, appropriation achieved by one shall be passively assented to by the others.

As to the semi-civilised condition, he says:

We meet with usages having the same general implications. … It is perceived that the assent of the clan to ownership of food grown on an appropriated portion by any one, is implied in the assumptions of kindred ownership similarly established by all others … In this case then as in the first, the right of property arises in conformity with the law of equal freedom.

So far then Mr. Spencer derives, and properly derives, the right of property from the exertion of labor under conditions in which all are equally free to make use of land. He now comes to his third division, where he is to show how in civilised conditions the right of property “may be established with due regard to the equal rights of all other men.” I will quote this in full:

Though we cannot say that ownership of property, thus arising, results from actual contract between each member of the community and the community as a whole, yet there is something like a potential contract; and such potential contract might grow into an actual contract if one part of the community devoted itself to other occupations, while the rest continued to farm: a share of the produce being in such case payable by agreement to those who had ceased to be farmers, for the use of their shares of the land.[13]We have no evidence that such a relation between occupiers and the community, with consequent authorized rights of property in the produce which remained after payment of a portion equivalent to rent, has ever arisen; for, as we have seen, the original ownership by the community has habitually been usurped by internal or external aggressors, and the rent taking the shape, if not of produce, then of labor or military service, has been habitually paid to the usurper, a state of things under which equitable rights of property, in common with equitable rights of all kinds, are submerged. But out of such usurpations there has grown up, as we have seen, ownership by the state and tenancy under it; from which there may again arise a theoretically equitable right of property. In China where “the land is all held directly from the Crown” “on payment of an annual tax,” with composition for personal service to the government,” the legitimate proprietorship of such produce as remains after payment of rent to the community, can be asserted only on the assumption that the emperor stands for the community. In India, where the government is supreme landowner, and where, until the zemindar system was established, it was the direct receiver of rents, the derivation of a right of property by contract between the individual and the community can be still less asserted without a strained interpretation. Nor at home, where the theory that each landowner is a tenant of the Crown is little more than a theory, is there any better fulfillment of the ethical requirement. Only here and there, where state ownership is not potential but actual, and ordinary rents are paid by occupiers to the Crown (which has now in such cases come to be identified with the community), has there been consequently established that kind of use of the earth which gives a theoretically valid basis to the right of private property.

Now what is it that Mr. Spencer here says? It is that a theoretically equitable right of property does not now exist in civilized conditions; but that it may arise if the now nominal and potential supreme ownership of land by the state is made real and actual by the taking for the use of the community, by the representatives of the community, of the rents that are (or should be) paid by occupiers of land.

Truly Justiceis a surprising book. Here we have Mr. Spencer going back to the very principle he has just recanted.

In one sentence of this paragraph he says that we have no evidence that this equitable adjustment of the rights to land in conformity with the needs of the civilized state has ever arisen, since the original ownership of land by the community has been habitually usurped, and in another sentence he says vaguely that it has arisen only here and there. But that it may arise and ought to arise, and would give an even theoretically perfect basis to the right of property, this section states, if not as clearly, but yet on careful reading as unmistakably as does Social Statics itself.

The paragraph just quoted is followed by this recapitulatory paragraph, with which the section closes:

But admitting that the establishment of an ethically complete right of property is beset with difficulties like those which beset the establishment of an ethically complete right to the use of the earth, we are nevertheless shown by a survey of the facts which existing primitive societies present, and the facts traceable in the early histories of civilized societies, that the right of property is originally deducible from the law of equal freedom; and that it ceases to be so deducible only when the other corollaries from the law of equal freedom have been disregarded.

Or to put this statement of the propositions of this section in fuller form, they are: (1) That the establishment of the right of property is beset by the difficulties of showing that the right of a man to the material element from which property is obtained is greater than the rights of all existing men put together. (2) But in primitive societies and in the early history of civilized societies, where the use of land is open to all, this equality of access to land enables us to deduce the right of property in things produced by labor from the law of equal freedom; and (3) it ceases to be so deducible where equality in the use of land is denied, as in civilized societies at present; but would again become deducible from the law of equal freedom if the rent of land were taken for the use of the society.

If Mr. Spencer had written Justice under coercion; if imprisoned in the chambers of an Inquisition, and under fear of the rack, he had been forced against his will, like Galileo, to recant what he still held to be true, we might well believe that this Section 54 of Justice contained his sign to posterity that, in spite of the denials he had just been compelled to make, he in his heart held to the truth.

But though, unfortunately, the conditions do not admit of such a conclusion, this section is perhaps an even stronger testimony to the power of truth. In the preceding chapter Mr. Spencer has forced back his better nature, and defended landlordism as well as the man who had written Social Statics could. But when after an interval of over forty years he begins to rewrite his old chapter on “The Right of Property,” the truth he once held reasserts its sway, and though he cuts out all that might give open offence to his new clients, the perception of truth, as by “unconscious cerebration,” causes him in the very first section to relapse, and to tell us—unmistakably, if not clearly—that in the civilized state it is only the appropriation of rent to the use of the whole community that can give to property an ethical basis.

But Mr. Spencer soon recovers himself. Having in Section 54 shown that in rude societies there is a substantial basis for the right of property, but that in highly civilized countries, such as England, the equitable right of property has been submerged by the usurpation of landownership, he proceeds in Section 55 to assert, as he did in the preceding that the course of modern civilization has been more fully to establish this right.

Section 55 begins:
This deduction [i.e., of the right of property from the law of equal freedom through the equal right to the use of land], early recognized in custom and afterwards formulated by legislators, has come to be elaborated and enforced more and more fully as society has developed.

Then comes something about primitive societies, the patriarchal group and the house community, in which occurs the reference to inherent value already quoted on page 51, and the section thus closes:

To trace the development of the right of property as established by rulers and administered by their agents, setting out with the interdict on theft in the Hebrew commandments, and continuing down to modern days, in which proprietorships of all kinds have been legally formulated in multitudinous detail and with great precision, would be no less out of place than it would be superfluous. It suffices for present purposes to note that this implication of the principle of justice, perceived from the first perhaps more clearly than any other, has gained in the course of social progress increased definiteness of recognition as well as increased extension and increased peremptoriness; so that now, breach of the right of property by unauthorized appropriation of a turnip or a few sticks, has become a punishable offence; and there is ownership of a song, of a pattern, of a trade-mark.

The principle of justice in the right of property perceived from the first, as Mr. Spencer has just explained, is equality in the use of natural opportunities. Has this principle gained by a social progress, which as exemplified in England, now denies nineteen-twentieths of the people of all right whatever in the land of their birth, punishes them if they take a handful of wild fruit or a few sticks from the abundant offerings of nature, creates private ownership in a salmon-fishery, a coal mine, an advowson or a hereditary pension, and condemns millions to chronic pauperism?

This is what Mr. Spencer’s examination of the right of property in Justiceamounts to: First showing that the right of property in civilized societies has to-day no ethical basis, he goes on to make believe that it has, and from this basis of make-believe to assume the ethical validity of existing conditions. And then he virtuously turns on the communists. They are a feeble folk and have no friends.

In this he follows the order of Social Statics, but the spirit is that of The Man versus the State. He ignores what he once saw plainly, the incentive to communistic and socialistic schemes in the bitter wrong and widespread suffering of the existing order, declares their motive to be the desire to take from the worker the produce of his work, and assumes that between them and existing social conditions lies the only choice. Here is the section:

  • § 56. Supposing themselves to be justified, and indeed injoined by moral principle, many in our days are seeking to override this right. They think it wrong that each man should receive benefits proportionate to his efforts—deny that he may properly keep possession of all which his labor has produced, leaving the less capable in possession of all which their labors have produced. Expressed in its briefest form, their doctrine is—Let unlike kinds and amounts of work bring like shares of produce—let there be “equal division of unequal earnings.”
         That communism implies violation of justice as defined in foregoing chapters, is manifest. When we assert the liberty of each bounded only by the like liberties of all, we assert that each is free to keep for himself all those gratifications and sources of gratification which he procures without trespassing on the spheres of action of his neighbours. If, therefore, one obtains by his greater strength, greater ingenuity, or greater application, more gratifications or sources of gratification than others, and does this without in any way trenching on the of action of others, the law of equal freedom assigns him exclusive possession of all such extra gratifications and of sources of gratification; nor can others take them from him without claiming for themselves greater liberty of action than he claims, and thereby violating the law.
         In past times the arrangements made were such that the few superior profited at the expense of the many inferior. It is now proposed to make arrangements such that the many inferior shall profit at the expense of the few superior. And just as the old social system was assumed by those who maintained it to be equitable, so is this new social system assumed to be by those who propose it. Being, as they think, undoubtedly right, this distribution may properly be established by force; for the employment of force, if not avowedly contemplated by implication. With a human nature such as has been known throughout the past and is known at present, one who, by higher power, bodily or mental, or greater endurance of work, gains more than others gain, will not voluntarily surrender the excess to such others: here and there may be found a man who would do this, but he is far from being the average man. And if the average superior man will not voluntarily surrender to others the excess of benefit gained by his superiority, the implication is that he must be obliged to do this, and that the use of force to oblige him is justifiable. That the many inferior are physically able thus to coerce the few superior is agreed on both sides, but the assumption of the communists is that the required coercion of the minority who are best by the majority who are worst would be equitable.
         After what was said in the early chapter of this Part it scarcely needs pointing out that a system established in pursuance of this doctrine would entail degeneration of citizens and decay of the community formed by them. Suspension of that natural discipline by which every kind of creature is kept fit for the activities demanded by the conditions of life, would inevitably bring about unfitness for life and either prompt or slow disappearance.

An old fable tells us that when the plague raged among the animals they concluded that among them was some great criminal, who must be sacrificed to the wrath of heaven, and agreed that to discover him all should confess their sins. The fox volunteered to act as judge. He listened with equanimity to the lion’s recital of flocks devoured and men slaughtered, declaring his majesty blameless, and in the same way excused all that the tiger, the hyena, the wolf, and the bear confessed. At length came a poor ass, who told how when his master had forgotten to give him his breakfast, he had nibbled a few leaves from his load of cabbages. “You impious rascal!” cried the fox, “it is you beyond doubt who have brought on us the anger of the gods!” and applauding the decision and following his lead, the lordly animals threw themselves on the poor ass and tore him to pieces.

As the nibbling of a cabbage-leaf is to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, so is the dream of a few communists compared with what the monopoly of land is actually doing. In the highest civilization in other respects that the world has yet seen this monopoly is, even now, entailing the degradation of citizens and decay of the community, so that Mr. Spencer cannot look out of the windows of his club without seeing men turned into advertising signs; or get into a cab without having some miserable wretch officiously hasten to close the door in the hope of a penny; or travel through the three kingdoms without beholding the decay of population in the country and its congestion in the slums of towns. It is, even now, suspending “that natural discipline by which every creature is kept fit for the activities demanded by the conditions of life,” so that men are being destroyed, one the one side by repletion and debauchery, and on the other side by privation and the denial of opportunities for honest work. It is, even now, taking the produce of their work from superior worker and inferior worker alike, and is giving the gratifications and sources of gratification earned by work to those who do no work—is piling up wealth in the hands of those who do nothing to produce wealth, who as landowners are useless appropriators and worse than useless destroyers. To this giant wrong, this most monstrous of all denials of the law of equal freedom, Mr. Spencer is as complaisant as the fox was to the lion, while he vents his indignation on the poor ass of communism.

The next and final chapter shows how far Mr. Spencer really wishes to assert the right of property. It was, as he knows, by violating the right of property in putting taxes on the products of labor that the larger tenants of English land made themselves its virtual owners and that private property in land has come to be established in those wide regions to which English institutions have been extended. And it is on the line of abolishing this taxation of labor and the products of labor that, as is now evident, the struggle for the resumption of equal rights in land will in English-speaking countries be made—nay, is already beginning to be made. So in the next section Mr. Spencer brings out his double-barrelled ethics to break down the right of property to open the door for what is essentially socialism and communism in the interests of the rich:

  • § 57. While absolute ethics thus asserts the right of property, and while no such breach of it as is implied by the schemes of communists is warranted by that relative ethics which take account of transitional needs, relative ethics dictates such limitation of it as is necessitated for defraying the costs of protection, national and individual.
         The truth recognized at the outset, that the preservation of the species, or that variety of it constituting a nation, is an end which must take precedence of individual preservation has already been cited as justifying that subordination of the right to life which is implied by exposure to possible death in defensive war, and as also justifying that subordination of the right to liberty which military service and subjection necessitate. Here it must be again cited as affording a legitimate reason for appropriating such portions of the possessions and the earnings of individuals, as may be required for adequately resisting enemies. But while there is thus a quasi-ethical justification for whatever encroachment on the right of property is necessitated for the purposes of defensive war, there is no justification for any such encroachment for the purposes of offensive war.
         No less manifest is it that the right of property is legitimately subject to one further restriction. Property must be trenched upon for supporting those public administrations by which the right of property, and all other rights, are enforced. In society wholly composed of men who duly respected on another’s claims, no such partial invasion of the right o property would be called for; but in existing societies and in such societies as are likely to exist for a long time to come, the nearest approach to fulfilment of the law of equal freedom is made when the various deduced rights are sacrificed to the extent needful for preservation of the remainders. Relative ethics, therefore, warrants such equitably distributed taxation as is required for maintaining order and safety.

Since the ethical commands, “Thou shalt do no murder” and “Thou shalt not steal,” mean also, thou shalt not permit thyself to be murdered or to be stolen from, the justification of defensive war needs no invention of relative ethics. Nor this needed to justify under extraordinary circumstance what under ordinary circumstances would be violations of the right of property. Take Johnstown, when the sun rose on wreck and ruin and death in their most awful forms, an on men and women half crazed with listening all night to the shrieks that came from the flaming mass of float-wood into which the flood was sweeping their nearest and dearest. In ordering the destruction of all liquor, the seizing of all food, and the impressment, should that be necessary, of all who could work, in a systematized effort to succour who still might be succoured and to bury what remained to bury of the dead, was not Arthur Moxham acting, in the name of the reason and conscience of the community, on the same eternal principles of right and wrong that in ordinary conditions would have forbidden these things? What in form was a denial of the rights of property and person was in its essence respect for life and property.

But while changing conditions may change the application of ethical principles, it is only as the change in a ship’s course turns the compass-card in her binnacle. The change is in the conditions, not in the principles. And if there be an ethical right of property, then, except under conditions of imminent danger and dire stress, a community cannot be justified in taking property by force from the individual.

What Mr. Spencer does in this section, in the name of his convenient fiction of relative ethics, is to justify the habitual violations of the right of property which are committed under the name of government in all civilized countries, and thus to make his philosophy of things as they ought to be, conform the better with things as the ruling classes desire to maintain them. And he does this effectually, for he leaves the right of property without defence, save in idle platitudes, against those forms of taxation which have everywhere proved so efficient in robbing the many and enriching the few.

To be sure Mr. Spencer justifies the taking of property by taxation only for purposes of defensive war and the maintenance of order and safety. But such limitations are practically no limitations. Neither an English jingo nor an American protectionist would quarrel with them. No invading foot has trod English soil, no hostile fleet has fired a shot at an English town, since the English national debt began to form. Yet what one of all the wars for which the English masses have paid in blood and privation and of which this great debt is the reminder, has not been advocated at the time as a defensive war? Is not our monstrous American tariff declared by its advocates to be necessary to the maintenance of order and safety? What has been the assigned reason for the maintenance of every fat English sinecure but order and safety?

Granted that Mr. Spencer would abolish the more flagrant abuses of taxation; or, as in the light of his changes on the land question we may more certainly say, granted that he is in favour of abolishing them so long as Sir John and Grace do not seriously object; yet in admitting that the right of property may justly be set aside by the state for ordinary public needs and uses, he opens the door for every abuse that the ruling power—the majority, if you please—may at any time choose to deem a use. He leaves no principle save the shifting one of expediency to guard the right of property against any interest or desire or whim the may gain control of the legislative power.

But the reign of relative ethics, like that of the fashioned devil, to which it bears some analogy, is not to be forever, for we are given to understand that when evolution has carried the descendants of what are now the human race to a point as far above us as it has carried us above the monkey, and brought on the agnostic millennium, relative ethics are to vanish in the unknowable pit. So Mr. Spencer tells us that “in a society composed of men who duly respected one another’s claims, no such partial invasion of the rights of property would be called for.” But then, he continues, it is called for “in existing societies and in such societies as are likely to exist for a long time to come.” What ground does that give me to assert that I am robbed directly by the blackmail demanded in the name of duty at the American post-office every time a friend sends me a book from a foreign country, or even from Canada, and am robbed indirectly every day of my life in the purchases I make? The protectionist, if a Spencerian and disposed to argue, would simply reply, “You are talking absolute ethics, whereas, Herbert Spencer has shown, we are now under the rule of relative ethics.”

It is true, but in a sense that Mr. Spencer does not mean, that if men duly respected one another’s claims, taking of individual property in taxation by the state would be necessary. For if men duly respected one another’s claims to the use of land, all necessity for invading the right of property by taxation would disappear. Either by the single tax on land values or by the crude and clumsy scheme of land nationalization proposed by Mr. Spencer himself in Social Statics, enough revenue would accrue to the state to defray all needed expenses without taking a penny of any man’s property. But if men are to continue to disregard each other’s claims to the use of land, and to continue to treat that element as belonging to a few individuals—and this Mr. Spencer now insists on—then there is no possible improvement in society or in the race that could dispense with the taking of property by taxation. 

Mr. Spencer evidently entertains the innocent notion that could the soldier and the policeman be done away with, there would be no further need for public revenues, and all organized government could be dispensed with. But would not civilized societies still need revenues for building and keeping roads and bridges, for paving and cleaning streets, or establishing lighthouses and supporting a fire service, and doing the many things which become increasingly necessary to the public health, safety, comfort, and convenience, as social integration goes on? Or in the millennium of the Spencerians, as in the millennium of the anarchists, is each one to pave, clean and light the street before his door, when and how he pleases? are roads, bridges and public works, as to which competition is impossible, to be left to private individuals and companies, charging what they please and rendering what service they choose? and are all other public functions to be dependent on volunteer service or voluntary subscription?  

Chapter X—
The Right Of Property And The Right Of Taxation

Of such primary and practical importance is the question just raised, that it is worth while to discuss it more fully.

Mr. Spencer, in a book he has reissued this year, has flippantly accused “Mr. George and his friends” with asserting the absolute right of the community over the possessions of each member. Yet in nothing is the divergence between us and the common opinion more sharply shown than in this, that we utterly deny the right of the community to take the property of the individual for any purpose whatsoever, except under circumstances where all rights must yield to the supreme right of self-preservation. There may be circumstances of such sudden stress and danger as would justify an individual in taking the horse or boat of another individual, in making use of his house, his goods, or anything that is his; and so there may be similar circumstances that will justify such taking of individual property on the part of a community. But short of this, which is not a limitation but an abrogation, we hold the right of property to be absolute, and deny the proposition which Mr. Spencer in the chapter just quoted asserts, and which is commonly conceded, that the right of property is limited by the right of the state to take in taxation what it may think it needs. Thus we are to-day the defenders of the right of property as against communists, protectionists, and socialists, as well as against such moderate deniers of the right of property as the revenue tariffites of the Cobden Club class, and such halfway individualists as the Liberty and Property Defence League and Mr. Auberon Herbert’s associations.

How then is it that we are called deniers of the right of property?

It is for the same reason that, when I was a boy, caused nine-tenths of the good people in the United States, north as well as south, to regard abolitionists as deniers of the right of property; the same reason that made even John Wesley look on a smuggler as a kind of robber, and on a custom-house seizer of other men’s goods as a defender of law and order. Where violations of the right of property have been long sanctioned by custom and law, it is inevitable that those who really assert the right of property will at first be thought to deny it. For under such circumstances the idea of property becomes confused, and that is thought to be property which is in reality a violation of property.

That such confusion exists to-day may be seen in the way in which the great struggle for better conditions of life for the masses, that all over the civilized world has begun or is impending, is generally regarded by both sides. Except by the single-tax men, and possibly by the philosophic anarchists, it is thought of as a struggle between capital and labor—a contest between the rights of man and the rights of property. It is not merely that one side charges the other side with proposing to impair the right of property. It is, that, with the exceptions noted, those who would better secure the rights of men, do propose restrictions and denials of the right of property. So, from the thorough-going socialists who would have the state appropriate all capital and direct all industry, to those milk-and-water socialists who are willing to play at doing something, by encouraging trades-unions, and by twopenny alms and restrictions, and by attempts to make the rich less rich, and consequently as they think the poor less poor, through income and succession taxes and Irish Land Acts, we find those who aim, or profess to aim at improving the conditions of the laboring masses, advocating measures which are violations of the right of property. In this confusion of thought we who hold that the right of property is an absolute right, we who say that the command “Thou shalt not steal” applies to the state as fully as to the individual, are looked upon by one side as deniers of the right of property, and by the other—even by the poor, timid university socialists—as not radical enough.

Yet to whoever will grasp first principles it must be evident:

That there can be no real conflict between labor and capital—since capital is in origin and essence but the product and tool of labor;

That there can be no real antagonism between the rights of men and the rights of property—since the right of property is but the expression of a fundamental right of man;

That the road to the improvement of the conditions of the masses cannot be the road of restricting and denying the right of property, but can only be that of securing most fully the right of property; and that all measures that impair the right of property must in the end injure the masses—since while it may be possible that a few may get a living or be aided in getting a living by robbery, it is utterly impossible that the many should.

It is not as deniers, but as asserters of the equal rights of man, that we who for want of a better name call ourselves single-tax men so strenuously uphold the right of property. It is not because we would palter with a social system that condemns the masses to hard work and low wages, to absolute want and starvation more or less disguised; but because we would bring about a social system in which it would be impossible for any one to want or to starve unless he deserved to. It is not because we are less radical, but because in the true sense we are more radical than the socialists of all degrees.

Let me ask those who think there is any conflict between the rights of men and the rights of property to name any denial of the rights of men which is not or does not involve a denial of the rights of property; or any denial of the rights of property which is not or does not involve a denial of the rights of men. Take chattel slavery. Was that an assertion of the right of property or a denial of the right of property?

Or, consider any system of tyranny or oppression by which the personal liberties of men have been denied or curtailed. Take out of it the element which infringes the right of property and is not its efficacy gone?

On the other hand, take anything which denies or impairs the right of property—robbery, brigandage, piracy, war, customs duties, excises, or taxes on wealth in any of its forms—do they not all violate personal liberty, directly and indirectly?

This is not an accidental, but a necessary connection. The right of life and liberty—that is to say, the right of the man to himself—is not really one right and the right of property another right. They are two aspects of the same perception—the right of property being but another side, a differently stated expression, of the right of man to himself. The right of life and liberty, the right of the individual to himself, presupposes and involves the right of property, which is the exclusive right of the individual to the things his exertion has produced.

This is the reason why we who really believe in the law of property, we who see in freedom the great solvent for all social evils, are the stanchest and most unflinching supporters of the rights of property, and would guard it as scrupulously in the case of the millionaire as in the case of the day-laborer.

But what is property? This we must keep clearly in mind if, in attempting to see what the right of property does and does not permit, we would avoid confusion. The question is not what the state sanctions, but what it may rightfully sanction. There are those who say that the right of property, as all other rights, is derived from the state. But they do not really think this; for they are as ready as any one else to say of any proposed state action that it is right or it is wrong, in which they assert some standard of action higher than the state.

Property—not property in the legal sense, for that may be anything which greed or perversity may have power to ordain; but property in the ethical sense—is that which carries with it the right of exclusive ownership, including the right to give, sell, bequeath or destroy.

To what sort of things does such right of ownership rightfully attach?

C1early to things produced by labor, and to no other.

And that this rightful ownership can attach only to things produced by labor is always shown by those who try to assert such right of ownership in other things. For invariably, instead of proving a right of ownership in such other things, they devote themselves to proving the right of ownership in things produced by labor, and then assume that in some way the right thus accruing has become transferred to things of a different nature.

Mr. Spencer is an example of this, as are all without exception who have ever written on the side he has now assumed. He wishes in this book to justify property in land. But he only justifies property in the products of labor, and then insinuates what he dares not clearly state—that by some process of transfer or conjoinment the right of ownership in the products of labor has become transmuted into a right of ownership in land.

In this, however, he does as well as any one who ever attempted it. The logical processes of those who attempt to prove a right of exclusive ownership in land are always akin to those of the bumboat man, who, having agreed to bring the sailor a white monkey, brought him instead a yellow dog which he insisted had eaten a white monkey. They are like a lawyer who, called on to prove his client’s title to an estate, should go on to prove his client’s title to the money which he gave for the estate.

The ethical right of property is so perfectly clear as to be beyond all dispute as to be testified to by all who attempt to assert some other right of property. It springs from the right of each man to use his own powers and enjoy their results. And it is a full and absolute right. Whatever a man produces belongs to him exclusively, and the same full and exclusive right passes from him to his grantor, assignee or devisee, not to the amount of eighty or fifty or any other percentage, but in full. And as is shown by reason and as is proved by the experience of the world, the advance in civilization depends upon the recognition of this right. Therefore for the state to levy taxes on that which is truly property, that is to say, upon the possession of wealth in any of its forms, is unjust and injurious—is a denial and violation of the right of property and of the rights of man.

But it may be said: In an isolated condition it is true that a man is entitled to all that he produces, and that it is robbery to take any part of it from him against his will. But in the civilized condition it is not alone the exertion of the individual that contributes to his production. Over and above what the producer receives from other producers, and for which he recompenses them in the various ways by which the claims between man and man are settled in ordered society, he is aided, in an indefinite yet tangible way, by society as a whole. Does he not therefore owe to society as a whole some return? Is not organized society, or the state, entitled therefore to claim and to take some portion of what in an isolated condition would be rightfully his exclusive property?

We reply: There is such a debt, but the producer cannot escape paying it, even though there be left to him in full what is his by the right of property. Here is a man who gives to a painter an order for a beautiful picture. Can he alone enjoy it? Here is another man who builds a factory, or works out a beneficial invention. Do what benefits he may receive, even if he be untaxed, represent the sum total of its bonefits? Does not what he has done also benefit others and benefit society at large? And if society helps the individual producer, does not the individual producer also help society? These diffused benefits, these benefits which society as whole receives, are something separate from what the right of property accords to the producer. They become tangible in the value of land, and may be taken by society without any curtailment of the right of property. To bring one beautiful picture to a town might not perceptibly increase the value of land. But bring a number, or even one famous picture, and the value of land will perceptibly increase. Place the pictures of one of the great European galleries on a piece of American land that you might now buy for a hundred dollars and you will soon find a value of millions attaching to that land. And that the erection of a factory, or even of a dwelling-house, or the utilization of a beneficial invention, will perceptibly add to the value of land everyone knows. Look at the millions on millions which the elevated roads have added to the value of New York lands.

Again, it may be said, as Mr. Spencer now says, that it is necessary for organized society to have revenues, and that therefore the society must take some part at least of the property of individuals. The proposition we admit, but the conclusion we deny. Organized society must have revenues; but the natural and proper and adequate source of those revenues is not in what justly belongs to individuals, but in what justly belongs to society—the value which attaches to land with the growth of society. Let the state take that, and there will be no need for it to violate the right of property by taking what justly belongs to the individual.

Mr. Spencer’s admission in Justice of the right of the state to take from individuals their property by taxation—an admission which makes impossible any clear assertion of the right of property—is forced upon him by the radical change in his teachings that his fear of Sir John and his Grace has compelled him to make. He made no such surrender of individual rights to the state in Social Statics. On the contrary he there emphatically—though as to details not very clearly, for in many things he saw men only as trees walking—asserts the rights of the individual as against society. But in Justicehe is compelled to admit the right of the state to take property by taxation, because of his desire to admit the right of landowners to appropriate the revenues which are the natural provision for the needs of the state.

For the state is natural and necessary, and the state must have revenues. Hence anyone who does not see, or who chooses to deny, that the natural revenue of the state is the value which social growth gives to land, is compelled to admit that for the purpose of obtaining revenue the state may take the property of individuals, and thus to deny the right of property.

Suppose some one to have asked the Herbert Spencer who wrote Social Statics: “Where shall the state get its necessary revenues if it scrupulously observes the right of property and does not continue to take by force what it needs of the property of individuals?”

He would have promptly replied, for the answer is in that book, “By taking through its own agents for its own purposes the rent of land, which is now taken by the agents of Sir John and his Grace for their purposes.”

But the Herbert Spencer who now writes Justicecould find no answer to such a question, since he writes for the purpose of defending the appropriations of Sir John and his Grace. Hence he is compelled to deny the right of property—justifying its appropriation by an agency which in another place in this same book he calls “the many-headed government appointed by multitudes of ignorant people”; and which, indeed, owing to the poverty, ignorance, greed and immorality which are the results of ignoring the right of property, is not undeserving of such a contemptuous characterization.

But that he really knows better; that he really sees that the taxation of the products of labor is a violation of the right of property which differs from slavery only in degree; and that he is advocating it only in the interests of that privileged class to gain whose tolerance now seems to be his supreme ambition, is clearly shown farther on in this same where in opposing what he deems unnecessary taxation he clearly states the principle that condemns all taxation of what belongs to individuals. I quote from Chapter XXVI of Justice, “The Limits of State-duties,” Section 121, pp. 222-224:

  • If justice asserts the liberty of each limited only by the like liberties of all, then the imposing of any further limit is unjust; no matter whether the power imposing it be one man of a million of men. … In our time the tying of men to the lands they were born on, and the forbidding any other occupations than the prescribed ones, would be considered as intolerable aggressions on their liberties. But if these larger inroads on their rights are wrong, then also are smaller inroads. As we hold that a theft is a theft whether the amount stolen be a pound or a penny, so we must hold that an aggression is an aggression whether it be great or small. … We do not commonly see in a tax a diminution of freedom, and yet it is one. The money taken represents so much labor gone through, and the product of that labor being taken away, either leaves the individual to go without such benefit as was achieved by it or else to go through more labor. In feudal days, when the subject classes had, under the name of corvées, to render services to their lords, specified in time or work, the partial slavery was manifest enough; and when the services were commuted for money, the relation remained the same in substance though changed in form. So it is now. Taxpayers are subject to a state corvée, which is the less decided because, instead of giving their special kinds of work, they give equivalent sums; and if the corvéein the original undisguised form was a deprivation of freedom, so is it in its modern disguised form. “Thus much of your work shall be devoted, not to your own purposes, but to our purposes,” say the authorities to the citizens; and to whatever extent this is carried, to that extent the citizens become slaves of the government.
         “But they are slaves for their own advantage,” will be the reply—”and the things to be done with the money taken from them are things which will in one way or other conduce to their welfare.” Yes, that is the theory—a theory not quite in harmony with the vast mass of mischievous legislation filling the statutebooks. But this reply is not to the purpose. The question is a question of justice; and even supposing that the benefits to be obtained by these extra public expenditures were fairly distributed among all who furnish funds, which they are not, it would still remain true that they are at variance with the fundamental principle of an equitable social order. A man’s liberties are none the less aggressed upon because those who coerce him do so in the belief that he will be benefited. In thus imposing by force their wills upon his will, they are breaking the law of equal freedom in his person; and what the motive may be matters not. Aggression which is flagitious when committed by one, is not sanctified when committed by a host.

Thus, in the same book, does Herbert Spencer answer Herbert Spencer.

Chapter XI—

While not needed in reply to Mr. Spencer, for his own scornful denial that there is any way in which land can equitably become private property remains unanswered by him, the wide prevalence of the idea that justice requires the compensation of land-owners if their exclusive ownership be abolished, makes it worth consideration; the more so as the same principle is involved in other questions, which are already, or may soon become, of practical importance.

That this idea will not bear examination Mr. Spencer himself shows, even when, as now, he is more than willing to be understood as accepting it. While anxious to find some ground, any ground, for assuming that land-owners are entitled to compensation for somethingequal or more than equal to the value of their land, he nowhere ventures to assert that they are entitled to compensation for their land. Such a notion is too preposterous to be stated by any one who has ever realised the relation of men to land.

Yet to those who have not, it seems at first most reasonable, for it accords with accustomed ideas. If it were ever customary for primitive man to eat his grandmother, as the Synthetic Philosophy would lead us to suppose, she must have been thought a wicked old woman who without compensation to the would-be eater tried to avoid that fate. In a community such as Edmond About pictured in his King of the Mountain, where brigandage was looked on as a most respectable business, the captive who tried to escape without ransom would be deemed a violator of his captors’ rights. And many a man now living can appreciate Mark Twain’s portrayal of the pangs of conscience felt by Huckleberry Finn as he thought that in not denouncing his negro companion he was helping to rob a poor widow.

The habitual confusion of thought where violations of property have long been treated by custom and law as property, requires time and effort to escape from, and while justice is yet struggling for recognition there is with many a desire to compromise between the right that ought to be and the wrong that is. Thus there are to-day, in England at least, even among those who to some extent have become conscious of the injustice of denying the equal right to the use of land, many who think that before this natural right can be equitably asserted present landowners must be compensated for their loss of legal rights.

This idea does not apply to the land question alone. It was carried out in England in the compensation paid to West India slave-owners on the abolition of slavery; in the compensation paid to the owners of rotten Irish boroughs at the time of the Union for the loss of their power to sell legislation; in the capitalization of hereditary pensions; and in the compensation paid to their holders when profitable sinecures are abolished.

Nor are we without examples of the same idea in the United States. It is often contended that it would be wrong to abolish protective duties where capital has been invested on the expectation of their continuance; and not many years since, even in the North, good, honest people, so far awake to the crime of slavery that they deemed the original enslavement of a man wickedness so atrocious as to merit death—which indeed was the penalty denounced by our laws against engaging in the external slave-trade—really believed that slave-owners must be compensated before existing slavery could be justly abolished. Even after the war had fairly begun, this idea was so strong that the nation compensated owners when, in 1862, slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia, and subsequent efforts to apply the same principle to the slave States that adhered to the Union were defeated only by the opposition to any national interference with slavery.

Let us see clearly what this question of compensation is:

It does not involve the validity of any contract or agreement or promise formally made by the state. This does not exist and is not pleaded by the advocates of compensation in the cases we are considering. If it did, the question would arise how far legislative power may bind legislative power, and one generation control the action of succeeding generations. But it is not necessary to discuss that here.

It is not a question of all right of compensation. That the state should compensate when it destroys a building to make way for a public improvement, or takes goods or provisions or horses or shipping for which it may have sudden need, or demands of some citizens services which it does not demand of others, is not a question. The right of compensation in such cases is not disputed.

That is to say it is not a question whether the state should pay for its destruction of property having moral sanction, for the assertion of moral sanction involves the right of compensation. Where the right of compensation itself becomes the issue is only where the want of moral sanction in the property in question is conceded.

Thus the belief in the rightfulness of compensation for the abolition of slavery bore no determining part in the minds of those who believed in the rightfulness of slavery. The pro-slavery men, who asserted that slavery was of God’s ordinance, that it was the natural right and duty of the stronger to enslave the weaker so they might paternally care for them, who insisted not merely that slavery ought not to be abolished where it existed, but that it ought to be extended where it did not exist, were not affected by belief in the rightfulness of compensation. That slave-owners ought to be compensated if slavery was abolished followed from their assertion that slavery was right and ought not to be abolished. It was only in the minds of those who had come to think that slavery was wrong and ought to be abolished, that the idea that slaveholders must be compensated assumed importance, and became the pivotal question.

So as to land. The idea of compensation is raised and has importance only where it serves as a secondary defence of private property in land. If a man believes in private property in land it is needless to address to him any argument for the necessity of compensation on its abolition. He does not believe in its abolition, but in its continuance and extension; and as the greater includes the less, he already believes in the necessity of compensation if it be abolished. But if he has come to doubt its justice and to favour its abolition, then the raising of the question of compensation, as though it were a new and separate moral question, may serve the purpose of a second embankment or second ditch in military defence, and prevent him from advocating abolition, or at least abolition that would cause any loss to vested interests. And the intermediate character of this defence of vested wrong gives it of course great attractions for those timid and prudent souls who when moral right comes in conflict with powerful interests like to keep out of the battle.

Thus the idea of compensation with which we are concerned is the idea of compensation for the abolition of something in itself conceded to be wrong. Yet it is based on moral grounds, and raises what is purely a moral question.

Those who assert this necessity of compensation for the abolition of what in itself they concede to be wrong contend that the state has incurred a moral obligation by its previous acquiescence. They say that while it would be right for it to refuse such acquiescence in the first place—as to prohibit slavery where it does not yet exist; to refrain from making private property of new land; to refuse to grant new pensions or impose new protective duties or grant new special privileges—yet where it has already done such things the state is morally bound to those who have accepted its action; and for it to destroy the value of property already acquired under its sanction would be in the nature of a retroactive law.

But in this there is evident confusion. If it were proposed that the state should undo what has already been done under its sanction—as, for instance, that it should declare invalid titles to the proceeds of slave labor already rendered, and give the slaves legal claim for previous services; or if it should call on the beneficiaries of protective tariffs for profits they had already acquired—then this reasoning might have weight. But it is not retroactive to declare that for the future the labor of the slave shall belong to himself, nor that for the future trade shall be free. To demand compensation for action of this kind is to assert, not that the state must be bound by what it has already done, but that what it has already done it is morally bound to continue to do.

The loss for which compensation is in such cases asked is not the loss of a value in hand, but the loss of an expectation.

The value of a bale of cotton is an actual existing value, based on work done. But the value of a slave is not actual, but prospective; it is not based on work done, but on the expectation that the state will continue to compel him to work for his owner. So the value of a house or other improvement represents the present value of the labor thus embodied. But the value of land itself represents merely the value of the expectation that the state will continue to permit the holder to appropriate a value belonging to all. Now, is the state called on to compensate men for the failure of their expectations as to its action, even where no moral element is involved? If it make peace, must it compensate those who have invested on the expectation of war? If it open a shorter highway, is it morally bound to compensate those who may lose by the diversion of travel from the old one? If it promote the discovery of a cheap means of producing electricity directly from heat, is it morally bound to compensate the owners of all the steam-engines thereby thrown out of use and all who are engaged in making them? If it develop the airship, must it compensate those whose business would be injured? Such a contention would be absurd. Yet the contention we are considering is worse. It is that the state must compensate for disappointing the expectations of those who have counted on its continuing to do wrong.

When the state abolishes slavery or hereditary pensions or protective duties or special privileges of any kind, does it really take from the individuals who thereby lose, anything they actually have? Clearly not. In the abolition of slavery it merely declines for the future to compel one man to work for another. In the abolition of hereditary pensions it merely declines for the future to take property by force from those to whom it rightfully belongs and hand it over to others. In the abolition of protective duties it merely declines for the future forcibly to interfere with the natural rights of all in order that a few may get an unnatural profit. In the abolition of special privileges it merely declines for the future to use its power to give some an advantage over others.

See, then, for what in such cases compensation is really asked. It is not for any attempt to right past wrongs; it is for refusing to do wrong in future. It is not for the unequal treatment of individuals; it is for refusal to continue unequal treatment. That there may be a loss of saleable value to individuals in this refusal is true. But it is not a loss of anything they now have; it is a loss of what they expected to get. It is not a loss for which these individuals can justly demand compensation or the state can justly make compensation. It is a loss of the kind that the silversmiths of Ephesus sustained from Paul’s preaching; a loss of the kind that comes to liquor-sellers from the spread of a temperance movement; a loss of the kind that falls on some individuals with every beneficial invention and every public improvement. Such demand for compensation is a denial of any right of reform. It involves the idea that the state, having once done wrong, is morally bound to continue it—not merely that it must continue to do wrong or else compensate; but that it must continue to do wrong anyhow.

For compensation implies equivalence. To compensate for the discontinuance of a wrong is to give those who profit by the wrong the pecuniary equivalent of its continuance. Now the state has nothing that does not belong to the individuals who compose it. What it gives to some it must take from others. Abolition with compensation is therefore not really abolition, but continuance under a different form—on one side of unjust deprivation, and on the other side of unjust appropriation. When on the abolition of a hereditary pension the holder is compensated, he receives in money or bonds a sum calculated to yield him in interest the same power of annually commanding the labor of others that the pension gave. So compensation for the selling value of a slave, which disappears on the refusal of the community longer to force him to work for the master, means the giving to the master of what the power to take the property of the slave may be worth. What slave-owners lose is the power of taking the property of the slaves and their descendants; and what they get is an agreement that the government will take for their benefit and turn over to them an equivalent part of the property of all. The robbery is continued under another form. What it loses in intention it gains in extension. If some before enslaved are partially freed, others before free are partially enslaved.

That confusion alone gives plausibility to the idea of compensation for refusal to continue wrong, is seen in the fact that such claims are never put forward in behalf of the original beneficiaries of the wrong, but always in behalf of purchasers. Sometimes the confusion is that of direct substitution. Thus it is sometimes said, “Here is a man who, presuming on the continued consent of the state, invests his earnings in property depending on that consent. If the state withdraws its consent, does it not, unless it compensates him, destroy the products of his hard labor?”

The answer is clear: It does not. Let the property be, for instance, a slave. What the state destroys in abolishing slavery is not what may have been given for the slave, but the value of the slave. That the purchaser got by honest work what he exchanged for the slave is not in point. He is not injured as laborer, but as slave-owner. If he had not exchanged his earnings for the slave the abolition of slavery would have caused him no loss. When a man exchanges property of one kind for property of another kind he gives up the one with all its incidents and takes in its stead the other with its incidents. He cannot sell bricks and buy hay, and then complain because the hay burned when the bricks would not. The greater liability of the hay to burn is one of the incidents he accepted in buying it. Nor can he exchange property having moral sanction for property having only legal sanction, and claim that the moral sanction of the thing he sold attaches now to the thing he bought. That has gone with the thing to the other party in the exchange.

Exchange transfers, it cannot create. Each party gives up what right he had and takes what right the other party had.

The last holder obtains no moral right that the first holder did not have.

“But,” it may be said, “the purchaser of what has been long treated as property stands in a different position from the original holder. In our administration of justice between man and man, this difference between the wrongful appropriator and the innocent purchaser is recognized, and long possession is hold to cure defects of original title. This principle ought to be recognized by the state in dealing with individuals, and hence when, even by omission, it deprives innocent purchasers of what has long been held as property it ought to compensate them.”

Innocent purchasers of what involves wrong to others! Is not the phrase absurd? If in our legal tribunals, “ignorance of the law excuseth no man,” how much less can it do so in the tribunal of morals—and it is this to which compensationists appeal.

And innocence can only shield from the punishment due to conscious wrong; it cannot give right. If you innocently stand on my toes, you may fairly ask me not to be angry; but you gain no right to continue to stand on them. Now in merely abolishing property that involves wrong, the state imposes no penalty, it does not even demand recompense to those who have been wronged. In this it is more lenient than the principles on which we administer justice between man and man. For they would require the innocent purchaser of what belonged to another to make restitution, not only of the thing itself, but of all that had been received from it. Nor does the principle of market overt, which gives to the purchaser of certain things openly sold in certain places, possession even against the rightful owner unless he proves fraud; nor the principle of statutes of limitation, which refuses to question ownership after a certain lapse of time, deny this general principle.

The principle of “market overt” is, not that passage from hand to hand gives ownership, but that there are certain things so constantly passing from hand to hand by simple transfer that the interests of commerce and the general convenience are best served by assuming possession to be conclusive of ownership where wrongful intent cannot be proved. The principle of statutes of limitation is not that mere length of possession gives ownership, but that past a certain point it becomes impossible certainly to adjudicate disputes between man and man. This is one of the cases in which human law must admit its inadequacy more than roughly to enforce the dictates of the moral law. No scheme of religion and no theory of morals would hold him blameless who relied on a statute of limitations to keep what he knew belonged morally to another. But legal machinery cannot search into the conscience, it can inquire only into the evidence; and the evidence of things past is to human perceptions quickly dimmed and soon obliterated by the passage of time. So that as to things whose ownership must depend on what was done in the past, it is necessary, to avoid interminable disputes, that the state should set some limit beyond which it will not inquire, but will take possession as proof of ownership.

In our ordinary use of words everything subject to ownership and its incidental rights is accounted property. But there are two species of property, which, though often ignorantly or wantonly confounded, are essentially different and diametrically opposed. Both may be alike in having a selling value and being subject to transfer. But things of the one kind are true property, having the sanction of natural right and moral law independently of the action of the state, while things of the other kind are only spurious property, their maintenance as property requiring the continuous exertion of state power, the continuous exercise or threat of its force, and involving a continuous violation of natural right and moral law. To things of the one kind the reasonable principle of statutes of limitation properly applies; for, being in their nature property, any question of their ownership is not a question of general right, but only a question of transactions between man and man in the past. But to things of the other kind, and as between the individual and the state, this principle does not and cannot apply, for holding their character as property only from the action of the state, that character is gone the moment the state withdraws its support. The question whether this support shall or shall not be withdrawn is not a question of what was done in the past, but of what shall be done in the future—a question of general rights, not a question between individuals. Things which are brought into existence by the exertion of labor, and to which the character of property attaches from their origin as an extension of the right of the man to himself, are property of the first kind. Special privileges by which the state empowers and assists one man in taking the proceeds of another’s labor, are property of the second kind.

A question of the ownership of a coat, a tool, a house, a bale of goods, is a question of the ownership of the concrete results of past labor. We know from the nature of the thing that it must be owned by somebody, but after lapse of time we cannot from the weakness of human powers undertake in case of dispute to determine who that may be; and hence, refusing to inquire so far back, we assume the right to be in the possessor, of which we have at least presumptive evidence. But a question of the maintenance or abolition of slavery or private property in land, of the continuance or non-continuance of a trade monopoly, a hereditary pension, or a protective duty, is a question whether the state shall or shall not in the future lend its power for the wrongful appropriation of the results of labor yet to be performed. There is in this no place for the principle of statutes of limitation. No indistinctness as to the past can affect the decision. It is not a question of what has been done in the past, but of what shall be (lone in the future. And so far from the presumption being that the possessor of this species of property is entitled to it, the moral certainty is the other way.

Again it is said, “Here is a man who invests in a slave and another who invests in a building, both being alike recognized as property by the state. The state by refusing longer to give its former sanction destroys the value of one investment while the other continues profitable. Have not these two men been treated with inequality, which in justice should be remedied by compensation? If there was a wrong involved in the one species of property, was it not a wrong of which by state sanction all were guilty? Is it just therefore that those who have happened to invest in it should bear the whole loss?”‘

To other confusions there is here added confusion as to the relation between the state and its members. If the maintenance by the state of a species of property that involves wrong is to be considered as the action of all its members, even of those who suffer by it, so must the resolve of the state to do so no longer be considered as the resolve of all, even of those who relatively lose by it. If the one cannot demand recompense, how can the others demand compensation?

Passing this, the moral law appealed to in the demand for compensation must be the moral law that binds individuals. Now the moral law cannot sanction immorality. It must hold as void even a specific contract to do wrong. But in the cases we are considering there is no contract. The claim is merely that the state by its wrongful action having given rise to the expectation that it would continue such wrongful action, is morally bound, should it decline to do so, to compensate those who have invested in this expectation. Would such a claim hold as between individuals? If, for instance, I have been accustomed to spend my earnings in a gambling-house or rum-shop till the proprietor has come to count on me as a source of regular profit, am I morally bound to compensate him if I stop? Or if an innocent purchaser has bought the business on the expectation that I would continue, does that bind me to compensate him?

Consider further: If a moral right of property is created by the acquiescence of the state in a wrong, then it must be morally binding on all. If the state would violate the moral law in abolishing slavery without compensation, so would the slave violate the moral law in attempting to escape without first compensating his master, and so would every one who aided him, even with a cup of cold water. This was actually held and taught and enacted into law in the United States previous to the war, and with reference to the white slaves of Great Britain is held and taught by the foremost men and journals of that country, who declare that for the masses even by strictly legal forms to resume their natural rights in the land of their birth, without compensation to present legal owners, would be a violation of the Ten Commandments!

That the state is not an individual, but is composed of individual members all of whom must be affected by its action, is the reason why its legitimate sphere is that of securing to those members equal rights. This is the equality which it is bound to secure, not equality in the results of individual actions; and whoever chooses to invest on the presumption of its denial of equal rights does so at his own risk. He cannot ask that, to secure equality of profits between him and investors who did not take this risk, the state should continue to deny equality of rights. It is the duty of the state to secure equality of rights, not to secure equality of profits.

Of the investments of all kinds constantly being made under the equal sanction of the state some result in loss and some in gain. Supposing it to be asked, “Why should not the state secure equality by compensating those who lose?”

The answer would be quick and clear. It is not the business of the state to secure investors from loss, and it would be grossly unjust for it to attempt to do so. For this would be to compel those who had made good investments to make up the losses of those who had made bad ones. It would be to take from prudence and care their natural reward and make them bear the losses of recklessness and waste; to punish forethought, to put a premium on ignorance and extravagance, and quickly to impoverish the richest community.

But would it not be even more unjust and unwise for the state to compensate those who up to the last moment had held and bought property involving wrong, thus compelling those who had refrained from holding and buying it to make up their losses? Is it true that the acquiescence of the state in a wrong of this kind proves it equally the wrong of all? Did that part of the community consisting of slaves ever acquiesce in slavery? Did the men who were robbed of their natural rights in land ever really acquiesce? Are not such wrongs always instituted in the first place by those who by force or cunning gain control of the state? Are they not maintained by stifling liberty, by corrupting morals and confusing thought and buying or gagging the teachers of religion and of ethics? Is not any movement for the abolition of such wrongs always and of necessity preceded by a long agitation in which their injustice is so fully declared that whoever does not wilfully shut his eyes may see it?

“Caveat emptor” is the maxim of the law—”Let the buyer beware!” If a man buys a structure in which the law of gravity is disregarded or mechanical laws ignored he takes the risk of those laws asserting their sway. And so he takes the risk in buying property which contravenes the moral law. When he ignores the moral sense, when he gambles on the continuance of a wrong, and when at last the general conscience rises to the point of refusing to continue that wrong, can he then claim that those who have refrained from taking part in it, those who have suffered from it, those who have borne the burden and heat and contumely of first moving against it, shall share in his losses on the ground that its members of the same state they are equally responsible for it? And must not the acceptance of this impudent plea tend to prevent that gradual weakening and dying out of the wrong which would otherwise occur as the rise of the moral sense against it lessened the prospect of its continuance; and by promise of insurance to investors tend to maintain it in strength and energy till the last minute?

Take slavery. The confidence of American slave-holders, strengthened by the example of Great Britain, that abolition would not come without compensation, kept up to the highest point the market value of slaves, even after the guns that were to free them had begun to sound, whereas if there had been no paltering with the idea of compensation the growth of the sentiment against slavery would by reducing the selling value of slaves have gradually lessened the pecuniary interests concerned in supporting it.

Take private property in land. Where the expectation of future growth and improvement is in every advancing community a most important element in selling value, the effect of the idea of compensation will be to keep up speculation, and thus to prevent that lessening in the selling value of land, that gradual accommodation of individuals to the coming change, which is the natural effect of the growth of the demand for the recognition of equal rights to land.

The question we are discussing is necessarily a moral question. Those who contend that the state is the source of all rights may indeed object to any proposed state action that it would be inexpedient, but they cannot object that it would be wrong. Nevertheless, just as we find the materialistic evolutionists constantly dropping into expressions which imply purpose in nature, so do we find deniers of any higher law than that of the state vociferous in their declarations that it would be wrong, or unjust, or wicked, for the state to abolish property of this spurious kind without compensation. The only way we can meet them with any regard for their professions is to assume that they do not quite understand the language, and that by such expressions they mean that it would be inexpedient. Their argument, I take it, may be most fairly put in this way: Experience has shown respect for property rights to be greatly conducive to the progress and well-being of mankind, and all rights of property resting (as they assert) on the same basis, the recognition of the state, the destruction of a recognized right of property by action of the state would give a shock to and cast a doubt over all rights of property, and thus work injury.

But even if we ignore any moral basis, and assume that all rights of property are derived from the state, it is still clear that while some forms of property do conduce to the general wealth and prosperity, others may be recognized by the state that lessen the general wealth and impair the general prosperity. The right of piracy, which at times and places has been recognized by the state, does not stand on the same basis of expediency with the right of peaceful commerce. The right of hereditary jurisdiction, or “the right of pit and gallows” as it was called in Scotland, where it was actually bought out by the state as a piece of valuable property; the right, long having a saleable value in France, of administering justice; the right, at times recognized by the state as belonging to every petty lordling, of making private war, of collecting local dues and tolls and customs, and compelling services; the right of trampling down the fields of the husbandman in the pursuit of game; the monopolies which made valuable privileges of permissions to manufacture, to trade and to import, were certainly not promotive of the general prosperity. On the contrary the general wealth and prosperity have been greatly enhanced by their abolition.

Even if we grant that all rights of property have the same basis and sanction and eliminate all moral distinction, reason and experience still show that there is but one right of property that conduces to the prosperity of the whole community, and that this is the right which secures to the laborer the product of his labor. This promotes prosperity by stimulating production, and giving such security to accumulation as permits the use of capital and affords leisure for the development of the intellectual powers. It is respect for this, not respect for those forms of property which the perversion or folly of legislative power may at times sanction, and which consist in the power of appropriating the results of others’ labor, that universal experience shows to be essential to the peace, prosperity and happiness of mankind.

So far from the destruction of those spurious and injurious rights of property which have wound around the useful rights of property, like choking weeds around a fruitful vine, being calculated to injure that respect for property on which wealth and prosperity and civilization depend, the reverse is the case. They are not merely directly destructive of what it promotes, but to class them with it and to insist that the respect due to it is also due to them is to give rise to the belief that all rights of property are injurious to the masses. The history of mankind shows that the respect for property which is essential to social well-being has never been threatened, save by the growth of these noxious parasites. And this to-day is the only thing that threatens it. Why are the socialists of to-day so hostile to capital? It is for no other reason than that they confuse with what is really capital legalized wrongs which enable the few to rob the many, by appropriating the products of labor and demanding a blackmail for the use of the opportunity to labor. To teach that the good and the bad in legal recognitions are indistinguishable that all that the state may choose to regard its property is property, is virtually to teach that property is robbery!

And what is this state, to whose control by selfishness or ignorance or dishonesty or corruption these deniers of moral  distinctions would give the power of binding men in the most vitally important matter for all future time? Caligula was the state. Nero was the state. Louis XIV truly said, “The state, it is I.” And according to Herbert Spencer the state in England consists of “a motley assemblage of nominees of caucuses, ruled by ignorant and fanatical wire-pullers.” Practically, the state is always what man, what combination, what interest, may control its machinery. Hence the expediency of strictly limiting its power; and, if indeed there be no moral principle, no higher law, that will give us clear guidance as to what the state may or may not do, then it becomes all the more expedient that we carry the principle of state omnipotence over rights to its logical conclusion, and assert the power of the state in any present or any future time utterly to annul any stipulation, contract, regulation or institution of the state at any past time. If there be no moral right, no higher law, to cheek the action of the state, then is it all the more needful that it should be subject at least to the prospective cheek of sharp and complete reversal. For the more permanent and therefore the more valuable are the special privileges which the state has power to grant, the greater is the inducement to selfish interests to gain control of it. Nothing better calculated to corrupt government and to strengthen a most dangerous tendency of our time can well be imagined than the doctrine that state grants which enable one man to take the labor and property of others can never be abolished without compensation to those who may hold them.

Of different nature is the plea sometimes made, that compensation, by disarming opposition, is the easiest and quickest way of abolishing a vested wrong. As to this, no only is compensation not abolition, not only does it advocacy tend to keep in full strength the pecuniary interest which are the greatest obstacles to the reform, but it render it impossible to arouse that moral force which can alone overcome an intrenched wrong. For to say that men must be compensated if they are prevented from doing a thing is to say that they have a right to do that thing. And this those who intelligently advocate compensation know. Their purpose in advocating compensation is to prevent abolition.

It is sometimes said that it would have been cheaper for us to pay for the Southern slaves, as Great Britain did in the West Indies, than incur the civil war. But the assumption that American slavery might thus have been got rid of and the war avoided, is far from being true. An aristocratic government, such as that of Great Britain in 1832, may abolish slavery in a few small dependencies by imposing the burden on its own people, but in a popular government and on a great scale this cannot be done. Great Britain saved no war by paying compensation, for the West Indian planters could not have fought emancipation, and if the West Indian slaves were freed more quickly with compensation than they could have been without, it was solely because the class concerned in the maintenance of vested wrongs was overpoweringly strong in the British Parliament. With even such representation as the masses now have it would have been easier to abolish slavery in the West Indies without compensation than with it. In the United States abolition with compensation was never a practical question, nor could it have become a practical question until the sentiment against slavery had reached even a stronger pitch than that which led to war. The war came before more than a small minority had seriously thought of abolishing slavery, let alone of paying for it; before either section really dreamed of war. It came from the unstable equilibrium which legalized wrong begets, from the incidental issues and passions which it always arouses when the moral sense begins to revolt against it, even before the main question is reached. It came, not from a demand for compensation on one side and a refusal to give it on the other, but from the timidity with which the moral question had been treated by those who really saw the essential injustice of slavery, and which by concessions and compromises had so strengthened and emboldened the slavery interest that in revolt at measures far less threatening to it than the discussion of abolition with compensation could have been, it flung the nation into war.

And even if the alternative of compensation or war had been fairly presented to the American people, who shall say that it would have been really wiser and cheaper for them to surrender to such a demand? Could the Nemesis that follows national wrong have thus been placated? Might not the carrying out of such a measure as the compensation for three million slaves have given rise to political struggles involving an even more disastrous war? And would the precedent established in the conscious violation of the moral sense ultimately have cost nothing? The cost of the war, in blood, in wealth, in the bitterness aroused and the corruptions of government engendered, cannot well be estimated; yet who cannot but feel that the moral atmosphere is clearer and that the great problems which still beset the Republic are easier of solution than if with the alternative of compensation or war, like a pistol at its head, the nation had consciously and cravenly surrendered to wrong?

What this plea for compensation amounts to is, that it is cheaper to submit to wrong than to stand for right. Universal experience shows that whenever a nation accepts such a doctrine of submission it loses independence and liberty without even gaining peace. The peace it will secure is the peace that declining Rome bought of the barbarians, the peace of fellaheen and Bengalees.

Even in personal matters it is difficult to say what will be the result of action based on mere expediency; in the larger and more intricate scale of national affairs it is impossible. This is why, as contended by Mr. Spencer in Social Statics, the course of true wisdom in social affairs is to follow the dictate of principle—to ask, not what seems to be expedient, but what is right. If a law or institution is wrong, if its continuance involves the continuance of injustice, there is but one wise thing to do, as there is but one right thing, and that is to abolish it.

To come back to the main question:

All pleas for compensation on the abolition of unequal rights to land are excuses for avoiding right and continuing wrong; they all, as fully as the original wrong, deny that equalness which is the essential of justice. Where they have seemed plausible to any honestly minded man, he will, if he really examines his thought, see that this has been so because he has, though perhaps unconsciously, entertained a sympathy for those who seem to profit by injustice which he has refused to those who have been injured by it. He has been thinking of the few whose incomes would be cut off by the restoration of equal rights. He has forgotten the many who are being impoverished, degraded, and driven out of life by its denial. If he once breaks through the tyranny of accustomed ideas and truly realizes that all men are equally entitled to the use of the natural opportunities for the living of their lives and the development of their powers, he will see the injustice, the wickedness, of demanding compensation for the abolition of the monopoly of land. He will see that if any one is to be compensated on the abolition of a wrong, it is those who have suffered by the wrong, not those who have profited by it.

Private property in land—the subjecting of land to that exclusive ownership which rightfully attaches to the products of labor—is a denial of the true right of property, which gives to each the equal right to exert his labor and the exclusive right to its results. It differs from slavery only in its form, which is that of making property of the indispensable natural factor of production, while slavery makes property of the human factor; and it has the same purpose and effect, that of compelling some men to work for others. Its abolition therefore does not mean the destruction of any right but the cessation of a wrong—that for the future the municipal law shall conform to the moral law, and that each shall have his own.

I have gone over this question of compensation—this “last ditch” of the advocates of landlordism—because it is so persistently raised, not that it arises in anything I have advocated. We who propose that natural and therefore easy method of restoring their equal rights to men, which for the purpose of clearly differentiating it from all schemes of land nationalization we call the single tax, do not propose to take from landowners anything they now have. We propose to leave to landowners whatever they actually have, even though it be in their hands the fruits of injustice; we propose not even to change the forms of land tenure, and greatly to simplify instead of enlarging the machinery and functions of the state. We propose, in short, only so to change present methods of raising public revenues that they shall conform to the requirements of the right of property, taking for the rise of the state that which rightfully belongs to the state, leaving to individuals that which rightfully belongs to the individual.

But that clumsy mode of abolishing private property in land which is properly called land nationalization requires the taking of rightful property in the improvements that have been annexed to land. In this it calls for compensation in a way that confusion of thought may carry to the ownership of land itself. And even the taking of land it proposes would be in form a taking of property. The land would have to be formally appropriated by the state and then rented out. Now we are accustomed to the compensation of owners when particular portions of land are taken for the use of the state, and this indeed as I have before pointed out is rightful, so that it is easy for the superficial to think that when the state shall take all the land for the purpose of renting it out again it should compensate all owners. Thus the scheme of land nationalization gives to the idea of compensation a plausibility that does not properly belong to it.

This is the reason why in England, where there has been a good deal of talk of land nationalization, the notion of compensation is strong among certain classes, while in America, where the movement for the recognition of equal rights to the use of land has gone from the beginning on the lines of the single tax, there is almost nothing of it, except as a reflection of English thought. And this is the reason why, although even in England the advocates of land nationalization are few and weak as compared with the great body that is advancing on the unjust privileges of landlords by the way of taxation, the English advocates of landlordism always endeavour to discuss the land question as though the actual taking of land by the state were the only thing proposed. It will be observed for instance that Mr. Spencer, in Justice, never so much as alludes to the proposition to secure equal rights in land by taking land values, not land. Yet he cannot be so ignorant of what is going on about him as not to know that this is the line which the advance against landlordism is taking and must take. He ignores it because there is on that line no place for proposing or even suggesting compensation. Compensation to the ultimate payers of a tax is something unheard of and absurd.

The primary error of the advocates of land nationalization is in their confusion of equal rights with joint rights, and in their consequent failure to realize the nature and meaning of economic rent—errors which I have pointed out in commenting on Mr. Spencer’s declarations in Social Statics. In truth the right to the use of land is not a joint or common right, but an equal right; the joint or common right is to rent, in the economic sense of the term. Therefore it is not necessary for the state to take land, it is only necessary for it to take rent. This taking by the commonalty of what is of common right, would of itself secure equality in what is of equal right—for since the holding of land could be profitable only to the user, there would be no inducement for any one to hold land that he could not adequately use, and monopolization being ended no one who wanted to use land would have any difficulty in finding it. And it would at the same time secure the individual right, for in taking what is of common right for its revenues the state could abolish all those taxes which now take from the individual what is of individual right.

The truth is that customs taxes, and improvement taxes, and income taxes, and taxes on business and occupations and on legacies and successions, are morally and economically no better than highway robbery or burglary, all the more disastrous and demoralizing because practised by the state. There is no necessity for them. The seeming necessity arises only from the failure of the state to take its own natural and adequate source of revenue—a failure which entails a long train of evils of another kind by stimulating a forestalling and monopolization of land which creates an artificial scarcity of the primary element of life and labor, so that in the midst of illimitable natural resources the opportunity to work has come to be looked on as a boon, and in spite of the most enormous increase in the powers of production the great mass find life a hard struggle to maintain life, and millions die before their time, of overstrain and under-nurture.

When the matter is looked on in this way, the idea of compensation—the idea that justice demands that those who have engrossed the natural revenue of the state must be paid the capitalized value of all future engrossment before the state can resume those revenues—is too preposterous for serious statement.

And while in the nature of things any change from wrong-doing to right-doing must entail loss upon those who profit by the wrong-doing, and this can no more be prevented than can parallel lines be made to meet; yet it must also be remembered that in the nature of things the loss is merely relative, the gain absolute. Whoever will examine the subject will see that in the abandonment of the present unnatural and unjust method of raising public revenues and the adoption of the natural and just method even those who relatively lose will be enormous gainers.

Chapter XII—
Justice—”The Land Question”

While Justiceshows no decadence of intellectual power, and those who have seen the utterances of a great thinker in preceding volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy will doubtless have as high an opinion of this, there is in it everywhere, as compared with Social Statics, the evidence of moral decadence, and of that perplexity which is the penalty of deliberate sacrifice of intellectual honesty. But it were wearying, and for our purpose needless, to review the subsequent chapters of Justice, and to show the contradictions and confusions into which Mr. Spencer falls at every turn,[14]and the manner in which he recants his previously expressed opinions on such subjects as the political rights of women, and even the equal political rights of men. To complete the examination of that cross-section of his teachings which in the beginning I proposed, let us proceed to the consideration of his very last word on the land question, the note to which he refers the reader at the close of the chapter on ‘The Rights to the Uses of Natural Media.’

This note is to be found among the appendices to Justice, which consist of Appendix A, “The Kantian Idea of Rights,” before referred to (-Chapter IX-); Appendix B, “The Land Question”; Appendix C, “The Moral Motive,” a reply to a criticism by the Rev. J. Llewellyn Davis; and Appendix D, “Conscience in Animals,” which is a collection of dog stories.

The idea that for the genesis of all there is in man, even his moral perceptions, we must look down, not up, permeates the Synthetic Philosophy, seeking to obliterate the gulf between man and other animals by greedily swallowing every traveller’s tale that tends to degrade man and every wonder-monger’s story that ascribes human faculties to brutes. Thus Justicebegins with “Animal Ethics” and ends with dog stories, the appendix devoted to them being twice as large as that devoted to “The Land Question” and illustrated with diagrams.[15]

These dog stories are, however, fit companions to the savage stories with which, by the assistance of a corps of readers, the volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy are profusely embellished. The wooden literalness with which, to suit himself, Mr. Spencer interprets the imagery and metaphor of which the language of all peoples who come close to nature is full, is perhaps the most comical thing in this unconsciously comic collection. I hesitate to give an instance, such is the embarrassment of riches; but here, to quote at random, is one. It is from the chapter on ‘The Religious Idea’ in Principles of Sociology. Mr. Spencer has been showing to his own satisfaction, and doubtless to that of the gentlemen who regard him as greater than Aristotle, how from the adoption of such family names as Wolf, and the habit of speaking of a strong man as “a bear,” the less civilized peoples, whom he generically lumps as “savages,” have come to believe that their ancestors passed into animals. He goes on to show “how naturally the identification of stars with persons may occur.” Recalling first, what he declares to be “the belief of some North Americans that the brighter stars in the Milky Way are camp-fires made by the dead on their way to the other world,” this is the fashion in which he does it:

When a sportsman, hearing a shot in the adjacent wood, exclaims, “That’s Jones!” he is not supposed to mean that Jones is the sound; he is known to mean that Jones made the sound. But when a savage, pointing to a particular star originally thought of as the camp-fire of such or such a departed man, says, “There he is,” the children he is instructing naturally suppose him to mean that the star itself is the departed man; especially when receiving the statement through an undeveloped language.—Principles of Sociology, Vol. II, p. 685.

“Lo, the poor Indian!”

What would happen to the beliefs of savage children if their undeveloped language enabled them to receive such information as is often conveyed through our developed language—such, for instance, as “She’s a daisy!” or “He’s a brick!” or “You would have to use a pickaxe to get a joke through his head”?

But I am keeping the reader from “The Land Question.” This is, for our purpose at least, the most important utterance of what its author deems the most important book of the great Synthetic Evolutionary Philosophy—a book that begins with “Animal Ethics,” and ends with dog stories. I quote this appendix in full:

    The course of Nature, “red in tooth and claw,” has been, on a higher plane, the course of civilization. Through “blood and iron” small clusters of men have been consolidated into larger ones, and these again into still larger ones, until nations have been formed. This process, carried on everywhere and always by brute force, has resulted in a history of wrongs upon wrongs: savage tribes have been slowly welded together by savage means. We could not, if we tried, trace back the acts of unscrupulous violence committed during these thousands of years; and could we trace them back we could not rectify their evil results.
         Landownership was established during this process; and if the genesis of landownership was full of iniquities, they were iniquities committed not by the ancestors of any one class of existing men but by the ancestors of all existing men. The remote forefathers of living Englishmen were robbers, who stole the lands of men who were themselves robbers, who behaved in like manner to the robbers who preceded them. The usurpation by the Normans, here complete and there partial, was of lands which, centuries before, had been seized, some by piratical Danes and Norsemen, and some at an earlier time by hordes of invading Frisians or old English. And then the Celtic owners, expelled or enslaved by these had in bygone ages themselves expropriated the people who lived in the underground houses here and there still traceable. What would happen if we tried to restore lands inequitably taken if Normans had to give them back to Danes and Norse and Frisians, and these again to Celts, and these again to the men who lived in caves and used flint impliments? The only imaginable form of the transaction would be a restoration of Great Britain bodily to the Welsh and the Highlanders; and if the Welsh and the Highlanders did not make a kindred restoration, it could only be on the ground that, having not only taken the land of the aborigines but killed them, they had thus justified their ownership!
         The wish now expressed by many that landownership should be conformed to the requirements of pure equity, is in itself commendable; and is in some men prompted by conscientious feeling. One would, however, like to hear from such the demand that not only here but in the various regions we are peopling, the requirements of pure equity should be conformed to. As it is, the indignation against wrongful appropriations of land, made in the past at home, is not accompanied by any indignation against the more wrongful appropriations made at present abroad. Alike as holders of the predominant political power and as furnishing the rank and file of our armies, the masses of the people are responsible for those nefarious doings all over the world which end in the seizing of new territories and expropriation of their inhabitants.
         The filibustering expeditions of the old English are repeated, on a vastly larger scale, in the filibustering expeditions of the new English. Yet those who execrate ancient usurpations utter no word of protest against these far greater modern usurpations—nay, are aiders and abetters in them. Remaining as they do passive and silent while there is going on this universal land-grabbing which their votes could stop; and supplying as they do the soldiers who effect it; they are responsible for it. By deputy they are committing in this matter grosser and more numerous injustices than were committed against their forefathers.
         That the masses of landless men should regard private landownership as having been wrongfully established, is natural and, as we have seen, they are not without warrant. But if we entertain the thought of rectification, there arises in the first place the question—Which are the wronged and which are the wrongers? Passing over the primary fact that the ancestors of existing Englishmen, landed and landless, were, as a body, men who took the land by violence from previous owners; and thinking only of the force and fraud by which certain of these ancestors obtained possession of the land while others of them lost possession; the preliminary question is—Which are the descendants of the one and of the other? It is tacitly assumed that those who now own lands are the posterity of the usurpers, and that those who now have no lands are the posterity of those who lands were usurped. But this is far from being the case. The fact that among the nobility there are very few whose titles go back to the days when the last usurpations took place, and none to the days when there took place the original usurpations; joined with the fact that among existing landowners there are many whose names imply artisan ancestors; show that we have not now to deal with descendants of those who unjustly appropriated the land. While, conversely, the numbers of the landless whose names prove that their forefathers belonged to the higher ranks (numbers which must be doubled to take account of intermarriages with female descendents) show that among those who are now without land, many inherit the blood of the land-usurpers. Hence, that bitter feeling toward the landed which contemplation of the past generates in many of the landless, is in great measure misplaced. They are themselves to a considerable extent descendants of the sinners; while those they scowl at are to a considerable extent descendants of the sinned-against.
         But granting all that is said about past iniquities, and leaving aside all other obstacles in the way of an equitable arrangement, there is an obstacle which seems to have been overlooked. Even supposing that the English as a race gained possession of the land equitably, which they did not; and even supposing that existing landowners are the posterity of those who spoiled their fellows, which in large part they are not; and even supposing that the existing landless are the posterity of the despoiled, which in large part they are not; there would still have to be recognized a transaction that goes far to prevent rectification of injustices. If we are to go back upon the past at all, we must go back upon the past wholly, and take account not only of that which the people at large have lost by private appropriation of land, but also that which they have received in the form of a share of the returns—we must take account, that is, of Poor-Law relief. Mr. T. Mackay, author of The English Poor, has kindly furnished me with the following memoranda, showing something like the total amount of this since the 43d Elizabeth (1601) in England and Wales.
         “Sir G. Nicholls (History of Poor Law, appendix to Vol. II) ventures no estimate till 1688. At that date he puts the poorrate at nearly £700,000 a year. Till the beginning of this century the amounts are based more or less on estimate.
1631-1700.(1688 Nicholls puts at 700,000.)30
1701-1720.(1701 Nicholls puts at 900,000.)20
1721-1760.1760 Nicholls says 11 millions.)40
1761-1775.(17 75 put at 11 millions.)22
1776-1800.(1784 2 millions.)50
1801-1812.(1803 4 millions; 1813 6 millions.)65
1813-1840.(based on exact figures given by Sir G. Nicholls.)170
1841-1890.(based on Mulhall’s Diet. of Statistics and Statistical Abstract.)334
  • The above represents the amount expended in relief of the poor. Under the general term “poor-rate,” moneys have always been collected for other purposes—county, borough, police rates, etc. The following table shows the annual amounts of these in connection with the annual amounts expended on the poor:
  Total leviedExpended on poorOther purposes
Sir G. NichollsIn 18035,348,0004,077,0001,271,000
In 1813 6,656,1061,990,735
In 1853 4,939,0641,583,341
  Total spent Sum spent
StatisticalAbstractIn 187512,694,2087,488,4815,205,727
In 188915,970,1268,366,4777,603,649
  • In addition, therefore, to sums set out in the first table, there is a further sum, rising during the century from 11 to 71 millions per annum, ‘for other purposes.’
         “Mulhall, on whom I relied for figures between 1853 and 1875, does not give ‘other expenditure’.”
         Of course of the £734,000,000 given to the poorer members of the landless class during three centuries, a part has arisen from rates on houses; only such portion of which as is chargeable against ground-rents, being rightly included in the sum the land has contributed. From a landowner, who is at the same time a Queen’s Counsel, frequently employed professionally to arbitrate in questions of local taxation, I have received the opinion that if, out of the total sum received by the poor, £500,000,000 is credited to the land, this will be an underestimate. Thus even if we ignore the fact that this amount, gradually contributed, would, if otherwise gradually invested, have yielded in returns of one or other kind a far larger sum, it is manifest that against the claim of the landless may be set off a large claim of the landed—perhaps a larger claim.
         For now observe that the landless have not an equitable claim to the land in its present state cleared, drained, fenced, fertilized, and furnished with farm-buildings, etc.—but only to the land in its primitive state, here stony and there marshy, covered with forest, gorse, heather, etc.; this only, it is, which belongs to the community. Hence, therefore, the question arises—What is the relation between the original “prairie value” of the land, and the amount which the poorer among the landless have received during these three centuries? Probably the landowners would contend that for the land in its primitive, unsubdued state, furnishing nothing but wild animals and wild fruits, £500,000,000 would be a high price.
         When, in Social Statics, published in 1850, I drew from the law of equal freedom the corollary that the land could not equitably be alienated from the community, and argued that, after compensating its existing holders, it should be reappropriated by the community, I overlooked the foregoing considerations. Moreover, I did not clearly see what would be implied by the giving of compensation for all that value which the labor of ages has given to the land. While, as shown in Chapter Xl, I adhere to the inference originally drawn, that the aggregate of men forming the community are the supreme owners of the land—an inference harmonising with legal doctrine and daily acted upon in legislation—a fuller consideration of the matter has led me to the conclusion that individual ownership, subject to state suzerainty, should be maintained.
          Even were it possible to rectify the inequitable doings which have gone on during past thousands of years, and by some balancing of claims and counter-claims, past and present, to make a rearrangement equitable in the abstract, the resulting state of things would be a less desirable one than the present. Setting aside all financial objections to nationalization (which of themselves negative the transaction, since, if equitably effected, it would be a losing one), it suffices to remember the inferiority of public administration to private administration, to see that ownership by the state would work ill. Under the existing system of ownership, those who manage the land, experience a direct connection between effort and benefit; while, were it under state ownership, those who managed it would experience no such direct connection. The vices of officialism would inevitably entail immense evils.

Was ever philosopher so perplexed before?
Mr. Spencer started out in 1850 to tell us what are our rights to land. And, excepting that he fell into some confusion by carelessly transforming equal rights into joint rights, he clearly did so. But now, in 1892, and in the climax of the Spencerian Synthetic Philosophy, he has got himself into a maze, in which the living and the dead—Normans, Danes, Norsemen, Frisians, Celts, Saxons, Welsh, and Highlanders; old English and new English; plebeians with aristocratic names, and aristocrats with plebeian names, and female descendants who have changed their names; ancient filibusters and modern filibusters—are all so whirling round that, in sheer despair, he springs for guidance to “a landowner who is at the same time a Queen’s Counsel,” and is led by him plump into the English poor law and a long array of figures.

Yet, in the mad whirl he still pretends to consistency. “I adhere,” he says, “to the inference originally drawn, that the aggregate of men forming the community are the supreme owners of the land.”

Here is that inference in his own words—the inference originally drawn in Social Statics:

  • Given a race of beings having like claims to pursue the objects of their desires—given a world adapted to the gratification of those desires—a world into which such beings are similarly born, and it unavoidably follows that they have equal rights to the use of this world … Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land … The right of mankind at large to the earth’s surface is still valid; all deeds, customs, and laws notwithstanding.

What is it that Mr. Spencer here asserts? Not that men derive their rights to the use of the earth by gift, bequest or inheritance, from their ancestors, or from any previous men, but that they derive them from the fact of their own existence. Who lived on the earth before them, or what such predecessors did, has nothing whatever to do with the matter. The equal right to the use of land belongs to each man as man. It begins with his birth; it continues till his death. It can be destroyed or superseded by no human action whatever.

And this is the ground on which, without exception, stand all who demand the resumption of equal rights to land. Where there has been any reference on their part to the wrongfulness of past appropriations of land, it has merely been—as in the case of Mr. Spencer himself in Social Statics—by way of illustrating the origin of private property in land, not by way of basing the demand for the rights of living men on the proof of wrongs done to dead men.[16]Neither Mr. Spencer in his “straight” days, nor any one else who has stood for equal rights in land, ever dreamed of such a stultifying proposition as that the right to the use of land must be drawn from some dispossessed generation, for this would be to assert what he so ridiculed, that “God has given one charter of privilege to one generation and another to the next.”

Yet, now, this same Herbert Spencer actually assumes that the only question of moral right as to land is, who robbed whom, in days whereof the very memory has perished, and when, according to him, everybody was engaged in robbing everybody else. He not only eats his own words, denies his own perceptions, and endeavours to confuse the truth he once bore witness to, but he assumes that the whole great movement for the recognition of equal rights to land, that is beginning to show its force wherever the English tongue is spoken, has for its object only rectification of past injustices—the ridiculous search, in which he pretends to engage, as to what ancestor robbed what ancestor—and that until that is discovered, those who now hold as their private property the inalienable heritage of all may hold it still. And in the course of this “argument,” this advocate of the rich against the poor, of the strong against the weak, declares that the toiling masses of England, made ignorant and brutal and powerless by their disinheritance, have lost their natural rights by serving as food for powder and payers of taxes in foreign wars waged by the ruling classes.

This is bad enough; but more follows. Mr. Spencer discovers a new meaning in the English poor laws.

In Social Statics, be it remembered, he declared that the equal right to the use of land is the natural, direct, inalienable right of all men, having its derivation in the fact of their existence, and of which they can in no possible way be equitably deprived. He declared, that equity does not permit private property in land, and that it is impossible to discover any mode by which land can become private property. He scouted the idea that force can give right, or that sale or bequest or prescription can make invalid claims valid; saying that, “though nothing be multiplied forever, it will not produce one”; asking, “How long does it take for what was originally wrong to grow into a right? and at what rate per annum do invalid claims become valid?” He declared that neither use nor improvement, nor even the free consent of all existing men, could give private ownership in land, or bar the equal right of the next child born. And he, moreover, proved that land nationalization, which he then proposed as the only equitable treatment of land, did not involve state administration.

Not one of the arguments of Social Statics is answered in Justice—not even the showing that land nationalization merely involves a change in the receivers of rent, and not the governmental occupation and use of land. There are two things, and two things only, that Mr. Spencer admits that he overlooked—the relation of the poor law to the claims of landowners, and the amount of compensation which the landless must give to the landed “for all that value which the labor of ages has given to the land.”

Mr. Spencer has discussed the poor law before. One of the longest of the chapters of Social Statics, from which I have already quoted,[17]is devoted to it; and in recent writings he has again referred to it. In Social Staticshe declares that the excuse made for a poor law—that it is a compensation to the disinherited for the deprivation of their birthright—has much plausibility; but he objects, not only that the true remedy is to restore equal rights to land, but that the poor law does not give compensation, insisting that poor-rates are in the main paid by non-landowners, and that it is only here and there that one of those kept out of their inheritance gets any part of them.

In 1884, in The Coming Slavery, he repeats the assertion that non-landowners get no benefit from the poor law, saying—

The amount which under the old poor law the half-pauperised laborer received from the parish to eke out his weekly income was not really, as it appeared, a bonus, for it was accompanied by a substantially equivalent decrease of his wages, as was quickly proved when the system was abolished and the wages rose.

In The Sins of Legislators, he repeats that instead of being paid by landowners, the poor-rates really fall on non-landowners, saying—

As, under the old poor law, the diligent and provident laborer had to pay that the good-for-nothings might not suffer, until frequently, under this extra burden, he broke down and himself took refuge in the workhouse—as, at present, it is admitted that the total rates levied in large towns for all public purposes, have now reached such a height that they “cannot be exceeded without inflicting great hardship on the small shopkeepers and artisans, who already find it difficult enough to keep themselves free from pauper taint.”

But in Appendix B Mr. Spencer ignores all this. He assumes that landowners have been the real payers and the disinherited the real receivers of the poor-rates; and, adding together all that the landowners have paid in poor-rates since the time of Queen Elizabeth, he puts the whole sum to their credit in a ledger account between existing landlords and existing landless.

He begins this account at 1601. He credits the landlords and charges the landless with all that has been collected from land for poor-rates between 1601 and 1890. Now, if this is done, what is to be put on the other side of the ledger? We must take the same date, the ordinary book-keeper would say, and charge the landlords and credit the landless with all the ground-rents the landowners have received from 1601 to 1890. To this we must add all that the landowners have received from the produce of general taxes between 1601 and 1890, by virtue of their political power as landlords.[18]And to this we must again add the selling value in 1890 of the land of England, exclusive of improvements. The difference will show what, if we are to go back to 1601, and no further, existing landlords now owe to existing landless.

This would be the way of ordinary, every-day bookkeeping if it were undertaken to make up such a debtor and creditor account from 1601 to 1890. But this is not the way of Spencerian synthetic book-keeping. What Mr. Spencer does, after crediting landlords and charging the landless with the amount collected from land for poor-rates between 1601 and 1890, is, omitting all reference to mesne profits, to credit the landless and charge the landlords with the value of the land of England, not as it is, but “in its primitive, unsubdued state, furnishing nothing but wild animals and wild fruits”—that is, before there were any men. This—though by what sort of synthetic calculus he gets at it he does not tell us—Mr. Spencer estimates at £500,000,000, a sum that will about square the account, with some little balance on the side of the landlords!

Generous to the poor landless is Mr. Accountant Spencer!—so generous that he ought to make a note of it in writing Part VI of his Principles of Ethics—The Ethics of Social Life: Positive Beneficence. For is it not positive beneficence to those who are to be credited with it to say that £500,000,000 would be a high estimate of the value of England when there was nothing there but wild animals and wild fruit? To one of less wide magnificence two and threepence would seem to be rather more than a high estimate of the value of the land of England before man came.

Chapter XIII—
Principal Brown

REALLY, this final close of the most important discussion of the most important book of the most important grand division of the great Spencerian Synthetic Philosophy can only be fitly treated by calling on the imagination for an illustration:

Mr. J. D. Brown, for some time before our civil war a prominent citizen of Vicksburg, Miss., was a native of Connecticut, of Puritan stock and thrifty habits. Beginning life as a clock-maker, he emigrated when a young man to that part of Ohio, settled from New England, which is still in those regions known as the Western Reserve. There he went to school-teaching, joined a local literary society, and made some speeches which were highly applauded, and in which he did not hesitate to denounce slavery as the sum of all villainies, and to declare for immediate, unconditional emancipation. Somewhat later on, he went South and settled at Vicksburg, where he became professor of moral philosophy in a young ladies’ seminary, and, finally, its principal. Being prudent in speaking of the peculiar institution, and gaining a reputation for profundity, he became popular in the best society, a favourite guest in the lavish hospitalities of the wealthier planters, and, in the Southern manner, was always spoken of to visitors with pride as “Principal Brown, one of our most distinguished men, sir! a great educator, and a great authority on moral philosophy, sir!”

The slavery question was in the meantime growing hotter and hotter. There were no abolitionists in Vicksburg or in the country about, for any one suspected of abolitionism was promptly lynched, or sent North in a coat of tar and feathers. But slaves were occasionally disappearing, among them some of especial value as mechanics; and even a very valuable yellow girl, whose beauty and accomplishments were such that her owner had refused $5,000 for her, had been spirited off by the underground railroad. And “society” in Vicksburg was becoming more and more excited. Though no one yet dreamed that it was destined ere long to redden the Mississippi, and light the skies of Vicksburg with bursting bombs, the cloud on the northern horizon was visibly swelling and darkening, and in “bleeding Kansas” a guerrilla war had already crimsoned the grass.

Still, the lines of Principal Brown were cast in pleasant places, and he received the honours due to a great philosopher, deemed all the greater by those who in their secret hearts did not find his moral philosophy quite intelligible; for he not only made a practice of using the longest words and of interlarding his discourses with references to people of whom his auditors had never heard, and of whom he could say anything he pleased, but he had taken Balzac’s hint, and every now and again he strung together a series of words that sounded as though they might mean something, but really had no meaning at all. He had thus gained a reputation for great profundity with those who vainly puzzled over them, and who attributed their difficulty to an ignorance they were ashamed to admit.

But one woeful day there came to Vicksburg some echo of one of his debating-club speeches in the Western Reserve, and some of the leading citizens deemed fit to interrogate him. He had to lie a little, but succeeded in quieting them; and as not much was said about the matter, his standing in Vicksburg society was, in general unchanged.

Following this, however, something worse happened. The Rev Dr Sorely, one of the most eloquent divines of the Methodist Church South, made a trip to Ohio, and in the Western Reserve delivered a lecture on the biblical and patriarchal system of labor as practiced by our Southern brethren. Among the auditors was a man who remembered and quoted some of the eloquent utterances, on the other side, of the reverend doctor’s friend, Principal Brown. The matter might have passed unheeded, but that the Vicksburg Thunderbolt, anticipating much glory to the South from the Northern visit of its eloquent defender, had sent a special correspondent with him; and a report of the lecture, including the reference to Principal Brown, duly appeared in its columns.

This was indeed a serious matter, and the Principal wrote immediately to the Thunderbolt with feeling and vehemence. He said that he feared that if he remained silent many would think he had said things he had not said; intimated that he had never been in Ohio, and what he had said when he was there he had said for the purpose of finding a secure basis for slavery; that he had only been talking of transcendental ethics, and not of sublunary ethics at all; that he had always insisted that the slave-owners of the South should be paid in full for their slaves; that he had never supposed that the question would come up for millions of years yet; and that the most he had said was that, “It may be doubted, if it does not possibly seem inferable, that perhaps there may be reason to suspect that at some future time the slaves may be liberated, after paying to their owners more than they are worth; but I have no positive opinion as to what may hereafter take place, and am only sure that, if emancipation ever does take place, the negroes must pay to their owners far more in interest on their purchase money than they now pay in work.”

To most of the citizens of Vicksburg this seemed entirely satisfactory, but there were some dissentients. Colonel F. E. Green strongly urged patriotic citizens not to think of such a thing as treating the Principal to a coat of tar and feathers and Professor Bullhead, of the leading young men’s seminary, wrote to the Thunderbolt, requesting his respected colleague to give a categorical answer to the question “whether, when A B went to the slave-pen and bought a negro, the negro was or was not his property, morally as well as legally.” If yes, then Professor Bullhead wanted to know what his learned and respected friend meant by admitting the possibility of emancipation even some millions of years hence; and if no, then Professor Bullhead wanted Principal Brown to tell him why the slaves, before regaining their freedom, must pay their owners more than they were worth. And Professor Bullhead closed with some sarcastic references to transcendental ethics.

Principal Brown did not answer this plain question of his friend Professor Bullhead, but got rid of him as quickly as he could, telling him that there was no dispute between them, since they both insisted on the right of any citizen to work and whip his own negro, and then luring him off into a long discussion of transcendental ethics vs. sublunary ethics. But it was evident that something more had to be done, and the papers soon contained an announcement that Principal Brown proposed to forego for a time the publication of Volumes XXIV and XXV of his great work on Moral Philosophy, and immediately to bring out Volume XXVI, containing a chapter on the slavery question, which he proposed to read to the citizens of Vicksburg at a public meeting.

The lecture drew a large audience of the first citizens of Vicksburg. There was also a sprinkling of rougher citizens, some of whom before entering the hall deposited in a rear lot a long rail that they had brought with them, and some pails that smelled like tar, with a number of large but evidently light sacks. However, the lecture was a great success, and at the close, Principal Brown’s hand was nearly shaken off, and he was escorted to his home by an enthusiastic and cheering crowd, who vowed that nothing like such a “demolisher to the nigger-lovers” had ever been heard in Vicksburg before.

But although the stately periods of the Principal are occasionally marred by what is evidently a reportorial tendency to the slang of the time, let me quote from the papers of the next day, which contained long reports of the speech, accompanied with glowing encomiums:—

(From the Vicksburg Thunderbolt, June 19, 1859)

  • The wealth and beauty and fashion of Vicksburg turned out in full force last evening to listen to a lecture on the slavery question by our distinguished townsman, Principal J. D. Brown, the widely honoured writer on moral philosophy. In the audience our reporter counted thirty-seven colonels, two majors, and thirty-two judges, besides the pastors of all the loading churches. It is a great pity, as many of the enthusiastic hearers said, while congratulating Principal Brown and each other at the conclusion, that William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips themselves could not have been there; for if their miserable nigger-loving hides could be penetrated by the solid blocks of learning, the unanswerable logic, and the mathematical demonstrations which Principal Brown poured into his audience, they would have sung exceedingly small; even if they had not seen the full wickedness of their efforts to rob the widow and the orphan by interfering with our beneficent domestic institution.
         Much of Principal Brown’s lecture it will be impossible to give to our readers this morning, for our reporter, not being well versed in moral philosophy, finds himself unable from his notes to make sense of some of the more profound passages and is uncertain as to how some of the authorities cited spell their names. There was some confusion, too, in the hall when Principal Brown touched on the subject of transcendental ethics, and said that he had always held, and always would hold, that in transcendental ethics all men were pretty much alike. But Colonel Johnson rose in his place and stilled the disturbance, asking the audience to keep their coats on till the Principal got through; and when Principal Brown explained the transcendental ethics related to the other side of the moon, while sublunary ethics related to this side of the moon, there was silence again. It was in the wind-up, however, that the professor got in his best work, and roused his audience to the highest pitch of delight and enthusiasm. He said:—
         “There are people who contend that these negro slaves of the South, after they have paid their owners in full the compensation due them, ought to be put back in their native land. But how are we to find who brought them here? Some were brought in Spanish vessels, some in Portuguese vessels, some in Dutch, some in English, and some in American vessels; and these vessels are all by this time sunk or destroyed, and their owners and crews are dead, and their descendants have got mixed. Besides, they only got the negroes from the barracoons on the African coast. Who is to tell where the ancestor of each one was taken from and who took him to the coast? Many of these slaves bear such names as Brown, Smith, Jones, and Simpson, names borne by the very men who brought their progenitors here. Then they have such given names as Caesar, Hannibal, Dick, Tom, Harry, Ephraim, Alexander, and Nebuchadnezzar, so that no one can tell from their names whether they originally came from Africa or England, Italy, Jerusalem, Greece, or Assyria. And what have these negroes ever done for freedom? Did any one ever hear of them expressing any sympathy for the independence of Greece, or protesting against the Russian invasion of Hungary, or even contributing for the conversion of the Jews, or for sending missionaries to the South Sea Islands, where only man is vile? Contrariwise, when British tyranny invaded our shores did not these negroes work just as readily for the hirelings of King George as they did for their own patriotic masters who were fighting the battles of liberty? And to-day when a nigger runs away, where does he head for? Does he not make a straight streak for Canada, a country groaning under the government of an effete monarchy, and with a full-fledged aristocrat for governor-general? One would like to know that these negro slaves, whom it is proposed to send back to their native land when they have compensated their owners, have some real love for free institutions, before thrusting freedom upon them.
         “To think that slavery was wrongly established is natural, and not without warrant in transcendental ethics. But if we entertain the thought of rectification, there arises in the first place the question—who enslaved them? Their owners did not. They only bought them. These negroes were enslaved by negroes like themselves,—likely enough by their own mothers, cousins, and aunts. Now which are the descendants of the one and which of the other? and where are they to be found? But supposing that they could be found, there would still have to be recognized a transaction which goes far to prevent rectification. If we are to go back upon the past at all, we must go back upon the past wholly, and take account of what it has cost to feed and clothe and keep these negroes since they have been here.
         “I have consulted one of our most eminent negro traders, a gentleman who has probably bought and sold more negroes than anyone in the Southwest, and after a close calculation, he informs me that taking men, women and children together, and considering the loss of their labor which their owners have to suffer in the rearing of children, sickness, and old age, and the cost of overseers, drivers, patrols, and an occasional pack of bloodhounds, the average negro costs the average owner a fraction over $267.57 per annum. But as I wish to be generous to the negro I have thrown off the 57 cents and a fraction, and will put their cost to their masters at only $267 a year.
         “Now, the first cargo of negro slaves was landed in Jamestown, Va., in the year 1620, and the external slave-trade was abolished in 1808. We may therefore assume the average time during which each negro has been in this country as one hundred and fifty years. Saying nothing whatever about interest, it is thus clear that each living negro owes to his owner as the cost of keeping him, $267 a year for one hundred and fifty years, which, excluding interest, amounts at the present time to just $40,050. (Great applause.)”
         Here a man in a back seat rose, and in a decidedly Yankee accent asked Principal Brown if he included negro babies? The Principal replying in the affirmative, the intruder began: “How can a negro baby just born owe any one forty thou—” The rest of the sentence was lost by the sudden exit of the intruder from the hall, over the heads of the audience. There was quite an excitement for a few moments, but Colonel Johnson again rose and restored order by asking the young men in the rear not to escort the interrupter farther than the vacant lot adjoining until the close of the proceedings, as the audience were intent on enjoying the remainder of the logical feast which their distinguished townsman was laying before them. All being quiet again, Principal Brown resumed:
         “Observe that the negroes have not an equitable claim to themselves in their present condition—washed, clothed and fed, civilized, Christianized and taught how to work—but only to themselves in their primitive wild and uncivilized condition. Now, what is the relation between the original ‘wild nigger’ value of each slave and what each one of them has received from his owner during one hundred and fifty years? We know that they were bought at the barracoons, delivered on board ship at prices ranging from a half-pound of beads to a bottle of rum or a Manchester musket, the owners, being at the cost of transporting them to America, including the heavy insurance caused by the necessarily great mortality, items which as you will observe I have not charged against the existing slaves. My friend the slave merchant estimates that on an average 15s. 9d. English money would be a high rate. Let us call it, however, $4 American money. Thus we see that an equitable rectification would require that each negro in the South should pay his owner a balance of $40,046! (Loud and long-continued applause.)
         “Now, when in the Western Reserve many years ago, I drew from transcendental ethics the corollary that the ownership of a man could not be equitably alienated from the man himself, and argued that after the slaves had compensated their owners they should be freed, I had overlooked the foregoing considerations. Moreover, I did not clearly see what would be implied by the giving of compensation for all that during these one hundred and fifty years it has cost the owner to keep the slave. While, therefore, I adhere to the inference originally drawn—that is to say, as far as transcendental ethics is concerned—a fuller consideration of the matter has led me to the conclusion that slavery, subject to the right of the slave to buy himself on payment to his owner of what he has cost, say $40,046, should be maintained. But it may be readily seen that such a transaction would be a losing one to the slaves themselves, for at the present market price of negroes, they are not worth, big and little, more than $1,000 each. And, whereas I have also said that I really did not know but that in the course of some millions of years it might possibly be that the slaves could be allowed their freedom on paying to their owners full compensation, I now see, since what is due from them to their masters is constantly increasing, that with humanity as it now is, the implied reorganization would become more and more unprofitable. (Still louder and longer applause, led by Professor Bullhead, who called for three times three cheers, which were given with a will, the audience rising and the ladies waving their handkerchiefs.)
         “I also wish to point out that all this talk about giving their freedom to the slaves is as foolish as it is wicked. Since under our laws the slave himself is the property of the master, the slaves already have their freedom in the freedom of the master. Thus the equal freedom of each to do all that he wills, provided that he interferes not with the equal freedom of all others, as taught by transcendental ethics, is already recognized by the laws of the South, and nothing more remains for us to do, except to keep abolitionist theories from spreading in this ‘land of the free and home of the brave!’ “
         The uproarious enthusiasm of the audience could no longer be restrained, and, led by Professor Bullhead, who rushed on the stage and embraced Principal Brown, our best citizens crowded round him. During this time the wretch who had interrupted the Principal was tarred and feathered in an adjoining lot, and ridden on a rail to a levee. Unfortunately all efforts of the police to discover the perpetrators of this reprehensible proceeding have failed. It is generally supposed to have been the work of some negroes who were listening through the open windows and whose feelings were hurt by the slight insinuation of the stranger as to the value of colored infants.

While thus calling attention to the similarity between Mr. Spencer’s philosophic methods and those of Principal Brown, I do not wish to make any personal comparison between the two philosophers. Since he was under fear of tar and feathers, that would be unjust to Principal Brown.

[1]They have been published since this was put in plate.

[2]E. L. Youmans, M.D., Herbert Spencer and the Doctrine of Evolution, Popular Science Library. D. Appleton & Co., New York.

[3]Derzhavin, Bowring’s translation.

[4]Schopenhauer’s explanation of the origin of species is in interesting contrast to that of the evolutionary hypothesis, and to my mind comes closer to the truth. According to him the numberless forms and adaptations of animated nature, instead of proceeding from slow modifications, by which various creatures have been adapted to their conditions, are the expression of the desire or collective volition of the animal. I quote from the chapter on Comparative Anatomy in The Will in Nature,Bohn translation:

“Every animal form is a longing of the will to live which is roused by circumstances. For instance, the will is seized with a longing to live on trees, to hang on their branches, to devour their leaves, without contention with other animals and without over touching the ground. This longing presents itself throughout endless time in the form (or Platonic idea) of the sloth. It can hardly walk at all, being only adapted for climbing; helpless on the ground it is agile on trees and looks itself like a moss-clad bough in order to escape the notice of its pursuers. …

“The universal fitness for their ends, the obviously intentional design of all the parts of the organism of the lower animals without exception proclaim too distinctly for it over to have been seriously questioned, that here no forces of Nature acting by chance and without plan have been at work, but a will … (That) no organ interferes with another, each rather assisting the others and none remaining unemployed; also that no subordinate organ would be better suited to another mode of existence, while the life which the animal really leads is determined by the principal organs alone, but on the contrary each part of the animal not only corresponds to every other part, but also to its mode of life: its claws for instance are invariably adapted for seizing the prey which its teeth are suited to tear and break, and its intestinal canal to digest; its limbs are constructed to convey it where that prey is to be found, and no organ ever remains unemployed … added to the circumstance that no organ required for its mode of life is ever wanting in any animal, and that all, oven the most heterogeneous, harmonize together and are as it were calculated for a quite specially determined way of life, for the element in which the prey dwells, for the pursuit, the overcoming, the crushing and digesting of that prey—all this, we say, proves that the animal’s structure has been determined by the mode of life by which the animal desired to find its substance, and not vice versa. It also proves that the result is exactly the same as if a knowledge of that mode of life and of its outward conditions had preceded the structure, and as if therefore every animal had chosen its equipment before it assumed a body; just as a sportsman before starting chooses his whole equipment, gun, powder, shot, pouch, hunting-knife and dress, according to the game he intends chasing. He does not take aim at the wild boar because he happens to have a rifle; he took the rifle with him and not a fowling-piece, because he intended to hunt the wild boar. The ox does not butt because it happens to have horns; it has horns because it intends to butt.

“Now to render this proof complete we have the additional circumstance that in many animals, during the time they are growing, the effort of the will to which a limb is destined to minister, manifests itself before the existence of the limb itself, its employment thus anticipating its existence. Young he-goats, rams, calves for instance butt with their bare polls before they have any horns; the young boar tries to gore on either side, before its tusks are fully developed which would respond to the intended effect, while on the other hand it neglects to use the smaller teeth it already has in its mouth and with which it might really bite. Thus its mode of defending itself does not adapt itself to the existing weapons, but vice versa.

“… Behold the countless varieties of animal shapes. How entirely is each of them the mere image of its volition, the evident expression of the strivings of the will which constitute its character! Their difference in shape is only the portrait of their difference in character. … Each particular striving of the will presents itself in a particular modification of shape. The abode of the prey therefore has determined the shape of its pursuer … and no shape is rejected by the will to live as too grotesque to attain its ends. … As the will has equipped itself with every organ and every weapon, offensive as well as defensive, so has it likewise provided itself in every animal shape with an intellect, as a means of preservation for the individual and the species. … Beasts of prey do not hunt nor foxes thieve because they have more intelligence; on the contrary they have more intelligence, just as they have stronger tooth and clews, because they wished to live by hunting and thieving.”

[5]In Progress and Poverty, Book X, Chapter 1, I say:

“The practical outcome of this theory is in a sort of hopeful fatalism, of which current literature is full. In this view, progress is the result of forces which work slowly, steadily and remorselessly, for the elevation of man. War, slavery, tyranny, superstition, famine and pestilence, the want and misery which fester in modern civilization, are the impelling causes which drive man on, by eliminating poorer types and extending the higher; and hereditary transmission is the power by which advances are fixed, and past advances made the footing for new advances. The individual is the result of changes thus impressed upon and perpetuated through a long series of past individuals, and the social organization takes its form from the individuals of which it is composed. Thus, while this theory is, as Herbert Spencer says* ‘radical to a degree beyond anything which current radicalism conceives,’ inasmuch as it looks for changes in the very nature of man; it is at the same time ‘conservative to a degree beyond anything conceived by current conservatism,’ inasmuch as it holds that no change can avail save these slow changes in men’s natures. Philosophers may teach that this does not lessen the duty of endeavouring to reform abuses, just as the theologians who taught predestinarianism insisted on the duty of all to struggle for salvation; but, as generally apprehended, the result is fatalism—do what we may, the mill of the gods grind on regardless either of our aid or our hindrance.
* The Study of Sociology—Conclusion

Some years after this was written I had a curious illustration of its truth. Talking one day with the late E. L. Youmans, the great populariser of Spencerianism in the United States, a man of warm and generous sympathies, whose philosophy seemed to me like an ill-fitting coat he had accidentally picked up and put on, he fell into speaking with much warmth of the political corruption of New York, of the utter carelessness and selfishness of the rich, and of their readiness to submit to it, or to promote it wherever it served their money-getting purposes to do so. He became so indignant as he went on that he raised his voice till he almost shouted.

Alluding to a conversation some time before, in which I had affirmed and he had denied the duty of taking part in politics, I said to him, “What do you propose to do about it?”

Of a sudden his manner and tone were completely changed, as remembering his Spencerianism he threw himself back, and replied, with something like a sigh, “Nothing! You and I can do nothing at all. It’s all a matter of evolution. We can only wait for evolution. Perhaps in four or five thousand years evolution may have carried men beyond this state of things. But we can do nothing.”

[6]From Appendix A of Justice, it seems that Mr. Spencer has hitherto supposed that his statement of this “first principle” of Social Statics was the first time it had been thus put. In 1883 Professor Maitland had, however, pointed out that “Kant had already enunciated in other words a similar doctrine.” Mr. Spencer tells us that, “Not being able to read the German quotation given by Mr. Maitland,” he was unable to test the statement until, in the preparation of Justice, he reached Chapter VI, when he discovered in a recent English translation of Kant certain passages which he gives, that “make it clear that Kant had arrived at a conclusion, which, if not the same as my own, is closely allied to it.”

I mention this as showing the importance Mr. Spencer yet attaches to the “first principle,” from which he deduced the condemnation of private property in land. Otherwise the matter is of no interest. His statement of this principle or formula was a good one, and doubtless original with him. Who has stated it before made no more difference than who first stated that one and one equal two. There are some things which to the human mind are selfevident—that is to say which may be seen by whoever chooses to look—and this is one of them.

[7]The Land Laws, by Sir Fredk. Pollock, Bart., p. 2. 

[8]Ibid, p. 6.

[9]Ibid, p. 12.

[10]It may be worth noting that here Mr. Spencer again confuses equal rights with joint rights. The primitive idea is not that of deeming land the property of the tribe, and the relation of individuals to the soil one of joint ownership. Although within generally vague territorial limits each tribe may claim the right to exclude other tribes, yet the idea is not that of property in the land, but of that sort of separation which took place between Lot and Abraham, and the relation of the members to the land is not that of joint ownership but of equal right to use such regulations as in the earlier stages become necessary, being merely those which secure this equality in use. Among no primitive people would it be thought that a member of the tribe required the consent of the whole to make use of land no one else was using. He would do that without question, as a matter of individual right.

[11]In the chapter on Political Differentiation, page 297, Principles of Sociology, Volume 11, he quotes from Hallam:—

“William the Conqueror … divided this kingdom into about 60,000 parcels, of nearly equal value [partly left in the hands of those who previously held it, and partly made over to his followers as either owners or suzerains], from each of which the service of a soldier was due.”

And again, in the chapter on Property, page 553 of the same book, occurs the passage once before quoted:—

“In our case the definite ending of these tenures took place in 1660; when for feudal obligations (a burden on landowners) was substituted a beer-exise (a burden on the community).”

[12]Mr. Spencer speaks of such usages as that an unsuccessful hunter in passing might take a deer from a trap for food, leaving head, skin, and saddle for the owner, as implying the belief of the tribesmen that “this prey was in part theirs before it was killed.—But it no more implies this than the custom by which, among the early California rancheros, any traveller might catch a fresh horse, transfer his saddle and leave the tired one implied common property in horses, or than the kindly customs of essentially the same kind that are to be found wherever the struggle for existence that has developed with our civilisation has not become intense.

[13]Here is another instance of the habit of thinking of land as only agricultural land. The assumption here is that farmers are the only users of land, whereas the obvious truth is that there is no occupation that can be carried on without the use of land, and that many other occupations require the use of much more valuable land than does farming. In the occupancy of his London apartments Mr. Spencer himself is more of a land-user, value considered, than many a small farmer.

[14]One of these may be worth quoting as particularly interesting in view of what has gone before and what is yet to come. In Chapter XVI, “The Right of Gift and Bequest,” pp. 122-124, Mr. Spencer says:

“Few will deny that the earth’s surface and the things on it should be owned in full by the generation at any time existing. Hence the right of property may not equitably be so interpreted as to allow any generation to tell subsequent generations for what purpose or under what conditions they are to use the earth’s surface or the things on it…. One who holds land subject to that supreme ownership of the community which both ethics and law assert, cannot rightly have such power of willing the application of it as involves permanent alienation from the community.”

[15]The dog stories which close this crowning book of the Synthetic Philosophy are sent to Mr. Spencer by Mr. T. Mann Jones, of Devon, with this introduction:

“DEAR Sir: The following careful observations on animals other than man, may be of interest to you as supporting your idea that the idea of ‘duty’ or ‘ought’ (owe it) may be of ‘non-supernatural’ origin. ‘Supernatural’ is used in the usual sense, without committing the writer to any opinion.”

These “careful observations” are indorsed by Mr. Spencer as highly remarkable and instructive, and as supporting his own conclusion, and he tells us, apparently on the faith of them, that Mr. Jones is a careful, critical and trustworthy observer. To give a sample, here is one of the observations, which as it has no diagrams, I may quote as printed:

“The ‘ought’ may be established as an obligation to a higher mind in opposition to the promptings of the strongest feelings of the animal; e.g.—

“A bitch I had many years ago showed great pleasure at the attentions of male dogs, when in season. I checked her repeatedly, by voice only. This set up the ‘ought’ so thoroughly, that though never tied up at such times, she died a virgin at thirteen and a half years old.”

[16]I, for instance, have uniformly asserted that it made no difference whatever whether land has been made private property by force or by consent; that the equal right to its use is a natural and inalienable right of the living, and that this is the ground, and the only ground, on which the resumption of those rights should be demanded. Thus in The Irish Land Question, in 1881, I said:

“The indictment which really lies against the Irish landlords is not that their ancestors or the ancestors of their grantors robbed the ancestors of the Irish people. That makes no difference. ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ The indictment that truly lies is, that here and now, they rob the Irish people … The greatest enemy of the people’s cause is he who appeals to national passions and excites old hatreds. He is its best friend who does his utmost to bury them out of sight.”

[17]pp. 64-65.

[18]The Financial Reform Almanac has given some idea of what enormous sums the British landowners have received from the offices, pensions and sinecures they have secured for themselves and from their habit of providing for younger sons and poorer relatives in the army, navy, church and civil administration.