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Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/285

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guishing human beings from other things as subjects of property, for one cannot be the slave of another unless his rights are subordinated to those of that other; but in fact his rights and those of the other are equal. There is a distinction between land and other material things which is based upon the same qualification. Consider the natural right which gives sanctity to property in material things, viz., the right to acquire things by the exertion of one’s mental or physical powers. The exertion of one’s natural powers is evidently the central idea, and if we bring together that idea and the qualification upon all natural rights, we shall see that a material thing is not rightfully the subject of absolute property if the appropriation of it by the exertion of one man’s natural powers interferes with the equal right of other men to exert their natural powers.

The appropriation of land does so interfere. To test the principle, it will be proper to take for illustration a community like New York or Massachusetts, whose laws maintain private property in land, and in which all the land has been fenced in, or substantially so; for such communities are numerous, and, as population increases, will become more numerous. In such a community, obviously, a landless man cannot do anything individually. He cannot obtain for himself food, or clothing, or shelter, or fire; he is dependent upon other men for such alms or for such employment as they are willing to give him; he cannot by any exercise of his faculties legally compel other men to give him either alms or employment. Unaided by other men he is pretty much as powerless to exert the faculties which nature has given him as though he were in the space between the stars. The reason why he is thus worse off than his fellows, the sole reason, is the fact that he is, and they are not, shut out from the land which nature gave to men to exert their faculties upon. He can, to be sure, exert his faculties to take himself beyond the pale which the laws have drawn around the land; but the pressure upon him to do that (being caused by other men having been allowed to appropriate and hold all the land of that community) is in itself a great interference with his equal right to exert his natural faculties.

The appropriation of things other than land, such as brute animals, grain, timber, minerals, and generally the raw materials, of which all the commodities which men need or desire are made, does not so interfere; for there is no limit, or no known limit,