LAND OCCUPANCY AND ITS CONDITIONS.
[Liberty, August 27, 1887.]
To the Editor of Liberty:
Your reply of July 16, 1887, to my letter is not at all satisfactory to me. I cannot with my best endeavor harmonize your statement: "I am convinced, however, that the abolition of the money monopoly and the refusal of protection to all land titles except those of occupiers would … reduce this evil to a very small fraction of its present proportions" (the italics are mine), with your opposition to all government. The natural inference of your statement is that you are in favor of protecting the occupier of land. Who is to give this protection? Who is to wield this authority? As regards the application of authority, I can see a distinction in degree only, none in principle, between the tacit, unwritten agreement of an uncultured tribe to ostracize the thief and wrong-doer and the despotic government of a tyrannical autocrat. Without authority of some kind, rights cannot exist. The right of undisturbed possession, called ownership, is invariably the result of an agreement, by which all others not only abstain from taking possession, but even give assistance socially or physically, should any one trespass this agreement. But just therein consists the authority which the strong exercise over the weak, or the many over the few. In my opinion there can be no objection to such agreements or laws, when they are strictly based upon equity,—nay, they are the necessary basis of order and civilization; they are, in fact, my ideal of a government. Only when they favor one class at the expense of another, when they are inequitable, can they become the instrument of oppression, and some men will find it to their supposed advantage to support such laws by fair or unfair means, most frequently by making use of the ignorance and superstition of the masses, who are known to fly to arms and shed their blood even for the most tyrannical dictator.
I understand you to favor the ownership of land based upon occupancy. You believe that under absolute individual freedom all men will abstain from disturbing the occupier of land in his possession. To this view I take exception. The choice spots will be coveted by others, and it is not human nature to relinquish any advantage without a sufficient cause. If you say the occupiers of these choice spots should be left undisturbed possessors without paying an equivalent for the special advantage they enjoy, you will find many of contrary opinion who must be coerced to this agreement. Egoism, when coupled with the knowledge that iniquity must inevitably lead to revolution, will accept as a most equitable condition that in which the recipient of the necessary protection pays to the protector the value of the right of undisturbed possession; in which he returns to those who agree to abandon to him a special natural or local advantage its full value—i.e., the unearned increment—as a compensation for the grant of the right of ownership.
The defence of occupying ownership of land seems to me at a par with the frequent retort to money reformers that everybody has an equal right to become a banker or a capitalist. An equitable relation will be prevented by the natural limitation of land in one, by the artificial limitation of the medium of exchange in the other case. You may perhaps have reasonto object to applying the rent, after it has been collected, in the manner