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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/699

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ORIGIN OF THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY.

ing for something we call justice. Both were, and both still are, blind sentiments, working out Nature's "plans" as involuntarily as do our breathing or loving. Our ideas alike of justice and of the right of private property correspond to the age and community in which we live. They may never coincide. At present they do not, in any mind with which I have come in contact.

And yet we must take account of both of them, or lose our reckoning. We shall find among the causes which have contributed to that confusion of ideas regarding the right of property which now confronts and perplexes us, in all our legislation, as well as in our pursuit of theoretical knowledge, the following:

1. That the origin of the right of property is not one, but several. Ownership of self arose in one way, of means of sustenance in another, of land in another, and of fellow-beings in another.

2. That most writers have failed to draw the line between possession maintained by force, or not subject to contest, and ownership which depends absolutely on the recognition by our fellow-beings of our right to the things we call our own. As is remarked by T. E. Cliffe Leslie, in his introduction to Laveleye's "Primitive Property":

"No mere psychological explanation of the origin of property is, I venture to affirm, admissible, though writers of great authority have attempted to discover its germs by that process in the lower animals. A dog, it has been said, shows an elementary proprietary sentiment when he hides a bone, or keeps watch over his master's goods. But property has not its root in the love of possession. All living beings like and desire certain things, and, if Nature has armed them with any weapons, are prone to use them in order to get and keep what they want. What requires explanation is not the want or desire of certain things on the part of individuals, but the fact that other individuals, with similar wants and desires, should leave them in undisturbed possession, or allot to them a share, of such things. It is the conduct of the community, not the inclination of individuals, that needs investigation. The mere desire for particular articles, so far from accounting for settled and peaceful ownership, tends in the opposite direction, namely, to conflict and the right of the strongest. No small amount of error in several departments of social philosophy, and especially in political economy, has arisen from reasoning from the desires of the individual, instead of from the history of the community."

This is one of the profoundest observations ever made on the subject under consideration. The error to which it is an answer is shared by so great an authority as Herbert Spencer, and repeated in his "Principles of Sociology" (section 536).