Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/February 1890/Letters on the Land Question II
|LETTERS ON THE LAND QUESTION.|
To the Editor of "The Times":
SIR: After a careful perusal of Mr. Spencer's letter in "The Times" of to-day, I fear I can only reiterate my declaration that he "has not helped us much." So far as anything said in that letter goes, it remains an open question whether Mr. Spencer agrees, in principle, with Mr. Morley's "hecklers" or whether he does not. If any one maintains that private ownership in land was originally set up by force or by fraud, and consequently has no ethical foundation, I think, as matters stand, he has a right to cite Mr. Spencer's authority in favor of that position; and I, for one, very much regret that any person should possess that right. It seems to me lamentable that the "absolute political ethics" of to-day should have got so very little further than the point reached by Rousseau, the absolute political philosopher of one hundred and thirty years ago, who tells us that—
Rousseau laments that there was no one to pull out the stakes and fill up the ditch of this primitive land-grabber; and to warn mankind that "the fruits of the earth are everybody's and the land nobody's."
These passages are cited from the famous "Discours sur l'Origine de l'Inégalité parmi les Hommes," published in 1754, in which I think will be found, implicitly or explicitly, all the propositions which Mr. Laidler discovers in "Social Statics" and attributes to Mr. Spencer.
However, these are matters of opinion; and as Mr. Spencer, leaving the main issue aside, has put me on my defense, I hope I may say a word or two to show how very easy that process is; for, surely, nothing can be easier than to refuse to be charged with the consequences of opinions one does not hold. Mr. Spencer says that I "admit that all land-holders hold their land subject to the supreme ownership of the State"; and his remarkable inability to see that we disagree on the land question flows out of this assumption. But I admit nothing of the kind. If I declare that, under certain circumstances, the State has a right to shut me up and to make me work on the tread-mill, or to hang me, or to dispose of me and my property in any other way, it does not appear to me that "by implication" I admit that I hold my property, my liberty, and my life, "subject to the supreme ownership of the State." Surely the State is not my owner—I am not a serf—because I admit the right of the State to do these things! It is absolutely unintelligible to me that on such grounds as those alleged any one should try to force me to the conclusion that "the community, as supreme owner, with a still valid title, may resume possession if it thinks well."
And this leads me to another point. What historical ground is there for the assumption that the community (in the sense of "the State") ever had a "valid title" as universal land-owner? I am not ignorant that there have been and are such things as "village communities"; and if any one chooses to assert that communal ownership is the primitive form of land-holding, I am willing, for the sake of argument, to admit that such is the case. Let the further assumption that no agencies save force and fraud have broken up the communal organization (astonishing as it is) be accepted. Well, then, I see that a sort of an argument (though I think a very fallacious one) in favor of going back to ownership by village communities might be founded on these data. But what has that to do with State land-ownership, which has not the remotest resemblance to the communal system of antiquity?
Mr. Spencer addresses a sort of argumentum ad hominem to me. It is hardly chosen with so much prudence as might have been expected. Mr. Spencer assumes that, in the present state of physiological and medical science, the practitioner would be well advised who should treat his patients by deduction from physiological principles ("absolute physiological therapeutics" let us say) rather than by careful induction from the observed phenomena of disease and of the effects of medicines.
Well, all I can reply is, Heaven forbid that I should ever fall into that practitioner's hands; and if I thought any writings of mine could afford the smallest pretext for the amount of manslaughter of which that man would be guilty, I should be grieved indeed. Mr. Spencer could not have chosen a better illustration of the gulf fixed between his way of thinking and mine. Whenever physiology (including pathology), pharmacy, and hygiene are perfect sciences, I have no doubt that the practice of medicine will be deducible from the first principles of these sciences. That happy day has not arrived yet, and I fancy it is not likely to arrive for some time. But, until it comes, no practitioner who is sensible of the profound responsibility which attaches to his office, or, I may say, is sane, will dream of treating cholera or small-pox by deduction from such mere physiological principles as are at present well established. And if this is so, what is to be said of the publicist, who, undertaking to preserve the health and heal the diseases of an organism vastly more complicated than the human body, seeks guidance, not from the safe, however limited, inductions based on careful observation and experience, but puts his faith in long chains of deduction from abstract ethical assumptions, hardly any link of which can be tested experimentally?
No doubt a great many foolish laws are passed. Also a great many foolish prescriptions are written; but the latter fact is not evidence in favor of "absolute physiological medicine," any more than the former testifies to the value of "absolute political ethics."
|I am, sir, your obedient servant,||T. H. Huxley.|
|Eastbourne, November 15th.|
To the Editor of "The Times":
Sir: I more than suspect that my friend Mr. Greenwood can not have escaped a few moments' quiet amusement the other morning when he read his own letter in "The Times." Mr. Spencer, after many years, slowly and cautiously modifies a view formed earlier in life, and Mr. Greenwood thereupon addresses to the whole body of philosophers, to make use of his own words, "a heavy lesson." When, currente calamo, he took the philosophers under his charge for the purposes of instruction, did it never occur to him to ask himself how many oracles of his own it is the fate of the most careful editor—be he who he may—in the course of even one short year of political warfare to recall and silently replace by their opposites? The philosophers may have their faults, but I am afraid they are hardly to be convicted of them by any one who has, closely or remotely, independently or subserviently, followed the zigzags of political life.
And now as regards the question itself. There are some of us who have been watching for years with great pleasure the growing change in Mr. Spencer's views about land, and have only wished the change might go further. We have looked on "Social Statics" as one of the most splendid and helpful books ever written in the English language, and even the blot, as it seems to us, of land nationalization could not dim our enthusiasm for it; and now we—in saying "we," it is not an undivided "we" for I admit fully the divisions among individualists on this point—rejoice greatly to think that our leader has, at last, his doubts and hesitations whether land nationalization is a true article in the creed which he has taught us.
May I now add some reasons to those already given in "The Times" why land nationalization is both bad as philosophy and bad as expediency?
1. As philosophy. It is said that the land of a country belongs to the people as a whole. But if so, it is clearly the people, that is, the whole people without exception, to whom it belongs, and not a majority among them. Philosophy must be exact in her terms, and if she says it belongs to the people, she can not possibly mean two thirds or three fourths, or some other unstated quantity short of the whole. It may be, I can readily understand, a matter of practical convenience to politicians and other believers in power to treat a majority as society; but no amount of torture could wring from a Philosophy that knew what she was talking about the admission that the two things are equivalents. The deductions from this are plain. Property belonging to the whole people could never be used by any part of them, for the consent of the whole could not practically be got as regards any special use of it, seeing that every day, almost every hour, that whole is changing. We can, therefore, hardly accept a theory which lands us forthwith in an absurdity.
2. If the soil belongs to society in the abstract, and if, notwithstanding the urgent remonstrances of Philosophy, we decide to interpret the word "society" by the word "majority," why is it taken for granted that it belongs to that majority of the people who at any given moment happen to inhabit it? If the Chinese are overcrowded, or to come nearer home, if the Belgians are overcrowded, or if some part of the Russian people possesses a less attractive portion of the world to live in than our own, can they not claim with unanswerable logic that the doctrine of the majority has no merely local application, but must be treated in a far more comprehensive spirit? If Philosophy says the land of right belongs to the majority, it must also answer, "What majority?" and the nations that are now located on the least advantageous spots will not answer that question in quite the same way as the nations that enjoy the sunny side of the hedge.
3. It is claimed that the present owners may be dispossessed by force because some of them (a quantity that is diminishing every day—see the yearly returns of land-sales) became possessed in old days of their land by force. But if an act of ancient force is sufficient cause to disinherit these holders of land, it must, I fear, also disinherit the whole nation, for we all came here by force. Celt, as far as we know, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman came by force, and the nation that is rather strangely asked to show its horror of past force by carrying out anew another wholesale act of force, is itself out of court for the very same offense as that under which it is proposed to condemn the land-owners.
4. All the articles of use and commerce—if we except those taken from water—are drawn in the marvelous laboratory of nature from or under the soil, or from the soil and air combined. Every tree, every crop of corn or roots, every fleece, contains in itself positively and actually so much of the soil where it was raised. Where, then, is the logic of declaring that certain particles—and these the very best—when taken from the soil may be private property, while the other particles—which are generally of lesser value—left lying in the field are, by some abstract right, the property of an unknown and unstated portion of the people—called a majority who have never yet set eyes upon their property, and could not distinguish it if they did? My coat is now my private property; but years ago, before the grass grew which fed the sheep, the larger part was public property. What a marvelous transformation, and what inextricable confusion both of theory and of fact! How a thing which, as a matter of abstract right, once belonged to everybody, can rightly become my private property, I am utterly unable to understand. Perhaps Mr. George or Mr. Laidler could help me.
Then for the expediency. Is the race to deprive itself, for the sake of a theory that can not hold what is put into it better than a sieve can hold water, of the immense happiness and comfort that may come to thousands and thousands of families from the permanency of possession? If the land belongs to the majority, can there be this permanency? How can you let A and A's family retain forever the possession of the holding which he has industriously acquired, when B and C are waiting for their turn of what, without any industry or acquisitive virtue on their part, is declared to belong to them? That A is better fitted—naturally selected—to fill the holding, to use it happily and profitably for himself and for society, must count as nothing in face of the fact that B and C have taken the trouble to be born the owners of it. Then, too, comes in all the trouble and confusion about improvements, where property is split into this double ownership between the abstract state and the concrete holder. Improvements, we are told, can only realize their full value if there be a free sale and fixed rents. Do any persons in their sober senses imagine that the hungry, greedy, necessitous state of the politician will ever place itself on the same footing as it has placed the Irish landlord, upon whom the other day it so freely practiced its cheap philanthropy; that it will ever consent to fix its rents in perpetuity, or to abide by them if they were fixed? Then comes all the unutterable official management, the inspectorate, the armies of surveyors and clerks, the arrogant petty kinglets, the red tape, the annoying conditions, the unending correspondence on the subject of the new pump or the new road, the constant battle in Parliament as to new methods of land-tenure, new methods to allow A to replace B in quicker succession, new forms of land-taxation, universal upsetting of existing system, and universal establishment of the last land fancy of the half-baked theorist. Conceive for one moment the slough of despond into which you would plunge back a vigorous, self-helping nation that had once, however hesitatingly and half-heartedly, taken the first few steps along the road of individual initiative, experiment, and progress.
No, it is in another direction our efforts must be turned. Years and years ago, if our political parties were not—both of them—like wild beasts fighting, with no thought or sense, but for the mad struggle in which they lie locked together, biting and tearing with tooth and claw, they would have freed the land. They would have broken the lawyer's yoke that still curses our present generation and again and again prevents the ready sale, and they would have got rid of the heavy burdens of rate and tax that now fall on land and make it an undesirable possession for the poor man. Of all pieces of stupidity none is greater than taxing land just because the rich man at present holds the larger part of it. It is like all other pieces of class legislation, branded on its forehead with the fool's mark. You strike at your supposed enemy and wound yourself. Land must be made free in the only true sense—free from the clutch of the lawyer, free from the visits of the tax and rate collector, and it will then become the greatest source of happiness and comfort to our people. Once really freed, the industrious, vigorous poor will slowly wrest it from the rich man, paying, as has been seen in France, notwithstanding the heavy State burdens on land, a price that the rich man will not pay for its acquisition. Above all other forms of investment for the poor man, land is far away king. It is no pig in a poke for him. He knows it, he understands it in all its good and bad qualities better probably than any other living man; he can not be juggled out of it, when it is once bought, by the carelessness or fraud of directors; he can put all his spare time and spare labor into it. It is not, however, a question of the agricultural laborer alone, but also of the saving mechanic in town, who would look forward to the 'bee farm, or flower or fruit farm, on which he might end his days. It is not only a question of the townsman; it is also a question of co-operative and trade-union societies, who also would learn to put their investments in land, perhaps producing for themselves, and offering in many cases opportunities of country life to their members who needed rest and change. Unless we persist in follies upon follies in the shape of legislative interferences; of expensive machinery to provide the people with land—machinery that will defeat its own object, for it must be paid for out of the rates, and will therefore increase the burdens on land; of forced agricultural agreements between landlord and tenant that tend to stereotype all farms in their present size; of State-hired allotments that, as in the case of our benighted dealings with Ireland, must tend to weaken the desire for ownership, the land of this country, now thrown upon the market at prices so far below its real value, industriously acquired and held in firm, unalterable fee-simple, will prove the greatest blessing to all classes of our working people. All that is wanted is to keep land free—free alike from Radical messing and Tory messing, and leave it what it naturally is—until spoiled by that blessed politician whose eternal finger finds its way into every pie—the sweetest reward for a man's labor and the most powerful incentive to undergo those labors. If you wish to develop all the virile virtues of our English country folk, and to place before them a worthy goal for their life-efforts, sweep away every obstruction and make it easy for them to gain their own home, held neither at the will of the land-owner nor of that worse modern creation—the changing majority inside Parliament.
I notice that Mr. Spencer still allows himself to think of that ogre, the land-owner, who might clear a district if so minded. That is true; but may I submit to him that it is equally true of a majority, and in one sense more true? A parliamentary majority which once considered itself lord and master of the soil might play any prank under high heaven that once occurred to it. It would be quite likely to turn a perpetuity into a thirty years' tenure, or a thirty years' tenure into a fifteen years' tenure, or to revolutionize every home in England in deference to the last notion that had got uppermost in its infallible head. Moreover, it should be seen that once the spirit of individualism begins to get hold of our people, the action of the landlord who cleared the estate would serve to redouble the efforts of the people to become absolute owners of their property. Unconsciously he would be the instrument of a good greater than the harm he had caused. We have not yet sufficiently profited by Mr. Spencer's teaching to recognize the enormous stimulus for good which there is in every form of evil when once we are fairly on the track of fighting it with the true self-helpful remedies. "What delays and impedes the human race is far less the evil that abounds than the false remedies which, we apply to cure it. It is hardly too much to say that human improvement is due to the evils and difficulties of life overcome in the right way.
One last word. Men doubt about "absolute political ethics." Yet they do not doubt about absolute principles in physics, in chemistry, in biology, in psychology, or even in the ethics of private life. Does it never strike them that it is a mightily strange thing—requiring, I think, some explanation on their part to which they do not often condescend—that we should live in this world almost surrounded by order, or fixed law, on every side of us, and yet in one special department of it—that of political action—this order should suddenly he replaced "by disorder and uncertainty? Does it never occur to them that this strange inexplicable contradiction may be not in nature, but possibly only in their own minds? Does it never occur to Prof. Huxley, who is not an admirer, I suspect, of our party warfares, that the danger of modern civilization, the unscrupulousness, the corruption, the cowardice, the shiftiness, the untrue motives that flourish in public life have their stronghold in this belief that politics are an Alsatia, where alone in the wide universe the writ of the Great Power does not run? Does he not see that as long as politics are held to he outside moral law and scientific statement so long we shall he at the mercy of all those who for their own purpose try to persuade the people to believe the ignoble creed that whatever they desire is right, that the measure of their wants is the measure of the just and true? Some day, when possibly men may have forgotten "the heavy lesson" my friend Mr. Greenwood addresses to the philosophers, they may, warned by the great social dangers pressing upon them, turn round and see the full meaning of Mr. Spencer's work, and understand that he alone has pointed to them the path that leads out of the wilderness.
May I say that I am always glad to send some of our individualist tracts to any person who writes to me?
|I am, very faithfully,||Auberon Herbert.|
|Old-House, Ringwood, November 14th.|
To the Editor of "The Times":
Sir: If the question is whether Mr. Herbert Spencer is right in endeavoring to purify the conduct of public affairs and discharge it of error by establishing a system of "absolute political ethics, or that which ought to be," I submit that he need not have said so much as he has lately said in your columns. Who doubts that he is right? Who doubts that he is wisely and nobly employed when his business is to discover the bases of true political morality, and to exhort mankind never to lose sight of them, whatever may be the stress of expediency or compulsion in the world as we find it? But is that the question that was raised on the conversation between Mr. Laidler and Mr. Morley at Newcastle? Not at all. By that conversation we saw in a remarkably plain way that large numbers of the most intelligent and powerful representatives of labor in this country had derived from Mr. Spencer's teaching these conclusions: That private property in land is a public wrong based on force and fraud, and that to right one wrong it is sometimes necessary to do another. This they took to be a lesson in practical politics; and what it points to, in practice, is perfectly clear. Resume possession of the stolen land, if you please, for as private property it still is, and under its present ownership it must ever remain, a wrong to the community. For the rest, though compensation must be made for whatever is in the land which was not in it when it was stolen, yet to right one wrong it is sometimes necessary to do another. That is the point for attention as the matter stands at present. For though Mr. Spencer tells the people, as he could and should have told them from the first, that just compensation would entail a disastrous outlay, infallibly to become more disastrous through inferior management of the land by public officials, what of that if, to right one wrong, it is sometimes necessary to do another? What of just compensation, if it makes a standing crime against the community completely irremediable, and if the people are at liberty to decide whether this is not a case where to right one wrong it is necessary to do another? The point has been actually considered by labor societies and the leaders of the new Socialist movement all over the country, and it seems quite clear that the Newcastle Labor Electoral Association, for one, has come to the conclusion that, morally, there need not be much punctilio about compensation.
But perhaps Mr. Spencer has never said that to right one wrong it is sometimes necessary to do another. In one of his letters to "The Times" he wrote that he could not be positive whether he had or not; which seems to imply that he would not be surprised to learn that at one time or another he had included this doctrine in his teaching of absolute political ethics. Be that as it may, however, he could have told us when he was challenged on the subject whether this is his teaching now or not. He has written three letters; we remain in the dark on the most important point of all, and at the close of an argument entirely occupied with a defense of propagating "absolute political ethics" Mr. Spencer announces his determination to go no further with the controversy. Meanwhile here is Mr. Laidler in his old position, and here left. To be sure, it seems difficult to include the dogma he rests upon in any system of absolute political ethics; and if Mr. Spencer had not said that he could not be sure that he had never preached it, we might conclude without further inquiry that the doctrine had never been his. As matters stand it would be an extremely good thing if he could assert that he does not hold it now, anyway. That done, his counsel against the nationalization of the land as a fatally bad bargain (since it must be carried out on just compensation principles if at all) would have full effect. It is to be hoped that Mr. Laidler's questions in "The Times" of to-day will be answered, and they will be if Mr. Spencer does not turn his back on doubting disciples who cry to him.
|Your obedient servant,||Frederick Greenwood.|
To the Editor of "The Times":
Sir: Mr. Laidler has given us a digest of the ninth chapter of Mr. Herbert Spencer's "Social Statics" and asks triumphantly, "Does it not constitute an unanswerable argument in favor of the nationalization of the land?" Mr. Spencer has modified the views expressed in that work, but, as Mr. Laidler now elects to stand or fall by them, it may perhaps be worth while to inquire how far they support his proposals.
The nationalization of the land, as defined by Mr. Laidler in his interview with Mr. Morley, means that the land, but not the houses, of this country should, on the death of the present owners, revert to the nation or State without any payment therefor.
In the "Social Statics" it is argued that each one of the race of beings born into the world has equal rights to the use of this world, and that no one or part of such race of beings may use the earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from similarly using it. From this it follows that land can not justly become the property of individuals; but it also follows that no given portion of the globe can justly become the property of any individual nation, for that would be to deprive the rest of "mankind at large," the rest of "the human race," of their equal rights. It is true that Mr. Spencer in one place says that under his system, instead of leasing his acres from an isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the "nation." But this can only be reconciled with the rest of the chapter if the nation is understood to be acting as the "agent or deputy agent" of the community at large. According, then, to the argument in the "Social Statics," the land of this country should belong, not to individuals nor to the State, but to the human race.
Mr. Spencer is also in favor of giving existing owners compensation. On this he says that—
What Mr. Spencer advocates is, in short, that the land should revert (a) to the human race, (b) after payment of compensation. And it seems to be generally admitted that the compensation would amount in the shape of interest on purchase-money to a greater sum than is now paid in rent.
So far, Mr. Laidler and Mr. Spencer do not seem to have much in common. The one point on which they do agree is that the existing titles to land are not legitimate, because they are founded on "force or fraud." Let us apply this view to England. When this country was conquered by the Normans the land fell into the hands of the sovereign, or, in other words, the State. It was then granted out in part to Normans, and in part to existing owners. How can it be said that the grantees obtained their land by force or fraud? They obtained it by grant from the State. The title of the State which made the grants did, no doubt, depend on conquest or force. But if this fact is to invalidate the title of existing owners, it must, a fortiori, utterly destroy the title of the State to resume its possession to-day.
The schemes, then, for dealing with the land appear to be three in number: (1) Mr. Laidler's, that the land should revert to the State without compensation; (2) that it should so revert with compensation; (3) Mr. Spencer's, that it should revert to the human race with compensation. Of these, the first has been truly described as robbery, and the second as folly. The third seems to be a philosopher's dream.
|I have the honor to be your obedient servant,||Darcy Wilson.|
|Boodle's, St. James's Street, November 16th.|
To the Editor of "The Times":
Sir: I suppose I may make a denial without continuing a controversy; and, unless I make it, a grave charge against me will remain unrebutted.
Over and over again Mr. Greenwood refers to the statement that I have said that "to right one wrong it is sometimes necessary to do another," and apparently wishes to force it upon me notwithstanding what I supposed was a sufficient repudiation. Being unable to recall all the contents of some ten thousand pages, written during forty years, I said as much as it seemed possible to say with, reason; for it has sometimes happened that opinions have "been quoted with approval as mine which I had quite forgotten were mine. I therefore wrote, "My belief is that I have not said this in any connection." That is, I am absolutely unconscious of ever having written it, and do not believe I ever did write it. I do not see what more was required. Mr. Greenwood urges that I have not repudiated it even now. It never occurred to me that, after what I said, this was needful. But, as he thinks otherwise, I very willingly repudiate it, both for the past and the present.
Even did I wish to continue my discussion with Prof. Huxley, it would be ended by his letter. From it I learn that the principles of physiology—as at present known—are of no use whatever for guidance in practice; and my argument, therefore, collapses.
|I am, etc.,||Herbert Spencer.|
|Athenæum Club, November 18th.|
To the Editor of "The Times":
Sir: It seems to me to be a pity that the discussion which has been carried on in your columns should come to an end before Mr. Laidler's able letter of the 15th instant has been considered on its merits. I conceive it to be a matter of vital importance to the whole nation that the representatives of labor should be under no misapprehension with respect to the grounds of any action they may think fit to take. And as, all my life, I have done my best to bring sound knowledge within reach of the working classes, I trust that they will do me the justice to believe that I am actuated by no other motive now.
Let me say, at the outset, that I have expressed no opinion, and that I do not intend to express any opinion, as to whether State ownership of land is desirable or not. If it can be proved by arguments, having some foundation in practical experience, that the abolition of several ownership in land and the substitution for it of State ownership is essential to the welfare of the people, no one would feel more bound to give practical effect to that demonstration than I.
In Mr. Laidler's letter, however, such arguments are not employed. On the contrary, he adopts the method of Rousseau and his followers, which, consists in making certain assumptions about matters of ethics in the first place, and certain assumptions about matters of history in the second place, and then drawing the obvious conclusion that the assumed facts are in sad disaccordance with the assumed ethical rules. It is a delightfully easy method, and saves all the trouble of going deeply and thoroughly into the foundations of ethics and the truth of history which the scientific plodders give themselves.
Now, I do not propose to discuss the ethical assumptions set forth by Mr. Laidler. Let it be granted, for the moment, that "equity does not permit property in land," and that "men are equally entitled to the use of the earth." Well, starting from those axioms, I fail to see by what logical process one gets at State ownership. If "equity does not permit property in land" how does it contrive to permit State ownership? The State is only a name for a body of men; and, if "all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth," why have Englishmen any more.right of property in the soil of England than Frenchmen or Germans, or, for the matter of that, the natives of Timbuctoo, have?
Thus it is the logical consequence of the doctrine of the Rousseauites that nations are as much usurpers as individuals, and that there can be no valid title to land until the whole surface of the habitable globe has been thrown into hotchpot, and that share which every man may enjoy the use of, without damage to his neighbors, determined by a cosmopolitan plébiscite.
Thus, if we are to appeal to logical consequences, those of the principles adopted by Mr. Laidler's authorities are just as startling as those of the principles of the advocates of the "absolute" rights of private property. And I would put it to Mr. Laidler, as a man conversant with the practical side of life, whether this does not suggest to his mind that modes of reasoning which lead to obvious absurdities must be fundamentally vicious?
Now let us turn to the historical assumptions of Mr. Laidler's authorities. They affirm that several ownership of land originated in force and fraud—whereby the nation, in whom the ownership was previously vested, was robbed of its rights. And from these data they argue that the nation is justified in "resuming" its "rights to the soil."
Now, this is an assertion as to a matter of historical fact which can be tested. In the course of the last thirty years a vast amount of evidence has been obtained respecting the manner in which land is and has been held by people in an early stage of civilization all over the world. And resting on this foundation of laboriously ascertained truth, is the conclusion that the tenure of land by communities is that which most extensively prevailed in remote antiquity. What this exactly means will perhaps be best made plain by the supposition that the land in every parish in England was owned, not by one or more private individuals, but by the males of one or more resident families, forming a corporation in which the ownership vested. The land of the community, in fact, resembled an entailed estate, which should be inherited by all the males of a family collectively, they being forbidden to alienate any portion of it.
This "joint family" or "village community" system, therefore, so far from denying the right of several property in land, is founded upon that right. Assuredly, our ancestors did not trouble themselves much about the philosophical foundations of property. But I am well assured that if any one had tried to persuade a village community that all mankind had as much right as they to their land, that missionary of "absolute political ethics" would have been short-lived.
It may be said that I have been talking about the archaic existence of "several" property in land, while the question is about "personal" property. But is that so? Are the land reformers going to exempt corporate several ownerships in land, when they abolish personal ownerships? If so will they explain why corporate several ownership is less an infringement of the rights of mankind in general than personal ownership? But if corporate several ownership is not "permitted by equity" any more than personal property—if the archaic communities had no more valid title than the squires who have succeeded them—whence comes the evidence that those rights of "mankind at large" to the use of the soil, which we are told they are to "resume," ever existed?
Let us, then, clear our minds of all the cant of "history after the manner of Rousseau." Genuine history shows that, as far back as the constitution of settled society can be safely traced, several property in land was recognized and acted upon. It also affords much ground for the belief that individual property was recognized in the case of the clearer of forest land; that either individual or family several property was recognized in the case of the plot of land in which the house was situated; and that, in bringing about the change from collective to individual severalty, industrialism has been just as important a factor as militarism. State ownership may be right or wrong, but those who suppose it to be a resumption by the people of a right they ever exercised, or even claimed, are at variance with the plainest teachings of history.
|I am, sir, your obedient servant,||T. H. Huxley.|
|Eastbourne, November 19th.|
P. S.—Mr. Spencer, in the letter which you publish to-day, says that he learns from me that "the principles of physiology, as at present known, are of no use whatever for guidance in practice." I think that Mr. Spencer must have achieved this feat of learning by his favorite a priori method, for nothing of the kind is discoverable by mere observation and deduction in what I have said. No phrase of mine is inconsistent with my belief that the principles of physiology, like those of ethics, are of great use, so long as they are applied with that caution and discretion which are to be gained only by practical experience in medicine or in affairs. If Mr. Spencer were acquainted with the history of medicine or with the present relations of physiology and therapeutics, he would have been unable to learn from me that which it would have been ridiculous in any one to teach.
To the Editor of "The Times":
Sir: Without meaning to do so—I am quite sure of that—Mr. Auberon Herbert has placed me in a false light. It might be supposed, from a letter in which he deals with much more important things, that I had reproached Mr. Herbert Spencer with changing his opinions, which would be great presumption. That, however, I have not done; and, indeed, there is no reproach in changed opinions when they are not fundamental, and when the one judgment and the other are not based on the same unaltered data. My complaint was against the publication of imperfect theories of social reform "unaccompanied by a clear statement of whatever reasons are fatal to their application in this work-a-day world," the point being that certain doctrines of Mr. Spencer's, acknowledgedly ill-considered and so unaccompanied, had gravely misled large numbers of men eager for social revolution. That is a very different thing from complaining of reasonably changed opinion. Mr. Auberon Herbert seems also to make out that, on the ground of reasonably changed opinion alone, I presume to impose "a heavy lesson" on political philosophers. It would have been arrogant indeed if I had so described my interference, as Mr. Auberon Herbert suggests. But here he does me wrong altogether. My account of the matter was that the conversation between Mr. Morley and Mr. Laidler, together with Mr. Spencer's letter on that conversation, conveyed "a heavy lesson" to political philosophers. That is what did it. I had nothing to do with a lesson ready made.
The controversy has been extremely useful thanks to your liberal publication of it—and will do a world of good all round, especially after Mr. Spencer's welcome letter of to-day.
|Your obedient servant,||F. Greenwood.|
- [The first one who, having inclosed a field, took it into his head to say "This is mine," and found people simple enough to believe it, was the true founder of civil society.]