Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/January 1890/Letters on the Land Question I



THE following letters, reprinted from the London "Times" of recent dates (from November 7 to 15, 1889), are of great interest on account of the light they throw upon some of the more important aspects of the question of land nationalization, and on the problems of socialism in general.—Editor.]


To the Editor of "The Times":

Sir: During the interview between Mr. Morley and some of his constituents, reported in your issue of the 5th inst., I was referred to as having set forth certain opinions respecting land-ownership.[1] Fearing that, if I remain silent, many will suppose I have said things which I have not said, I find it needful to say something in explanation.

Already within these few years I have twice pointed out that these opinions (made to appear by those who have circulated them widely different from what they really are, by the omission of accompanying opinions) were set forth in my first work, published forty years ago; and that, for the last twelve or fifteen years, I have refrained from issuing new editions of that work and have interdicted translations, because, though I still adhere to its general principles, I dissent from some of the deductions.

The work referred to—"Social Statics"—was intended to be a system of political ethics absolute political ethics, or that which ought to be, as distinguished from relative political ethics, or that which is at present the nearest practicable approach to it. The conclusion reached concerning land-ownership was reached while seeking a valid basis for the right of property: the basis assigned by Locke appearing to me invalid. It was argued that a satisfactory ethical warrant for private ownership could arise only by contract between the community, as original owner of the inhabited area, and individual members, who became tenants, agreeing to pay certain portions of the produce, or its equivalent in money, in consideration of recognized claims to the rest. And in the course of the argument it was pointed out that such a view of land-ownership is congruous with existing legal theory and practice; since in law every land-owner is held to be a tenant of the Crown—that is, of the community, and since, in practice, the supreme right of the community is asserted by every Act of Parliament which, with a view to public advantage, directly or by proxy takes possession of land after making due compensation.

All this was said in the belief that the questions raised were not likely to come to the front in our time or for many generations; but, assuming that they would some time come to the front, it was said that, supposing the community should assert overtly the supreme right which is now tacitly asserted, the business of compensation of land-owners would be a complicated one:

One that perhaps can not be settled in a strictly equitable manner.... Most of our present land-owners are men who have, either mediately or immediately, either by their own acts or by the acts of their ancestors, given for their estates equivalents of honestly earned wealth, believing that they were investing their savings in a legitimate manner. To justly estimate and liquidate the claims of such is one of the most intricate problems society will one day have to solve.

To make the position I then took quite clear, it is needful to add that, as shown in a succeeding chapter, the insistence on this

doctrine, in virtue of which "the right of property obtains a legitimate foundation" had for one of its motives the exclusion of Socialism and Communism, to which I was then as profoundly averse as I am now.

Investigations made during recent years into the various forms of social organization, while writing the "Principles of Sociology," have in part confirmed and in part changed the views published in 1850. Perhaps I may be allowed space for quoting from "Political Institutions" a paragraph showing the revised conclusions arrived at:

At first sight it seems fairly inferable that the absolute ownership of land by private persons must be the ultimate state which industrialism brings about. But though industrialism has thus far tended to individualize possession of land while individualizing all other possession, it may be doubted whether the final stage is at present reached. Ownership established by force does not stand on the same footing as ownership established by contract; and though multiplied sales and purchases, treating the two ownerships in the same way, have tacitly assimilated them, the assimilation may eventually be denied. The analogy furnished by assumed rights of possession over human beings helps us to recognize this possibility. For, while prisoners of war, taken by force and held as property in a vague way (being at first much on a footing with other members of a household), were reduced more definitely to the form of property when the buying and selling of slaves became general; and, while it might centuries ago have been thence inferred that the ownership of man by man was an ownership in course of being permanently established, yet we see that a later stage of civilization, reversing this process, has destroyed ownership of man by man. Similarly, at a stage still more advanced, it may be that private ownership of land will disappear. As that primitive freedom of the individual which existed before war established coercive institutions and personal slavery comes to be re-established as militancy declines, so it seems possible that the primitive ownership of land by the community, which, with the development of coercive institutions, lapsed in large measure or wholly into private ownership, will be revived as industrialism further develops. The régime of contract, at present so far extended that the right of property in movables is recognized only as having arisen by exchange of services or products under agreements, or by gift from those who had acquired it under such agreements, may be further extended so far that the products of the soil will be recognized as property only by virtue of agreements between individuals as tenants and the community as land-owner. Even now, among ourselves, private ownership of land is not absolute. In legal theory land-owners are directly or indirectly tenants of the Crown (which in our day is equivalent to the State, or, in other words, the community); and the community from time to time resumes possession after making due compensation. Perhaps the right of the community to the land, thus tacitly asserted, will in time to come be overtly asserted and acted upon after making full allowance for the accumulated value artificially given. . . . There is reason to suspect that, while private possession of things produced by labor will grow even more definite and sacred than at present, the inhabited area, which can not be produced by labor, will eventually be distinguished as something which may not be privately possessed. As the individual, primitively owner of himself, partially or wholly loses ownership of himself during the militant régime, but gradually resumes it as the industrial régime develops, so possibly the communal proprietorship of land, partially or wholly merged in the ownership of dominant men during evolution of the militant type, will be resumed as the industrial type becomes fully evolved (pp. 643-646).

The use of the words "possible," "possibly," and "perhaps" in the above extracts shows that I have no positive opinion as to what may hereafter take place. The reason for this state of hesitancy is that I can not see my way toward reconciliation of the ethical requirements with the politico-economical requirements. On the one hand, a condition of things under which the owner of, say, the Scilly Isles might make tenancy of his land conditional upon professing a certain creed or adopting prescribed habits of life, giving notice to quit to any who did not submit, is ethically indefensible. On the other hand,"nationalization of the land," effected after compensation for the artificial value given by cultivation, amounting to the greater part of its value, would entail, in the shape of interest on the required purchase-money, as great a sum as is now paid in rent, and indeed a greater, considering the respective rates of interest on landed property and other property. Add to which, there is no reason to think that the substituted form of administration would be better than the existing form of administration. The belief that land would be better managed by public officials than it is by private owners is a very wild belief.

What the remote future may bring forth there is no saying; but with a humanity anything like that we now know, the implied reorganization would be disastrous.

I am, etc.,Herbert Spencer.

Athenæum Club, November 6th.


To the Editor of "The Times":

Sir: Mr. Herbert Spencer's letter in "The Times" of to-day carries with it a heavy lesson to political philosophers. They are taught to remember that this is an age of popular education, as well as of social unrest; that their books are read not only by students like themselves, who often find their chief interest in a display of intellectual subtlety or athleticism, but by thousands of men who are ever on the alert for warranted theories of social reform that will better their condition. And if such theories should happen to be ill-considered before publication, or unaccompanied by a strong and clear recital of whatever reasons are fatal to their application in this work-a-day world, the mischief they may do is enormous. How clearly Mr. Spencer himself must see this now! And how sorry he must be for having so terribly misled, not Mr. Laidler and the Labor party of Newcastle alone—that is not imaginable—but many other poor men also who habitually hang on the authority of great men like himself.

It was when Mr. Morley was so delicately heckled at Newcastle that a member of the Labor party deputation asked him what he thought about the nationalization of the land. Mr. Morley demurred. Mr. Laidler said the Labor party had its own plan. "They remembered that Mr. Herbert Spencer had said that the land had been taken by force and fraud; that gentleman had also said that to right one wrong it takes another." "Why," replies Mr. Morley, "has he said this?" "We all know he has" rejoins Mr. Laidler."But you are aware that he has recalled some of the things he has laid down?" "Yes," rejoins Mr. Laidler; "but if he has stated truth and recalled it the truth will prevail." There we are. This little bit of conversation is precious beyond many pages of "absolute political ethics," judged by the standard of usefulness; and it will be useful to nobody so much as to writers like Mr. Herbert Spencer.

For what has he to say to it all? He says that the opinions quoted by Mr. Laidler were set forth forty years ago in a work "intended to be a system of absolute political ethics; or that which ought to be, as distinguished from relative political ethics, or that which is at present the nearest practical approach to it." These opinions were accompanied by others which forbid the interpretation sometimes put upon them. But yet, on reflection, they satisfied Mr. Spencer so little, he thought them so little guarded or corrected by those other opinions of his, that for the last fifteen years he has not allowed the book that contained them to appear in any language. "Though I still adhere to its general principles, I dissent from some of the deductions"—those, perhaps, which Mr. Laidler regards as truth once uttered and never to be recalled. Besides, what Mr. Spencer said on this subject "was said in the belief that the questions raised were not likely to come to the front in our time or for many generations"; and it did include the statement that, if the community took the land, the necessary business of compensation would be a complicated one. "To justly estimate and liquidate the claims" of our present land-owners "is one of the most intricate problems society one day will have to solve." Since "Social Statics" was published, however, Mr. Spencer has come to revised conclusions; and these he now sets forth in "The Times." Permit me to quote a few sentences from this statement:

Though industrialism has thus far tended to individualize possession of land, while individualizing all other possessions, it may be doubted whether the final stage is at present reached. Ownership established by force does not stand on the same footing as ownership established by contract; and though multiplied sales and purchases treating the two ownerships in the same way have tacitly assimilated them, the assimilation may eventually be denied. . . . There is reason to suspect that, while private possession of things produced by labor will grow even more definite and sacred than at present, the inhabited area, which can not be produced by labor, will eventually be distinguished as something which may not be privately possessed. . . . Possibly the communal proprietorship of land, partially or wholly merged in the ownership of dominant men during evolution of the militant type, will be resumed as the industrial type becomes fully evolved.

After quoting these and similar passages from his revised opinions, Mr. Spencer makes the following observations: "The use of the words 'possible' 'possibly' and 'perhaps' in the above extracts shows that I have no positive opinion as to what mayhereafter take place." But of this Mr. Spencer feels sure: Nationalize the land on righteous principles of compensation, and the interest on the purchase-money would exceed the sum now paid in rent. Moreover, it is a "wild belief" that the land would be better managed—i. e., more profitably managed—by public officials than by private owners. "With a humanity anything like that we now know, the implied reorganization would be disastrous."

Well, we have only to do with the humanity that we now know; and being what it is, surely Mr. Spencer should have taken pains from the beginning to consider its manifold weaknesses and temptations. Yet still he repeats that the individual ownership of land was established by force, the assertion that Mr. Laidler and the Labor party of Newcastle stand upon. While, as for his perhapses and possiblies, they are in fact expressions of doubt as to whether the community will or will not resume ownership of the land, but they are not necessarily to be taken in that sense, and any Mr. Laidler might be forgiven if he saw in them a suggestion of the right thing to do, or a prophecy the fulfillment of which it would not be wrong to precipitate. All the more reasonably might he think so when he sees that in these same revised conclusions Mr. Spencer likens the acquisition of property in land by individuals to the old-time "ownership of man by man." "The ownership of land was established by force"; it originated in robbery; at the root it is robbery still. That is the point for Mr. Laidler; and, writing for humanity as we know it, and as the next generation is likely to know it, it is a pity that Mr. Spencer did not guard at once and in the strongest way against the probable use that humanity, as we know it, would make of the assertion. The possible resumption of the land by some totally different generation of humanity, one that we know not of, should not have been committed to print as the righting of a wrong, without the clearest warning that, till that generation comes, land nationalization must be an exceeding great folly, amounting to absolute disaster. For the good of humanity, that was always the most important point to insist upon. It is to be feared that some thousands of Laidlers will not think so much of it now. So much does it become political philosophers to be careful. Some medicines are also poisons; such medicines should never be issued over the counter to any and every purchaser without a warning label; and this I hope I may say without seeming disrespect for Mr. Herbert Spencer.

Your obedient servant,
Frederick Greenwood.
November 7th.


To the Editor of "The Times":

Sir: I have read with very great interest the "heckling" of Mr. Morley, the letters of Mr. Spencer and of Mr. Greenwood, and your editorial comments on this triangular duel. But, if I may speak in the name of that not inconsiderable number of persons to whom absolute ethics and a priori politics are alike stumbling blocks, permit me, borrowing a phrase which a learned judge has immortalized, to say that "You have not helped us much."

Let me explain the nature of the further help we require by putting a case which is not altogether imaginary:

A score of years ago A. B. bought a piece of land; he paid the price asked by the vender, and all the conditions required by the law were fulfilled in the transference of ownership. The transaction was as much a free contract as if A. B. had gone to market and bought a cabbage. At the time that A. B. handed over his money he believed that the State was a co-partner in the contract, in so far that it undertook to maintain his rights of ownership against everything and everybody who should attempt to invade them, except an act of the Legislature, or the orders of the commanding officer in war-time, or a police officer legally authorized. A. B. has gone on paying his taxes to the State all these years, in full conviction that the State contracted, among other things, to afford him the protection thus defined.

A. B.'s lawyers assured him that the title to the land was perfectly good. This means that, for several centuries at least, neither force nor fraud has intervened, but that the land has passed from owner to owner by free contract. At the same time, A. B., who is somewhat pedantic in the matter of historical accuracy, admits that, for anything he knows to the contrary, in the reign of King John his bit of land may have belonged to Cedric the Saxon; and that possibly the son-in-law of that worthy thane, after the quarrel with Rowena, related by an historian of later date than Scott, may have taken forcible possession of it, and, in virtue of his favor at Court, kept it for himself and his descendants.

Now, my friends and myself, having no better guides than common morality and common sense, are of opinion that, supposing Ivanhoe to have behaved in this scandalous fashion, the fact makes not the smallest difference in justice or in equity to the title of A. B.; and that, if it did, the State, which has contracted to defend A. B.'s title without the least reference to such antiquarian contingencies, would commit a gross fraud if it broke its contract on any such flimsy pretenses.

The right to compensation is not in question; what we deny is the right to disturb A. B. on such a ground.

It would appear, however, that there is some better guidance than that of common morality and common sense; "absolute political ethics" is an infallible indicator of what we ought to do whether the action indicated is possible or impossible.

Now, what we want is this very light as to what we ought to do in such a concrete case as that I have mentioned. The dictum that "ownership established by force does not stand on the same footing as ownership established by contract," I must repeat, "does not help us." Construed strictly, it is a mere truism; construed broadly, it may cover Mr. Laidler's view.

What we want to know is this: According to "absolute political ethics," has A. B. a moral as well as a legal right to his land or not?

If he has not, how does "absolute political ethics" deduce his title to compensation? And, if he has, how does "absolute political ethics" deduce the State's right to disturb him?

No question is raised here as to the right of the State to deal with A. B.'s land or anything else he possesses on grounds of public utility or necessity; nor do we want to know what may be done by the wisdom or the folly of future generations. "Absolute political ethics" should be independent of time and space; and it ought to be able to tell us whether, in foro conscientiæ, A. B., if he continue to hold his land under the circumstances supposed, is an honest man or a receiver of stolen goods.

I intervene in this discussion most unwillingly, but I have long been of opinion that the great political evil of our time is the attempt to sanction popular acts of injustice by antiquarian and speculative arguments.

My friend Mr. Spencer is, I am sure, the last person willingly to abet this tendency. But I am afraid that, in spite of all Mr. Spencer's disclaimers, the next time Mr. Morley visits his constituents his pertinacious "heckler" will insist that, after all, the younger and the older philosopher are not disagreed in principle; and that the difference of "footing" between ownership primarily based on force and other ownership can not be cured by efflux of time, and justifies the State now, or at any future period, in dealing differently with the two.

In Ireland confiscation is justified by the appeal to wrongs inflicted a century ago; in England the theorems of "absolute political ethics" are in danger of being employed to make this generation of land-owners responsible for the misdeeds of William the Conqueror and his followers.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,
T. H. Huxley.
November 11th.


To the Editor of "The Times":

Sir: Mr. Frederick Greenwood's letter, and the leading article in "The Times" of to-day, on Mr. Herbert Spencer's recent letter upon this subject, leave little more to be said on several aspects of the question, but there are one or two points upon which I should be glad of an opportunity of adding a few remarks.

The passage in the "Political Institutions" quoted by Mr. Herbert Spencer has been long familiar to the students of his writings, and to some of them, who, like myself, are among his sincere admirers, has always been a subject of surprise and regret.

The whole extract should be read, but to save your space I confine myself to the concluding sentences, which are enough for my purpose:

There is reason to suspect that while private possession of things produced by labor will grow even more definite and sacred than at present, the inhabited area, which can not be produced by labor, will eventually be distinguished as something which may not be privately possessed. As the individual, primitively owner of himself, partially or wholly loses ownership of himself during the militant régime, but gradually resumes it as the industrial régime develops; so, possibly, the communal proprietorship of land, partially or wholly merged in the ownership of dominant men during evolution of the militant type, will be resumed as the industrial type becomes fully evolved.

The analogy here suggested between the ownership of man by other men, or slavery, and the private ownership of land, with the inference drawn from it, that as the first has been abolished in civilized countries the second may possibly share its fate, has always appeared to me essentially fallacious.

The principle of private property, so far as the term is applicable to human beings, has not in their case been abolished—on the contrary, it has been signally vindicated.

The destruction of slavery asserted the right of every man to property in himself, while prohibiting the ownership of man by other men, both individually and collectively. It was the restitution of a right of property from a wrongful to a rightful owner. In order to render Mr. Spencer's analogy applicable, it seems to me that the right of ownership in one man by another, instead of being abolished altogether, should have been transferred, as it is proposed to do in the case of land, from the individual to the State.

But, however this may be, it seems clear that the principle which excludes the ownership of one man by another, rests upon the same grounds as that which includes private property in land—viz., that the general interests of society are best promoted by personal freedom.

There seems to be sufficient evidence that compulsory labor is less productive than free labor; and if this is so we may conclude, even setting aside all considerations of humanity or morality, that the interests of society are better promoted by free labor or property in one's self, than by slavery or property in others.

This is usually admitted, but it is necessary to insist upon what is always forgotten by those who declaim against private property in land—that this last institution also is an essential condition of personal freedom, as by no other means short of coercion can a due relation be maintained between demand and supply.

Whoever holds the land holds that which, being limited in extent (the only assumption on which the question arises), imposes on its possessor the function and duty, which he is bound in the interest of society, no less than his own, to perform, of restricting an undue pressure on the soil, whether for agricultural or urban purposes, whether for food or shelter, by the increasing wants of the population.

If the family is the economic unit, this object may be effected by the exercise of the personal responsibility and authority of its head in regulating supply, and by a gradual augmentation of price and rent in restraining demand. When the limits of production or supply are reached, any additional population must migrate or be supported, if possible, by charity.

But whenever the economic unit is extended so as to include a whole community, this personal responsibility, and with it personal liberty, disappears. In a small district (a village or canton) where the conditions approximate to family or patriarchal life the evil is mitigated; but in a large and complex society, to vest the property of the soil in the State—i. e., in a central Government, removed, as it must be, from all personal contact with individuals—is to throw upon it the paramount obligation of either regulating the increase of population or of providing food and shelter for increasing numbers by progressive inroads upon the accumulated capital of the country—in short, upon the net product, which is the only source of a progressive civilization. The first of these alternatives can not be better described than in the words of Bastiat:

Ce serait creer le plus faillible, le plus universel, le plus immediát, le plus inquisitorial, le plus insupportable, et disons, fort heureusement, le plus impossible, de tous les despotismes que jamais cervelle de pacha ou de mufti ait pu conçevoir.

The second course could only lead to the gradual pauperization and ultimate bankruptcy of any country which had the folly to embark in it. Such an experiment would be only comparable.to that of a vast joint-stock company in which all comers were entitled to shares without paying for them.

The distinction drawn by Mr. Herbert Spencer, in common with the late Mr. Mill, between private property in land and private property in things produced by labor is one which I believe to have no economic justification whatever. It ignores the fundamental principle, on which the institution of private property is grounded—viz., that a due relation between demand and supply can be maintained in no other way consistently with personal freedom.

From this point of view the fact that the supply of land is practically limited, and that it is, therefore, a natural monopoly, renders it not less but more necessary that it should be allowed to be the subject of private appropriation.

Sir Henry Maine has summed up the whole question in a few words, which can not be too often repeated:

There are two sets of motives, and two only, by which the great bulk of the materials of human subsistence and comfort have hitherto been produced and reproduced. One has led to the cultivation of the Northern States of the American Union from the Atlantic to the Pacific; the other had a considerable share in bringing about the agricultural and industrial progress of the Southern States, and in old days it produced the wonderful prosperity of Peru under the Incas. One system is economical competition, the other consists in the daily task, perhaps fairly and kindly allotted, but enforced by the prison or the scourge. So far as we have any experience to teach us, we are driven to the conclusion that every society of men must adopt one system or the other, or it will pass through penury to starvation. ("Popular Government.")
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Louis Mallet.
13 Royal-Crescent, Bath, November 9th.


To the Editor of "The Times":

Sir: As Prof. Huxley admits that his friend A. B.'s title to his plot of land is qualified by the right of the State to dispossess him if it sees well—as, by implication, he admits that all land-owners hold their land subject to the supreme ownership of the State, that is, the community—as he contends that any force or fraud by which land was taken in early days does not affect the titles of existing owners, and a fortiori does not affect the superior title of the community—and as, consequently, he admits that the community, as supreme owner with a still valid title, may resume possession if it thinks well, he seems to me to leave the question standing very much where it stood; and since he, as I suppose, agrees with me that any such resumption, should a misjudgment lead to it, ought to be accompanied by due compensation for all artificial value given to land, I do not see in what respect we disagree on the land question. I pass, therefore, to his comments on absolute political ethics.

"Your treatment is quite at variance with physiological principles "would probably be the criticism passed by a modern practitioner on the doings of a Sangrado, if we suppose one to have survived." Oh, bother your physiological principles "might be the reply." I have got to cure this disease, and my experience tells me that bleeding and frequent draughts of hot water are needed." "Well," would be the rejoinder, "if you do not kill your patient, you will at any rate greatly retard his recovery, as you would probably be aware had you read Prof. Huxley's 'Lessons on Elementary Physiology,' and the more elaborate books on the subject which medical students have to master."

This imaginary conversation will sufficiently suggest that, before there can be rational treatment of a disordered state of the bodily functions, there must be a conception of what constitutes their ordered state: knowing what is abnormal implies knowing what is normal. That Prof. Huxley recognizes this truth is, I suppose, proved by the inclusion of physiology in that course of medical education which he advocates. If he says that abandonment of the Sangrado treatment was due, not to the teachings of physiology, but to knowledge empirically gained, then I reply that if he expands this statement so as to cover all improvements in medical treatment he suicidally rejects the teaching of physiological principles as useless.

Without insisting upon that analogy between a society and an organism which results from the interdependence of parts performing different functions—though I believe he recognizes this—I think he will admit that conception of a social state as disordered implies conception of an ordered social state. We may fairly assume that, in these modern days at least, all legislation aims at a better; and the conception of a better is not possible without conception of a best. If there is rejoicing because certain diseases have been diminished by precautions enforced, the implied ideal is a state in which these diseases have been extinguished. If particular measures are applauded because they have decreased criminality, the implication is that the absence of all crime is a desideratum. Hence, however much a politician may pooh-pooh social ideals, he can not take steps toward bettering the social state without tacitly entertaining them. And though he may regard absolute political ethics as an airy vision, he makes bit by bit reference to it in everything he does. I simply differ from him in contending for a consistent and avowed reference, instead of an inconsistent and unacknowledged reference.

Even without any such strain on the imagination as may be required to conceive a community consisting entirely of honest and honorable men—even without asking whether there is not a set of definite limits to individual actions which such men would severally insist upon and respect—even without asserting that these limits must, in the nature of things, result when men have severally to carry on their lives in proximity with one another, I should have thought it sufficiently clear that our system of justice, by interdicting murder, assault, theft, libel, etc., recognizes the existence of such limits and the necessity for maintaining them; and I should have thought it manifest enough that there must exist an elaborate system of limits or restraints on conduct, by conformity to which citizens may co-operate without dissension. Such a system, deduced as it may be from the primary conditions to be fulfilled, is what I mean by absolute political ethics. The complaint of Prof. Huxley that absolute political ethics does not show us what to do in each concrete case seems to be much like the complaint of a medical practitioner who should speak slightingly of physiological generalizations because they did not tell him the right dressing for a wound or how best to deal with varicose veins. I can not here explain further, but any one who does not understand me may find the matter discussed at length in a chapter on "Absolute and Relative Ethics" contained in the "Data of Ethics."

It appears to me somewhat anomalous that Prof. Huxley, who is not simply a biologist but is familiar with science at large, and who must recognize the reign of law on every hand, should tacitly assume that there exists one group of lawless phenomena—social phenomena. For if they are not lawless—if there are any natural laws traceable throughout them, then our aim should be to ascertain these and conform to them, well knowing that non-conformity will inevitably bring penalties. Not taking this view, however, it would seem as though Prof. Huxley agrees with the mass of "practical" politicians, who think that every legislative measure is to be decided by estimation of probabilities unguided by a priori conclusions. Well, had they habitually succeeded, one might not wonder that they should habitually ridicule abstract principles; but the astounding accumulation of failures might have been expected to cause less confidence in empirical methods. Of the 18,110 public acts passed between 20 Henry III and the end of 1872, Mr. Janson, Vice-President of the Law Society, estimates that four fifths have been wholly or partially repealed, and that in the years 1870-'72 there were repealed 3,532 acts, of which 2,759 were totally repealed. Further, I myself found, on examining the books for 1881-'83, that in those years there had been repealed 650 acts belonging to the present reign, besides many of preceding reigns. Remembering that acts which are repealed have been doing mischief, which means loss, trouble, pain to great numbers—remembering, thus, the enormous amount of suffering which this helter-skelter legislation has inflicted for generations and for centuries, I think it would be not amiss to ask whether better guidance may not be had, even though it should come from absolute political ethics.

I regret that neither space nor health will permit me to discuss any of the questions raised by Sir Louis Mallet. And here, indeed, I find myself compelled to desist altogether. In so far as I am concerned, the controversy must end with this letter.

I am, etc., Herbert Spencer.
Athenæum Club, November 13th.


To the Editor of "The Times":

Sir: As one of the deputation of members of the Newcastle Labor Electoral Organization who recently waited upon Mr. John Morley, M. P., to ascertain his opinions on certain political and social topics, I was intrusted by my fellow-members of the deputation with the question of the nationalization of the land, and this subject I discussed with Mr. Morley. In doing so, I sought to back up my position by quoting the ninth chapter of "Social Statics," by Mr. Herbert Spencer, and I certainly thought I had a good case when I found on my side the most distinguished authority of our time. To my great surprise I now find that in the letters which he has addressed to you, Mr. Herbert Spencer appears to be very anxious to repudiate the doctrines which he preached so eloquently in 1850. Now, although it is a common thing for the politician of to-day to repudiate principles and deductions which he formerly warmly espoused and to adopt others which he once energetically condemned, one does not expect the same vacillation on the part of a distinguished philosopher like Mr. Herbert Spencer. I find it difficult to understand his position, which seems to be this—that while adhering to his general principles he abandons certain deductions therefrom. Now, to my mind, the ninth chapter of "Social Statics," which deals with "The right to the use of the earth," seems as true, as logical, and as unanswerable an argument in favor of the nationalization of the land as it doubtless appeared to Mr. Herbert Spencer on the day it was written. Let us trace the course of his argument through, the ten sections of which the chapter is composed:

1. Given a race of beings having little claims to pursue the objects of their desires, and a world into which such beings are similarly born, it unavoidably follows that they have equal rights to the use of this world. 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.

2. Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. Otherwise, landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether.

3. We find yet further reason to deny the rectitude of property in land. Violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, the claims of superior cunning, these are the sources to which titles may be traced. Could valid claims thus be constituted? Hardly. If not, what becomes of the pretensions of all subsequent holders of estates so obtained?

4. Not only have present land tenures an indefensible origin, but it is impossible to discover any mode in which land can become private property. Cultivation can not give a legitimate title.

5. Why not agree to a fair subdivision of the land? Until we can demonstrate that men born after a certain date should be doomed to slavery, we must consider no such allotment permissible.

6. Either men have a right to make the soil private property or they have not. No compromise is possible. If they have such a right, then the Duke of Sutherland may justifiably banish Highlanders to make room for sheep-walks.

7. After all, nobody does implicitly believe in landlordism. If a canal, a railway, or a turnpike road is to be made, we do not scruple to seize just as many acres as may be requisite. If we decide that the claims of individual ownership must give way, then we imply that the right of the nation at large to the soil is supreme.

8. To what does this doctrine, that men are equally entitled to the use of the earth, lead? Instead of being in the possession of individuals, the country would be held by the great corporate body—society. Instead of leasing his acres from an isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the nation. Clearly, on such a system, the earth might be inclosed, occupied, and cultivated in entire subordination to the law of equal freedom.

9. No doubt great difficulties must attend the resumption, by mankind at large, of their rights to the soil. The question of compensation to existing proprietors is a complicated one—one that perhaps can not be settled in a strictly equitable manner. But there are others besides the landed class to be considered. The rights of the many are in abeyance. To deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or personal liberties.

10. The right of each man to the use of the earth, limited only by the like rights of his fellow-men, is immediately deducible from the law of equal freedom. The maintenance of this right necessarily forbids private property in land. The theory of the co-heirship of all men to the soil is consistent with the highest civilization, and, however difficult it may be to embody that theory in fact, equity sternly commands it to be done.

In the foregoing digest, beyond one or two connecting words, the language is that of Mr. Herbert Spencer himself. Does it not constitute an unanswerable argument in favor of the nationalization of the land? If the author would permit it to be reprinted, what an admirable tract the ninth chapter of "Social Statics" would be for the propagation of Socialistic principles! But he now seems to repudiate the offspring of his own genius! We have, however, a right to ask that, instead of a vague repudiation in general terms, Mr. Herbert Spencer should tell us specifically what deductions he has abandoned and why he has abandoned them. We might then endeavor to answer his answers to his own propositions.

John Laidler, Bricklayer.

  1. Extract from the Morley Interview.

    Mr. Laidler said their method of dealing with the land would be that the present owners should hold it for their time, and that it should revert back to the State. They remembered that Mr. Herbert Spencer had said that the land had been taken by force and by fraud. That gentleman had also said that to right one wrong it takes another.

    Mr. Morley.—Has Mr. Spencer said this?
    Mr. Laidler.—Yes; we all know.
    Mr. Morley.—You are aware that he has recalled some of the things he has laid down?
    Mr. Laidler.—If he has stated truth and recalled it, the truth will prevail.
    Mr. Morley.—Do you include houses?
    Mr. Laidler.—We include land, not houses. In houses there is labor, but in land there is not.
    Mr. Morley.—Not?
    Mr. Laidler.—There may be labor exerted in land, but as far as the labor is in the land we believe it ought to belong to the laborer. As the land has been obtained by the method I have named by force and fraud, as Spencer says—we contend that the land ought to be taken back by the community and handed over to the municipalities and county councils to be used in such democratic manner as the people may elect those bodies for.
    Mr. Morley.—I can not think that what is commonly called nationalization of the land

    is anything but what it was called the other day—either robbery or folly. I have really no more to say on that subject.