Typos p. 14: Wallensetin's [= Wallenstein's]; p. 15: concerend [= concerned]; p. 15: presentday [= present-day]
Anthony M. Ludovici
Heath Cranton Limited
- p. v -
The present little work consists of an address delivered by the author to a meeting of the St. James's Kin of the English Mistery on November 10th, 1931. In view of the interest which, in these days of high taxation and Communistic propaganda, attaches to the problem of private property, the members of the English Mistery, as also the author, hoped that a wider public might be glad of this concise discussion of the subject, and it was therefore decided to issue it in book form.
The Sanctity of Private Property
1. It would be impossible in the limited space at my disposal to give an adequate idea of the confusion that prevails in modern thought, modern historical interpretation and modern anthropological theories, regarding the institution of private property.
Suffice it to say that, in the course of their enquiry into this institution, economists and scholars always claim the scientific method as the justification for their conclusions, and that this method is almost as frequently abused, feigned, or neglected. A mass of literature has been published on the subject, and three-quarters of it consists merely of preconceptions and prejudice. The anxiety to establish the institution of private property upon the solid foundation of a first principle of life or human nature, upon a natural or divine law, or even upon irrefutable data concerning origins, has led most investigators astray, and made them forget that human institutions are all ultimately derived from human taste and selection, and that as a rule their credit endures only so long as the taste of their founders is shared or at least approximately equalled by posterity.
2. To deal with the anthropological theories first, we may, for the sake of brevity, divide them into two, as belonging respectively to the principal hostile scientific camps the theory of those who argue from their study of primitive races that all property was originally communal, and the theory of those who,
These enquiries of the anthropologists regarding the question of property have been pursued in accordance with a method that has crept into the science of economics and sociology, and which consists in the practice of seeking the raison d'être, and the soundness of modern political or social institutions, or sometimes even the warrant for them, in the habits, traditions and ceremonies of savages. It is as if the motive behind such a method were the conviction that whenever an institution can be found to exist among men in a state of nature, it must possess some extraordinary quality compelling respect and consideration. It is really an effort along the lines of evolutionary sociology, having for its object the establishment of modern sociological principles and laws upon the logic of unsophisticated humanity surviving in the heart of nature. It is, however, a romantic or sentimental method of procedure; for interesting as the habits and ceremonies of savages may be in themselves, they cannot be very helpful to us as guides in the criticism or elaboration of the rules governing our own society, nor can they tell us much concerning its evolution.
Nevertheless, countless volumes have been written and are still being written along these lines. We are surfeited with facts concerning primitive marriage, primitive religion and primitive morality. But, for our present purpose at least, it is necessary to record only one achievement that has resulted from all this labour, which is that both of the old rival schools of anthropology that which regarded communal possession and that which regarded private ownership as the original institutions of mankind have been proved
Naturally the Communists, men like Engels and Marx, seized upon the evidence in favour of communal possessions in primitive societies, in order to support their own political aims, while those in favour of a capitalistic order made an equally one-sided use of the other evidence. But even if one of these say the Communists had found communal possession universally established among existing primitive races (W. H. R. Rivers on purely scientific grounds actually championed the view that communal ownership was the primitive form), or among past primitive races, what would this have proved in favour of establishing the same order at the present time?
Surely it must soon become evident to our learned sociologists and economists that the attempt to explain, illustrate, or support our own civilized institutions by a study of the institutions of existing or past primitive peoples, cannot fail, quite apart from the sentimental bias behind it, to prove the sorriest waste of useful energy, because it is always open to the sceptic to ask whether the fact that these existing primitive peoples have remained at the bottom of the hierarchy of races may not be due to the very institutions which we study with so much reverence and humility. In any case, the attempt to base upon such anthropological data any rule for the observance of modern mankind, or any first principle on which to build a system, must be unscientific, because, at best, these data cannot tell more than an incomplete story the story of the most backward peoples. They must omit the very earliest history of those races whom we have known or can know only as civilized or half-civilized.
3. Turning now to the philosophers and their work on the problem of private property, we encounter much the same striving as among the anthropologists, though with this difference that while the latter sought their authority or basis for one form or the other of ownership in the customs of primitive man, the former seek for a fundamental law, or an a priori and self-evident principle, inherent in humanity or human society in general, which makes either communal possession or private ownership appear to be sacrosanct, or natural and proper to the animal man.
Regarding at least the early philosophers and legislators, a word of warning seems to be necessary. Because Europe has been very deeply influenced by them it is always well to bear in mind, if we can, that, after all, they were first and foremost townsmen. They had the urban mind, the urban attitude to all things. Their thought and speculations on this matter of property fit very much more perfectly the England of to-day than the England of yesterday. In fact, quite apart from the problem of property, the modern world may never fully understand how much of its tendency to develop and multiply large urban centres to the sacrifice of everything else, may not in part be due to the circumstance that, from the very start, European thought was the thought of men born and bred in city states. This has tinctured the whole of our philosophy. Could it possibly have failed to be translated into action?
When Maine said, "It is . . . Roman jurisprudence which, transformed by the theory of Natural Law,
And this is more or less comprehensible. For what a townsman handles, what he is accustomed to hold as his own, is chiefly the kind of property which may form the object of unconditional or unlimited ownership, or ownership divorced from duties the kind of property which English law terms "choses in possession," such as cattle, clothes, coin, house furniture, carriages, etc., and of which English law precisely states that they "are the objects of absolute ownership, that is, of a right of exclusive enjoyment, mainly including the right to maintain or recover possession of the things against or from all persons, and further comprehending the right of free use, alteration, or destruction [this last is important as divorcing the owner of the object entirely from any duty of obligation to others in connexion with his ownership] and the right of free alienation, with the corresponding liability to alienation for debt." 1
Now I suggest that it was natural for townsmen, for men bred in city states, to develop this idea of property, because this was the kind of property with which they were chiefly concerned. They knew little of any other kind. 2 Had they known more, they would probably have felt less inclined to extend
1 J. Williams: Principles of the Law of Personal Property.
2 This, on the whole, is more true of the modern Western European townsman than of the townsman of Athens or Rome; but its partial truth even in regard to the latter, is an important factor, which is too often overlooked.
Thus Maine is able to say with good reason that the history of Roman Property Law is the history of the assimilation of Res mancipi to Res nec mancipi, or of things which require a mancipation to things which do not require it.
But this is also the history of English and French Law. Things which could not without danger become objects of absolute ownership, that is to say free from all social duties and obligations, like land and riches beyond the individual's physical and professional needs, have, through the influence of the urban mind, first of Greece and Rome, and finally of London and Paris, working at the same problem, become entirely emancipated. But whether London and Paris would ever have arrived so quickly at the idea of absolute ownership in all things, without the antecedent influence of Greece and Rome, it is impossible to say. I venture to doubt it. In any case, France was a little slower than England; for whereas France, a country which might be supposed to have been more influenced by Roman Law, recognized rights of absolute ownership in all things only at the time of the Revolution in 1793, 1 individual ownership in
1 I am not, of course, including the period previous to the Barbarian Invasion, in which, as is well known, the ownership of the land had become free and personal in Gaul under Roman rule.
When, therefore, we study the philosophers on this question of private property, it is well to remember the biassed beginnings of thought on property in Europe, and to bear in mind through what influence the impression arose that absolute individual ownership is the normal state of proprietary right.
At all events, it may be admitted at once that, although the right of private property has been advocated and defended by Western European philosophers and lawyers from the dawn of history as something self-evident, not one has ever succeeded in establishing it on a fundamental law or principle of life, morality or logic, while the attempt to do the same for communal ownership has been even more hopeless.
There is no a priori truth, no self-evident principle from which the right of private property can be derived.
But of the various attempts to derive it in this manner, I may mention the claims of:
(a) Those who argue that occupation is the origin of private property. Among these are the Roman lawyers, and thinkers like Kant, Thiers, Lewinski (the latter writing against Maine), and St. Thomas Aquinas.
(b) Those who point to work or labour as the origin or sanctification of private property. Foremost among these is Locke and through him the economists Adam Smith, Ricardo, Say; the Communists, Engels, Karl Marx, Lassalle, Lenin, Stalin, etc. Spencer and Mill also to some extent held and supported Locke's view, but with as little intention as Locke himself had of giving arguments to the Communists.
(c) Those who set up the idea of contract as the origin of private property. Among these are Hobbes and his followers, including Rousseau and his followers,
(d) Those who say that law creates private property. Among these, who here and there necessarily merge into the preceding group, are St. Augustine, Bossuet, Mirabeau, Tronchet, Robespierre, Montesquieu, Trendelenburg, Hume, Wagner, Kant, Bentham.
(e) Those who say that the nature of man makes it necessary and useful. Among these are Roscher, Bentham, Mill in fact all the Utilitarians. Hume can be included in this group also. His discussion of the subject, although it reveals, here and there, startling instances of shallowness, is nevertheless very searching and reasonable.
(f) Those who claim it as a natural human right. Among these are Blackstone (to some extent the Roman lawyers and the Catholic Church), Fichte, Portalis, Professor Ahrens, Daloz, Laveleye, and Herbert Spencer, who, like Kant, bases it on what he calls "the law of equal freedom." There is, however, no reason to suppose that Spencer was inspired by Kant. Schiller was also one of these with his:
I have said that it was through no accident that the classical thinkers and lawyers should gradually have extended the notion of absolute private ownership (dominium) to all things, even to those things which in their earlier history had allowed only of the notion of limited, conditional, or usufructuary possession (possessio). They were townsmen, accustomed to the baubles which a man can hold without having to give an account of them to anyone.
But there was perhaps less readiness to grant or admit absolute individual ownership in Greece than in Rome. The compulsory readjustments of wealth and property in ancient Greece readjustments which, unlike the Agrarian Laws of the Gracchi, were successfully maintained point to this, as do also the innumerable public services which the wealthy were called upon and expected to perform. It is perfectly true that the wealthy Romans also performed public services; but these appear to have been more volun-
In the Politics, Aristotle defends private ownership as being economically superior (because all men regard more what is their own than what others share with them in, to which they pay less attention than is incumbent on everyone); as being a source of pleasure (for it is unspeakable how advantageous it is that a man should think he has something which he may call his own. . . . Besides, it is very pleasing to us to oblige and assist our friends and companions, etc.); and as being more conducive to the development of character (for restraint and liberality are made possible by it). But he insists repeatedly on the desirability of blending private and communal ownership. "It is evident then," he concludes, "that it is best to have property private, but to make the use of it common." There is no explicit statement that private property when it exceeds certain limits involves certain duties and obligations, but this meaning can be read into Aristotle's words without difficulty. There was in Rome little of the feeling that is consonant with this view of property, and that is probably why Christianity found such a favourable environment for its teaching in the Roman
Thought in Europe on the problem of property thus became absorbed in a negative or hostile attitude to riches as such, before it had had the time or the opportunity to develop Aristotle's more balanced view. To early Christianity the institution of private property was not merely unwise, it was actually sinful, and was classed among the many evil and inevitable consequences of the Fall. Not only did the early Fathers of the Church regard Communism as the original state of innocent and blissful mankind, but, as we know, in the early years of the Church, Christians also practised and advocated Communism. Charity was not the duty of giving, it was the duty of restoring to the destitute that which was their own. It was not an act of mercy, but an act of simple justice. St. Thomas Aquinas actually advocated robbery as a means of relieving destitution. St. Gregory said, when we give to the poor we render to them that which is their own, we do not give what is ours. Now although, side by side with these dubious exhortations to charity, private property was explicitly declared to be a necessary though regrettable consequence of our fallen condition, nobody can deny that from St. Gregory's inflammatory utterance to Lenin's cry to the people of St. Petersburg in April, 1917, "Rob back that which has been robbed," is not a very great step.
And it is significant that this cry of Lenin's also came after a long spell of the rigorous observance of private ownership in the most absolute and irresponsible sense.
Was it perhaps this thought that caused J. S. Mill to remark: "The principle of private property has never yet had a fair trial in any country; and less so, perhaps, in this country than in some others"? If, by this, Mill meant that the institution of private property has never yet been protected against itself, he means what I do.
Nor is it any good now, at this late hour, to follow the philosophic method and try to convince mankind afresh along logical and self-evident lines, of the desirability of either private property or Communism. For, unless we are prepared to evolve a system based on Aristotle's principle, by which the right of private property can be re-wedded to function and duty, and freed from its present irresponsibility and consequent abuses, unless we can contrive a method by which property can be enjoyed jointly only in so far as it does not destroy freedom and character, and privately only in so far as it expresses and preserves both (and such a system was Feudalism), we shall merely be wasting our time and hastening the disintegration that threatens.
On the whole, then, it may be said that there is little that has been heard since Aristotle which improves on his position or which adds to it, and we can pass over the thinkers and philosophers and turn to history.
But, again, in the work of the historians, it is difficult to escape preconceptions, prejudice and deliberate misrepresentation, and the enquiry has to be prosecuted with consistent scepticism.
Who, for instance, after reading the Whig histories with which alone we have been provided for generations in this country, would ever have imagined that the Puritans, those austere moralists of the seventeenth century, those scholars of Old Testament lore, and critics of Charles I's finance, sense of honour, and "oppressive" notions of rule, were the men who, following Calvin, rejected the Canon Law against usury, and were most eager to be "freed from the efforts of the King's council to bring home to the employing and mercantile classes their duty to the community?" 1 But such is indeed the fact.
Who, after reading the histories, both English and French, of the French Revolution, would ever suspect that this event in France stripped the peasant of his rights of common, and other secular rights of equal importance, and delivered him up defenceless into the
1 Archdeacon Cunningham: The Moral Witness of the Church on the Investment of Money, pp. 25, 26.
But such are the facts.
Now the history of the so-called historical period reveals a picture not of private ownership, nor of Communism, but of a blend of the two, marked by a hardening of the right of individual ownership as each society approaches its decadence. In the period of growth and development, when institutions are flourishing, we never see an enforcement of private ownership in all things, as was customary in the later period of Rome, and as is customary to-day in Western Europe and England, but we do find private ownership of some things as an essential part of the civilization, and this is so whether we turn to Judah, to China, to Egypt, to Greece, Rome or mediaeval Europe.
The early legislators seem always to have been eager to combine communal or conditional, with private and absolute ownership, and as fast as the latter form encroached on the former in each nation, the nearer the civilization approached disintegration.
An extremely impressive instance of this is to be found in the history of the Jews. After the return of the exiles from their captivity in Babylon in the sixth century B.C., and their rebuilding of the Temple, it was found that the community they formed in Judah, which was nothing but an insignificant little Persian province, soon developed all the injustices and symptoms of oppression inseparable from uncontrolled conditions of wealth. Side by side with the respected families with old traditions, there had grown up a new capitalist class who lent money to the poorer
In a few years this system led to the existence of a plutocracy on the one hand, and on the other a wholly dispossessed class, many members of which had been reduced to the position of serfs.
Now the Israelites, as a people, had always shown the greatest horror of just such a state of affairs as this. It is explicitly stated in Deuteronomy that no Israelite should exploit a member of his own community in this way. "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury." And there follows the perfectly justifiable reservation with regard to strangers, in dealing with whom there can be no intra-herd duties, which implied that usury is not wrong in itself, but only wrong as against a fellow-citizen. "Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury."
When, therefore, Nehemiah, who was above all a patriot, heard the lamentations of the oppressed, and saw the kind of social conditions that had been created in Judah by these people of his own race, who had set out from Babylon with such pure and lofty intentions, he was very angry, and rebuked the nobles and the rulers, and "set a great assembly against them." And he commanded them saying "I pray you let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, unto them even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them." And they did so.
In China the Feudal System lasted under the Chow Dynasty for 866 years (1122 to 256 B.C.); but as the system degenerated into one of absolute private ownership, disorder, anarchy and internecine wars occurred, and for the last 500 years of this dynasty China was in a state of complete confusion. Up to the time of the sixth century B.C. or probably a little earlier (for the process was gradual) it was impossible for anyone to accumulate unlimited wealth. But the speed with which similar evils call forth similar remedies, is shown by the fact that no later than the fifth century B.C., that is to say, about a century after the introduction of money, and therefore of the means of accumulating wealth, the Chinese were already recommending the control of capital.
In Egypt the system was also feudal, but the fact that, from time to time, the Pharaohs had to intervene in order to buy back from rapacious landlords land that had become private property, and were obliged to have recourse to a redistribution, shows that here, too, the tendency of the blend of private and communal or conditional ownership, to degenerate into purely private ownership, was regarded as a danger and had to be checked by redistribution.
In Greece we encounter the same dangerous development and the same remedies. Solon, Pericles, Lycurgus and Agis, each in turn had recourse to redistribution to try to avert catastrophe, while throughout the history of Athens we are constantly reminded of the
In this way the Athenian democracy not only financed its national administration, but also tried to prevent gross accumulations of property in private hands, and the fact that they succeeded is shown by the nomination of trierarchs at different periods. At the beginning of the Peloponnesian War the Athenians were able to nominate 400 men annually, each of whom was rich enough to maintain one ship for a year, but later on it was possible to find only couples or whole companies who could meet this charge.
In Rome the development was slightly different. The history of property in Rome, as I have already pointed out, reveals a steady encroachment of absolute private ownership upon conditional ownership, or ownership bound up with duties and obligations, with the consequent accumulation of large fortunes in the hands of a few irresponsible people, and all the resulting evils of such a condition. It is true that the bulk of the ultimate private owners of the land had either descended, or had bought their land, from the possessores, i.e. men who had only conditional or usufructuary rights granted by the community as a
Other small redistributions of land occurred under Cæsar, Nerva and Septimius Severus, while the last remains of cultivated public lands in Italy were sold or given away by the Flavian Emperors.
Thus, although the right of absolute ownership appears to have become universal comparatively early in Rome, vestiges of a system of conditional ownership survived in a rough and disorganized form. The fact that under the Republic the city magistrates served without pay, were expected frequently to devote large sums from their private purses to the celebration of games, and that State lands were originally occupied and cultivated by merely usufructuary tenants, while, in the early Empire, individual Romans willingly undertook tasks (upkeep of public buildings, drainage in and outside the city, the repair of roads, bridges and harbours) which would other-
In mediaeval Europe, the Feudal System gathered up and organized all that was best in the institutions of the ancient world, relating to property, and evolved an intricate and decentralized form of administration, consisting of graduated privileges and obligations extending without a break from the serf to the presiding monarch. Nothing in any way as desirable had been evolved in Greece or Rome. It provided leisure for the rulers, with a recognition of the need of that leisure and of the benefits accruing to the nation as a whole from the possibility of such leisure. It provided defence and revenue, and allowed for all the advantages of private property without ever tolerating absolute and irresponsible ownership in the principal means of production then known, which was the land. Even the Church lands, themselves, were always supposed to be held in trust for the poor. The position of the rulers was so far from being a sinecure that they could be called upon to risk life and limb for the protection of their dependants and their king, to consult with their dependants and superiors concerning local and national policy, to administer justice, to guarantee a certain military contingent adequately armed and equipped, to maintain law and order in their locality, and to control and perform any number of other duties which made up the life of an agricultural landlord of the period. In fact, there can hardly be any doubt that, in its early stages, before the privileges of leadership were well denned, the duties of the chief or lord under the Feudal System were so heavy with responsibility that, not only were men reluctant to undertake them
In any case, the final outcome was an organization of property, in which the form of tenure, by which a thing of value was held, was one of voluntary service, not intended to be chiefly economic in character, but rather moral and political. The principle of mutual obligation and loyalty, protection and service, bound together all ranks of society, from the lowest to the highest; and, while nothing in the form of irresponsible and absolute individual ownership existed, at least in the means of production, the right of private property was nevertheless sufficiently conceded, to lend adequate freedom and dignity to the life of the individual, and to provide for the adequate development of character.
Not one scrap of that feudal property could be transferred indiscriminately without the risk of destroying its value so much so, that every possible precaution was taken to secure similar individuals to hold it, when any of it became available through death or some other cause. Contrary to Hume's hasty assumption concerning the transference of what he termed "external" goods, it could not be transferred without suffering any loss or alteration unless men similar to its original holders could be found
The break up of Feudalism was due to an infinite number of causes, some avoidable, others unavoidable at least to the men of the period; but, from our present point of view, all that we need remark is that the encroachment of absolute, irresponsible individual ownership upon conditional ownership, or ownership based upon obligations and duties, marked the process of disintegration, and that this process of disintegration did not lead, and has not yet led, to any attempt at reinstating a system of responsible proprietary rights, of graduated loyalties and obligations, of graduated service and privilege, which, in Feudalism made the position of the lowest in the land not only as secure but also as essential as that of his immediate and remotest superior.
The onrush of the new system, the system of irresponsible proprietary rights, which received so important an impetus from Henry VIII and has lasted until the present day, was firmly resisted by Elizabeth and Charles I, each of whom took steps to control capital, to prevent it from accumulating in a few hands, and to impose upon the new, independent rich certain duties towards the community. In fact Charles I may be said to have sacrificed his head in the prosecution of these three aims. But in favour
From that day there remained but two possible means of attaching social obligations to property taxation, which is merely expropriation, has no bearing on character, loyalty and honour, and fails to functionalize privilege and property; 1 and charity, which was always indiscriminate, which owing to the necessity, or the tradition, of urging it by appeals to pity, was always directed to the support and promotion of the most degenerate and least desirable elements in the nation, and which, with the prevailing anarchy in the administration and testamentary disposal of property, was bound to lead to a hopeless squandering of the national wealth (particularly by women) on the most unwise foundations and institutions.
This failure displayed by later usages and institutions to attach to rank and privilege a corresponding obligation and function, while at the same time they hardened the right of individual ownership and resolutely universalized the "external" goods that
1 Certain services, of course, did remain, which, although not legally exigible, were nevertheless loyally rendered by the bulk of the English propertied class. I refer to the work of magistrates, the participation in politics, etc., though these duties were probably undertaken from motives more often of self-protection than of patriotism. For evidence of this, see my Defence of Aristocracy.
5. From this brief sketch of history we seem justified in concluding:
That everywhere this right has been to some extent limited, particularly in regard to the land.
That the cupidity, acquisitiveness and short-sightedness of man tends gradually in weak societies to convert any form of conditional ownership, or ownership bound up with duties, into private and absolute ownership, and that this is always a sign of political decay.
That wherever and whenever absolute private ownership has been extended to every possible form of goods, or property, and has led to the accumulation of vast fortunes in a few hands, and the creation of a class wholly dispossessed and dependent in a wholly non-functional way, disintegration has always threatened.
That at such moments of crisis, the efforts of ancient legislators Nehemiah, Solon, Pericles, Lycurgus, Agis, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, to mention only a few have always been to avert disaster by trying to restore to the majority those very benefits, which are the sole basis for the persistence of individual ownership as an institution.
That the grand experiment of mediaeval Europe in the art of combining all the privileges of private ownership with those of conditional ownership and duty, and of organizing the two on a basis of graduated rank and responsibility, mutual loyalty and obligation, must seem to us rather like a reaction after the long spell of "free" proprietorship which spread throughout the Roman Empire as the result of Roman Law, and at the same time as a development of some of the hardest lessons learned by the man of antiquity.
That in the comparatively recent system called Capitalism, in which the irresponsible administration
Finally, that after each phase of universalized private ownership and irresponsibility there has followed a reaction in which the very right of private property has been put in question, and that in its purely social and political aspects Christianity was merely one of these reactions.
Thus Capitalism and Communism are now at each other's throats, in both the international and intranational sense.
Capitalism is a condition in which the best administrator of property in excess of a man's physical and professional needs, and the best testamentary disposer of such property, is assumed to be the person who happens adventitiously to be in possession of it.
This is nonsense.
Communism is a condition in which the best administrator of property is assumed to be the central Government.
This also is nonsense.
These two forms of nonsense are now at death grips. It behoves us, if we wish to save our civilization, to find a way out of this absurd duel between these two forms of nonsense, and in order to do this we must be quite clear regarding what is happening.
Against the increasing burdens of taxation, which is really expropriation and therefore partial Communism, it is no longer any good trying to harden the right of private property either philosophically or legally; because it is precisely the hardening of
Furthermore, against the claims of Communism it is no good for the Capitalists with their hands on their hearts to claim that there is anything divine or fundamentally sacred about the right of private property, because it must be evident, without further enquiry, that if the definition of capitalism given above is even approximately just and fair, there must be an enormous deal in the present institution of private property which is both foul and indefensible.
On the other hand, it is no good for Communists to reply to the claims of the Capitalists that they hold a panacea for all the world's ills. For, in this matter, as in others, the wise man, as Aristotle insists, will turn to experience. He will truthfully assert that he knows of no single instance of communal ownership having either created a great culture or people, or endured in a great culture or people.
Even to the plea that Communism has never been tried and that to condemn it untried is philosophically unsound, the wise man, without referring to the monstrous fraud of Russian Communism, can reply that, on the contrary, it has been tried again and again, that it actually exists in a more or less modified form to-day, in a number of backward races, and that it is quite impossible entirely to separate their backwardness and their settled inferiority in the hierarchy of races, from the social principles by which they govern their lives. He can reply more or less as Aristotle did to Plato, that wherever he sees the principle of Communism applied, in Government offices and works, and in public services, in every country, no matter how highly civilized, he sees waste, inefficiency, daily and hourly robbery of the national exchequer, persistent extravagance of the most
But this absurd controversy between these two forms of nonsense, Capitalism and Communism, has already led to terrible bloodshed it is unfortunately chiefly over nonsense that blood is shed and is likely to do so again, and all to no purpose. Because, whichever side wins, the result is bound to be the re-enthronement of some tragic piece of buffoonery.
6. What then should be the attitude of the modern thinking man towards this ridiculous controversy? It is no longer either good policy or good humanity to rely on the trial and error method or on blind chance or emotion for the solution of this problem. We cannot afford at this stage in our evolution to be unconscious to the extent of becoming again the sport of circumstances. All too clearly we have seen the consequences of past generations having allowed themselves unconsciously to drift from one institution to another, and, in the case of Feudalism, from one good institution into a bad institution, to rely any longer on this process of blind and automatic adjustment. If we feel in the least entitled to regard ourselves as adults in the historical sense, it is surely time that we became perfectly conscious and directed our footsteps on a conscious plane.
For reasons that have been explained, the philosophers do not help us much. Too anxious to establish the axiomatic nature of the right of private property, they have given us no guidance, no criterion by which we can determine its sanctity, if such it ever can have. They have not helped us to distinguish between private property that is sacred and private property that is profane. And yet upon this
First of all, following Aristotle, let us see what there is to be said for private ownership. Past experience and the common verdict of mankind points to private ownership as a desirable institution for the following reasons:
(a) It is the first pre-requisite of individual freedom, both in the detailed and wider sense. (You cannot be free if you have to share one pair of boots with another man, as Lenin and Trotsky once had to do during their exile in Paris. You cannot be free if the overseer of a Communistic State determines your occupation for you. You cannot be free if you do not possess the instruments, or tools of the craft you wish to practise. In the wider sense, you cannot be free, i.e. at liberty to exchange a bondage incompatible with your highest impulses, for a bondage that harmonizes with them 1 unless you can choose your road, your path. And Communism could not fairly allow you to do this.)
(b) It is the first pre-requisite for the exercise and development of taste. (Taste is discrimination in choice, and you cannot choose unless you can command circumstances. This you cannot do without a modicum of independence secured by private property.)
(c) It is the first pre-requisite in the formation of character and the practice of self-discipline. (Some liberty of action, some power of arranging one's own life, and some certainty that one will enjoy the consequences of one's arrangement, are essential to the moulding of character, and this liberty and power presuppose some lasting control of material circumstances. In the same manner, some experience of the regrettable results of a wrong arrangement, some
1 A full explanation of this antithesis will be found in my False Assumptions of Democracy (Heath Cranton, 1921, Chapter IV).
(d) It is essential for purposeful leisure. 1 (Purposeful leisure, being the means of creative thought, is in itself a creation of private property. Against this it may be argued that imprisonment, too, provides leisure, and, in the case of men like Raleigh, Bunyan, Cervantes and Oscar Wilde, productive leisure. This objection, however, cannot be meant seriously. The fact of being incarcerated imposes certain unchosen conditions even upon the man who requires only a pen and paper; it limits choice in the use of purposeful leisure, and even in the case of literary production, which is the chief use to which prison leisure can be put, requires a certain minimum age limit, beneath which the experience of life necessary for useful writing can hardly be expected.)
(e) The less important but fairly obvious features of private property, which make it desirable are. (1) It is economically superior (communal undertakings, as already pointed out, tend to become "circumlocutionary"). (2) It promotes and preserves the nobler side in human nature generosity, hospitality, patronage. (3) It is pleasurable. (To the best average natures, it is more pleasurable to be independent, self-supporting and free, than to be dependent, parasitical and fettered. It is not everyone whose artistic inspiration can ennoble, or make
1 In a society attaching responsibilities to wealth, there may be men who wish to escape these responsibilities in order to use leisure for the solution of problems not connected with the active life about them chemical, biological, historical research, metaphysics, literature, etc. But, in that case, they should be expected, as in Feudal times, to make a voluntary renunciation of wealth hence the creative work done by monks. This, however, would imply the existence of suitable institutions for their reception.
But against this catalogue of virtues, there is a very long list of objections.
(a) Private property makes acquisitiveness, cupidity, greed and rapacity possible, and, as all these infirmities are human, all-too-human, they cannot be conjured away merely by a profound Liberal or Socialist faith in the essential goodness of mankind.
(b) Through (a) private property tends to accumulate in a few hands, and does not necessarily collect where virtue or human desirability is most conspicuous.
(c) Having accumulated, it is frequently unwisely, viciously administered, and unwisely and mischievously bequeathed after death, under the very eyes of the disinherited.
(d) It is also used to desecrate the sacred possession of leisure. The vulgar and all those who, being slaves by nature, cannot be their own masters, make leisure appear ridiculous and purposeless, and bring it into contempt under the very eyes of the disinherited.
(e) As an institution it tends gradually to harden the sense of possession, so that in time people forget the contribution made by all to their individual property.
(f) In capitalistic societies it can be acquired in vast quantities in so many ways that have no connexion with either diligence, good taste, great intellectual gifts, good health, patriotism or even common honesty, that it is often profane before it reaches the hands of its owner. (Profits on stock and share transactions, on valuta transactions, on forward buying of commodities or currencies, on the cornering of markets, and
(g) In capitalistic societies, moreover, it is divorced from any function or sense of duty, so that it becomes a right without a function or duty, which is absurd.
(h) In capitalistic societies it also leads to the exercise of an anonymous, inhuman power over one's fellows. Power over men is not necessarily bad, as it is too often assumed to be. But the fact that it may be bad, and that in capitalistic societies there is no means of tracing where it is bad and where it is good, makes Capitalism peculiarly nonsensical and vulnerable. (The spectacle of a degenerate, overfed cripple being carried about in a litter all day, year in, year out, by six stalwart, able-bodied and wholesome men who sacrifice their best to him, would be nauseating enough as an exception; but the very justifiable suspicion that under the capitalistic regime it may in an occult form be almost the rule, makes Capitalism intolerable to all those who can only acquiesce in the power of man over man, when both the subordinate and the community as a whole benefit from the relationship.)
It is no remedy of these vices to retain a central Government and to continue, or to extend, the expropriation of private property indiscriminately by means of taxes, rates and exhortations to charity. You might just as well try to rid the population of its plethoric individuals by bleeding the whole nation. Besides all such methods are merely half-hearted concessions to Communism and indicate a confusion of two principles.
It is not generally realized that just as Louis XIV, by his centralisation of the government of France,
Nor is it enough vaguely to demand the control of capital as the Chinese did over two thousand years ago. Because by control, the modern world would understand Parliamentary control by means of restrictive or Puritanical legislation, so that all that would happen would be the continuation of the status quo ante, plus certain additional penalties and constraints imposed indiscriminately on all capitalists. For instance, accumulations beyond a certain figure might be prohibited, and certain irresponsible methods of earning or bequeathing property might be stopped.
But this would be leaving things as bad as ever. Because wealth, even very great wealth, in certain hands may be extremely desirable. Power is not bad in itself. It only becomes bad if it is indiscriminately granted.
It seems to me, therefore, that the time has come, when some discrimination should and must be exercised regarding this matter of society's acquiescence in the retention of power. Society has achieved the curtailment of power by rough and sweeping methods in the past, and we have seen kings and hereditary legislators stripped of their prerogatives. But never since the Feudal System has there been any attempt to discriminate between which of two men, of the same claims and rank, should be allowed to seize power. And yet it is precisely the curse of sweeping and indiscriminate limitations and restrictions, that they must necessarily deprive humanity of an enormous amount of valuable guidance and service, because they are always based upon measures calculated to rule out the worst type, without retaining the best.
For there is no longer any time to lose. The institution of private property is being assailed on all sides, and if those who have the greatest interest in defending and maintaining it do not set to and purge it of its foulness, its abuses, and its absurdities, this task will be undertaken very much more brutally and vandalistically by their opponents. But if we are ever to speak of and recognize such a thing as sacred property that is to say, property that no one would dare, without the risk of committing sacrilege, to take from its owner, how are we to distinguish it from that which is profane? What shall be our test?
We have seen that there is nothing either in history or philosophy to justify our calling any property in excess of the individual's physical and professional needs sacred at all. It is by a mere fiction of law and habit that it ever acquired any odour of sanctity. On the other hand, no thinking man would ever deny that it may be sacrosanct. How are we to tell? How could any tribunal tell?
The test of how it was acquired cannot always be relied upon. Because, whereas he may acquire it honestly or even diligently, and in a way not injurious to the public, its owner may administer it badly.
The quantitative test is also useless. Because to attempt to set a limit to the actual amount a man may possess, as many legislators have done in the past, and to confiscate the balance, is to assume that no man can be a good administrator of property over a certain amount obviously a daring and unjustifiable assumption.
St. Augustine, followed by Wyclif, suggested that the test should be the quality of administration, and that a bad administrator should be separated from
Hume, taking up this argument, agreed that for a wise and just man to restore a fortune to a miser or a seditious bigot was a just and laudable act, but that the public was the sufferer. Being desirous above all to defend the sanctity of private property as such, however, he refused to allow isolated cases of this kind to weigh with him. "Though in one instance," he said, "the public be a sufferer, this momentary ill is amply compensated by the steady prosecution of the rule, and by the peace and order, which it establishes in society."
But Hume had not reached our present position. He was not faced, as we are, with the alternative of justifying private ownership and of cleansing it of its foulness, or of losing it as an institution.
It seems to me imperative, now, that St. Augustine's test should be ruthlessly applied, and that if private property is to be controlled at all, this should be a factor in the method of controlling it. But as a test is it clear enough? Is it proof against looseness of interpretation?
I venture to doubt it. But whereas it may be difficult to determine the quality of administration precisely it cannot be as difficult to determine the value of property in a given community. Surely, however, if we may suppose it to be always possible to determine the value of property in a given community, it must also be possible to compute the loss or gain that a certain lot of property would register by the mere act of transferring it from one owner to another. It is the direst nonsense to suppose that property does not either suffer a loss or register a gain by being transferred. The policy of taxation and confiscation is built on this nonsense, and it is curious to find a philosopher as perspicacious as Hume
Clearly then, the crucial test of whether property in excess of a man's physical and professional needs is sacred or profane, should be to discover whether its removal from him will involve irreparable loss or actual gain to the property itself and ultimately to the community. And, according to this, we should conclude that nothing a man owns, beyond his physical and professional needs, is really sacred property unless its removal from him involves such irreparable loss.
Thus, in a properly organized community, the fundamental difference between the poor and the rich would be that, whereas the poor are not equipped to hold sacred property, the rich are so equipped.
In a healthy state, only those should be poor from whom property can be removed without either loss to the property itself or to the community.
To-day, however, there is no such differentiation. Not only the Communists and Socialists, but everybody knows that in ninety-nine per cent of cases the poor could now take over the incomes of thousands of the rich without any appreciable loss to anything or anybody, except the individuals despoiled.
Thus the task of the future is undoubtedly to elevate the institution of private ownership above present day standards, to create a wealthy class whose property, over and above their physical needs would really be sacred according to the definition given above, and therefore to make it as difficult and onerous to be rich, as in the best days of Feudalism it was difficult and onerous to be a leader.
This task will hardly be accomplished unless we can solve the problem of organizing society once more upon a basis of mutual loyalty and obligation, of duty and responsibility bound up with benefit, so that from the lowest to the highest in the land, everyone is in a position of honour, security and service. But, apart from suggesting that, in order to achieve this end, Government will have to be decentralized and much of the freedom and absoluteness now traditionally associated with private ownership will have to be abolished along lines utterly at variance with Communism and Socialism, the problem is really beyond the scope of this essay.
7. Nevertheless, since to drop the subject at this point may leave many readers wondering how the above criterion and test of proprietary right is to be applied in practice, perhaps a brief outline of its possible practical application may not be without interest.
As to the constitution of the tribunal, the history of human institutions does not leave us in any doubt. From our knowledge of all corporations and bodies of men, who have a certain reputation, a certain standard of service, and certain common interests to maintain and protect, it is clear that those most ready jealously to guard the prestige and standards of an order are usually the men who belong to it. There are exceptions to this rule, the most conspicuous being the body represented by the peers of England. But, generally speaking, except where great stupidity and blindness have operated as obstacles, the rule is usually observed. This is seen in the merchant and trade Guilds of the Middle Ages. Members of these Guilds exercised vigilance over their fellow-members in order to maintain both the prestige of the body and the quality of its service. A similar vigilance on a much higher plane was also exercised by the Council of Ten in Venice, which by ensuring the proper discipline of that body, and by insisting on a certain standard of performance among the Venetian aristocracy, was undoubtedly largely responsible for the exceptionally long endurance of that aristocracy's rule. Had the English aristocracy, as I have already pointed out, 1 possessed a Watch Committee in any way resembling the Venetian
1 See my Defence of Aristocracy, Chapter VIII.
Within the Church, the legal and the medical professions, and in such services as the Army and the Navy, we find tribunals in existence for checking or eliminating undesirable elements in the system, and we find these tribunals consisting not of a state-paid judge and a jury, but of members of the body concerned; because they know best how the prestige and power of their corporation are to be maintained.
Difficult, therefore, as the problem will undoubtedly be, it nevertheless seems to me inevitable that, if personal wealth, in the sense of free private ownership of property beyond physical and professional needs, is to be maintained as an institution, the wealthy themselves, who are those chiefly concerned about maintaining its prestige and power, will have to constitute the tribunal entrusted with exercising the disciplinary functions within the order. And since it must be either this, or Communism, it seems ridiculous to argue that the thing is not practicable. It is as practicable as anything is practicable that is really and earnestly desired. In any case, it cannot be argued that it is any less practicable than the
If, on the other hand, they appreciate the gravity of the alternative, and the inevitability of its advent should matters be allowed to drift, it seems as if there were yet time to save the institution of private property, more particularly as those who undertake this task will have the whole world of small possessors, down to the man whose only wealth is a gold watch, to support them.
So much for the tribunal.
As regards the circumstances which will call for an examination of any claim to proprietary right, and the lines along which such an examination should be prosecuted, this is a matter of a new organization and new values. Almost all that can be said about it has already been said in the previous section. In the first place, in order to functionalize the wealthy once more, it will be necessary to decentralize much of the present government administration, and also to suppress a number of public services now financed and administered from one centre. All normal transfers of property brought about by death or gift
From being honourable only as an end in itself, wealth should become honourable merely as a means. From being only a quantitative distinction, it should become a qualitative one. From being a path merely to pleasure and ostentation, it should become a path to responsibility and difficulty. And, finally, from being a weapon for eccentricity and unrelatedness, it should become an instrument of order, normality, and relatedness.
Again, in regard to these reforms and changes, to argue that they are impracticable is to be blind to what is already taking place at the present moment. If we are now able to record innumerable examples of disintegration as having recently taken place not only in the constitution of the Empire, but also in that of Great Britain itself, this means that a natural, unconscious, uncontrolled and haphazard process of decentralization is already in operation merely as the result of a policy of drift. It only requires a policy of conscious, deliberate and thoughtful control, therefore, to turn this process of disintegration, or haphazard decentralization, into one of conscious and ordered decentralization.
Nor would a new principle be introduced by the suggested examination of all normal transfers of property, seeing that the machinery for acquiring
The examination of wealthy people suspected of having failed to attain to the required standards, or proved to have thus failed, would introduce an apparently new principle; but this, too, is anticipated by innumerable customs and practices that have operated in the past, and still continue to operate in certain parts of the world, relating especially to the conditions of efficiency imposed on certain owners of agricultural land. 1
In regard to the transvaluation of values also, we can see the machinery for effecting this at work every day, and can appreciate its results in a thousand and one changes in purely standardized opinions. It would be unreasonable, therefore, to argue that a transvaluation of values is impracticable. All that is needed is to get conscious and ordered control of the machinery available for the purpose, instead of leaving it, as it is left to-day, to the mercy of every chance influence and power that happens for a moment to turn the wheels.
It cannot be said that the human material in youth and brains is lacking for carrying through these reforms and making a success of them, if, that is to say, their success is really regarded as important; for I know of a political movement already on foot,
1 A practice not unlike the forcible transfer of property suggested here also existed in ancient Athens. If a man felt he had been unjustifiably called upon to take a liturgy, he could appeal and suggest a richer man as a substitute. If the latter refused to undertake the obligation, the first man could challenge him to change fortunes, implying that with the substitute's fortune he would be in a position to shoulder the burden.
It is idle, therefore, for the possessors of wealth to-day any longer to cry "Impossible!" to recommendations of this nature, even if the present recommendations prove unacceptable. Nor can they indefinitely put off the day, hoping merely to prolong the status quo until at least the end of their own or their children's generation. For the danger is imminent, and the alternative policy of Communism and high taxation, is already so firmly entrenched that time can only help to establish it.
If private property as an institution is worth saving at all, if the advantages it presents are as great as I have claimed, and if there is such a thing as the sanctity of private property which is to be found in the conditions I have described, then it seems to me that unless those who are in possession of wealth to-day are cynical enough to cry, "Après nous le déluge!" and unless they are too listless or masochistic to care what happens to them, they will be bound, in order to save the institution and their class, to purge both of the foulness they undoubtedly contain, and to set up some kind of machinery that will prevent them from becoming polluted in the future.