Moral Philosophy

Chapter VII. Of Property.

Section I. -- Of Private Property.

1. PROPERTY was called by the Romans res familiaris, the stuff and substance of the family. Property may be held by the individual for himself alone: but any large accumulation of it is commonly held by the head of a family, actual or potential, for the family; and he cherishes it for the sake of his family as much as, or even more than, for his own sake. This is to be borne in mind, for many errors in theory and in practice spring from a large proprietor figuring as an individual, and not as a sort of corporation sole in his capacity of pater-familias.

2. We have seen (c. v., s. i., n. 2, p. 245) how man acquires a right over external goods, as it were setting the seal of his own personality upon them. It appears upon further consideration, that this right must extend beyond the mere making things your own for immediate use and consumption; it must extend to the storing of things for future and perennial use. Otherwise we have Communism. Communism allows men to hold property collectively in a common stock, and allows each member of the community to take for his peculiar own out of that stock whatever for the moment he needs; but it will not permit him to appropriate private means of subsistence against any notable time to come. Communism is very good in a family, which is an imperfect community, part of a higher community, the State. It is very good in a monastery, which is like a family: again, very good in the primitive Church at Jerusalem, which existed for the time on quasi-monastic lines: very good even in a perfect community, if such there be, of tropical savages, for whom nature supplies all things, bananas to eat and palm-leaves to wear, without any human labour of production; but very bad and quite unworkable everywhere else. St. Thomas, following Aristotle, puts it pithily and sufficiently: "Private property is necessary to human life for three reasons: first, because every one is more careful to look after what belongs to himself alone than after what is common to all or to many, since all men shun labour and leave to others what is matter of joint concern, as happens where there are too many servants: on another ground, because human affairs are more orderly handled, if on each individual there rests his own care of managing something, whereas there would be nothing but confusion, if every one without distinction were to have the disposal of any thing he chose to take in hand: thirdly, because by this means society is the rather kept at peace, every member being content with his own possession, whence we see that among those who hold any thing in common and undivided ownership strifes not unfrequently arise." (2a 2ae, q. 66, art. 2, in corp.)

3. If any revolutionist yet will have the hardihood to say with Proudhon, "Property is theft," we shall ask him, "From whom?" He will answer of course, "From the community." But that answer supposes the community to have flourished, a wealthy corporation, before private property began. Needless to say that history knows nothing of such a corporation. The saying, that in the beginning all things were in common, is not true in the sense that they were positively in common, like the goods of a corporation, which are collective property: but simply that they were negatively in common, that is, not property at all, neither of corporation nor of individual, but left in the middle open to all comers, for each to convert into property by his occupation, and by his labour to enhance and multiply. This must be modified by the observation, that the first occupants were frequently heads of families, or of small clans, and occupied and held for themselves and their people.

4. The saying, that all things are in common by the law of nature, must be received with still greater reserve. Really with as much truth it might be said that all men are unmarried, or unclad, or uneducated, by the law of nature. Nature unaided by human volition provides neither property, nor clothing, nor marriage, nor education, for man. But nature bids, urges and requires man to bestir his voluntary energies for the securing of all these things. The law of nature does not prescribe this or that particular distribution of goods, as neither does it join this man with that woman in marriage, nor insist on plaids rather than coats, nor set all boys to learn algebra, nor fix a ritual for divine worship; but it insists in the vague upon some worship, some education, some clothing, some marriage, and some distribution of goods, leaving the determination in each case to choice, custom, and positive law, human and divine.

5. All property that can ever be immediately serviceable for saving human life, is held under this burden, that a perishing fellow-creature, who cannot otherwise help himself in a case of extreme need (c. iv., n. 8, p. 243), may make such use of the property of another as shall suffice to rescue him from perishing off-hand. If he draws largely on another for this purpose, he ought to make compensation afterwards, if he has the means. This has been taken for a piece of the primeval rock of Communism cropping up from underneath subsequent human formations, -- quite a mistaken notion. There is no Communism whatever in the transaction. Up to the instant when the needy man seizes the article that he requires to save him from death, that article still belongs to the owner from whom he takes it, who is bound in charity to give it to the needy party, but not in justice. Extreme need does not confer ownership, nor dispossess any previous owner: but it confers the right of taking what is another's as though it belonged to no one; and in the taking, the thing passes into the ownership of the new occupant, so that for the previous owner forcibly to resume it would be a violation of justice. English law does not recognise this right -- properly enough, for with us it would be made a plea for much stealing -- but refers the destitute to the parish. The law is considerately worked by the magistrates. A starving man, who took a loaf off a baker's tray, has been known to be sentenced to a few hours' imprisonment with two good meals.

6. As St. Paul says (2 Cor. xii. 14), "parents ought to lay up for their children," that they in whom their own existence is continued, may not be left unprovided for at their decease. The amount laid up necessary for this purpose, ought not to be diverted from it. Thus much at least Natural Law can tell us of the right of inheritance. And concerning testamentary right these natural considerations are forthcoming, that it adds to the desirability of property, that it secures deference to the wealthy in their old age, and that the abolition of it might be frustrated by an apparatus of confidential donationes inter vivos, that is to say, making the property over in trust before death. Further enlargement of the natural basis of testamentary right may be effected by the judicious reader.

Readings. -- Ar., Pol., II., v., nn. 1-16; De Lugo, De Just. et Jure, vi., nn. 2-6; ib., xvi,, nn. 143, 144; Locke, Of Civil Government, c.v.; id., Of Government, nn. 88, 89.

Section II. -- Of Private Capital.

1. Reverting to a former section (c. v., s. v., nn. 1-5, p. 255) we lay down this distinction: Goods held for their use value are consumer's wealth: goods held for their market value are producer's wealth, otherwise called capital. Capital then is that wealth which a man holds for the purpose of gaining further wealth by means of commercial exchange. It is represented by the razors that are made, not to mow the manly beard, or youthful moustache, of the maker, but, as the Yorkshire vendor put it, "to sell."

2. Those economists who would allow no private ownership of capital, but would have all capital to be State property, are called Socialists. They stand distinctly apart from the Communists, whom we have been labouring to refute in the last section. The Communist forbids all private property: the Socialist allows private property, but in the shape of consumer's wealth alone. The Communist ignores the necessity of labour: the Socialist schemes to make all men work. The Communist contemplates a hand-to-mouth dispensation of all things: the Socialist locks all things up, wages in private coffers, capital in government stores. The Communist is a madman: the speculations of the Socialist are some. times deep.

3. To what are we to attribute the rise of Socialism, and its growth and propagation so fast and vigorous, that, its supporters say with some colour of evidence, it is a theory destined within a measurable space of time to pass into actual practice, whether men will or no? The cause is not far to seek. There has lighted a plague upon all civilized countries, an outbreak fearful and severe: only by the great blessing of Providence, joined to drastic remedial measures on our part, can we cope with the evil. The plague is a cancerous formation of luxury growing out of a root of pauperism. It is a disease old as the world, but the increase of commerce and intercommunication has occasioned its bursting upon our generation in a peculiarly virulent form. And what is more, ours being a talking age, the disease is made the staple of speeches infinite, and the masses are clamouring for a remedy. The remedy proposed is Socialism.

4. Socialism in its essence is an attempt to transfer to the State, governed by universal suffrage, the wealth, and with the wealth the social duties of what have hitherto been the wealthy and governing classes. It is not enough for the multitude that they are getting the political power out of the hands of the landlord and the capitalist: they envy the one his broad acres, and the other his investments. All must be theirs, sovereignty and wealth alike. If wealth has its duties, the people collectively with cheerful acceptance will undertake those duties. 'It shall be ours, not only to be king, but to be employer, patron, landlord, educator. We will assign to the workman his wages, just and ample and perennial: we will adjust production to demand: we will be the restorers of agriculture: we will monopolise the carrying-trade: we alone will sell whatever shall be sold: we will wash the workman in public baths: his taste shall be elevated by our statues and pictures, our theatres, our music-halls, and our churches; we will gratify his curiosity with our news-agencies, feed his thought with our popular philosophy, educate his children as our own in our primary and secondary schools. Furthermore, we will provide the long desiderated career open to talents. The stupid boy, though his father was our Prime Minister, shall be made a cabin-boy, or a scavenger's assistant, an awful example to young gentlemen who fail to pass the Government examinations: while we will pick up, not the gutter child, for there shall be no more children in gutters, but the son of the woman at the mill, and testing him and assigning his career, first by school examinations, and then by his official performances, we will make him in time Poet Laureate or President of the Board of Trade, according to the bent of his genius.' The astonished workman turns round upon the exhibitors of this fairy vision: 'And pray who are You ?' 'Oh, you, we, the people, all of us together. Come put your shoulder to the wheel, and up goes our enterprise. Or rather our first motion is downwards: down with landlords and cotton-lords and lords of parliament, down with contractors and stock-jobbers and all who live on the interest of their money, and then our honourable multitude will possess and administer and govern.'

5. If angels are to hold the collective ownership of capital and the government of men in the Socialist Commonwealth; or if every citizens retaining in his private capacity all the follies and vices that human flesh is heir to, shall still be vested in angelic attributes, whenever he sits as legislator or judge, or acts on the executive of a Socialist commission, -- then this new Commonwealth is likely to prove a blessed substitute for the rule of the higher classes, which in one way or another has hitherto obtained in civilized society. But till angelic attributes descend on earth, we shall not find a cure for the evils of cities and countries in simply doubling the functions of government, and placing all sovereign rights, and all the most important of proprietary rights and duties, in the hands of a numerical majority.

6. Capital, as we have seen, is a collection of market or exchange values in view of further exchange. If we call supply S and demand D, market value is a social estimate of the fraction D/S. Another definition has been given: Market value is a social estimate of the amount of socially useful labour which a given article contains. This second definition contains this much of truth in it, that directly as the demand for an article, and inversely as the supply of the same, is the amount of labour which men find it worth their while to spend upon that article for commercial purposes. Otherwise the definition is unsatisfactory and involved, and leads to endless discussion. Without entering into these discussions, we will remark an ambiguity in the term on which they all roll, the term labour, which ambiguity is at the bottom of three fourths of the sophistries of popular Socialism.

7. There were two pillars put at the entrance of Solomon's temple, one on the right hand and the other on the left: that which was on the right hand he called, according to the Septuagint, Direction, katorthôsis, and that on the left hand, Strength, ischus (2 Par. iii. 17.) Further we are told that Solomon set seventy thousand men to carry burdens on their shoulders, and eighty thousand to hew stones in the mountains, and three thousand six hundred to be overseers of the work of the people. (2 Par. ii. 18.) The history is manifest. Strength and Direction build the Temple: Strength, or Manual Labour, represented by the hodmen and quarrymen, and the rest of the "hands:" Direction, or Mental Labour, represented by the overseers. Yet not by them alone: surely we must count in as doers of mental labour the designer of the Temple, or at least of its decorations, that "most wise and skilful man, my father Hiram; "and still more King Solomon himself and David, the two royal minds that originated and perfected the idea; and David's generals, Joab and Banaias, who secured the peace that was necessary as a condition of the building; and innumerable other men of place and power in the nation, but for whose thought and prudence the strength of the workman would have been thrown away like a river poured out in the Libyan desert. From this example, eked out with a little thought of his own, the reader may estimate the wisdom and credit of those who tell factory hands that it is their labour which produces all the wealth of their employer, and that, in the day when every man shall receive his due, the employer shall be made a workmen like themselves, and his wealth shall go to the increase of their common wages.

8. Certainly, it will be said, the employer should be paid for his mental labour, but why at so enormously higher a rate than the manual labourers? If we say, 'because his labour is more valuable,' some Socialists would join issue on the score that labour is valuable according to the time that it takes, and the employer works shorter hours than his men. But this taking account of quantity alone in labour is an ignoring of the distinction which we have drawn of two qualities or orders of labour, mental and manual; one more valuable than the other as being scarcer and in greater demand, so that a short time of one may be set against a long time of another, like a little gold against a heap of brass. Any man accustomed to both orders of labour must have observed, that while he can work with his hands at almost any time when he is well, the highest labour of his intellect can be done only at rare intervals, and that in one happy hour he will sometimes accomplish more than in a day. As the same man differs from himself at different times, so does one man from another in the average value of his mental efforts: this value is not measured by time.

9. Abandoning this untenable position, Socialists still ask: 'But is the difference in the value of their labour quite so vast as is the interval between the profits of the employer and the pay of his poor drudges?' Honestly we cannot say that it is. We are fain to fall back upon the consideration, that the employer contributes, not only his brains to the work, but his capital. 'Ah, that is just it,' is the, Socialists' quick reply: 'We propose to relieve him of his capital, and remunerate his brainwork only: by that means we shall be able to pay sufficiently handsome wages for management, according to the ratio of mental and manual labour, and at the same time have a sufficiently large surplus over to raise the wages of his needy comrades, those seventy thousand hodmen and eighty thousand quarrymen.' It may be remarked that, if labour is to be bought like commodities at the lowest market-price, this is promising to pay for manual labour at a far higher figure than it is commercially worth. But let that pass: it is only an argumentum ad hominem.

10. Two reasons may be given for turning away from this seductive proposal, and leaving capital (not consumer's wealth merely) in private hands, -- and that not only in the hands of what we may call mentally productive capitalists, men who oversee their own enterprises and manage their own workmen, but even of unproductive capitalists, men who have shares in and reap profits out of a business which they never meddle with. The first reason is, because this position of the productive, and still more that of the unproductive capitalist, is a prize for past industry expended upon production. To understand this, we must recollect once more that men work, not as individuals, but as heads of families. Every working man, from the sailor to the shop-boy, covets for himself two things, pay and leisure. The same two things do mentally productive labourers covet. But they covet them, not for themselves alone, but for their families, and more even for their families than for themselves. They weary their brains, planning and managing, that in old age they may retire on a competence, and hand down that same competence, undiminished by their having lived on it, to their children. Thus the young man works and produces, that the old man, and the child to come, may have exemption from productive labour, an abiding exemption, which cannot be unless he is allowed to live on the interest of accumulated capital. These positions of affluence and rest -- sinecures they are, so far as production is concerned -- are the prizes awarded to the best productive labour. What they who do that labour aim at, is not wages but exemption from toil: their wish is not so much to be wealthy and have leisure themselves as to found a family in wealth and leisure, -- the one possible foundation of such a family being a store of private capital. Socialists of course will offer nobler prizes for the best productive labour, -- honour, and the satisfaction of having served the community, a satisfaction which they would have men trained from childhood to relish above all other joys. Unfortunately, this taste is yet unformed, and the stimulus of these nobler prizes is still unproved by experience. Meanwhile men do work hard, to the advantage of the community, for the ignobler prize of family affluence and ease. Socialists are going to take away the good boy's cake and give him a sunflower.

11. The second reason for leaving capital in private, even unproductive hands, begins from the consideration, that the highest end of man on earth is not production, just as it is not consumption, of the necessaries and luxuries of life. Aristotle bids us, as much as possible in this life, "to play the immortal (athanatizein), and do our utmost to live by the best element in our nature," that is, the intellect. (Ethics, c. i., s. ii., n. 7, p. 9.) There is the intellectual life of the statesman in the practical order: and in the speculative order, that of the poet, of the artist, of the scholar, of the devout contemplative -- the outcome ot learned and pious leisure, and freedom from vulgar cares. One man ascending into this higher and better region helps his neighbour to follow. The neighbour can follow, even though he be not free from productive cares, but the leader ought to be free, if he is to soar a high, sustained and powerful flight, and guide others aloft. These unproductive capitalist families then form what we may call, by a figure which rhetoricians call oxymoron, something which comes very near a bull, -- we may call them an endowed lay-clergy: they are told off from the rest of men to lead the way in doing, and causing to be done, the highest work of humanity. The absence of the First Class of Workers would render the Socialist Utopia a very vulgar place.

12. Nature's ideal is: To all, plenty : to some, superabundance. The superabundance of some is not necessarily incompatible with all having plenty: nay it is a positive furtherance of that and of still higher ends, as has been shown. But it is a position of advantage that may be abused, and is abused most wantonly: hence there comes to be question of Socialism.

Readings. -- Socialism (Catholic Truth Society) Nineteenth Century for June, 1885, "Royal Commission for Housing the Poor;" Devas, Groundwork of Economics, ## 149, 150, 261; Ar., Pol., I., v.; Ar., Eth., X. viii.; "A Socialist's Dream" in The Month for January and February, 1891. Also Devas, Political Economy (Stonyhurst Series), bk. iii., cc. vi. xi.

Section III. -- Of Landed Property.

1. Land, like cotton, timber, or iron-ore, is a raw material wrought up by man. Land, like any other thing, becomes an article of property originally by occupation, and its value is enhanced by labour. There is no more reason why all land, or the rents of all land, should belong to the State, than why all house property, or all house rents, should belong to the State. If the people need land to live on, so do they need houses to live in, coals to burn, and shoes to wear. Socialism, once admitted, cannot be confined to land alone. It will exterminate "the lord manufacturer" as remorselessly as it exterminates the landlord.

2. Every man, it is contended, has a right to live on the fruits of the soil. The proposition is needlessly long. It should be put simply: Every man has a right to live. For as to living on the fruits of the soil, there is absolutely nothing else that man can live on. All human nutriment whatever is derived from what geologists call pulverized rocks, that is, soil. But if it is meant that every man has a right to live on the fruits of some soil or land of his own, where is the proof? So long as the fruits of the earth do not fail to reach a man's mouth, what matters it whose earth it is that grows them? Some of the richest as well as the poorest members of the community are landless men. Confiscate rent to take the place of taxation, and some of the richest men in the community will go tax-free.

3. The land on which a nation is settled, we are told, belongs to that nation. Yes, it belongs to them as individuals, yet not so that a foreigner is excluded by natural law from owning any portion of it. But the government have over the land, and over all the property upon it, what is called altum dominium, or eminent domain, which is a power of commanding private proprietors to part with their property for public purposes, with compensation, whenever compensation is possible. Thus when a railway gets its Act of Parliament, the owners through whose estates the projected line is to run are compelled by an exercise of eminent domain to sell to the company. By the same power the government in a besieged city, when hard pressed, might seize upon all the stores of food and fuel within the walls, even without compensation. Altum dominium, which is not dominion properly so called, is sufficient for all national emergencies, without making the State the universal landlord.

4. It seems impossible to imagine an emergency that would justify any government in nationalizing all the land at once without compensation. None but a wealthy government could afford the compensation requisite; and the emergency would have to be severe indeed, to make it wise of them to incur such an expense. We can imagine a government in a newly settled country starting on the understanding that all land was State land, and that all ground rents were to be paid into the State exchequer. This would amount to taking rents for taxes; and instead of a landlord in every district we should have a tax-gatherer. Probably further taxation would be necessary: in England at any rate the annual expenditure exceeds the rental by some twenty millions. Government, we may suppose, would grant leases of land: when the lease fell in, the rent would be raised for unearned increment, and lowered for decrement, but not raised for improvements effected by the tenant himself. In that case the tenant in two or three generations might be a quasi-proprietor, his rent being ridiculously small in comparison with the annual value of the holding. The improvements might be the improvements of his grandfather, or even those of a complete stranger, from whom he had bought the tenancy. Anyhow they might be the better portion of the value of the land, and would not be government property. Or would the government insist on purchasing the improvements, and look out for a new tenant paying a higher rent? Lastly, would the government themselves make such improvements as many an English landlord makes now, for love of the country about him and love of his own people?

5. It would be most difficult to prevent private property arising in land, even if it all did belong to the State to start with. "Suppose 10 pounds paid for a piece of land for a year, and suppose the occupier said, Let me have it for ten years, and I will give you 20 pounds a year, ought not the State to accept the offer? Then suppose he said, Give it me for ever and I will pay 30 pounds a year? Again, ought not the State to agree? He would then be that hateful creature a landowner, subject to a rent-charge. Now suppose the State wanted to do work and had to borrow money, and suppose be offered to give for the redemption of the rent-charge a sum which could not be borrowed for less than 40 pounds a year. Again, ought not the State to accept his offer? Yet in that case he would become a hopelessly unmitigated landlord." (Lord Bramwell.)

6. When there is an alarm of fire in a theatre, any one who could convince the audience that there was time enough for them all to file out in slow succession by the door, would avert the greatest danger that threatened them, that of being crushed and trampled on by one another. Mankind in pursuit of wealth are like a crowd rushing excitedly through a narrow place of exit. Whatever man, or body of men, or institution, or doctrine, will moderate this "love of money" (philarguria), which St. Paul (1 Tim. vi. 10) declares to be "the root of all evils," the same is a benefactor to the human race, preventing that cruel oppression of the poor, which comes of ruthlessly buying land, labour, everything, in the cheapest market and selling it in the dearest. The landlord who always evicts, if he is not paid the highest competition rent, -- the employer who brings in from afar the hands that will work at the lowest starvation wage, -- these vultures are worse enemies to society than Socialists, for they occasion Socialism

7. Socialism, whether in land alone or in all capital, is an endeavour to accomplish by State control the results that ought to be achieved by private virtue. A landlord, or an employer, who remembers his position as being what Homer calls "a king of men," anax andrôn, -- remembers too, with Aristotle, that a prince exists for his people, -- and who, besides a quasi-royal care for the body of tenantry or workmen over whom he presides, has something too of a fatherly interest in every one of them, their persons and their families, holding it to be a personal tie with himself, to be in his employment or settled upon his land, -- such a man and the multitude of such men form the best bulwark a country can possess against Socialism. Such a landlord or employer is a praesens numen to his workpeople or tenants. In the absence of this protective, personal influence of the rich over the poor; in the disorganization of society consequent upon the misconduct of its subordinate chiefs; in the stand-off attitude of the higher classes, and the defiant independence of the lower; and in the greed of material goods that is common to them both, there lurks a danger of unknown magnitude to our modern civilization.

Reading. -- Leo XIII. On the Condition of Labour, Encyclical Of 15th May, 1891. ["The right of property attaches to things produced by labour, but cannot attach to things created by God." So Henry George, Condition of Labour, pp. 3, 4. How then do we read in Progress and Poverty, bk. 7. ch. r: "The pen with which I am writing is justly mine," and that, in the last resort, on account of "the rights of those who dug the material from the ground and converted it into a pen" ? Was not that material, iron-ore, "created by God," equally with any other portion of the earth's crust that we may please to call land?]

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