Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XV.: property. - Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology
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CHAPTER XV.: property. - Herbert Spencer, Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology 
Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology (The Concluding Portion of Vol. II) (London: Williams and Norgate, 1882).
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§ 536. The fact referred to in § 292, that even intelligent animals display a sense of proprietorship, negatives the belief propounded by some, that individual property was not recognized by primitive men. When we see the claim to exclusive possession understood by a dog, so that he fights in defence of his master’s clothes if left in charge of them, it becomes impossible to suppose that even in their lowest state men were devoid of those ideas and emotions which initiate private ownership. All that may be fairly assumed is that these ideas and sentiments were at first less developed than they have since become.
It is true that in some extremely rude hordes, rights of property are but little respected. Lichtenstein tells us that among the Bushmen, “the weaker, if he would preserve his own life, is obliged to resign to the stronger, his weapons, his wife, and even his children;” and there are some degraded North American tribes in which there is no check on the more powerful who choose to take from the less powerful: their acts are held to be legitimized by success. But absence of the idea of property, and the accompanying sentiment, is no more implied by these forcible appropriations than it is implied by the forcible appropriation which a bigger schoolboy makes of the toy belonging to a less. It is also true that even where force is not used, individual claims are in considerable degrees over-ridden or imperfectly maintained. We read of the Chippewayans that “Indian law requires the successful hunter to share the spoils of the chase with all present;” and Hillhouse says of the Arawaks that though individual property is “distinctly marked amongst them,” “yet they are perpetually borrowing and lending, without the least care about payment.” But such instances merely imply that private ownership is at first illdefined, as we might expect, à priori, that it would be.
Evidently the thoughts and feelings which accompany the act of taking possession, as when an animal clutches its prey, and which at a higher stage of intelligence go along with the grasping of any article indirectly conducing to gratification, are the thoughts and feelings to which the theory of property does but give a precise shape. Evidently the use in legal documents of such expressions as “to have and to hold,” and to be “seized” of a thing, as well as the survival up to comparatively late times of ceremonies in which a portion (rock or soil) of an estate bought, representing the whole, actually passed from hand to hand, point back to this primitive physical basis of ownership. Evidently the developed doctrine of property, accompanying a social state in which men’s acts have to be mutually restrained, is a doctrine which on the one hand asserts the freedom to take and to keep within specified limits, and denies it beyond those limits—gives positiveness to the claim while restricting it. And evidently the increasing definiteness thus given to rights of individual possession, may be expected to show itself first where definition is relatively easy and afterwards where it is less easy. This we shall find that it does.
§ 537. While in early stages it is difficult, not to say impossible, to establish and mark off individual claims to parts of the area wandered over in search of food, it is not difficult to mark off the claims to movable things and to habitations; and these claims we find habitually recognized. The following passage from Bancroft concerning certain North American savages, well illustrates the distinction:—
“Captain Cook found among the Ahts very ‘strict notions of their having a right to the exclusive property of everything that their country produces,’ so that they claimed pay for even wood, water, and grass. The limits of tribal property are very clearly defined, but individuals rarely claim any property in land. Houses belong to the men who combine to build them. Private wealth consists of boats and implements for obtaining food, domestic utensils, slaves, and blankets.”
A like condition is shown us by the Comanches:—
“They recognize no distinct rights of meum and tuum, except to personal property; holding the territory they occupy, and the game that depastures upon it, as common to all the tribe: the latter is appropriated only by capture.”
And the fact that among these Comanches, as among other peoples, “prisoners of war belong to the captors, and may be sold or released at their will,” further shows that the right of property is asserted where it is easily defined. Of the Brazilian Indians, again, Von Martius tells us that,—
“Huts and utensils are considered as private property; but even with regard to them certain ideas of common possession prevail. The same hut is often occupied by more families than one; and many utensils are the joint property of all the occupants. Scarcely anything is considered strictly as the property of an individual except his arms, accoutrements, pipe, and hammock.”
Dr. Rink’s account of the Esquimaux shows that among them, too, while there is joint ownership of houses made jointly by the families inhabiting them, there is separate ownership of weapons, fishing boats, tools, etc. Thus it is made manifest that private right, completely recognized where recognition of it is easy, is partially recognized where partial recognition only is possible—where the private rights of companions are entangled with it. Instances of other kinds equally prove that among savages claims to possession are habitually marked off when practicable: if not fully, yet partially. Of the Chippewayans “who have no regular government” to make laws or arbitrate, we yet read that,—
“In the former instance [when game is taken in inclosures by a hunting party], the game is divided among those who have been engaged in the pursuit of it. In the latter [when taken in private traps] it is considered as private property; nevertheless, any unsuccessful hunter passing by, may take a deer so caught, leaving the head, skin, and saddle, for the owner.”
In cases, still more unlike, but similar in the respect that there exists an obvious connexion between labour expended and benefit achieved, rude peoples re-illustrate this same individualization of property. Burckhardt tells us of the Bedouins that wells “are exclusive property, either of a whole tribe, or of individuals whose ancestors dug the wells.”
Taken together such facts make it indisputable that in early stages, private appropriation, carried to a considerable extent, is not carried further because circumstances render extension of it impracticable.
§ 538. Recognition of this truth at once opens the way to explanation of primitive land-ownership; and elucidates the genesis of those communal and family tenures which have prevailed so widely.
While subsistence on wild food continues, the wandering horde inhabiting a given area, must continue to make joint use of the area; both because no claim can be shown by any member to any portion, and because the marking out of small divisions, if sharing were agreed upon, would be impracticable. Where pastoral life has arisen, ability to drive herds hither and thither within the occupied region is necessary. In the absence of cultivation, cattle and their owners could not survive were each owner restricted to one spot: there is nothing feasible but united possession of a wide tract. And when there comes a transition to the agricultural stage, either directly from the hunting stage or indirectly through the pastoral stage, several causes conspire to prevent, or to check, the growth of private land-ownership.
There is first the traditional usage. Joint ownership continues after circumstances no longer render it imperative, because departure from the sacred example of forefathers is resisted. Sometimes the resistance is insuperable; as with the Rechabites and the people of Petra, who by their vow “were not allowed to possess either vineyards or cornfields or houses” but were bound “to continue the nomadic life.” And obviously, where the transition to a settled state is effected, the survival of habits and sentiments established during the nomadic state, must long prevent possession of land by individuals. Moreover, apart from opposing ideas and customs, there are physical difficulties in the way. Even did any member of a pastoral horde which had become partially settled, establish a claim to exclusive possession of one part of the occupied area, little advantage could be gained before there existed the means of keeping out the animals belonging to others. Common use of the greater part of the surface must long continue from mere inability to set up effectual divisions. Only small portions can at first be fenced off. Yet a further reason why land-owning by individuals, and land-owning by families, establish themselves very slowly, is that at first each particular plot has but a temporary value. The soil is soon exhausted; and in the absence of advanced arts of culture becomes useless. Such tribes as those of the Indian hills show us that primitive cultivators uniformly follow the practice of clearing a tract of ground, raising from it two or three crops, and then abandoning it: the implication being that whatever private claim had arisen, lapses, and the surface, again becoming wild, reverts to the community.
Thus throughout long stages of incipient civilization, the impediments in the way of private land-ownership are great and the incentives to it small. Besides the fact that primitive men, respecting the connexion between effort expended and benefit gained, and therefore respecting the right of property in things made by labour, recognize no claim thus established by an individual to a portion of land; and besides the fact that in the adhesion to inherited usage and the inability effectually to make bounds, there are both moral and physical obstacles to the establishment of any such individual monopoly; there is the fact that throughout early stages of settled life, no motive to maintain permanent private possession of land comes into play. Manifestly, therefore, it is not from conscious assertion of any theory, or in pursuance of any deliberate policy, that tribal and communal proprietorship of the areas occupied originate; but simply from the necessities of the case.
Hence the prevalence among unrelated peoples of this public ownership of land, here and there partially qualified by temporary private ownership. Some hunting tribes of North America show us a stage in which even the communal possession is still vague. Concerning the Dakotas Schoolcraft says—
“Each village has a certain district of country they hunt in, but do not object to families of other villages hunting with them. Among the Dacotas, I never knew an instance of blood being shed in any disputes or difficulties on the hunting grounds.”
Similarly of the Comanches, he remarks that “no dispute ever arises between tribes with regard to their hunting grounds, the whole being held in common.” Of the semi-settled and more advanced Iroquois, Morgan tells us that—
“No individual could obtain the absolute title to land, as that was vested by the laws of the Iroquois in all the people; but he could reduce unoccupied lands to cultivation to any extent he pleased; and so long as he continued to use them, his right to their enjoyment was protected and secured.”
Sundry pastoral peoples of South Africa show us the survival of such arrangements under different conditions.
Kaffir custom “does not recognize private property in the soil beyond that of actual possession.”
“No one possesses landed property” [among the Koosas]; “he sows his corn wherever he can find a convenient spot.”
And various of the uncivilized, who are mainly or wholly agricultural, exhibit but slight modifications of this usage. Though by the New Zealanders some extra claim of the chief is recognized, yet “all free persons, male and female, constituting the nation, were proprietors of the soil:” there is a qualified proprietorship of land, obtained by cultivation, which does not destroy the proprietorship of the nation or tribe. In Sumatra, cultivation gives temporary ownership but nothing more. We read that the ground “on which a man plants or builds, with the consent of his neighbours, becomes a species of nominal property”; but when the trees which he has planted disappear in the course of nature, “the land reverts to the public.” From a distant region may be cited an instance where the usages, though different in form, involve the same principle. Among the modern Indians of Mexico—
“Only a house-place and a garden are hereditary; the fields belong to the village, and are cultivated every year without anything being paid for rent. A portion of the land is cultivated in common, and the proceeds are devoted to the communal expenses.”
This joint ownership of land, qualified by individual ownership only so far as circumstances and habits make it easy to mark off individual claims, leads to different modes of using the products of the soil, according as convenience dictates. Anderson tells us that in “Damara-land, the carcases of all animals—whether wild or domesticated—are considered public property.” Among the Todas—
“Whilst the land is in each case the property of the village itself,…the cattle which graze on it are the private property of individuals, being males.… The milk of the entire herd is lodged in the pâlthchi, village dairy, from which each person, male and female, receives for his or her daily consumption; the unconsumed balance being divided, as personal and saleable property, amongst the male members of all ages, in proportion to the number of cattle which each possesses in the herd.”
And then in some cases joint cultivation leads to a kindred system of division.
“When harvest is over,” the Congo people “put all the kidney-beans into one heap, the Indian wheat into another, and so of other grain: then giving the Macolonte [chief] enough for his maintenance, and laying aside what they design for sowing, the rest is divided at so much to every cottage, according to the number of people each contains. Then all the women together till and sow the land for a new harvest.”
In Europe an allied arrangement is exhibited by the southern Slavs. “The fruits of agricultural labour are consumed in common, or divided equally among the married couples; but the produce of each man’s industrial labour belongs to him individually.” Further, some of the Swiss allmends show us a partial survival of this system; for besides lands which have become in large measure private, there are “communal vineyards cultivated in common,” and “there are also cornlands cultivated in the same manner,” and “the fruit of their joint labour forms the basis of the banquets, at which all the members of the commune take part.”
Thus we see that communal ownership and family ownership at first arose and long continued because, in respect of land, no other could well be established. Records of the civilized show that with them in the far past, as at present with the uncivilized, private possession, beginning with movables, extends itself to immovables only under certain conditions. We have evidence of this in the fact named by Mayer, that “the Hebrew language has no expression for ‘landed property;’” and again in the fact alleged by Mommsen of the Romans, that “the idea of property was primarily associated not with immovable estate, but with ‘estate in slaves and cattle.’” And if, recalling the circumstances of pastoral life, as carried on alike by Semites and Ayrans, we remember that, as before shown, the patriarchal group is a result of it; we may understand how, in passing into the settled state, there would be produced such forms of land-tenure by the clan and the family as, with minor variations, characterized primitive European societies. It becomes comprehensible why among the Romans “in the earliest times, the arable land was cultivated in common, probably by the several clans; each of these tilled its own land, and thereafter distributed the produce among the several households belonging to it.” We are shown that there naturally arose such arrangements as those of the ancient Teutonic mark—a territory held “by a primitive settlement of a family or kindred,” each free male member of which had “a right to the enjoyment of the woods, the pastures, the meadow, and the arable land of the mark;” but whose right was “of the nature of usufruct or possession only,” and whose allotted private division became each season common grazing land after the crop had been taken off, while his more permanent holding was limited to his homestead and its immediate surroundings. And we may perceive how the community’s ownership might readily, as circumstances and sentiments determined, result here in an annual use of apportioned tracts, here in a periodic re-partitioning, and here in tenures of more permanent kinds,—still subject to the supreme right of the whole public.
§ 539. Induction and deduction uniting to show, as they do, that at first land is common property, there presents itself the question—How did possession of it become individualized ? There can be little doubt as to the general nature of the answer. Force, in one form or other, is the sole cause adequate to make the members of a society yield up their joint claim to the area they inhabit. Such force may be that of an external aggressor or that of an internal aggressor; but in either case it implies militant activity.
The first evidence of this which meets us is that the primitive system of land-ownership has lingered longest where circumstances have been such as either to exclude war or to minimize it. Already I have referred to a still-extant Teutonic mark existing in Drenthe, “surrounded on all sides by marsh and bog,” forming “a kind of island of sand and heath;” and this example, before named as showing the survival of free judicial institutions where free institutions at large survive, simultaneously shows the communal landownership which continues while men are unsubordinated. After this typical case may be named one not far distant, and somewhat akin—that, namely, which occurs “in the sandy district of the Campine and beyond the Meuse, in the Ardennes region,” where there is great “want of communication:” the implied difficulty of access and the poverty of surface making relatively small the temptation to invade. So that while, says Laveleye, “except in the Ardennes, the lord had succeeded in usurping the eminent domain, without however destroying the inhabitants’ rights of user,” in the Ardennes itself, the primitive communal possession survived. Other cases show that the mountainous character of a locality, rendering subjugation by external or internal force impracticable, furthers maintenance of this primitive institution, as of other primitive institutions. In Switzerland, and especially in its Alpine parts, the allmends above mentioned, which are of the same essential nature as the Teutonic marks, have continued down to the present day. Sundry kindred regions present kindred facts. Ownership of land by family-communities is still to be found “in the hill-districts of Lombardy.” In the poverty-stricken and mountainous portion of Auvergne, as also in the hilly and infertile department of Nièvre, there are still, or recently have been, these original joint-ownerships of land. And the general remark concerning the physical circumstances in which they occur, is that “it is to the wildest and most remote spots that we must go in search of them”—a truth again illustrated “in the small islands of Hœdic and Honat, situated not far from Belle Isle” on the French coast, and also in our own islands of Orkney and Shetland.
Contrariwise, we find that directly by invasion, and indirectly by the chronic resistance to invasion which generates those class-inequalities distinguishing the militant type, there is produced individualization of land-ownership, in one or other form. All the world over, conquest gives a possession that is unlimited because there is no power to dispute it. Along with other spoils of war, the land becomes a spoil; and, according to the nature of the conquering society, is owned wholly by the despotic conqueror, or, partially and in dependent ways, by his followers. Of the first result there are many instances. “The kings of Abyssinia are above all laws…the land and persons of their subjects are equally their property.” “In Kongo the king hath the sole property of goods and lands, which he can grant away at pleasure.” And § 479 contains sundry other examples of militant societies in which the monarch, otherwise absolute, is absolute possessor of the soil. Of the second result instances were given in § 458; and I may here add some others. Ancient Mexico supplies one.
“Montezuma possessed in most of the villages…and especially in those he had conquered, fiefs which he distributed among those called ‘the gallant fellows of Mexico.’ These were men who had distinguished themselves in war.”
Under a more primitive form the like was done in Iceland by the invading Norsemen.
“When a chieftain had taken possession of a district, he allotted to each of the freemen who accompanied him a certain portion of land, erected a temple (hof), and became, as he had been in Norway, the chief, the pontiff, and the judge of the herad.”
But, as was shown when treating of political differentiation, it is not only by external aggressors that the joint possession by all freemen of the area they inhabit is over-ridden. It is over-ridden, also, by those internal aggressors whose power becomes great in proportion as the militancy of the society becomes chronic. With the personal subordination generated by warfare, there goes such subordination of ownership, that lands previously held absolutely by the community, come to be held subject to the claims of the local magnate; until, in course of time, the greater part of the occupied area falls into his exclusive possession, and only a small part continues to be common property.
To complete the statement it must be added that occasionally, though rarely, the passing of land into private hands takes place neither by forcible appropriation, nor by the gradual encroachment of a superior, but by general agreement. Where there exists that form of communal ownership under which joint cultivation is replaced by separate cultivation of parts portioned out—where there results from this a system of periodic redistribution, as of old in certain Greek states, as among the ancient Suevi, and as even down to our own times in some of the Swiss allmends; ownership of land by individuals may and does arise from cessation of the redistribution. Says M. de Laveleye concerning the Swiss allmends— “in the work of M. Rowalewsky, we see how the communal lands became private property by the periodic partitioning becoming more and more rare, and finally falling into desuetude.” When not otherwise destroyed, land-owning by the commune tends naturally to end in this way. For besides the inconveniences attendant on re-localization of the members of the commune, positive losses must be entailed by it on many. Out of the whole number, the less skilful and less diligent will have reduced their plots to lower degrees of fertility; and the rest will have a motive for opposing a redistribution which, depriving them of the benefits of past labours, makes over these or parts of them to the relatively unworthy. Evidently this motive is likely, in course of time, to cause refusal to re-divide; and permanent private possession will result.
§ 540. An important factor not yet noticed has cooperated in individualizing property, both movable and fixed; namely, the establishment of measures of quantity and value. Only the rudest balancing of claims can be made before there come into use appliances for estimating amounts. At the outset, ownership exists only in respect of things actually made or obtained by the labour of the owner; and is therefore narrowly limited in range. But when exchange arises and spreads, first under the indefinite form of barter and then under the definite form of sale and purchase by means of a circulating medium, it becomes easy for ownership to extend itself to other things. Observe how clearly this extension depends on the implied progress of industrialism.
It was pointed out in § 319 that during the pastoral stage, it is impracticable to assign to each member of the family-community, or to each of its dependents, such part of the produce or other property as is proportionate to the value of his labour. Though in the case of Jacob and Laban the bargain made for services was one into which some idea of equivalence entered, yet it was an extremely rude idea; and by no such bargains could numerous transactions, or transactions of smaller kinds, be effected. On asking what must happen when the patriarchal group, becoming settled, assumes one or other enlarged form, we see that reverence for traditional usages, and the necessity of union for mutual defence, conspire to maintain the system of joint production and joint consumption: individualization of property is still hindered. Though under such conditions each person establishes private ownership in respect of things on which he has expended separate labour, or things received in exchange for such products of his separate labour; yet only a small amount of property thus distinguished as private, can be acquired. The greater part of his labour, mixed with that of others, brings returns inseparable from the returns of their labours; and the united returns must therefore be enjoyed in common. But as fast as it becomes safer to dispense with the protection of the family-group; and as fast as increasing commercial intercourse opens careers for those who leave their groups; and as fast as the use of money and measures gives definiteness to exchanges; there come opportunities for accumulating individual possessions, as distinguished from joint possessions. And since among those who labour together and live together, there will inevitably be some who feel restive under the imposed restraints, and also some (usually the same) who feel dissatisfied with the equal sharing among those whose labours are not of equal values; it is inferable that these opportunities will be seized: private ownership will spread at the expense of public ownership. Some illustrations may be given. Speaking of the family-communities of the Southern Slavs, mostly in course of dissolution, M. de Laveleye says—
“The family-group was far more capable of defending itself against the severity of Turkish rule than were isolated individuals. Accordingly, it is in this part of the southern Slav district that family-communities are best preserved, and still form the basis of social order.”
The influence of commercial activity as conducing to disintegration, is shown by the fact that these family-communities ordinarily hold together only in rural districts.
“In the neighbourhood of the towns the more varied life has weakened the ancient family-sentiment. Many communities have been dissolved, their property divided and sold, and their members have degenerated into mere tenants and proletarians.”
And then the effect of a desire, alike for personal independence and for the exclusive enjoyment of benefits consequent on superiority, is recognized in the remark that these family-communities—
“cannot easily withstand the conditions of a society in which men are striving to improve their own lot, as well as the political and social organization under which they live. … Once the desire of self-aggrandisement awakened, man can no longer support the yoke of the zadruga.… To live according to his own will, to work for himself alone, to drink from his own cup, is now the end preeminently sought.”
That this cause of disintegration is general, is implied by passages concerning similar communities still existing in the hill-districts of Lombardy—that is, away from the centres of mercantile activity. Growing averse to the control of the house-fathers, the members of these communities say—
“Why should we and all our belongings remain in subjection to a master? It were far the best for each to work and think for himself.’ As the profits derived from any handicraft form a sort of private peculium, the associates are tempted to enlarge this at the expense of the common revenue.” And then “the craving to live independently carries him away, and he quits the community.”
All which evidence shows that the progress of industrialism is the general cause of this growing individualization of property; for such progress is pre-supposed alike by the greater security which makes it safe to live separately, by the increased opportunity for those sales which further the accumulation of a peculium, and by the use of measures of quantity and value: these being implied primarily by such sales, and secondarily by the sale and division of all that has been held in common.
Spread of private ownership, which thus goes along with decay of the system of status and growth of the system of contract, naturally passes on from movable property to fixed property. For when the multiplication of trading transactions has made it possible for each member of a family-community to accumulate a peculium; and when the strengthening desire for individual domestic life has impelled the majority of the community to sell the land which they have jointly inherited; the several portions of it, whether sold to separate members of the body or to strangers, are thus reduced by definite agreement to the form of individual properties; and private ownership of land thereby acquires a character apparently like that of other private ownership. In other ways, too, this result is furthered by developing industrialism. If, omitting as not relevant the cases in which the absolute ruler allows no rights of property, landed or other, to his subjects, we pass to the cases in which a conqueror recognizes a partial ownership of land by those to whom he has parcelled it out on condition of rendering services and paying dues, we see that the private land-ownership established by militancy is an incomplete one. It has various incompletenesses. The ownership by the suzerain is qualified by the rights he has made over to his vassals; the rights of the vassals are qualified by the conditions of their tenure; and they are further qualified by the claims of serfs and other dependents, who, while bound to specified services, have specified shares of produce. But with the decline of militancy and concomitant disappearance of vassalage, the obligations of the tenure diminish and finally almost lapse out of recognition; while, simultaneously, abolition of serfdom destroys or obscures the other claims which qualified private land-ownership.∗ As both changes are accompaniments of a developing industrialism, it follows that in these ways also, the individualization of property in land is furthered by it.
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 or 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 landowner. Even now, among ourselves, private ownership of land is not absolute. In legal theory landowners 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.
§ 541. The rise and development of arrangements which fix and regulate private possession, thus admit of tolerably clear delineation.
The desire to appropriate, and to keep that which has been appropriated, lies deep, not in human nature only, but in animal nature: being, indeed, a condition to survival. The consciousness that conflict, and consequent injury, may probably result from the endeavour to take that which is held by another, ever tends to establish and strengthen the custom of leaving each in possession of whatever he has obtained by labour; and this custom takes among primitive men the shape of an overtly-admitted claim.
This claim to private ownership, fully recognized in respect of movables made by the possessor, and fully or partially recognized in respect of game killed on the territory over which members of the community wander, is not recognized in respect of this territory itself, or tracts of it. Property is individualized as far as circumstances allow individual claims to be marked off with some definiteness; but it is not individualized in respect of land, because, under the conditions, no individual claims can be shown, or could be effectually marked off were they shown.
With the passage from a nomadic to a settled state, ownership of land by the community becomes qualified by individual ownership; but only to the extent that those who clear and cultivate portions of the surface have undisturbed enjoyment of its produce. Habitually the public claim survives; and either when, after a few crops, the cleared tract is abandoned, or when, after transmission to descendants, it has ceased to be used by them, it reverts to the community. And this system of temporary ownership, congruous with the sentiments and usages inherited from ancestral nomads, is associated also with an undeveloped agriculture: land becoming exhausted after a few years.
Where the patriarchal form of organization has been carried from the pastoral state into the settled state, and, sanctified by tradition, is also maintained for purposes of mutual protection, possession of land partly by the clan and partly by the family, long continues; at the same time that there is separate possession of things produced by separate labour. And while in some cases the communal land-ownership, or family land-ownership, survives, it in other cases yields in various modes and degrees to qualified forms of private ownership, mostly temporary, and subject to supreme ownership by the public.
But war, both by producing class-differentiations within each society, and by effecting the subjugation of one society by another, undermines or destroys communal proprietorship of land; and partly or wholly substitutes for it, either the unqualified proprietorship of an absolute conqueror, or proprietorship by a conqueror qualified by the claims of vassals holding it under certain conditions, while their claims are in turn qualified by those of dependents attached to the soil. That is to say, the system of status which militancy develops, involves a graduated ownership of land as it does a graduated ownership of persons.
Complete individualization of ownership is an accompaniment of industrial progress. From the beginning, things identified as products of a man’s own labour are recognized as his; and throughout the course of civilization, communal possession and joint household living, have not excluded the recognition of a peculium obtained by individual effort. Accumulation of movables privately possessed, arising in this way, increases as militancy is restrained by growing industrialism; because this pre-supposes greater facility for disposing of industrial products; because there come along with it measures of quantity and value, furthering exchange; and because the more pacific relations implied, render it safer for men to detach themselves from the groups in which they previously kept together for mutual protection. The individualization of ownership, extended and made more definite by trading transactions under contract, eventually affects the ownership of land. Bought and sold by measure and for money, land is assimilated in this respect to the personal property produced by labour; and thus becomes, in the general apprehension, confounded with it. But there is reason to suspect that while private possession of things produced by labour, will grow even more definite and sacred than at present; the inhabited area, which cannot be produced by labour, 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.
[∗]In our own case the definite ending of these tenures took place in 1660; when, for feudal obligations (a burden on landowners) was substituted a beer-excise (a burden on the community).