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NEWMAN’S POLITICAL ECONOMY 1851 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
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NEWMAN’S POLITICAL ECONOMY
Westminster Review, LVI (Oct., 1851), 83-101. Unsigned; not republished. Originally headed: “Art. IV.—Lectures on Political Economy. By Francis William Newman, formerly Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford.—London: [Chapman,] 1851.” Running head: “Newman’s Political Economy.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Newman’s Lectures on Political Economy in the Westminster Review for October 1851” (MacMinn, 76). W. E. Hickson, the editor of the Westminster, suggested the subject to JSM in June, 1851, and he agreed to write on it on 20 July; after its publication, he wrote to Hickson (15 Oct., 1851), saying in part: “The article on Newman is spoilt by printer’s punctuation & typographical errors.” (Letters in the Huntington Library.)
The substantive corrections and variants indicated in ink by JSM in the Somerville College copy (an offprint paged 1-19, but otherwise unaltered) are given in the text below. JSM also added nine commas and deleted one; these alterations are accepted silently. His correction of the typographical error at 457.20 is noted in the Textual Introduction, as is the error at 451.24, which he did not correct.
Newman’s Political Economy
a new treatise on Political Economy, whether professedly scientific, or, like the one before us, discursive and popular, is now opened and read with very different expectations from what would have been felt even a few years ago. At that time, however polemical might be the performance, and however great the author’s notion of the importance of what he had to say, the reader might feel certain beforehand that all the leading principles of the existing structure of European and even of English society would be assumed, not discussed: or if occasionally a writer, to satisfy his ideas of scientific completeness or didactic symmetry, gave a place in his book to a few remarks in justification, for example, of the institution of private property, there was a slightness in the texture of his argument—an air of carelessness and aroutinea in the bselectionb and treatment of his topics, showing plainly that the contest was but a sham fight, with no serious adversary. Now, however, in this, as in many other respects, there is a change perceptible, at least in the higher regions of political and moral discussion. The days of taking for granted are passing away: doctrines and principles, which were lately deemed an infallible standard for the decision of disputed questions, are now required to produce their own credentials. The minds of thinkers and readers have become unsettled, and there is a growing conviction that they have to be disturbed still more before they can be again settled on any firm basis. The value of a treatise on social subjects now principally depends on the worth of its treatment of precisely those topics which, but recently, were not even made subjects of discussion.
It is under this aspect, then, that we shall first consider Mr. Newman’s book; these being also the topics on which he first enters, and forming the principal subject of several of the thirteen lectures into which the work is divided.
The business and relations of life, within the province of political economy, are mainly constituted on the basis of private property and competition. Another practical principle, commonly called association or co-operation, also rules within certain limits, which, as society advances, are progressively widening. Many eminent reformers, being forcibly impressed with the mass of physical and moral evils which are not only consistent with, but directly grow out of the facts of competition and individual property, have adopted the opinion, that these facts, so full of deplorable consequences, should cease—that individual ownership, at least in the instruments of production, should no more be suffered, but that all who are capable of work, should form themselves into co-operative associations, work for the common account, and share the produce with each other and with those unable to work, not by competition, but on a prearranged principle of justice. Opinions are not unanimous as to what this principle should be; according to some, equality; others say that each should receive according to his or her wants and requirements; others, again, hold that quantity and quality of services should be considered, and that those who do most for society should receive most from it. There is also a great variety in the means proposed for holding the members of the association to the fulfilment of its conditions. All the supporters of association, as opposed to competition, however they may differ respecting the rules of association, call themselves, or are called, Socialists.
In this controversy, Mr. Newman takes part with things as they are; he dislikes socialism, and is in favour of private property and competition. He does not defend all the applications which are made of the idea of property, nor deny that there are evils and injustice in the present economical order of society, and that a great part of these may be remedied; but his position is, on the whole, that of an apologist for the existing social system.
His defence of private property and competition, against socialist attacks, is not at all calculated to convince an opponent, or to remove doubts or difficulties in the mind of a sincere inquirer. Some just and valid reasons he of course brings forward. The benefits that flow from private property and competition are, like the evils, too obvious to be missed; and there is so much exaggeration, and often radical misconception, in a great part of what is said on the other side, that no advocate of private property against its opponents can help being often in the right; but when Mr. Newman steps, even for an instant, out of the veriest commonplaces of his subject, what he finds to say always admits of a very obvious reply.
For example, an argument on which he lays great stress, is, that the idea of property is not created by law, but exists anterior to law, which only recognizes, sanctions, and in certain cases, limits it [pp. 29ff.]. From the beginning, he argues, people have a sense that what they have called into existence by their skill and labour is their own, and that they are wronged when they are deprived of it. The fact is historically and psychologically true. A socialist, however, might say that it is of small consequence what are a savage’s ideas of justice; that if a savage thinks he has a property in the weapon or the ornament which he has fashioned, he is, as Mr. Newman admits, persuaded that he has a property as unquestionable and as unlimited in human cbeings;c in the captives whom he has taken in war. Socialists, however, can afford to admit the right of the savage to the produce of his own industry, and they do so with perfect dconsistency. Theyd are the last who can be accused of undervaluing the right of those who work, as against those who take without eworking. Theire quarrel with existing arrangements is precisely because that right is not, as they contend, respected fsufficiently. Butf they do not deny that until mankind have adopted a just rule for sharing the produce of their combined labour, each should be protected in the fruits of his own; that it is unjust to take from any one when he has, without also giving to him when he has not; that so long as the individual cannot look to society to compensate him for his bad chances, it is just to leave him the benefit of the good. This is not, in the smallest degree, inconsistent with desiring to do away with dependence gong chance, and make reward depend on exertion alone; and this socialists assert to be possible.
Mr. Newman thinks it a sufficient argument against socialism that property is of natural right. It would be necessary to settle, in the first instance, what this expression hmeans. Weh apprehend that what is called natural right, would be more properly described as a first appearance of right; it is a perception of fitness, grounded on some of the more obvious circumstances of the case, and requires, quite as much as any other first impression, to be corrected or controlled by the considerate judgment. So partial and imperfect are these supposed natural impressions of justice, that almost every disputed moral or social question affords them on both sides. Mr. Newman appeals to a natural feeling of the right of a person to what he has made; socialists appeal to a natural feeling of the right of every one who is born, to be born to as advantageous a lot as every other human being. The question is a very complex one, into which the not offending these supposed instincts about rights, may be allowed to enter as one consideration, but not a principal one, of the many involved. The ultimate standard is the tendency of things to promote or impede human happiness, and to this even Mr. Newman is obliged to resort, though like others of his school, he tries to show that he only does it when his other standards fail him. Thus he says, that expediency must decide whether persons shall have power by will to tie up their property to particular uses, because “by nature, whatever property a man possesses, is his to keep or to give away; and therefore, by his last will, he may give it to whomsoever he pleases, but he has no natural power or right to give it away under limitations.” [P. 32.] This restriction of his assumed “natural right” is very arbitrary. If, by nature, he can give the thing to whomsoever he pleases, absolutely and unconditionally, why can he not, in the exercise of the same right, give it on condition of a promise? and that admitted, everything else follows, even to an entail in perpetuity. If the question is to be argued as one of natural right, Mr. Newman would find it difficult to reply to the many moralists and jurists who have said that there is no natural right whatever to bestow property by iwill. Onei can only give (it may be said), what one has; after death the thing has passed out of the possession of the person who was the owner, and he can exercise no power over it. Bad as this argument is, and deserving no better name than that of a lawyer’s quibble, it is yet preferable to Mr. Newman’s.
j It appears to us that nothing valid can be said against socialism in principle; and that the attempts to assail it, or to defend private property, on the ground of justice, must inevitably fail. The distinction between rich and poor, so slightly connected as it is with merit and demerit, or even with exertion and want of exertion in the individual, is obviously unjust; such a feature could not be put into the rudest imaginings of a perfectly just state of society; the present capricious distribution of the means of life and enjoyment, could only be defended as an admitted imperfection, submitted to as an effect of causes in other respects beneficial. Again, the moral objection to competition, as arming one human being against another, making the good of each depend upon evil to others, making all who have anything to gain or lose, live as in the midst of enemies, by no means deserves the disdain with which it is treated by some of the adversaries of socialism, and among the rest, by Mr. Newman. Socialism, as long as it attacks the existing individualism, is easily triumphant; its weakness hitherto is in what it proposes to ksubstitute. Thek reasonable objections to socialism are altogether practical, consisting in difficulties to be surmounted, and in the insufficiency of any scheme yet promulgated to provide against them; their removal must be a work of thought and discussion, aided by progressive experiments, and by the general moral improvement of mankind, through good government and education.
The following paragraph contains Mr. Newman’s summary of his criticisms on socialism:—
Their errors I would classify as moral, political, and economical. Moral:—1st, In speaking as though my duties were equal towards all mankind; which is untrue. To have any but a very secondary care for those who are unconnected with me in the relations of life, would be a hurtful Quixotism. 2nd, In wonderfully undervaluing the difficulty of subduing a ruinous selfishness in a community that lived on common property. Political:—In imagining that such a community, if men were allowed to choose their own occupations, would not presently break in pieces from the rival preferences; or that if it were subjected to the despotism of a single mind, it would fail to degenerate into apathetic stupidity. But my peculiar business is with the Economic error, which consists in blindness to the fact, that there can be no such thing as price, except through the influence of competition; and that if they mean to allow exchanges between community and community, they ought to abandon this declamation against competition.
Of these objections, the second alone touches a really vulnerable point. The other three appear to us inconsistent with any just conception of the subject, or any knowledge of the opinions of socialists; and the first “moral objection,” in point of moral judgment and feeling, thoroughly vulgar minded. To regard impartially the interests of all—to be concerned in any but a very trifling degree for those who are not in some special relation with self, is termed Quixotism! a word invented to hold up to contempt any nobleness and generosity beyond the conception of the common herd. With respect to “duties;” if at present our duties are not “equal towards all mankind,” this is only true as a consequence of the institutions which it is adduced to justify. The duty meant is, of course, that of beneficence; for the duty of justice is “equal towards all mankind.” If, then, we are more bound to good offices towards certain persons than towards others, it can only be because those persons are by position more dependent upon our good offices. The argument therefore is in a circle. It is this—the system of private property and insulated families, causes a certain group of persons to have only each other to look to for help and sacrifice; therefore they are more bound towards each other than towards other people; therefore it would be wrong to take away the exclusive dependence, because, to do so, would abolish the exclusive obligation!
As well might it be said, If I am a soldier, I am bound to fight against those with whom my government is at war, therefore there ought to be soldiers and war. If there is an established clergy, they are bound to teach the doctrines of their church, therefore there ought to be an established church. If the decisions of the judges ought to be according to the laws as they are, therefore the laws ought to be as they are. The answer is, that bad as well as good institutions create moral obligations; but to erect these into a moral argument against changing the institutions, is as bad morality as it is bad reasoning.
The “political” objection is, that the socialist community would break in pieces if the members were allowed to choose their own occupations, and stagnate if a single mind chose for them. It shows a great lack, either of invention or of candour, to see only this alternative, and admit no choice in human affairs between no government at all, and the despotism of one. A teacher of political economy, writing against socialism, should have known something of what has been proposed by socialists, for getting over the difficulty. According to Owen, the able-bodied would share by turns all kind of necessary labour; the community deciding in general assembly, or by its elected officers, what labours are necessary. According to Fourier, each would select his or her own occupations; but if some employments were chosen by too many persons, and others by too few, the remuneration of the former would be lowered, and of the latter raised, so as to restore the balance. Socialists may be over-confident, but they are no such fools as Mr. Newman takes them for; they have foreseen many more objections than he tells them of; and if there are others which they have not foreseen, or have not effectually provided against, his criticisms do not reach the depth even of ltheirl failures.
There remains the “economic” error: “blindness to the fact, that there can be no such thing as price, except through the influence of competition;” nor, therefore, without competition, can there be any exchanges between community and community. Socialists would reply, that they propose that exchanges between community and community should be at cost price. If it were asked how the cost price is to be ascertained, they would answer, that in the operations of communities, every element of cost would be a matter of public record; m that every dealer, on the private system, is required and able to ascertain what price will remunerate him for his goods, and the agents of the communities would only be required to do the same thing. This would be, no doubt, one of the practical difficulties, and we think it somewhat undervalued by them; but the difficulty cannot be insurmountable.
The following is one of Mr. Newman’s arguments for competition:—
The truth is really plain, but needs to be enforced, that competition, though, like all the laws of nature, often severe, is yet a beneficial, as well as a necessary process. If I desire to get my garden dug, and am about to pay a man 4s. for his day’s work, merely because I have been accustomed to pay that sum; but before I have agreed with him, another man offers to do the same work for 3s. 6d., the presumption is, that the latter is in greater need, and, unless I am in some previous moral relation to the former, which ought to be respected, I shall do a more humane act by employing the one at 3s. 6d. than the other at 4s.
Humanity may be a reason for employing the man who will take 3s. 6d., but not for paying him only 3s. 6d. Humanity dictates giving the preference to the most necessitous, but does it dictate taking advantage of his necessities? Would not any person, in a right moral state, pay to the necessitous as much as he would have paid to the man who needed it less? If 4s. are the fit and proper wages for a day’s digging, it is an evil that competition should reduce wages below that amount. Mr. Newman may say that there is no mode of deciding what are the fit and proper wages; but he cannot pretend that competition decides it. The question, then, is resolved into the possibility of determining by law, what wages society can afford to give to those who do its work. Now, what there is to be said as to the difficulty of deciding this, or of enforcing the decision, does not apply to socialists; in their communities no such difficulties would exist; there would be no doubt either what could be given, or that it would be given. Socialists do not say that competition can be dispensed with in society as it is. But they say it is a great defect in the constitution of society, that it can only work by such an instrument.
As we are not on the present occasion discussing socialism, but Mr. Newman’s book, these examples of his treatment of that subject may suffice.
As a treatise on political economy, in the narrower sense—an exposition of the working of existing economical laws, of the causes by which the amount and distribution of the produce of labour are determined under the conditions of the present social organization, Mr. Newman’s book does not afford much to be said, either in commendation or in dispraise. He has followed, in general, the best previous authors; not implicitly, but his deviations from them in nourn opinion are seldom improvements. Not a few of his criticisms on them are evidently grounded on imperfect acquaintance with their works. For example, speaking of what is called the Ricardo theory of rent, which he in the main agrees with, though a number of his pages are employed in combating it in detail, he says, “it assumes that wheat is the only agricultural product, and that the value of land is to be measured by capacity of producing it.” (P. 153.) This is a complete misapprehension. Ricardo’s numerical illustrations are expressed in quarters of wheat; but any one, who will take the trouble, can adapt the theory to all other products of land; his successors have partially done so. Mr. Newman’s other objections to the doctrine, as a practical representation of the facts, have reference chiefly to the allowance which must be made in this as in all other theories of political economy, for disturbing causes, and especially for fixed habits, and the difficulty of removing capital to another employment, which difficulty he deems peculiarly great in the case of agriculture. We believe it would be more correct to say, that as far as regards rent the influence of this disturbing cause is particularly small. A farmer either has a lease, and in that case he makes his contract so as to be repaid during the currency of his lease for the sacrifice of that portion of his capital which he cannot remove; or he has no lease, and in that case, if he has ordinary prudence, he does not sink his capital, but keeps it in a form to be capable of removal at six months’ notice. The only remark of Mr. Newman, tending to a correction of the Ricardo theory, to which we can allow any value (and that remark has been made by others before him) is, that there are many small capitalist farmers, whose position, in respect of rent, is analogous to the peasant farmers of Ireland, inasmuch as they cultivate for subsistence, not for trading profit; and as long as they can live by their farms, never think of changing their occupation, however their profits may be reduced. If such persons, therefore, are numerous, habit may keep up their rent, or competition may raise it, beyond what would be the value of their farm on any mercantile principle.
A doctrine respecting price continually recurs in the book, apparently without any knowledge of its being disputable, which a more careful reading of former writers would have corrected. It is used (p. 25) as an argument against protectionists, but is not the less, in our opinion, erroneous; it is, that price (the price of food, for instance), can only be raised by diminishing the supply. We apprehend it is quite possible that the supply may be as great at a high as at a low price. We grant, that if there were no power of diminishing the supply, the price would not rise; but it is not necessary that the power should be exercised; and even if it be exercised, the diminution of supply will not necessarily be more than temporary. As much will be produced at the increased price as can find a market at that price: there will be no permanent diminution of quantity, unless the heightened price has placed the article beyond the means or the inclination of some of the consumers. In the case of an article of necessity like food, it might easily happen that as much might be demanded and as much consequently produced after the rise of price as before. The inconvenience to the consumers would then consist in the privation of something else, a greater part than before of their means of expenditure being required for food.
The operation of tithes is discussed (pp. 165-175) without any apparent knowledge of the view taken of it by the best writers since Ricardo—namely, that a tax of a fixed proportion of the gross produce raises the price of the produce in that proportion. The author displays, with the minuteness of numerical examples, what he supposes to be the effect of a tithe in discouraging improvement; tacitly supposing, that when the farmer is taxed one-tenth of his produce, he obtains no higher price than before for the remaining nine-tenths. If the price rises in proportion to the tithe, all his conclusions are vitiated. A tithe undoubtedly prevents many improvements, which would be made if there were the same price without any tithe to pay; but all those which would be profitable if there were no tithe, and the price of produce were a tenth lower, will be profitable in spite of the tithe.
On the population doctrine of Malthus, Mr. Newman’s opinion is, that “when stated as an abstract theory,” it is “undeniably true; but that every practical application, which either Malthus or his followers have given it, is deplorably and perniciously false.” [P. 107.]
One of the “practical applications” which he seems to have in view, is the objection at first made by Mr. Malthus against poor laws: thus far, however, he is fighting shadows, since no Malthusian now condemns poor laws when so administered as not to take away the inducement to self-support. It is difficult to see, from any of Mr. Newman’s explanations, in what consists the “Malthusianism” which he objects to. He says “it is impossible for any poor man to hope that his individual prudence in the delay or renunciation of marriage, will ever be remunerated by a higher rate of wages. He knows that others will swamp his market with their children if he live childless. If the good alone are Malthusians, the bad families will outbreed them.” (Pp. 109-10). o This is perfectly true: what is wanted is, not that the good should abstain in order that the selfish may indulge, but such a state of opinion as may deter the selfish from this kind of intemperance by stamping it as disgraceful. He next says (p. 111) “it does not appear that Malthus, or any of his followers, have given us any test by which we may ascertain that we are actually suffering under redundancy of population.” They have given the only possible test: they say that population is excessive when, in a country in which labour is tolerably productive, wages are too low. “The only intelligible test,” according to the author, of general over-population, “is that propounded by Mr. Lawson[*] —viz., a people is then beginning to press on the limits of its subsistence, when a larger and larger portion of its entire power is needed to raise the food of the community.” [P. 111.] p Independently of all other objections to this criterion, it does not show whether the pressure on the means of subsistence is too great, but only whether it is increasing. No Malthusian, we believe, thinks that the pressure of population is greater, relatively to the means of subsistence, than it was thirty years ago. No one can think so who believes that there has been any moral or mental improvement in the people. The complaint is, not that there is no improvement, but that there is not improvement enough—that wages which, with greater restraint on population, might be as high as in America, are kept down by too rapid multiplication. Malthusians would deplore that the advancement constantly taking place in the arts of life, and the good which may be expected from improved social institutions, and a better distribution of the fruits of labour, should be nullified for practical purposes, by serving, as such things have always hitherto done, to increase the numbers of the labouring class much more than to improve their condition.
The part of these lectures to which we can give most praise, is that which treats of the limitations to the right of property, and especially of property in land. We agree fully with Mr. Newman in the doctrine that there can be, morally speaking, only a qualified property in things not produced by labour, such as the raw material of the earth. We might go further, and say, that there is only a qualified property in anything not made by the individual’s own labour; but we confine ourselves at present to property in land. We think this subject so important, and so usefully (though not altogether unexceptionably) treated by the author, that we shall make a rather long extract from his observations:—
If a solitary family land on the shores of an empty continent, like Australia, and occupy a plot of desert land, prior occupation would confer on them a right superior to that of any other claimant. After they had cultivated it ten years, if a stranger tried to drive them off, all bystanders would call it an invasion of right. Let him take a portion of the unoccupied land if he please, but not eject them from that which they have made their own by usage and by improvement. . . . . .
If the stranger, on considering the labour which it will cost him to clear copses, to make fences, to dig drains or wells, to build outhouses, to make roads, or execute other works, to say nothing of the dwelling-house, chooses to offer a price to the pioneers of civilization for their improvements, on condition of their yielding up the farm to him, it needs no proof that they are able to make over to him the whole of their right, and that the price which they receive will have been honestly earned. But thereby they abandon all further claim to it.
Should he not be rich enough to pay down what they regard as a fair compensation for their labour, the contract may take the form of a yearly payment on his part, which may perhaps be called a rent. But supposing it to be intended as a remuneration for the trouble which they have taken with the estate, the payment will, in fact, be a return of profit to the capital sunk, exactly as in a common house rent. . . . . . .
Let me alter my supposition. After the colonist has held his land for some years, he removes and occupies a different spot. A new colonist comes in, and seats himself on the vacated ground. Can we imagine the first occupant hereupon to send him word, not to intrude on his private property, but to go elsewhither? I think not. The new comer would reply, that empty ground is open to all; that the first was free to use, to occupy, to keep; but what he has left he cannot keep. At the utmost he might hope to receive some thankoffering from the new comer, as soon as it proved convenient, as an acknowledgment of the advantage derived from his predecessor’s labours. But any claim on his part to be regarded as the owner of the soil would be treated with contempt. ‘What!’ the stranger would reply, ‘did you create the earth? or why is it yours? You used it while convenient, you abandoned it when convenient; and it is now mine as much as it then was yours.’ . . . . . .
But what if a settler were to forbid a stranger to occupy land within a mile of that which the former was cultivating, saying that he wished to keep this for galloping and hunting ground, or that he expected it would be useful to his children twenty years hence? This surely would be greedy usurpation, not to be defended by the plea that he had set up marks, or run a light trench, to denote the extent of his intended park, or of his children’s future estate. Where land is so abundant and so equally convenient, that each may exercise his caprice without inconvenience to others, even caprices might be respected; but none would be justified in thus excluding their neighbours from valuable sites. If any one who pleases is allowed to carve out a park in the wilderness, yet he cannot be allowed to take the river-side for it, so as to shut others out from its conveniences. Over land that has never been subdued and improved by labour, no individual has any moral claim. Being wild, it is public.
Let me suppose that the English Crown, while it was the legal owner of vast tracts in interior America, gave away an estate ten miles square to some British subject, who succeeded in planting colonists on it, from whom he received some trifling rent. This rent they are willing to pay, in order to get security from molestation. Time goes on, and a political revolution overthrows all power of England in those districts. The increase of population and the industry of the farmers has gradually improved the farms; a new generation has succeeded; and now the representative of the first grantee, calling himself the owner of the soil by gift of the King of England, claims to raise the rents of the farmers, because of the increased value of the farms. Is this conceivable? In England, undoubtedly such things are done: but if not enacted by a most peculiar state of law, it certainly would never suggest itself as right. In America such a claim would be a signal to the farmers to pay no more rent. They would say, this man, who calls himself landowner, has done nothing for the soil. By favour of an old king, his predecessor was once invested with a nominal right over it; that right was worth something at the time, and it was paid for: it is worth nothing now, and we will pay no longer.
The conclusion is, that property in land is essentially subordinate to public convenience; that the rights of the landed proprietor ought to be construed strictly; that the law should not merely, as in the case of moveable property, forbid him from using it to the injury of others, but should compel him to allow to others all such use as is not incompatible with the purposes for which he is permitted to exercise dominion over it; and, finally, that it may at any time, if the public interest requires, be taken by the legislature, on payment of compensation.
Imagine a continent like America to be gradually covered by tenant freeholders, each of whom is recognized, for the present, as absolute owner of the soil which he cultivates. You will yet see that an increase of human population might hereafter take place, so great that the law must refuse any longer to admit the right of the freeholders to be absolute. For to allow anything to become a complete private property it must either be needless to human life, as jewels; or practically unlimited in quantity, as water; or brought into existence by human labour, as the most important kinds of food; and it is rather as a result of experience and wisdom than by direct moral perception that we forbid all invasion of private property in food, even to alleviate public famine. Now, as water, which is ordinarily allowed to be private, becomes public property in time of siege, so soon as its quantity is painfully limited; and as the possessors of wells would then be indemnified for the expense of their well only and not for water, so if at any time land becomes needed to live upon, the right of private possessors to withhold it comes to an end, and the State has merely to secure that they be liberally indemnified for their actual expenses, and for any fixed capital which they are made to yield up.
The concluding sentence is ambiguous, and if the writer means that landowners have no claim to indemnity for the market value of their land, but only for the capital which has been laid out on it, we cannot admit that he awards full justice to them. It is true the original claim to hold land as private property, was only valid in so far as it was grounded on past, or conceded with a view to future, expenditure of labour and capital. But when the law has given more than this—has allowed the original powers of the soil to be permanently appropriated, and to pass by purchase and sale to those who have paid full value for it in things produced by labour—this property is no more a fit subject of confiscation than any other. Society has no right to seize upon one particular kind of property, and on the ground of a moral defect in the first title, a thousand years ago, turn out the possessors with no compensation except for actual expenses. For the sake of great public reforms, sacrifices may have to be imposed on the possessors of property, but not on one class or description of property peculiarly, no more than on one individual; and the most proper time for demanding such sacrifices is on the occasion of succession by death, that being the mode which least interferes with the habits and expectations which have grown up under the sanction of law.*
The last two lectures relate to “Remedies for Pauperism,” distinguished without much precision into “Public” and “Economical.” Most of these “remedies” have no peculiar reference to pauperism, but apply generally to what the author considers as evils in the present state of society; with his conception of which, though we think at least as ill of the present state of society as he does, we can by no means agree.
Mr. Newman considers as the great evil in society, that it is, what he calls, morally “disorganized;” that it is “relapsing into a disorganization similar to that of primitive barbarism.” [P. 292.] Many other writers have said the same thing; it has been said, especially by the various socialist schools of the continent, but they said it in a different and a far deeper sense than his. They meant by it the gradual wearing out of belief in the old creeds and doctrines, and the sort of interregnum which precedes the growth and general acceptance of other and higher convictions. This, however, is not what Mr. Newman means by moral disorganization. His complaint is, virtually, that the old doctrines and old institutions do not continue. He complains that human beings are not bound together into fixed groups by an irrevocable bond; that hardly any of the relations of life are permanent; that people do not always hire the same labourers, buy and sell with the same persons, work for the same employers, and so forth; which he not only thinks it desirable they should do, but would have them permitted and encouraged to bind themselves to do by a legal engagement.
He who buys once at a shop, or in a fair, enters into no permanent moral relation with the seller nor conceives any particular interest in his welfare; but if we, every day of our lives, see the same street-sweeper at the same crossing, the repeated sight gives him some kind of lodgment in our good will and good wishes. . . We all know that the sanctity of marriage depends upon its permanence, and the same is true of all other relations. But nearly all of these are apt to be dissolved by change of place, hence a flitting population loses internal coherence. The masses which meet externally in large towns have lost all organization. They work at certain trades, or for certain masters, and sell to certain shops, or in the open market or street; but they have no fixed moral unions with any part of the community, except the narrowest ties of family life. . . . Marriage, with the kinsmanship arising out of it, is fast becoming the only permanent relation in cultivated England, so grievously disorganized are we, so deplorably has the temporal power forgot its moral mission.
Thus, while the thinking minds of Europe are tending more and more to the opinion that the enforced adherence to a choice once made, the irrevocability of an error once committed, is a vice and an immorality in the institution of marriage, Mr. Newman, on the contrary, makes the indissolubility of marriage the type of what he thinks desirable in social relations generally. He would have labourers encouraged (pp. 322-3) to bind themselves by what he terms “labour-leases,” [p. 327] to the same employer for long periods; and he would re-establish the relation of patrons and clients (by a ceremoney at church!) between domestic servants and their masters.
In the Hebrew law, if a servant loved his master and his family, and desired to serve for ever, the master performed a symbolic act by which the servant became nailed to the house as a permanent part of it, and the same result would everywhere be a wholesome consummation. Our difficulty is that custom needs to grow up as a guide to law before enactments can be wise and profitable, while, in fact, custom has long been moving in the opposite direction, making the union of master and servant, as of buyer and seller, more and more transient. In ancient times religion did for a nation what law could not do, and so it might be with us if we would wink at some of our differences, and if the ministers of religion were not bound in iron fetters. Else, if I had a servant whom I esteemed, and who trusted me, why might I not come forward with him before the Church and exchange solemn pledges with him; I, declaring that I take him as my client, and promise to him a kindly protection and care for his welfare; and he, avowing that he takes me as his patron, and promises to me honour and respect? After such a mutual public recognition, a neglect of duty on either side would incur moral censure. Precedent would grow up, indicating and limiting the rights of the parties, and it would ultimately appear whether the sanction of legislation was also desirable. By the institution of clienship, every family rich enough to have servants would be brought into nearer contact with a number of poorer families. For when a client married, or on other grounds left the patron’s house, the bond would not be broken; and that result would in part be brought about, which is so very desirable in large towns, a definite relation between certain richer and certain poorer men.
Permanence in human relations is not a good, perqse. Permanenceq when it is unforced, spontaneous, when the relation is permanent not because the persons concerned cannot, but because they will not change, is a proof or a presumption that the relation has been found good by experience, and when thus voluntary, it doubtless excites in the persons concerned a much greater degree of reciprocal interest in the well-being of each other, than arises from a relation known and intended on both sides to be transient. But because these are the natural effects of a permanent connexion when it is permanent because it is preferred, and when every month or year that it continues affords additional proof of voluntary preference; this is no ground for expecting that the same benefits will arise from making the connexion permanent whether preferred or not. The only “moral relation” which there is any certainty of establishing by such means, is one of moral obligation, which in itself, and independently of the purposes for which it exists, cannot be accounted a good. Ties are not desirable merely because they are ties; duties ought not to be created merely that they may be fulfilled; the only ties which are desirable in themselves are those of love and attachment, and we are very sceptical respecting the attachment to a position which is engendered by not being able to get out of it. If the attachment would not exist without compulsion, patience and resignation would be its more suitable epithets. There is such a thing as making a virtue of necessity, but that is no reason for creating as much necessity as possible, in order that there may be the more virtue.
Mr. Newman seems to be under an historical delusion on the subject of permanent union. He thinks that human beings began by being solitary and isolated; that the first step out of barbarism was marriage, and that every advance in civilization was marked by the greater number and closeness of permanent ties. Accordingly the tendency which he now perceives in a direction contrary to permanence, presents itself to his mind as a relapse into barbarism. We find no warrant for this doctrine in history. Whether there was ever a time when human beings lived in a state of entire isolation, we have no means of knowing: but the rudest men of whom we have any knowledge, either in past or in present times, were bound by ties of great strength and permanency, either to their family in the patriarchal rsenser , or, like North American Indians, to their tribe: and in the earliest known nations which had industry and laws, men were bound even to their hereditary occupations. There is a period doubtless in the upward growth of society, during which there is a tendency to bring every individual into permanent relations with some other or others. The reason is that permanence is the earliest contrivance for the tempering of oppression. When there is no law capable of restraining the tyranny of a powerful man, his weaker neighbours consent to become his vassals, that he may have an inducement to protect them against all tyrants but himself, and that the degree of interest which he may feel in them as his dependents, may serve (instead of conscience or humanity) as a motive to confine his own tyranny within some bounds.*
This particular phasis of social progress attained its greatest development in the middle ages, which according to Mr. Newman’s theory, should be the type of perfection in social life; since there was no one, the king excepted, who was not bound by an indissoluble relation to some superior, and no one save the lowest of serfs who was not tied by some reciprocal obligation to a host of inferiors. When this social organization had reached its height, all subsequent improvements assisted in the gradual decomposition of it. As society emerged from a state of mere compromise with lawlessness, and came to some extent under the authority of impartial laws, each step in advance has set free a less or greater part of the community from enforced ties. The workman no longer needing the protection of his guild, is no longer tied to it; the labourer has ceased to be the serf of any seigneur; the nation is no longer entailed by hereditary right on a particular line of rulers. These “permanent moral unions” have been dissolved, because in themselves they were an evil, when the exigencies which alone rendered them useful had ceased to exist. And since such exigencies are not likely to return, it may safely be predicted, that whatever permanence is to be looked for as the consequence of future improvement, will be the effect of reason and free choice, not of irrevocable engagements;—will be voluntary, and not in any shape compulsory.
Even putting compulsion out of the question, such fixity of relations as Mr. Newman aims at, is inconsistent with a rapidly progressive state of society and life. By his theory on this subject, he is an apostle of Conservatism. His ideal could only be realised in an age of standing still. The spirit of progress, the best and only hope of the world, is incompatible with shutting the door, first here, then there, against change for the better. Even physical progress, improvement in the material arts of life, is not consistent with his system. If customers were always to adhere to the same dealer as long as they found him honest, it would doubtless be an encouragement to honesty, but a great discouragement to improvement. To whom could the producer or dealer who supplied better goods at lower prices, look for his remuneration? Fixed personal relations, as a general rule, can only belong to a fixed state of society. Until Mr. Newman or somebody else can point out any existing state of society which it is desirable to have stereotyped for perpetual use, we must regard as an evil, all restraint put upon the spirit which never yet since society existed has been in excess—that which bids us “try all things” as the only means by which with knowledge and assurance we can “hold fast to that which is good.”[*]
Some of the measures of political improvement which Mr. Newman advocates, we recognize as useful, though not always for the reasons he assigns. He insists much on the value of provincial legislatures, to transact the local business now performed by private Acts of Parliament, together with much other business not now performed at all. We are of the same opinion; not however for the sake of remedying what he deplores, “the loss of local patriotism;” [p. 293] for the provincial spirit, in every country where it exists, is a mere hindrance to improvement. In the United States, which Mr. Newman justly holds up as a model of local self-government, the local institutions do not engender local, but general patriotism; or (to call it by a better name, because unconnected with ideas of narrowness,) public spirit, and intelligent interest in public affairs.
The concluding chapters contain some useful observations in favour of small landed properties, of commandite partnerships, of giving the labourers a joint interest in the profits of the capitalist, and other matters of considerable, though secondary importance, of which the limits already attained by this article, forbid any more particular notice.
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[[*] ]Lawson, James A. Five Lectures on Political Economy. London: Parker, 1844, pp. 52ff.
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[* ]A pamphlet of some ability lately published under the title of “Rent no Robbery, an Examination of some Erroneous Doctrines respecting Property in Land, by George Makgill, Esq.,” [Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1851,] maintains the contrary thesis to that of Mr. Newman, chiefly in reply to Mr. J. S. Mill, who, in his “Principles of Political Economy,” [Collected Works, II, pp. 226ff.,] had affirmed the essentially limited and merely provisional character, in an ethical point of view, of property in land, as distinguished from property in things produced by labour. Mr. Makgill disputes the distinction mainly on two grounds. First, that every kind of property, and not land alone, may be taken by the state in case of public necessity [p. 12]. Granted; but until the state does take it, the owner of moveable property is its absolute master, and may wholly exclude other persons from its use and enjoyment; which it is contended he ought not to be permitted to do with land, as, for example, to stop up roads, or to eject the inhabitants en masse. Secondly, all rent, according to Mr. Makgill, is the result of capital laid out in improvements; so small a portion only as to be scarcely worth computation being due to original fertility or natural advantages of situation [pp. 18ff.]. This assertion he supports not by proof, but by conjectural statistics, though the most positive statistical evidence in support of such a proposition would prove nothing except its own fallacy; so contradictory is the statement to reason and common observation. There are lands, no doubt, for instance some of the fen districts, of which the fertility is all artificial, and the rent may not be more than a moderate profit on the expenditure incurred in bringing the land into its present condition: but there are other lands as fertile naturally as these are artificially, and which were brought into cultivation at an expense comparatively trifling; and there are others of which the value is chiefly derived from situation, and the income from which is constantly increasing without any expenditure at all. No one will pretend that the high rents of the garden grounds in the neighbourhood of London are a remuneration for the landlord’s outlay of capital, or that the Marquis of Westminster and Lord Portman have given full value for the wealth they derive from their London estates; wealth becoming still more gigantic as leases fall in, and houses built by capital not their own lapse to the accidental inheritors of a few hundred acres of land in the west and north-west of the metropolis. Even when the fertility of land is the effect of capital laid out, it is in a great, if not the greatest number of cases, the capital of the tenant, of which, when the lease expires, the landlord reaps the permanent benefit: to him as unearned and gratuitous as if it had been the gift of nature.
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[* ]Even in the case of marriage, the permanence, so far as it existed for any good purpose, had no other origin. It is being wholly the dupe of words to speak of marriage, in the sense of a “permanent relation,” as “that with which all civilization begins”—to be without which “is to be lower than the lowest savages now known,” [p. 292] merely because savages have something which they call, or which somebody chooses to call, marriage. In early ages marriage is only permanent as against the woman—she, being the man’s property, cannot leave him; but he can part with her as he can with any other property. It was the first stage out of slavery, to the woman, when it was made impossible for the man to shake her off; just as it was the first stage out of slavery, to agricultural slaves, when they were made adscripti glebæ. The earliest state of human relations is all liberty on one side, all obligation on the other: the next step is into reciprocity of obligation, but it does not therefore follow that the final step may not be into equality of freedom; and this is the final destiny of the institution of marriage.
[[*] ]I Thessalonians, 5:21.