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PART II. - Herbert Spencer, Social Statics 
Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed, (London: John Chapman, 1851).
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derivation of a first principle.
There will possibly be some for whom the à priori considerations set forth in the foregoing chapter, are too abstract for distinct comprehension. It is easy, however, to reason our way to that first principle of ethical science which we are about to follow out to its consequences, without any appeal to these. And it will be desirable now to do this. Starting afresh then, from the admitted truth, that human happiness is the Divine will, let us look at the means appointed for the obtainment of that happiness, and observe what conditions they presuppose.
Happiness is a certain state of consciousness. That state must be produced by the action upon consciousness of certain modifying influences—by certain affections of it. All affections of consciousness we term sensations. And amongst the rest, those affections of it which constitute happiness must be sensations.
But how do we receive sensations? Through what are called faculties. It is certain that a man cannot see without eyes. Equally certain is it that he can experience no impression of any kind, unless he is endowed with some power fitted to take in that impression; that is, a faculty. All the mental states which he calls feelings and ideas, are affections of his consciousness received through the faculties—sensations given to it by them.
There next comes the question—under what circumstances do the faculties yield those sensations of which happiness consists? The reply is—when they are exercised. It is from the activity of one or more of them that all gratification arises. To the healthful performance of each function of mind or body attaches a pleasurable feeling. And this pleasurable feeling is obtainable only by the performance of the function; that is, by the exercise of the correlative faculty. Every faculty in turn affords its special emotion; and the sum of these constitutes happiness.
Or the matter may be briefly put thus. A desire is the need for some species of sensation. A sensation is producible only by the exercise of a faculty. Hence no desire can be satisfied except through the exercise of a faculty. But happiness consists in the due satisfaction of all the desires; that is, happiness consists in the due exercise of all the faculties.
Now if God wills man’s happiness, and man’s happiness can be obtained only by the exercise of his faculties, then God wills that man should exercise his faculties; that is, it is man’s duty to exercise his faculties; for duty means fulfilment of the Divine will. That it is man’s duty to exercise his faculties is further proved by the fact, that what we call punishment attaches to the neglect of that exercise. Not only is the normal activity of each faculty productive of pleasure, but the continued suspension of that activity is productive of pain. As the stomach hungers to digest food, so does every bodily and mental agent hunger to perform its appointed action. And as the refusal to satisfy the cravings of the digestive faculty is productive of suffering, so is the refusal to satisfy the cravings of any other faculty also productive of suffering, to an extent proportionate to the importance of that faculty. But as God wills man’s happiness, that line of conduct which produces unhappiness is contrary to his will. Therefore the non-exercise of the faculties is contrary to his will. Either way then, we find that the exercise of the faculties is God’s will and man’s duty.
But the fulfilment of this duty necessarily presupposes freedom of action. Man cannot exercise his faculties without certain scope. He must have liberty to go and to come, to see, to feel, to speak, to work; to get food, raiment, shelter, and to provide for each and all of the needs of his nature. He must be free to do everything which is directly or indirectly requisite for the due satisfaction of every mental and bodily want. Without this he cannot fulfil his duty or God’s will. But if he cannot fulfil God’s will without it, then God commands him to take it. He has Divine authority, therefore, for claiming this freedom of action. God intended him to have it; that is, he has a right to it.
From this conclusion there seems no possibility of escape. Let us repeat the steps by which we arrive at it. God wills man’s happiness. Man’s happiness can only be produced by the exercise of his faculties. Then God wills that he should exercise his faculties. But to exercise his faculties he must have liberty to do all that his faculties naturally impel him to do. Then God intends he should have that liberty. Therefore he has a right to that liberty.
This, however, is not the right of one but of all. All are endowed with faculties. All are bound to fulfil the Divine will by exercising them. All therefore must be free to do those things in which the exercise of them consists. That is, all must have rights to liberty of action.
And hence there necessarily arises a limitation. For if men have like claims to that freedom which is needful for the exercise of their faculties, then must the freedom of each be bounded by the similar freedom of all. When, in the pursuit of their respective ends, two individuals clash, the movements of the one remain free only in so far as they do not interfere with the like movements of the other. This sphere of existence into which we are thrown not affording room for the unrestrained activity of all, and yet all possessing in virtue of their constitutions similar claims to such unrestrained activity, there is no course but to apportion out the unavoidable restraint equally. Wherefore we arrive at the general proposition, that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man.
Upon a partial consideration this statement of the law will perhaps seem open to criticism. It may be thought better to limit the right of each to exercise his faculties, by the proviso that he shall not hurt any one else—shall not inflict pain on any one else. But although at first sight satisfactory, this expression of the law allows of erroneous deductions. It is true that men, answering to those conditions of greatest happiness set forth in the foregoing chapter, cannot exercise their faculties to the aggrieving of one another. It is not, however, that each avoids giving pain by refraining from the full exercise of his faculties; but it is that the faculties of each are such that the full exercise of them offends no one. And herein lies the difference. The giving of pain may have two causes. Either the abnormally-constituted man may do something displeasing to the normal feelings of his neighbours, in which case he acts wrongly; or the behaviour of the normally-constituted man may irritate the abnormal feelings of his neighbours; in which case it is not his behaviour that is wrong, but their characters that are so. Under such circumstances the due exercise of his faculties is right, although it gives pain; and the remedy for the evil lies in the modification of those abnormal feelings to which pain is given.
To elucidate this distinction let us take a few illustrations. An honest man discovers some friend, of whom he had previously thought well, to be a rogue. He has certain high instincts to which roguery is repugnant; and allowing free play to these, he drops the acquaintanceship of this unworthy one. Now, though in doing so he gives pain, it does not follow that he transgresses the law. The evil must be ascribed, not to an undue exercise of faculties by him, but to the immorality of the man who suffers. Again, a Protestant in a Roman Catholic country, refuses to uncover his head on the passing of the host. In so obeying the promptings of certain sentiments, he annoys the spectators; and were the above modified expression of the law correct, would be blameable. The fault, however, is not with him, but with those who are offended. It is not that he is culpable in thus testifying to his belief, but it is that they ought not to have so tyrannical an intolerance of other opinions than their own. Or again, a son, to the great displeasure of his father and family, marries one who, though in all respects admirable, is dowerless. In thus obeying the dictates of his nature he may entail considerable distress of mind upon his relatives; but it does not follow that his conduct is bad; it follows rather that the feelings which his conduct has wounded are bad.
Hence we see that in hourly-occurring cases like these, to limit the exercise of faculties by the necessity of not giving pain to others, would be to stop the proper exercise of faculties in some persons, for the purpose of allowing the improper exercise of faculties in the rest. Moreover, the observance of such a rule does not, as at first sight appears, prevent pain. For though he who is restrained by it avoids inflicting suffering on his fellows, he does so at the expense of suffering to himself. The evil must be borne by some one, and the question is by whom. Shall the Protestant, by showing reverence for what he does not revere, tell a virtual lie, and thus do violence to his conscientious feeling that he may avoid vexing the intolerant spirit of his Catholic neighbours? or shall he give the rein to his own healthy sinoerity and independence, and offend their unhealthy bigotry? Shall the honest man repress those sentiments that make him honest, lest the exhibition of them should give pain to a rogue? or shall he respect his own nobler feelings, and hurt the other’s baser ones? Between these alternatives no one can well pause. And here indeed we get down to the root of the matter. For be it remembered the universal law of life is, that the exercise or gratification of faculties strengthens them; whilst, on the contrary, the curbing or inflicting pain upon them, entails a diminution of their power. And hence it follows that when the action of a normal faculty is checked, to prevent pain being given to the abnormal faculties of others, those abnormal faculties remain as active as they were, and the normal one becomes weaker or abnormal. Whereas under converse circumstances the normal one remains strong, and the abnormal ones are weakened, or made more normal. In the one case the pain is detrimental, because it retards the approximation to that form of human nature under which the faculties of each may be fully exercised without displeasure to the like faculties of all. In the other case the pain is beneficial, because it aids the approximation to that form. Thus, that first expression of the law which arises immediately from the conditions of social existence, turns out to be the true one: any such modification of it as the above, necessitating conduct that is in many cases absolutely mischievous.
And yet, on the other hand, when we seek to express the law by saying that every man has full liberty to exercise his faculties, provided always he does not trench upon the similar liberty of any other, we commit ourselves to an imperfection of an opposite character; and we find that there are many cases in which the above modified expression answers better. Various ways exist in which the faculties may be exercised to the aggrieving of other persons, without the law of equal freedom being overstepped. A man may behave unamiably, may use harsh language, or annoy by disgusting habits; and whoso thus offends the normal feelings of his fellows, manifestly diminishes happiness. If we say that every one is free to exercise his faculties so long only as he does not inflict pain upon any one else, we forbid all such conduct. Whereas if we simply limit the liberty of each by the like liberty of all, we do not forbid it; seeing that he who exercises his faculties in this way, does not hinder others from exercising theirs in the same way, and to the same extent. How then are we to escape from this difficulty? Neither statement of the law quite fulfils our requirement, and yet we must choose one of them. Which must it be, and why?
It must be the original one, and for a very good reason. Limiting the liberty of each by the like liberty of all, excludes a wide range of improper actions, but does not exclude certain other improper ones. Limiting the liberty of each by the necessity of not giving pain to the rest, excludes the whole of these improper actions, but excludes along with them many others that are proper. The one does not cut off enough; the other cuts off too much. The one is negatively erroneous; the other is positively so. Evidently, then, we must adopt the negatively erroneous one, seeing that its shortcomings may be made good by a supplementary law. And here we find the need for that distinction lately drawn between justice and negative beneficence—a distinction which we habitually make in the affairs of life. Justice imposes upon the exercise of faculties a primary series of limitations, which is strictly true as far as it goes. Negative beneficence imposes a secondary series. It is no defect in the first of these that it does not include the last. The two are, in the main, distinct; and, as we have just seen, the attempt to unite them under one expression leads us into fatal errors.
Yet another objection will probably be started. By full liberty to exercise the faculties, is meant full liberty to do all that the faculties prompt, or, in other words, to do all that the individual wills; and it may be said, that if the individual is free to do all that he wills, provided he does not trespass upon certain specified claims of others, then he is free to do things that are injurious to himself—is free to get drunk, or to commit suicide. To this it must be in the first place replied, as above, that whilst the law now laid down forbids a certain class of actions as immoral, it does not recognise all kinds of immorality—that the restriction it puts on the free exercise of faculties, though the chief, is not the sole restriction, and must be received without prejudice to further ones. Of the need for such further ones, the difficulty here raised furnishes a second instance.
Mark now, however, that these supplementary restrictions are of quite inferior authority to the original law. Instead of being, like it, capable of strictly scientific development, they (under existing circumstances) can be unfolded only into superior forms of expediency. The limit put to each man’s freedom, by the like freedom of every other man, is a limit almost always possible of exact ascertainment; for let the condition of things be what it may, the respective amounts of freedom men assume can be compared, and the equality or inequality of those amounts recognised. But when we set about drawing practical deductions from the propositions that a man is not at liberty to do things injurious to himself, and that he is not at liberty (except in cases like those lately cited) to do what may give unhappiness to his neighbours, we find ourselves involved in complicated estimates of pleasures and pains, to the obvious peril of our conclusions. It is very true, that to trace out the consequences a given act will entail upon oneself or another, is incomparably less difficult than to determine the ultimate effects of some public measure upon a whole nation; and hence the being guided by expediency in private life is proportionably less dangerous. Yet it is also true, that even here, trustworthy inferences are attainable in but a minority of cases. In the first place we frequently cannot say whether the bad results will exceed the good ones; and in the second place we frequently cannot say whether the faculties on which suffering will be inflicted, are in normal or abnormal states. For example, though it is very manifest that drunkenness is an injurious exercise of faculties, as being clearly productive of more pain than pleasure, it is by no means manifest how much work is proper for us, and when work becomes detrimental; it is by no means manifest where lies the line between due and undue intellectual activity; it is by no means manifest what amount of advantage will justify a man in submitting to unsuitable climate and mode of life; and yet in each of these cases happiness is at stake, and the wrong course is wrong for the same reason that drunkenness is so. Even were it possible to say of each private action whether the resulting gratification did or did not preponderate over the resulting suffering, there would still present itself this second difficulty, that we cannot with certainty distinguish suffering that is detrimental, from suffering that is beneficial. Whilst we are as yet imperfectly adapted to our conditions, pain must inevitably arise from the repression of faculties that are too active, and from the overtasking of those that are not equal to their duties; and, as being needful to the development of the ultimate man, such pain cannot be held damnatory of the actions causing it. Thus, referring again to the instances just cited, it is self-evident that the ability to work is needful for the production of the greatest happiness; yet is the acquirement of this ability by the uncivilized man so distressing, that only the severest discipline will force him to it. That degree of intelligence which our existing mode of life necessitates, cannot be arrived at without ages of wearisome application; and perhaps cannot get organized in the race without a partial and temporary sacrifice of bodily health. The realization of the Divine Idea implies the peopling of every habitable region; and this implies the adaptation of mankind to a variety of climates—an adaptation which cannot be undergone without great suffering. Here, then, are cases in which men’s liberty must not be limited by the necessity of not injuring themselves; seeing that it cannot be so limited without a suspension of our approach to greatest happiness. Similarly we saw awhile since (p. 79), that there are cases in which for the same reason men’s liberty must not be limited by the necessity of not inflicting pain upon others. And the fact now to be noticed is, that we possess no certain way of distinguishing the two groups of cases thus exemplified from those cases in which the doing what diminishes happiness, either in ourselves or others, is both immediately and ultimately detrimental, and therefore wrong. Not being able to define specifically the constitution of the ideal man, but being able to define it generically only—not being able to determine the ratios of the several faculties composing that constitution, but being able simply to lay down certain laws which their action must conform to—we are quite incompetent to say of every particular deed whether it is or is not accordant with that constitution. Or, putting the difficulty in its simplest form, we may say, that as both of these supplementary limitations involve the term happiness, and as happiness is for the present capable only of a generic and not of a specific definition (p. 5), they do not admit of scientific development. Though abstractedly correct limitations, and limitations which the ideal man will strictly observe, they cannot be reduced to concrete forms until the ideal man exists.
And now we have arrived at the threshold of an important truth touching this matter; the truth namely, that only by a universal exercise of this alleged liberty of each, limited alone by the like liberty of all, can there ever arise a separation of those acts which, though incidentally and temporarily injurious to ourselves or others, are indirectly beneficial, from those acts which are necessarily and eternally injurious. For manifestly, that non-adaptation of faculties to their functions, from which springs every species of evil, must consist either in excess or defect. And manifestly, in the wide range of cases we are now treating of, there exists no mode but a tentative one of distinguishing that exercise of faculties which produces suffering because it oversteps the conditions of normal existence, from that other exercise of faculties which produces suffering because it falls short of those conditions. And manifestly, the due employment of this tentative mode requires that each man shall have the greatest freedom compatible with the like freedom of all others. Or, turning the proposition the other side up, we may say, that whilst these secondary conditions of greatest happiness are really fixed, yet the practical interpretation of them requiring a detailed knowledge of the ultimate human constitution, bodily and mental, and such detailed knowledge being unattainable, our course is to regard the law of equal freedom as setting up the only recognisable limit to the exercise of faculties, knowing that the other limits will inevitably make themselves felt, and that in virtue of the law of adaptation, there must eventually arise a complete conformity to them.
That, on this course being pursued, there will happen a gradual cessation of the detrimentally painful actions, whilst the beneficially painful ones will be continued until they have ceased to be painful, may be made clear by a few illustrations. Thus, the change from the impulsive nature of the savage to that nature which enables the civilised man to sacrifice a present gratification for a future greater one, involves much suffering; but the necessities of social life demanding such a change, and continually visiting the lack of a self-restraining power with severe punishment, ensure a constant though irk-some endeavour on the part of all to acquire this power—an endeavour that must surely though slowly succeed. Conversely, the prevalence amongst men of a somewhat undue desire for food, entailing as it perpetually does much bodily, and some mental, affliction, is sure to be therefore accompanied by such attempts at abstemiousness, as must, by constantly curbing it, finally reduce this desire to a normal intensitya . And what so manifestly happens in these simple cases, will with equal certainty happen in those complex ones above exemplified, where the good and bad results are more nearly balanced: for although it may be impossible in such cases for the intellect to estimate the respective amounts of pleasure and pain consequent upon each alternative, yet will experience enable the constitution itself to do this; and will further cause it instinctively to shun that course which produces on the whole most suffering, or, in other words—most sins against the necessities of existence, and to choose that which least sins against them. Turning to those actions which put us in direct relationship to other men, it must in the same manner happen that such of them as give no necessary displeasure to any one, will be persevered in, and the faculties answering to them developed; whilst, on the contrary, actions necessarily displeasing to our neighbours, must, by virtue of the disagreeable reaction which they commonly entail upon ourselves, be, in the average of cases, subject to a certain degree of repression—a repression that must ultimately tell upon the desires they spring from. And now observe what it is the special purpose of the present argument to show, namely, that in the course of this process there must be continually produced a different effect upon conduct which is necessarily painful to others, from that produced upon conduct that is incidentally painful only. Conduct which hurts necessary feelings in others, will, as just explained, inevitably undergo restraint and consequent diminution: conduct which hurts only their incidental feelings, as those of caste, or prejudice, will not inevitably do so; but, if it springs from necessary feelings, will, on the contrary, be continued at the expense of these incidental feelings, and to the final suppression of them. When men mutually behave in a way that offends some essential element in the nature of each, and all in turn have to bear the consequent suffering, there will arise a tendency to curb the desire that makes them so behave. When, instead of this, they keep hurting in each other those non-essential elements of character peculiar to a passing phase of things, and are impelled to do this by impulses that are permanently requisite, then will these non-essential elements be extirpated. Thus, the existing confusion of necessary and conventional feelings, necessary and conventional circumstances, and feelings and circumstances that are partly necessary and partly conventional, will eventually work itself clear. Conventional feelings will give way before necessary circumstances, and conventional circumstances before necessary feelings. And when, as a result of this process, complete adaptation between constitution and conditions has been arrived at, a complete classification of actions into essentially injurious and essentially beneficial, will have been arrived at also.
If, then, we find that the one thing needful to produce ultimate subordination to these secondary limits of right conduct is, that we should have the opportunity of freely coming in contact with them—should be allowed freely to expand our natures in all directions until the available space has been filled, and the true bounds have made themselves felt—if a development of these secondary limits into practical codes of duty can only thus be accomplished, then does the supreme authority of our first law—the liberty of each limited alone by the like liberty of all—become still more manifest, seeing that that right to exercise the faculties which it asserts, must precede the unfolding of this supplementary morality. Indeed, regarding it from this point of view, we may almost say that the first law is the sole law; for we find that of the several conditions to greatest happiness it is the only one at present capable of a systematic development; and we further find that conformity to it, ensures ultimate conformity to the others.
Nevertheless, it must still be admitted, that in cases where these secondary limitations to the exercise of faculties are undoubtedly transgressed, the full assertion of this law of equal freedom betrays us into an apparent dilemma. By drunkenness, or by brutality of manner, our own happiness, or the happiness of others, is diminished; and that not in an incidental but in a necessary way. And if by affirming a man’s liberty to do all that he wills so long as he respects the like liberty of every other, we imply that he is at liberty to get drunk or to behave brutally, then we fall into the inconsistency of affirming that he is at liberty to do something essentially destructive of happiness.
Of this difficulty nothing can be said, save that it seems in part due to the impossibility of making the perfect law recognise an imperfect state, and in part to that defect in our powers of expression elsewhere exemplified (p. 39). As matters stand, however, we must deal with it as best we may. There is clearly no alternative but to declare man’s freedom to exercise his faculties; for without this freedom fulfilment of the Divine will is impossible. There is clearly no alternative but to declare the several limitations of that freedom needful for the achievement of greatest happiness. And there is clearly no alternative but to develop the first and chief of these limitations separately; seeing as we have done that a development of the others is at present impossible. Against the consequence of neglecting these secondary limitations, we must therefore guard ourselves as well as we can; supplying the place of scientific deductions from them, by such inferences as observation and experience enable us to make.
Finally, however, there is satisfaction in the thought, that no such imperfection as this, can in the least vitiate any of the conclusions we are now about to draw. Liberty of action being the first essential to exercise of faculties, and therefore the first essential to happiness; and the liberty of each limited by the like liberty of all, being the form which this first essential assumes when applied to many instead of one (§ 3), it follows that this liberty of each, limited by the like liberty of all, is the rule in conformity with which society must be organised. Freedom being the pre-requisite to normal life in the individual, equal freedom becomes the pre-requisite to normal life in society. And if this law of equal freedom is the primary law of right relationship between man and man, then no desire to get fulfilled a secondary law can warrant us in breaking it.
Now we shall find that in the unfolding of this primary limitation to the exercise of faculties into a series of practical regulations, it is impossible to recognise any secondary limitations without committing a breach of the primary one. For, in what must recognition of any secondary limitations consist? It must consist in the establishment in our social organization of certain further restrictions on the exercise of faculties besides those imposed by the law of equal freedom. And how are these further restrictions to be enforced? Manifestly, by men. Now the men who enforce them must necessarily assume in so doing a greater amount of freedom than those on whom they are enforced;—that is to say, they must transgress the primary law to prevent others transgressing secondary ones.
Hence, in drawing from it deductions respecting the equitable constitution of society, we may safely assert in full this liberty of each limited alone by the like liberty of all—must so assert it. The neglect of other limitations will in no way affect the accuracy of our conclusions, so long as we confine ourselves to deducing from this fundamental law the just relationships of men to each other; whereas we cannot include these other limitations in our premises without vitiating those conclusions. We have no alternative therefore but, for the time being, to ignore such other limitations; leaving that partial interpretation of them which is at present possible to us, for subsequent statement.
secondary derivation of a first principle.
Having inquired how the Divine Idea, greatest happiness, is to be realized—having found that it is to be realized through the exercise of faculties—and having found that, to fulfil its end, such exercise of faculties must be confined within certain limits; let us now pursue the investigation a step further, and see whether there does not exist in man himself an impulse to claim that exercise, and an impulse to respect those limits. Some such provisions are clearly needful for the completion of the creative scheme. It would be quite at variance with the general law of our structure, that there should be nothing to restrain us from the undue exercise of faculties, but abstract considerations like those set forth in the last chapter. As elsewhere pointed out (p. 19), man is ruled by quite other instrumentalities than intellectual ones. The regulation of his conduct is not left to the accident of a philosophical inquiry. We may, therefore, expect to find some special agent by which the distinction between right and wrong exercise of faculties is recognised and responded to.
From what he has already gathered, the reader will of course infer that this agent is that Moral Sense, in whose existence we elsewhere saw good reason to believe. And possibly he will anticipate the further inference, that this first and all-essential law, declaratory of the liberty of each limited only by the like liberty of all, is that fundamental truth of which the moral sense is to give an intuition, and which the intellect is to develop into a scientific morality.
Of the correctness of this inference there are various proofs, upon an examination of which we must now enter. And first on the list stands the fact, that, out of some source or other in men’s minds, there keep continually coming utterances more or less completely expressive of this truth. Quite independently of any such analytical examinations as that just concluded, men perpetually exhibit a tendency to assert the equality of human rights. In all ages, but more especially in later ones, has this tendency been visible. In our own history we may detect signs of its presence as early as the time of Edward I., in whose writs of summons it was said to be “a most equitable rule, that what concerns all should be approved of by all.” How our institutions have been influenced by it may be seen in the judicial principle that “all men are equal before the law.” The doctrine that “all men are naturally equal” (of course only in so far as their claims are concerned), has not only been asserted by philanthropists like Granville Sharpe, but as Sir Robert Filmer, a once renowned champion of absolute monarchy, tells us, “Heyward, Blackwood, Barclay, and others that have bravely vindicated the rights of kings, ∗ ∗ ∗ with one consent admitted the natural liberty and equality of mankind.” Again, we find the declaration of American independence affirming that “all men have equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and the similar assertion that “every man has an equal right with every other man to a voice in the making of the laws which all are required to obey,” was the maxim of the Complete Suffrage movement. In his essay on Civil Government, Locke, too, expresses the opinion that there is “nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection.” And those who wish for more authorities who have expressed the same conviction, may add the names of Judge Blackstone and “the judicious Hooker.”
The sayings and doings of daily life continually imply some intuitive belief of this kind. We take for granted its universality, when we appeal to men’s sense of justice. In moments of irritation it shows itself in such expressions as—“How would you like it?” “What is that to you?” “I’ve as good a right as you,” &c. Our praises of liberty are pervaded by it; and it gives bitterness to the invectives with which we assail the oppressors of mankind. Nay, indeed, so spontaneous is this faith in the equality of human rights, that our very language embodies it. Equity and equal are from the same root; and equity literally means equalness.
It is manifest, moreover, that some such faith is continually increasing in strength. Rightly understood, the advance from a savage to a cultivated state is the advance of its dominion. It is by their greater harmony with it that the laws, opinions, and usages of a civilized society are chiefly distinguished from those of a barbarous one. How instrumental it has been in modifying the events of the past was elsewhere hinted (p. 23). If we call to mind the political agitations that have run a successful course within these few years, and consider likewise those that are going on around us, we shall find them nearly all strongly tinctured by it. Nor can we contemplate the late European revolutions, and read the preambles to the new constitutions that have sprung out of them, without perceiving that a conviction of the equality of human rights is now stronger and more general than ever.
Not without meaning is the continued life and growth of this conviction. He must indeed have a strange way of interpreting social phenomena, who can believe that the re-appearance of it, with ever-increasing frequency, in laws, books, agitations, revolutions, means nothing. If we analyze them, we shall find all beliefs to be in some way dependent upon mental conformation—temporary ones upon temporary characteristics of our nature—permanent ones upon its permanent characteristics. And when we find that a belief like this in the equal freedom of all men, is not only permanent, but daily gaining ground, we have good reason to conclude that it corresponds to some essential element of our moral constitution: more especially since we find that its existence is in harmony with that chief pre-requisite to greatest happiness lately dwelt upon; and that its growth is in harmony with that law of adaptation by which this greatest happiness is being wrought out.
Such, at least, is the hypothesis here adopted. From the above accumulation of evidence it is inferred that there exists in man what may be termed an instinct of personal rights—a feeling that leads him to claim as great a share of natural privilege as is claimed by others—a feeling that leads him to repel anything like an encroachment upon what he thinks his sphere of original freedom. By virtue of this impulse, individuals, as units of the social mass, tend to assume like relationships with the atoms of matter, surrounded as these are by their respective atmospheres of repulsion as well as of attraction. And perhaps social stability may ultimately be seen to depend upon the due balance of these forces.
There exists, however, a dominant sect of so-called philosophical politicians who treat with contempt this belief that men have any claims antecedent to those endorsed by governments. As disciples of Bentham, consistency requires them to do this. Accordingly, although it does violence to their secret perceptions, they boldly deny the existence of “rights” entirely. They nevertheless perpetually betray a belief in the doctrines which they professedly reject. They inadvertently talk about justice, especially when it concerns themselves, in much the same style as their opponents. They draw the same distinction between law and equity that other people do. They applaud fairness, and honour, quite as if they thought them something more than mere words. And when robbed, or assaulted, or wrongly imprisoned, they exhibit the same indignation, the same determination to oppose the aggressor, utter the same denunciations of tyranny, and the same loud demands for redress, as the sternest assertors of the rights of man. By way of explaining such inconsistencies, it is indeed alleged, that the feeling thus manifested is nothing but the result of a gradually-acquired conviction that benefits flow from some kinds of action, and evils from other kinds; and it is said that the sympathies and antipathies respectively contracted towards these, exhibit themselves, as a love of justice, and a hatred of injustice. To which supposition it was by implication elsewhere replied, that it would be equally wise to conclude that hunger springs from a conviction of the benefit of eating; or that love of offspring is the result of a wish to maintain the species!
But it is amusing when, after all, it turns out that the ground on which these philosophers have taken their stand, and from which with such self-complacency they shower their sarcasms, is nothing but an adversary’s mine, destined to blow the vast fabric of conclusions they have based on it into nonentity. This so solid-looking principle of “the greatest happiness to the greatest number,” needs but to have a light brought near it, and lo! it explodes into the astounding assertion, that all men have equal rights to happiness (p. 22)—an assertion far more sweeping and revolutionary than any of those which are assailed with so much scorn.a .
When we see, then, that an instinct of personal rights manifests itself unceasingly in opinions and institutions; when further we find that the attempt to trace the monitions of this instinct to experience, betrays us into an absurdity; and when lastly, the dogma of those who most sturdily deny that there is such an instinct, proves to be only another emanation from it—we find ourselves in possession of the strongest possible evidence of its existence—the testimony of all parties. We are therefore justified in considering that existence as sufficiently proved.
But why, it may be asked, should there need any sentiment leading men to claim the liberty of action requisite for the due exercise of faculties, and prompting them to resist encroachments upon that liberty? Will not the several faculties themselves do this, by virtue of their desires for activity, which cannot otherwise be gratified? Surely there is no necessity for a special impulse to make a man do that which all his impulses conjointly tend to make him do.
This is not so serious an objection as it appears to be. For although, were there no such sentiment as this supposed one, each faculty in turn might impel its possessor to oppose a diminution of its own sphere of action, yet, during the dormancy of that faculty, there would be nothing to prevent the freedom requisite for its future exercise from being infringed upon. It may, perhaps, be rejoined, that the mere consciousness that there must again occur occasions for the use of such freedom will constitute a sufficient incentive to defend it. But plausible as this supposition looks, it does not tally with facts. We do not find on inquiry, that each faculty has a special foresight—takes thought for its gratifications to come: we find, on the contrary, that to provide for the future gratification of the faculties at large, is the office of faculties appointed solely for that purpose. Thus, referring once more by way of illustration to the acquisitive instinct, we see that, when this is wanting, the desires for food, for clothing, for shelter, together with those many other desires which property minsters to, do not of themselves prompt that accumulation of property on which the continuance of their satisfaction depends. Each of them, when active, impels the individual to take means for its present fulfilment; but does not prompt him to lay by the means for its future fulfilment. To so prompt him there needs a certain amount of this acquisitive instinct, which, in pursuing its own gratification, incidentally secures to other instincts the means of their gratification. Similarly, then, with liberty of action. It is argued, that as each faculty does not look after its own particular fund of necessaries, so neither does it look after its own particular sphere of activity; and that as there is a special faculty to which the providing of a general fund of necessaries is consigned, so likewise is there a special faculty to which the maintenance of a general sphere of activity is consigned. Or perhaps we may most clearly express the relationship in which these two faculties stand to the rest, by saying, that whilst it is the function of the one to accumulate the matter on which the faculties at large are to be exercised, it is the function of the other to preserve the freedom of motion by which that matter is both obtained and made use of.
Seeing, however, that this instinct of personal rights is a purely selfish instinct, leading each man to assert and defend his own liberty of action, there remains the question—Whence comes our perception of the rights of others?
The way to a solution of this difficulty has been opened by Adam Smith in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” It is the aim of that work to show that the proper regulation of our conduct to one another, is secured by means of a faculty whose function it is to excite in each being the emotions displayed by surrounding ones — a faculty which awakens a like state of sentiment, or, as he terms it, “a fellow feeling with the passions of others”—the faculty, in short, which we commonly call Sympathy. As illustrations of the mode in which this agent acts, he quotes cases like these:—
“Persons of delicate fibres, and weak constitution of body, complain that in looking on the sores and ulcers which are exposed by beggars in the streets, they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in the corresponding part of their own bodies.” “Men of most robust make observe, that in looking upon sore eyes they often feel a very sensible soreness in their own.” “Our joy for the deliverance of those heroes of tragedy or romance who interest us, is as sincere as our grief for their distress, and our fellow-feeling for their misery, is not more real than that for their happiness.” “We blush for the impudence and rudeness of another, though he himself appears to have no sense of the impropriety of his behaviour.”
To these facts cited by Adam Smith, may be added many others of like import; such as that people—women especially—start or shriek on seeing an accident occur to others; that unpractised assistants at surgical operations often faint; that out of the soldiers drawn up to witness a flogging, usually several drop down in the ranks; that a boy has been known to die on witnessing an execution. We have all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of shame produced in us by the blunders and confusion of a nervous speaker; and most likely every one has some time or other been put into a horrible tremor on seeing another at the edge of a precipice. The converse action of the faculty is equally observable. Thus, we find ourselves unable to avoid joining in the merriment of our friends, whilst unaware of its cause; and children, much to their annoyance, are often forced to laugh in the midst of their tears, by witnessing the laughter of those around them. These and many like evidences prove that, as Burke says, “sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected.”
In tracing our benevolent actions to the influence of such a faculty—in concluding that we are led to relieve the miseries of others from a desire to rid ourselves of the pain given by the sight of misery, and to make others happy, because we participate in their happiness, Adam Smith puts forth what seems to be a quite satisfactory theory. But he has overlooked one of its most important applications. Not recognising any such impulse as that which urges men to maintain their claims, he did not see that their respect for the claims of others, may be explained in the same way. He did not perceive that the sentiment of justice is nothing but a sympathetic affection of the instinct of personal rights—a sort of reflex function of it. Such, however, must be the case, if that instinct exists, and if this hypothesis of Adam Smith’s be true. Here lies the explanation of those qualms of conscience, as we call them, felt by men who have committed dishonest actions. It is through this instrumentality that we receive satisfaction on paying another what is due to him. And with these two faculties also, originate that indignation which narratives of political oppression excite in us, and that gnashing of the teeth with which we read of the slave-dealer’s barbarities.
It was elsewhere hinted (p. 71), that though we must keep up the distinction between them, it is nevertheless true that justice and beneficence have a common root, and the reader will now at once perceive that the common root is—Sympathy. All the actions properly classified under the one, and which we describe as fair, equitable, upright, spring from the sympathetic excitement of the instinct of personal rights; whilst those usually grouped under the other, as mercy, charity, good-nature, generosity, amiability, considerateness, are due to the action of Sympathy upon one or more of the other feelings.
In support of the foregoing theory much detailed evidence can be adduced. If it be true that men’s perceptions of justice are generated in the way alleged, it will follow that, other things equal, those who have the strongest sense of their own rights, will have the strongest sense of the rights of their neighbours. And, by observing whether this is the case or not, we may put the theory to the proof. Let us do this.
The first illustration that suggests itself is afforded by the Society of Friends. Ever since they appeared in the days of Charles I., the members of that body have been remarkable for their determined assertion of personal liberty. They have shown it in their continued resistance to ecclesiastical power; in the obstinacy with which they successfully defied persecution; in their still-continued refusal to pay church-rates; and even in their creed, which does not permit a priesthood. Observe, now, how the sentiment which these peculiarities imply has manifested itself sympathetically. Penn and his followers were the only emigrants of their age who made any acknowledgment to the aborigines for the land they colonized. Of this same sect were the philanthropists who commenced the agitation for abolishing the slave trade; and who were most energetic in carrying it on. Amongst lunatic asylums, the York Retreat was one of the first, if not the first, in which a non-coercive treatment of the insane was adopted. They were Quakers too, who years ago began publicly to exclaim against the injustice as well as the cruelty of war. And, whilst it may be true that in business they are firm in the assertion of their claims, it is not less true that on the whole they are remarkable for honest dealing.
The English national character, as contrasted with that of other races, will supply a further illustration. We are universally distinguished for our jealous love of freedom—for the firm maintenance of our rights. At the same time we are not less distinguished for the greater equity of our general conduct. Although our behaviour to the natives of lands on which we have settled has been anything but praiseworthy, it has never been so abominable as that of the Spaniards and others. According to all accounts English merchants are noted everywhere for good faith and straightforwardness. Even amongst the most brutal of our population—even in the prize-ring itself, there is shown in that maxim which forbids the striking of a man when down, a greater sense of what is fair than the people of other countries show. And during these latter times, in which the popular demand for equal political rights has been so loud and so increasing, we have, as a nation, proved our greater regard for the rights of others, by an attempt to put down slavery all over the world.
Conversely, we find that those who have not a strong sense of what is just to themselves, are likewise deficient in a sense of what is just to their fellow men. This has long been a common remark. As one of our living writers puts it—the tyrant is nothing but a slave turned inside out. In earlier days, when feudal lords were vassals to the king, they were also despots to their retainers. In our own time, the Russian noble is alike a serf to his autocrat, and an autocrat to his serf. It is remarked even by school-boys, that the bully is the most ready of all to knock under to a bigger bully. We constantly observe that those who fawn upon the great are overbearing to their inferiors. That “emancipated slaves exceed all other owners (of slaves) in cruelty and oppression,”a is a truth established on numerous authorities. And that where opportunity offers the submissive nature becomes a tyrannical one, is further illustrated by the fact, that the negroes are frequently caught and sold by their own kings.
Thus we find the proposed theory to be supported both by direct and converse evidence. One qualification must be made, however. There is no necessary connection between a sense of what is due to self, and a sense of what is due to others. Sympathy and instinct of rights do not always co-exist in equal strength any more than other faculties do. Either of them may be present in normal amount, whilst the other is almost wanting. And, if devoid of sympathy, it is possible for a man who has a sufficient impulse to assert his own claims, to show no corresponding respect for the claims of his fellows. The instinct of rights being of itself entirely selfish, merely impels its possessor to maintain his own privileges. Only by the sympathetic excitement of it, is a desire to behave equitably to others awakened; and when sympathy is absent such a desire is impossible. Nevertheless this does not affect the general proposition, that where there exists the usual amount of sympathy, respect for the rights of others will be great or small, according as the amount of the instinct of personal rights is great or small. And thus in the average of cases, we may safely conclude that a man’s sense of justice to himself, and his sense of justice to his neighbours, bear a constant ratio to each other.
Further proof that there exists the mental arrangement here described, may be found in the fact, that some of the peculiar moral notions traceable to it are perfectly in harmony with certain of the abstract conclusions arrived at in the preceding chapter. We find in ourselves a conviction, for which we can give no satisfactory reason, that we are free, if we please, to do particular things which it is yet blamable to do. Though it may greatly diminish his happiness, a man feels that he has a right, if he likes, to cut off a limb, or to destroy his property. Whilst we condemn the want of consideration he shows towards some miserable debtor, we yet admit that the hard creditor is, in strict justice, entitled to the uttermost farthing. Notwithstanding our disgust at the selfishness of one who refuses to afford some friendly accommodation, we cannot deny that he is quite at liberty so to refuse. Now these perceptions, which, if the hypothesis be true, are referable to the instinct of personal rights acting in the one case directly, and in the other cases sympathetically, quite accord with foregoing inferences. We found that the law of equal freedom was the fundamental law. We found (p. 82) that no other limitations of activity could be as authoritative as that which it sets up. And we found further (p. 89) that in this, our state of adaptation, it would be wrong to establish any fixed boundary to the liberty of each, save the similar liberty of others. Such a correspondence between our instinctive beliefs, and the conclusions previously arrived at, lends additional probability to the hypothesis here advanced.
That there exists in us a mental mechanism by which the essential pre-requisite to greatest happiness is recognised and enforced, seems therefore abundantly manifest. We find the general principles of our structure to imply some such provision. In that Moral Sense, of whose existence we elsewhere saw the probability, we have an agent apparently answering to the requirement; and in this first condition to greatest happiness, we discover the axiom which the Moral Sense was to respond to. That man does possess a feeling which responds to this axiom, is evidenced by the more or less complete expression spontaneously given to it in political dogmas, in laws, and in the sayings of daily life: further proof of its existence being found in the fact, that those who nominally repudiate the belief it gives utterance to, themselves profess that belief in a disguised and incorrect form. By an analogy drawn from the impulse to accumulate, we are shown that an impulse to maintain liberty of action, is most likely essential to the completeness of the human constitution. How this impulse to maintain liberty of action can generate regard for the liberty of action of others, is explicable by an extension of Adam Smith’s doctrine of Sympathy; and that our sentiment of justice is really due to a sympathetic excitement of such impulse, numerous facts conspire to prove. Lastly, we find that the convictions originated in us after the manner here supposed, correspond with the results of abstract reasoning, not only as to the possession by each of a right to exercise his faculties, and as to a consequent limit of that right, but as to the peculiar sacredness of that right and this limit.
Thus are we brought by several routes to the same conclusion. Whether we reason our way from those fixed conditions under which only the Divine Idea—greatest happiness, can be realized—whether we draw our inferences from man’s constitution, considering him as a congeries of faculties—or whether we listen to the monitions of a certain mental agency, which seems to have the function of guiding us in this matter, we are alike taught as the law of right social relationships, that—Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man. Though further qualifications of the liberty of action thus asserted may be necessary, yet we have seen (p. 89) that in the just regulation of a community no further qualifications of it can be recognised. Such further qualifications must ever remain for private and individual application. We must therefore adopt this law of equal freedom in its entirety, as the law on which a correct system of equity is to be based.
Some will, perhaps, object to this first principle, that being in the nature of an axiomatic truth—standing towards the inferences to be drawn from it in the position of one, it ought to be recognisable by all; which it is not.
Respecting the fact thus alleged, that there have been, and are, men impervious to this first principle, there can be no question. Probably it would have been dissented from by Aristotle, who considered it a “self-evident maxim that nature intended barbarians to be slaves.” Cardinal Julian, who “abhorred the impiety of keeping faith with infidels,” might possibly have disputed it. It is a doctrine which would scarcely have suited the abbot Guibert, who, in his sermons, called the free cities of France “those execrable communities, where serfs, against law and justice, withdraw themselves from the power of their lords.” And perhaps the Highlanders, who in 1748 were reluctant to receive their freedom on the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions, would not have admitted it. But the confession that the truth of this first principle is not self-evident to all, by no means invalidates it. The Bushman can only count as high as three; yet arithmetic is a fact: and we have got a Calculus of Functions by the aid of which we find new planets. As, then, the disability of the savage to perceive the elementary truths of number is no argument against their existence, and no obstacle to their discovery and development, so, the circumstance that some do not see the law of equal freedom to be an elementary truth of ethics, does not prevent its being one.
So far indeed is this difference in men’s moral perceptions from being a difficulty in our way, that it serves to illustrate a doctrine already set forth. As explained in Chapter II., man’s original circumstances “required that he should sacrifice the welfare of other beings to his own;” whereas his present circumstances require that “each individual shall have such desires only as may be fully satisfied without trenching upon the ability of other individuals to obtain like satisfaction.” And it was pointed out that, in virtue of the law of adaptation, the human constitution is changing form the form that fitted it to the first set of conditions to a form fitting it for the last. Now it is by the growth of those two faculties which together originate what we term a Moral Sense, that fitness for these last conditions is secured. In proportion to the strengths of sympathy, and the instinct of personal rights, will be the impulse to conform to the law of equal freedom. And in the mode elsewhere shown (p. 26), the impulse to conform to this law will generate a correlative belief in it. Only, therefore, after the process of adaptation has made considerable advance, can there arise either subordination to this law, or a perception of its truth. And hence any general recognition of it during the earlier stages of social development must not be looked for.
To the direct evidence that has been accumulated in proof of our first principle, may now, however, be added abundant indirect evidence furnished by the absurdities into which a denial of it betrays us. He who asserts that the law of equal freedom is not true, that is, he who asserts that men have not equal rights, has two alternatives. He may either say that men have no rights at all, or that they have unequal rights. Let us examine these positions.
Foremost of those who deny rights altogether, stands that same Sir Robert Filmer already named, with his dogma, that “men are not naturally free.” Starting thus, he readily finds his way to the conclusion, that the only proper form of government is an absolute monarchy. For, if men are not naturally free, that is, if men have naturally no rights, then, he only has rights to whom they are specially given by God. From which inference to “the divine right of kings” is an easy step. It has become very manifest in later times, however, that this divine right of kings, means the divine right of any one who can get uppermost. For since, according to its assertors, no man can be supposed to occupy the position of supreme ruler in opposition to the will of the Deity, it follows that whoever attains to that position, whether by fair means or by foul, be he legitimate or be he usurper, has Divine authority on his side. So that to say “men are not naturally free,” is to say that though men have no rights, yet whoever can get power to coerce the rest has a right to do so!
But this doctrine betrays its supporters into a still more serious dilemma. On referring back to Chapter IV., we shall find that the denial of rights amounts to a libel on the Deity. For, as we there saw, that which a man has a right to, is that which God intended for him. And to say that man has no right to freedom of action, is to say that God did not mean him to have it. Without freedom of action, however, man cannot fulfil his desires. Then God willed that he should not fulfil them. But the non-fulfilment of the desires produces misery. Therefore, God intended that he should be miserable. By which absurdity we may safely consider the position disproved.
For espousing the other alternative, namely, that men’s rights are unequal, no conceivable motive can be assigned but a desire to ensure the supremacy of the best. There are not a few good sort of people who commonly reply to strictures upon social inequalities by quoting that couplet, which, beginning with the postulate— “Order is heaven’s first law,” ends with the inference— “Some are, and must be, greater than the rest.” And on this maxim, with ludicrous inconsistency, they found a defence of conventional distinctions. Not daring to trust “heaven’s first law” to itself, they wish to help it by artificial classification. They fear that the desired “order” will not be maintained unless it is looked after; and so these “greater than the rest” are picked out by official divination; ranged in tiers; and ticketed with their respective values.
These people, and others akin to them, who hold that rights are unequal, belong to that large class who believe in nothing but externals—who can recognise no forces but those of prescription—votes, authority, rank, and the like—who “adore an institution, and do not see that it is founded on a thought.” A modicum of penetration, however, would show them that the great need none of this patronage at their hands. Real superiority will assert itself without factitious aid. Do away with disturbing arrangements, and, just in proportion to the force resident in each, will be the influence each exercises upon the rest. Allow things to take their natural course, and if a man have in him that which transcends the common, it must eventually draw to itself respect and obedience.
But even were it admitted that, to ensure supremacy of the best, liberty of action should be apportioned out to men in the ratio of their merits, the maintainers of unequal rights would be none the forwarder; for there remains the question—how are relative merits to be determined? Where are the standards by which we may test the respective values of different kinds and degrees of ability? We cannot appeal to public opinion, for it is not uniform. And were it uniform, there is no reason to think that it would be correct. On the contrary, if anything is to be gathered from surrounding facts, very erroneous estimates would be formed by it. Can confidence be placed in the judgments of men who subscribe Hudson-testimonials, and yet leave the original projector of railways to die in poverty? Are those fit to decide upon comparative greatness who ornament their drawing-room tables with a copy of Burke’s Peerage; who read through the lists of court presentations, and gossip about the movements of the haut ton—people who would trace back their lineage to some bandit baron—some Front-debœuf, rather than to a Watt or an Arkwright? Is any dependence to be placed on the decision of an authority which has erected half-a-dozen public monuments to its Wellington, and none to its Shakspeare, its Newton, or its Bacon?—an authority that awards to the door-keeper of its House of Commons £74 a year more than to its astronomer royal? According to Johnson, “the chief glory of every people arises from its authors:” yet our literary men are less honoured than people of title; the writers of our leading journals are unknown; and we see much more respect shown to a Rothschild or a Baring than to our Faradays and our Owens.
If, then, public opinion is so fallible a test of relative merits, where shall a trustworthy test be found? Manifestly, if the freedom to which each is entitled varies with his worth, some satisfactory mode of estimating worth must be discovered before any settlement of men’s right relationships can become possible. Who now will point out such a mode?
Even were a still further admission made—even were we to assume that men’s respective claims could be fairly rated—it would still be impossible to reduce the theory of unequal rights to practice. We should yet have to find a rule by which to allot these different shares of privilege. Where is the scale that would enable us to mark off the portion proper for each individual? What unit of measure must be used for this kind of division? Supposing a shopkeeper’s rights to be symbolized by ten and a fraction, what number will represent those of a doctor? What multiple are the liberties of a banker of those of a seamstress? Given two artists, one half as clever again as the other, it is required to find the limits within which each may exercise his faculties. As the greatness of a prime minister is to that of a ploughboy, so is full freedom of action to—the desired answer. Here are a few out of numberless like questions. When a method for their solution has been found, it will be time enough to reconsider the theory of unequal rights.
Thus to the several positive reasons for affirming that every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, we must now add the foregoing negative ones. Neither of the alternatives, to which the rejection of this first principle leaves us, is acceptable. The doctrine that men have naturally no rights leads to the awkward inferences, that might makes right, and that the Deity is a malevolent being. Whilst to say that men have unequal rights is to assume two impossibilities; namely, that we are able to determine the ratios of men’s merits; and having done this, to assign to each his due proportion of privilege.
application of this first principle.
The process by which we may develop this first principle into a system of equity, is sufficiently obvious. We have just to distinguish the actions that are included under its permit, from those which are excluded by it—to find what lies inside the sphere appointed for each individual, and what outside. Our aim must be to discover how far the territory of may extends, and where it borders upon that of may not. We shall have to consider of every deed, whether, in committing it, a man does, or does not, trespass upon the ordained freedom of his neighbour—whether, when placed side by side, the shares of liberty the two parties respectively assume are equal. And by thus separating that which can be done by each without trenching on the privileges of others, from that which cannot be so done, we may classify actions into lawful and unlawful.
Difficulties may now and then occur in the performance of this process. We shall, perhaps, occasionally find ourselves unable to decide whether a given action does or does not trespass against the law of equal freedom. But such an admission by no means implies any defect in that law. It merely implies human incapacity—an incapacity which puts a limit to our discovery of physical as well as of moral truth. It is for instance, quite beyond the power of any mathematician to state in degrees and minutes, the angle at which a man may lean without falling. Not being able to find accurately the centre of gravity of a man’s body, he cannot say with certainty whether, at a given inclination, the line of direction will or will not fall outside the base. But we do not, therefore, take exception to the first principles of mechanics. We know that, in spite of our inability to follow out those first principles to all their consequences, the stability or instability of a man’s attitude might still be accurately determined by them, were our perceptions competent to take in all the conditions of such a problem. Similarly, it is argued that, although there may possibly arise out of the more complex social relationships, questions that are apparently not soluble by comparing the respective amounts of freedom the concerned parties assume, it must nevertheless be granted that, whether we see it or not, their claims are either equal or unequal, and the dependent actions right or wrong accordingly.
For those who have faith in the abstract, and who dare to follow wherever an acknowledged doctrine may lead, it will be sufficient to point out the several conclusions which may be drawn from this first principle, and to leave those conclusions to stand or fall by the logicalness of their deduction. It is to be feared, however, that results arrived at by so purely philosophical a process, will weigh but little with the majority. People who “cannot understand a principle until its light falls upon a fact,” are not to be swayed by inferences so deduced. Wedded as they are to the guidance of a superficial experience, they are deaf to the enunciation of those laws, of which the complex phenomena they draw their experience from are the workings out. We have, nevertheless, to deal with such as best we may; and, to meet their case, evidence of a so-called “practical” nature must be adduced. Whenever, therefore, we arrive at inferences conflicting with the general opinion, it is intended to follow up the argument by showing that “experience,” rightly interpreted, enforces these inferences.
the rights of life and personal liberty.
These are such self-evident corollaries from our first principle as scarcely to need a separate statement. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, it is manifest that he has a claim to his life: for without it he can do nothing that he has willed; and to his personal liberty: for the withdrawal of it partially, if not wholly, restrains him from the fulfilment of his will. It is just as clear, too, that each man is forbidden to deprive his fellow of life or liberty: inasmuch as he cannot do this without breaking the law, which, in asserting his freedom, declares that he shall not infringe “the equal freedom of any other.” For he who is killed or enslaved is obviously no longer equally free with his killer or enslaver.
It is unnecessary to commend these conclusions by any exposition of advantages. All spontaneously assent to them. There are a few simple truths of which the moral sense gives a sufficiently clear perception without the aid of logic; and these are of the number. The time was, indeed, when the law of adaptation having as yet produced but little effect, the feelings that respond to these truths were comparatively undeveloped, and consequently produced no spontaneous recognition of them. And did we live in the old Assyrian days when a subject was the property of his king—were it our custom to chain a porter to his cell on one side of the door, opposite to the kennel of the house-dog on the other, as in Athens and Rome—did we sacrifice men to the gods, or send our prisoners of war to be torn to pieces in an amphitheatre, it might be needful to enforce the doctrines here enunciated, by showing the expediency of acting upon them. But happily we live in better times; and may congratulate ourselves on having reached a phase of civilization, in which the rights of life and personal liberty no longer require inculcating.
Into such questions as the punishment of death, the perpetual imprisonment of criminals, and the like, we cannot here enter. These implying, as they do, antecedent infractions of the law, and being, as they are, remedial measures for a diseased moral state, belong to what has been elsewhere termed Therapeutical Ethics, with which we have now nothing to do.
the right to the use of the earth.
Given a race of beings having like claims to pursue the objects of their desires—given a world adapted to the gratification of those desires—a world into which such beings are similarly born, and it unavoidably follows that they have equal rights to the use of this world. For if each of them “has freedom to do all that he wills provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other,” then each of them is free to use the earth for the satisfaction of his wants, provided he allows all others the same liberty. And conversely, it is manifest that no one, or part of them, may use the earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from similarly using it; seeing that to do this is to assume greater freedom than the rest, and consequently to break the law.
Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the possession of an individual, and may be held by him for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of the earth’s surface may be so held; and eventually the whole of the earth’s surface may be so held; and our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit to deny them a resting-place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether. If, then, the assumption that land can be held as property, involves that the whole globe may become the private domain of a part of its inhabitants; and if, by consequence, the rest of its inhabitants can then exercise their faculties—can then exist even—only by consent of the landowners; it is manifest, that an exclusive possession of the soil necessitates an infringement of the law of equal freedom. For, men who cannot “live and move and have their being” without the leave of others, cannot be equally free with those others.
Passing from the consideration of the possible, to that of the actual, we find yet further reason to deny the rectitude of property in land. It can never be pretended that the existing titles to such property are legitimate. Should any one think so, let him look in the chronicles. Violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, the claims of superior cunning—these are the sources to which those titles may be traced. The original deeds were written with the sword, rather than with the pen: not lawyers, but soldiers, were the conveyancers: blows were the current coin given in payment; and for seals, blood was used in preference to wax. Could valid claims be thus constituted? Hardly. And if not; what becomes of the pretensions of all subsequent holders of estates so obtained? Does sale or bequest generate a right where it did not previously exist? Would the original claimants be nonsuited at the bar of reason, because the thing stolen from them had changed hands? Certainly not. And if one act of transfer can give no title, can many? No: though nothing be multiplied for ever, it will not produce one. Even the law recognises this principle. An existing holder must, if called upon, substantiate the claims of those from whom he purchased or inherited his property; and any flaw in the original parchment, even though the property should have had a score intermediate owners, quashes his right.
“But Time,” say some, “is a great legaliser. Immemorial possession must be taken to constitute a legitimate claim. That which has been held from age to age as private property, and has been bought and sold as such, must now be considered as irrevocably belonging to individuals.” To which proposition a willing assent shall be given when its propounders can assign it a definite meaning. To do this, however, they must find satisfactory answers to such questions as—How long does it take for what was originally a wrong to grow into a right? At what rate per annum do invalid claims become valid? If a title gets perfect in a thousand years, how much more than perfect will it be in two thousand years?—and so forth. For the solution of which they will require a new calculus.
Whether it may be expedient to admit claims of a certain standing, is not the point. We have here nothing to do with considerations of conventional privilege or legislative convenience. We have simply to inquire what is the verdict given by pure equity in the matter. And this verdict enjoins a protest against every existing pretension to the individual possession of the soil; and dictates the assertion, that the right of mankind at large to the earth’s surface is still valid; all deeds, customs, and laws, notwithstanding.
Not only have present land tenures an indefensible origin, but it is impossible to discover any mode in which land can become private property. Cultivation is commonly considered to give a legitimate title. He who has reclaimed a tract of ground from its primitive wildness, is supposed to have thereby made it his own. But if his right is disputed, by what system of logic can he vindicate it? Let us listen a moment to his pleadings.
“Hallo, you Sir,” cries the cosmopolite to some backwoodsman, smoking at the door of his shanty, “by what authority do you take possession of these acres that you have cleared; round which you have put up a snake-fence, and on which you have built this log-house?”
“By what authority? I squatted here because there was no one to say nay—because I was as much at liberty to do so as any other man. Besides, now that I have cut down the wood, and ploughed and cropped the ground, this farm is more mine than yours, or anybody’s; and I mean to keep it.”
“Ay, so you all say. But I do not yet see how you have substantiated your claim. When you came here you found the land producing trees—sugar-maples, perhaps; or may be it was covered with prairie-grass and wild strawberries. Well, instead of these, you made it yield wheat, or maize, or tobacco. Now I want to understand how, by exterminating one set of plants, and making the soil bear another set in their place, you have constituted yourself lord of this soil for all succeeding time.”
“Oh, those natural products which I destroyed were of little or no use; whereas I caused the earth to bring forth things good for food—things that help to give life and happiness.”
“Still you have not shown why such a process makes the portion of earth you have so modified yours. What is it that you have done? You have turned over the soil to a few inches in depth with a spade or a plough; you have scattered over this prepared surface a few seeds; and you have gathered the fruits which the sun, rain, and air, helped the soil to produce. Just tell me, if you please, by what magic have these acts made you sole owner of that vast mass of matter, having for its base the surface of your estate, and for its apex the centre of the globe? all of which it appears you would monopolise to yourself and your descendants for ever.”
“Well, if it isn’t mine, whose is it? I have dispossessed nobody. When I crossed the Mississippi yonder, I found nothing but the silent woods. If some one else had settled here, and made this clearing, he would have had as good a right to the location as I have. I have done nothing but what any other person was at liberty to do had he come before me. Whilst they were unreclaimed, these lands belonged to all men—as much to one as to another—and they are now mine simply because I was the first to discover and improve them.”
“You say truly, when you say that ‘whilst they were unreclaimed these lands belonged to all men.’ And it is my duty to tell you that they belong to all men still; and that your ‘improvements’ as you call them, cannot vitiate the claim of all men. You may plough and harrow, and sow and reap; you may turn over the soil as often as you like; but all your maltipulations will fail to make that soil yours, which was not yours to begin with. Let me put a case. Suppose now that in the course of your wanderings you come upon an empty house, which in spite of its dilapidated state takes your fancy; suppose that with the intention of making it your abode you expend much time and trouble in repairing it—that you paint and paper, and whitewash, and at considerable cost bring it into a habitable state. Suppose further, that on some fatal day a stranger is announced, who turns out to be the heir to whom this house has been bequeathed; and that this professed heir is prepared with all the necessary proofs of his identity: what becomes of your improvements? Do they give you a valid title to the house? Do they quash the title of the original claimant?”
“Neither then do your pioneering operations give you a valid title to this land. Neither do they quash the title of its original claimants—the human race. The world is God’s bequest to mankind. All men are joint heirs to it; you amongst the number. And because you have taken up your residence on a certain part of it, and have subdued, cultivated, beautified that part—improved it as you say, you are not therefore warranted in appropriating it as entirely private property. At least if you do so, you may at any moment be justly expelled by the lawful owner—Society.”
“Well, but surely you would not eject me without making some recompense for the great additional value I have given to this tract, by reducing what was a wilderness into fertile fields. You would not turn me adrift and deprive me of all the benefit of those years of toil it has cost me to bring this spot into its present state.”
“Of course not: just as in the case of the house, you would have an equitable title to compensation from the proprietor for repairs and new fittings, so the community cannot justly take possession of this estate, without paying for all that you have done to it. This extra worth which your labour has imparted to it is fairly yours; and although you have, without leave, busied yourself in bettering what belongs to the community, yet no doubt the community will duly discharge your claim. But admitting this, is quite a different thing from recognising your right to the land itself. It may be true that you are entitled to compensation for the improvements this enclosure has received at your hands; and at the same time it may be equally true that no act, form, proceeding, or ceremony, can make this enclosure your private property.”
It does indeed at first sight seem possible for the earth to become the exclusive possession of individuals by some process of equitable distribution. “Why,” it may be asked, “should not men agree to a fair subdivision? If all are co-heirs, why may not the estate be equally apportioned, and each be afterwards perfect master of his own share?”
To this question it may in the first place be replied, that such a division is vetoed by the difficulty of fixing the values of respective tracts of land. Variations in productiveness, different degrees of accessibility, advantages of climate, proximity to the centres of civilisation—these, and other such considerations, remove the problem out of the sphere of mere mensuration into the region of impossibility.
But, waiving this, let us inquire who are to be the allottees. Shall adult males, and all who have reached twenty-one on a specified day, be the fortunate individuals? If so, what is to be done with those who come of age on the morrow? Is it proposed that each man, woman, and child, shall have a section? If so, what becomes of all who are to be born next year? And what will be the fate of those whose fathers sell their estates and squander the proceeds? These portionless ones must constitute a class already described as having no right to a resting-place on earth—as living by the sufferance of their fellow men—as being practically serfs. And the existence of such a class is wholly at variance with the law of equal freedom.
Until therefore, we can produce a valid commission authorizing us to make this distribution—until it can be proved that God has given one charter of privileges to one generation, and another to the next—until we can demonstrate that men born after a certain date are doomed to slavery, we must consider that no such allotment is permissible.
Probably some will regard the difficulties inseparable from individual ownership of the soil, as caused by pushing to excess a doctrine applicable only within rational limits. This is a very favourite style of thinking with some. There are people who hate anything in the shape of exact conclusions; and these are of them. According to such, the right is never in either extreme, but always half way between the extremes. They are continually trying to reconcile Yes and No. Ifs, and buts, and excepts, are their delight. They have so great a faith in “the judicious mean” that they would scarcely believe an oracle, if it uttered a full-length principle. Were you to inquire of them whether the earth turns on its axis from East to West, or from West to East, you might almost expect the reply— “A little of both,” or “Not exactly either.” It is doubtful whether they would assent to the axiom that the whole is greater than its part, without making some qualification. They have a passion for compromises. To meet their taste, Truth must always be spiced with a little Error. They cannot conceive of a pure, definite, entire, and unlimited law. And hence, in discussions like the present, they are constantly petitioning for limitations—always wishing to abate, and modify, and moderate—ever protesting against doctrines being pursued to their ultimate consequences.
But it behoves such to recollect, that ethical truth is as exact and as peremptory as physical truth; and that in this matter of land-tenure, the verdict of morality must be distinctly yea or nay. Either men have a right to make the soil private property, or they have not. There is no medium. We must choose one of the two positions. There can be no half-and-half opinion. In the nature of things the fact must be either one way or the other.
If men have not such a right, we are at once delivered from the several predicaments already pointed out. If they have such a right, then is that right absolute, sacred, not on any pretence to be violated. If they have such a right, then is his Grace of Leeds justified in warning-off tourists from Ben Mac Dhui, the Duke of Atholl in closing Glen Tilt, the Duke of Buccleugh in denying sites to the Free Church, and the Duke of Sutherland in banishing the Highlanders to make room for sheep-walks. If they have such a right, then it would be proper for the sole proprietor of any kingdom—a Jersey or Guernsey, for example—to impose just what regulations he might choose on its inhabitants—to tell them that they should not live on his property, unless they professed a certain religion, spoke a particular language, paid him a specified reverence, adopted an authorized dress, and conformed to all other conditions he might see fit to make. If they have such a right, then is there truth in that tenet of the ultra-Tory school, that the landowners are the only legitimate rulers of a country—that the people at large remain in it only by the landowners’ permission, and ought consequently to submit to the landowners’ rule, and respect whatever institutions the landowners set up. There is no escape from these inferences. They are necessary corollaries to the theory that the earth can become individual property. And they can only be repudiated by denying that theory.
After all, nobody does implicitly believe in landlordism. We hear of estates being held under the king, that is, the State; or of their being kept in trust for the public benefit; and not that they are the inalienable possessions of their nominal owners. Moreover, we daily deny landlordism by our legislation. Is a canal, a railway, or a turnpike road to be made? we do not scruple to seize just as many acres as may be requisite; allowing the holders compensation for the capital invested. We do not wait for consent. An Act of Parliament supersedes the authority of title deeds, and serves proprietors with notices to quit, whether they will or not. Either this is equitable, or it is not. Either the public are free to resume as much of the earth’s surface as they think fit, or the titles of the landowners must be considered absolute, and all national works must be postponed until lords and squires please to part with the requisite slices of their estates. If we decide that the claims of individual ownership must give way, then we imply that the right of the national at large to the soil is supreme—that the right of private possession only exists by general consent—that general consent being withdrawn it ceases—that general consent being withdrawn it ceases—or, in other words, that it is no right at all.
“But to what does this doctrine, that men are equally entitled to the use of the earth, lead? Must we return to the times of uninclosed wilds, and subsist on roots, berries, and game? Or are we to be left to the management fo Messrs. Fourrier, Owen, Louis Blanc, and Co.?”
Neither. Such a doctrine is consistent with the highest state of civilization; may be carried out without involving a community of goods; and need cause no very serious revolution in existing arrangements. The change required would simply be a change of landlords. Separate ownerships would merge into the joint-stock ownership of the public. Instead of being in the possession of individuals, the country would be he held by the great corporate body—Society. Instead of leasing his acres from an isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the nation. Instead of paying his rent to the agent of Sir John or his Grace, he would pay it to an agent or deputy-agent of the community. Stewards would be public officials instead of private ones; and tenancy the only land tenure.
A state of things so ordered would be in perfect harmony with the moral law. Under it all men would be equally landlords; all men would be alike free to become tenants. A, B, C, and the rest, might compete for a vacant farm as now, and one of them might take that farm, without in any way violating the principles of pure equity. All would be equally free to bid; all would be equally free to refrain. And when the farm had been let to A, B, or C, all parties would have done that which they willed—the one in choosing to pay a given sum to his fellow-men for the use of certain lands—the others in refusing to pay that sum. Clearly, therefore, on such a system, the earth might be inclosed, occupied, and cultivated, in entire subordination to the law of equal freedom.
No doubt great difficulties must attend the resumption, by mankind at large, of their rights to the soil. The question of compensation to existing proprietors is a complicated one—one that perhaps cannot be settled in a strictly-equitable manner. Had we to deal with the parties who originally robbed the human race of its heritage, we might make short work of the matter. But, unfortunately, most of our present landowners are men who have, either mediately or immediately—either by their own acts, or by the acts of their ancestors—given for their estates, equivalents of honestly-earned wealth, believing that they were investing their savings in a legitimate manner. To justly estimate and liquidate the claims of such, is one of the most intricate problems society will one day have to solve. But with this perplexity and our extrication from it, abstract morality has no concern. Men having got themselves into the dilemma by disobedience to the law, must get out of it as well as they can; and with as little injury to the landed class as may be.
Meanwhile, we shall do well to recollect, that there are others besides the landed class to be considered. In our tender regard for the vested interests of the few, let us not forget that the rights of the many are in abeyance; and must remain so, as long as the earth is monopolised by individuals. Let us remember, too, that the injustice thus inflicted on the mass of mankind, is an injustice of the gravest nature. The fact that it is not so regarded, proves nothing. In early phases of civilization even homicide is thought lightly of. The suttees of India, together with the practice elsewhere followed of sacrificing a hecatomb of human victims at the burial of a chief, show this: and probably cannibals consider the slaughter of those whom “the fortune of war” has made their prisoners, perfectly justifiable. It was once also universally supposed that slavery was a natural and quite legitimate institution—a condition into which some were born, and to which they ought to submit as to a Divine ordination; nay, indeed, a great proportion of mankind hold this opinion still. A higher social development, however, has generated in us a better faith, and we now to a considerable extent recognise the claims of humanity. But our civilization is only partial. It may by-and-by be perceived, that Equity utters dictates to which we have not yet listened; and men may then learn, that to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth, is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or personal liberties.
Briefly reviewing the argument, we see that the right of each man to the use of the earth, limited only by the like rights of his follow-men, is immediately deducible from the law of equal freedom. We see that the maintenance of this right necessarily forbids private property in land. On examination all existing titles to such property turn out to be invalid; those founded on reclamation inclusive. It appears that not even an equal apportionment of the earth amongst its inhabitants could generate a legitimate proprietorship. We find that if pushed to its ultimate consequences, a claim to exclusive possession of the soil involves a landowning despotism. We further find that such a claim is constantly denied by the enactments of our legislature. And we find lastly, that the theory of the co-heirship of all men to the soil, is consistent with the highest civilization; and that, however difficult it may be to embody that theory in fact, Equity sternly commands it to be done.
the right of property.
The moral law, being the law of the social state, is obliged wholly to ignore the ante-social state. Constituting, as the principles of pure morality do, a code of conduct for the perfect man, they cannot be made to adapt themselves to the actions of the uncivilized man, even under the most ingenious hypothetical conditions—cannot be made even to recognise those actions so as to pass any definite sentence upon them. Over-looking this fact, thinkers, in their attempts to prove some of the first theorems of ethics, have commonly fallen into the error of referring back to an imaginary state of savage wildness, instead of referring forward to an ideal civilization, as they should have done; and have, in consequence, entangled themselves in difficulties arising out of the discordance between ethical principles and the assumed premises. To this circumstance is attributable that vagueness by which the arguments used to establish the right of property in a logical manner, are characterized. Whilst possessed of a certain plausibility, they yet cannot be considered conclusive; inasmuch as they suggest questions and objections that admit of no satisfactory answers. Let us take a sample of these arguments, and examine its defects.
—Though the earth and all inferior creatures,—says Locke,—be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has a right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it that excludes the common right of other men. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least when there is enough and as good left in common for others.”
If inclined to cavil, one might in reply to this observe, that as, according to the premises,—the earth and all inferior creatures——all things, in fact, that the earth produces—are—common to all men,—the consent of all men must be obtained before any article can be equitably—removed from the common state nature hath placed it in.—It might be argued that the real question is overlooked, when it is said, that, by gathering any natural product, a man—hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby made it his property;—for that the point to be debated is, whether he had any right to gather, or mix his labour with that, which, by the hypothesis, previously belonged to mankind at large. The reasoning used in the last chapter to prove that no amount of labour, bestowed by an individual upon a part of the earth’s surface, can nullify the title of society to that part, might be similarly employed to show that no one can, by the mere act of appropriating to himself any wild unclaimed animal or fruit, supersede the joint claims of other men to it. It may be quite true that the labour a man expends in catching or gathering, gives him a better right to the thing caught or gathered, than any one other man; but the question at issue is, whether by labour so expended, he has made his right to the thing caught or gathered, greater than the pre-existing rights of all other men put together. And unless he can prove that he has done this, his title to possession cannot be admitted as a matter of right, but can be conceded only on the ground of convenience.
Further difficulties are suggested by the qualification, that the claim to any article of property thus obtained, is valid only—when there is enough and as good left in common for others.—A condition like this gives birth to such a host of queries, doubts, and limitations, as practically to neutralize the general proposition entirely. It may be asked, for example—How is it to be known that enough is—left in common for others?—Who can determine whether what remains is—as good—as what is taken? How if the remnant is less accessible? If there is not enough—left in common for others,—how must the right of appropriation be exercised? Why, in such case, does the mixing of labour with the acquired object, cease to—exclude the common right of other men?—Supposing enough to be attainable, but not all equally good, by what rule must each man choose? Out of which inquisition it seems impossible to liberate the alleged right, without such mutilations as to render it, in an ethical point of view, entirely valueless.
Thus, as already hinted, we find, that the circumstances of savage life, render the principles of abstract morality inapplicable; for it is impossible, under ante-social conditions, to determine the rightness or wrongness of certain actions by an exact measurement of the amount of freedom assumed by the parties concerned. We must not expect, therefore, that the right of property can be satisfactorily based upon the premises afforded by such a state of existence.
But, under the system of land tenure pointed out in the last chapter, as the only one that is consistent with the equal claims of all men to the use of the earth, these difficulties disappear; and the right of property obtains a legitimate foundation. We have seen that, without any infraction of the law of equal freedom, an individual may lease from society a given surface of soil, by agreeing to pay in return a stated amount of the produce he obtains from that soil. We found that, in doing this, he does no more than what every other man is equally free with himself to do—that each has the same power with himself to become the tenant—and that the rent he pays accrues alike to all. Having thus hired a tract of land from his fellow-men, for a given period, for understood purposes, and on specified terms—having thus obtained, for a time, the exclusive use of that land by a definite agreement with its owners, it is manifest that an individual may, without any infringement of the rights of others, appropriate to himself that portion of produce which remains after he has paid to mankind the promised rent. He has now, to use Locke’s expression,—mixed his labour with—certain products of the earth; and his claim to them is in this case valid, because he obtained the consent of society before so expending his labour; and having fulfilled the condition which society, imposed in giving that consent—the payment of rent,—society, to fulfil its part of the agreement, must acknowledge his title to that surplus which remains after the rent has been paid.—Provided you deliver to us a stated share of the produce which by cultivation you can obtain from this piece of land, we give you the exclusive use of the remainder of that produce:—these are the words of the contract; and in virtue of this contract, the tenant may equitably claim the supplementary share as his private property: may so claim it without any disobedience to the law of equal freedom; and has therefore a right so to claim it.
Any doubt that may be felt as to the fact that this is a logical deduction from our first principle, that every man has freedom to do all that he wills provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, may be readily cleared up by comparing the respective degrees of freedom assumed in such a case by the occupier and the members of society with whom he bargains. As was shown in the preceding chapter, if the public altogether deprive any individual of the use of the earth, they allow him less liberty than they themselves claim; and by so breaking the law of equal freedom, commit a wrong. If, conversely, an individual usurps a given portion of the earth, to which, as we have seen, all other men have as good a title as himself, he breaks the law by assuming more liberty than the rest. But when an individual holds land as a tenant of society, a balance is maintained between these extremes, and the claims of both parties are respected. A price is paid by the one, for a certain privilege granted by the other. By the fact of the agreement being made, it is shown that such price and privilege are considered to be equivalents. The lessor and the lessee have both, within the prescribed limits, done that which they willed: the one in letting a certain holding for a specified sum; the other in agreeing to give that sum. And so long as this contract remains intact, the law of equal freedom is duly observed. If, however, any of the prescribed conditions be not fulfilled, the law is necessarily broken, and the parties are involved in one of the predicaments above named. If the tenant refuses to pay the rent, then he tacitly lays claim to the exclusive use and benefit of the land he occupies—practically asserts that he is the sole owner of its produce; and consequently violates the law, by assuming a greater share of freedom than the rest of mankind. If, on the other hand, society take from the tenant that portion of the fruits obtained by the culture of his farm, which remains with him after the payment of rent, they virtually deny him the use of the earth entirely (for by the use of the earth we mean the use of its products), and in so doing, claim for themselves a greater share of liberty than they allow him. Clearly, therefore, this surplus produce equitably remains with the tenant: society cannot take it without trespassing upon his freedom; he can take it without trespassing on the freedom of society. And as, according to the law, he is free to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other, he is free to take possession of such surplus as his property.
The doctrine that all men have equal rights to the use of the earth, does indeed at first sight, seem to countenance a species of social organization, at variance with that from which the right of property has just been deduced; an organization, namely, in which the public, instead of letting out the land to individual members of their body, shall retain it in their own hands; cultivate it by joint-stock agency; and share the produce: in fact, what is usually termed Socialism or Communism.
Plausible though it may be, such a scheme is not capable of realization in strict conformity with the moral law. Of the two forms under which it may be presented, the one is ethically imperfect; and the other, although correct in theory, is impracticable.
Thus, if an equal portion of the earth’s produce is awarded to every man, irrespective of the amount or quality of the labour he has contributed towards the obtainment of that produce, a breach of equity is committed. Our first principle requires, not that all shall have like shares of the things which minister to the gratification of the faculties, but that all shall have like freedom to pursue those things—shall have like scope. It is one thing to give to each an opportunity of acquiring the objects he desires; it is another, and quite a different thing, to give the objects themselves, no matter whether due endeavour has or has not been made to obtain them. The one we have seen to be the primary law of the Divine scheme; the other, by interfering with the ordained connection between desire and gratification, shows its disagreement with that scheme. Nay more, it necessitates an absolute violation of the principle of equal freedom. For when we assert the entire liberty of each, bounded only by the like liberty of all, we assert that each is free to do whatever his desires dictate, within the prescribed limits—that each is free, therefore, to claim for himself all those gratifications, and sources of gratification, attainable by him within those limits—all those gratifications, and sources of gratification which he can procure without trespassing upon the spheres of action of his neighbours. If, therefore, out of many starting with like fields of activity, one obtains, by his greater strength, greater ingenuity, or greater application, more gratifications and sources of gratification than the rest, and does this without in any way trenching upon the equal freedom of the rest, the moral law assigns him an exclusive right to all those extra gratifications and sources of gratification; nor can the rest take them from him without claiming for themselves greater liberty of action than he claims, and thereby violating that law. Whence it follows, that an equal apportionment of the fruits of the earth amongst all, is not consistent with pure justice.
If, on the other hand, each is to have allotted to him a share of produce proportionate to the degree in which he has aided production, the proposal, whilst it is abstractedly just, is no longer practicable. Were all men cultivators of the soil, it would perhaps be possible to form an approximate estimate of their several claims. But to ascertain the respective amounts of help given by different kinds of mental and bodily labourers, towards procuring the general stock of the necessaries of life, is an utter impossibility. We have no means of making such a division save that afforded by the law of supply and demand, and this means, the hypothesis excludesa .
An argument fatal to the communist theory, is suggested by the fact, that a desire for property is one of the elements of our nature. Repeated allusion has been made to the admitted truth, that acquisitiveness is an unreasoning impulse quite distinct from the desires whose gratifications property secures—an impulse that is often obeyed at the expense of those desires. And if a propensity to personal acquisition be really a component of man’s constitution, then that cannot be a right form of society which affords it no scope. Socialists do indeed allege that private appropriation is an abuse of this propensity, whose normal function, they say, is to impel us to accumulate for the benefit of the public at large. But in thus attempting to escape from one difficulty, they do but entangle themselves in another. Such an explanation overlooks the fact that the use and abuse of a faculty (whatever the etymology of the words may imply) differ only in degree; whereas their assumption is, that they differ in kind. Gluttony is an abuse of the desire for food; timidity, an abuse of the feeling which in moderation produces prudence; servility, an abuse of the sentiment that generates respect; obstinacy, of that from which firmness springs: in all of which cases we find that the legitimate manifestations differ from the illegitimate ones, merely in quantity, and not in quality. So also with the instinct of accumulation. It may be quite true that its dictates have been, and still are, followed to an absurd excess; but it is also true that no change in the state of society will alter its nature and its office. To whatever extent moderated, it must still be a desire for personal acquisition. Whence it follows that a system affording opportunity for its exercise must ever be retained; which means, that the system of private property must be retained; and this presupposes a right of private property, for by right we mean that which harmonizes with the human constitution as divinely ordained.
There is, however, a still more awkward dilemma into which M. Proudhon and his party betray themselves. For if, as they assert,—all property is robbery——if no one can equitably become the exclusive possessor of any article—or as we say, obtain a right to it, then, amongst other consequences, it follows, that a man can have no right to the things he consumes for food. And if these are not his before eating them, how can they become his at all? As Locke asks,—when do they begin to be his? when he digests? or when he eats? or when he boils? or when he brings them home?—If no previous acts can make them his property, neither can any process of assimilation do it; not even their absorption into the tissues. Wherefore, pursuing the idea, we arrive at the curious conclusion, that as the whole of his bones, muscles, skin, &c., have been thus built up from nutriment not belonging to him, a man has no property in his own flesh and blood—can have no valid title to himself—has no more claim to his own limbs than he has to the limbs of another—and has as good a right to his neighbour’s body as to his own! Did we exist after the same fashion as those compound polyps, in which a number of individuals are based upon a living trunk common to them all, such a theory would be rational enough. But until Communism can be carried to that extent, it will be best to stand by the old doctrine.
Further argument appears to be unnecessary. We have seen that the right of property is deducible from the law of equal freedom—that it is presupposed by the human constitution—and that its denial involves absurdities.
Were it not that we shall frequently have to refer to the fact hereafter, it would be scarcely needful to show that the taking away another’s property is an infringement of the law of equal freedom, and is therefore wrong. If A appropriate to himself something belonging to B, one of two things must take place: either B does the like to A, or he does not. If A has no property, or if his property is inaccessible to B, B has evidently no opportunity of exercising equal freedom with A, by claiming from him something of like value; and A has therefore assumed a greater share of freedom than he allows B, and has broken the law. If again, A’s property is open to B, and A permits B to use like freedom with himself by taking an equivalent, there is no violation of the law; and the affair practically becomes one of barter. But such a transaction will never take place save in theory; for A has no motive to appropriate B’s property with the intention of letting B take an equivalent: seeing that if he really means to let B have what B thinks an equivalent, he will prefer to make the exchange by consent in the ordinary way. The only case simulating this, is one in which A takes from B a thing that B does not wish to part with; that is, a thing for which A can give B nothing that B thinks an equivalent; and as the amount of gratification which B has in the possession of this thing, is the measure of its value to him, it follows that if A cannot give B a thing which affords B equal gratification, or in other words what he thinks an equivalent, then A has taken from B what affords A satisfaction, but does not return to B what affords B satisfaction; and has therefore broken the law by assuming the greater share of freedom. Wherefore we find it to be a logical deduction from the law of equal freedom, that no man can rightfully take property from another against his will.
the right of property in ideas.
It is tolerably self-evident that no violation of the law of equal freedom is committed in the acquisition of knowledge—that knowledge, at least, which is open to all. A man may read, hear, and observe, to as great an extent as he pleases, without in the least diminishing the liberty of others to do the like—in fact, without affecting the condition of others in any way. It is clear, too, that the knowledge thus obtained may be digested, re-organized, or combined afresh, and new knowledge educed from it by its possessor, without the rights of his fellows being thereby trespassed upon. And it is further manifest, that the moral law permits a man who has by his intellectual labour obtained such new knowledge, to keep it for his own exclusive use, or claim it as his private property. He who does this, in no degree exceeds the prescribed limits of individual freedom. He abridges no one’s liberty of action. Every other person retains as much scope for thought and deed as before. And each is free to acquire the same facts—to elaborate from them, if he can, the same new ideas—and in a similar manner employ those new ideas for his private advantage. Seeing, therefore, that a man may claim the exclusive use of his original ideas without overstepping the boundaries of equal freedom, it follows that he has a right so to claim them; or, in other words, such ideas are his property.
Of course the argument used in the last chapter to show that material property cannot be taken from its possessor without a breach of the law, is applicable to property of this kind also.
That a man’s right to the produce of his brain is equally valid with his right to the produce of his hands, is a fact which has yet obtained but a very imperfect recognition. It is true that we have patent laws, a law of copyright, and acts for the registration of designs; but these, or at any rate two of them, have been enacted not so much in obedience to the dictates of justice, as in deference to the suggestions of trade policy.—A patent is not a thing which can be claimed as a right,—we are told by legal authorities, but is intended to—act as a stimulus to industry and talent.—It is not because the piracy of patterns would be wrong that legislators forbid it, but because they wish to afford—encouragement to manufactures.—Similar also are the current opinions. Measures of this nature are commonly considered by the public as giving to inventors a certain—privilege,—a—reward,—a sort of modified—monopoly.—It is on the ground of commercial statesmanship that they are approved; and not as being necessary for the administration of justice.
The prevalence of such a belief is by no means creditable to the national conscience, and indicates a sad bluntness of moral feeling. To think that the profits which a speculator makes by a rise in the share-market, should be recognised as legally and equitably his property, and yet that some new combination of ideas, which it may have cost an ingenious man years of application to complete, cannot be—claimed as a right—by that man! To think that a sinecurist should be held to have a—vested interest—in his office, and a just title to compensation if it is abolished, and yet that an invention over which no end of mental toil has been spent, and on which the poor mechanic has laid out perhaps his last sixpence—an invention which he has completed entirely by his own labour and with his own materials—has wrought, as it were, out of the very substance of his own mind—should not be acknowledged as his property! To think that his title to it should be admitted merely as a matter of convenience—admitted even then only on payment of some £400—and, after all, quashed on the most trifling pretences! What a thick-skinned perception of justice does this show! What a want of ability to appreciate matters at all removed beyond the sphere of the external senses! One would think that equity afforded no guidance beyond transactions in material things—weights, measures, and money. Let a shop-boy take from his master’s till a visible, tangible, ponderable sovereign, and all can see that the rights of ownership have been violated. Yet those who exclaim with such indignant virtue against theft, will purchase a pirated edition of a book, without any qualms of conscience concerning the receipt of stolen goods. Dishonesty, when shown in house-breaking or sheep-stealing, is held up to eternal infamy, and those convicted of it are for ever excluded from society; but the manufacturer who steals his foreman’s improved plan for the spinning of cotton, or the building of steam engines, continues to be held in high respect. The law is active enough in apprehending the urchin who may have deprived some comfortable citizen of his pocket-handkerchief, and will deal with the young scapegrace at the public expense; but there is no redress for the poverty-stricken schemer who is robbed by some wealthy scamp of that which formed the sole hope of his life. Strong illustrations these of the fact, that the moral sense, when unguided by systematic deduction, fails to find its way through the labyrinth of confused opinion, to a correct code of duty.
As already remarked, it is a common notion, and one more especially pervading the operative classes, that the exclusive use by its discoverer of any new or improved mode of production, is a species of monopoly, in the sense in which that word is conventionally used. To let a man have the entire benefit accruing from the employment of some more efficient machine, or better process invented by him; and to allow no other person to adopt and apply for his own advantage the same plan, they hold to be an injustice. Nor are there wanting philanthropic and even thinking men, who consider that the valuable ideas originated by individuals—ideas which may be of great national advantage—should be taken out of private hands and thrown open to the public at large.
—And pray, gentlemen,—an inventor might fairly reply,—why may not I make the same proposal respecting your goods and chattels, your clothing, your houses, your railway shares, and your money in the funds? If you are right in the interpretation you give to the term ‘monopoly,’ I do not see why that term should not be applied to the coats upon your backs and the provisions on your dinner tables. With equal reason I might argue that you unjustly ‘monopolize’ your furniture, and that you ought not in equity to have the ‘exclusive use’ of so many apartments. If ‘national advantage’ is to be the supreme rule, why should we not appropriate your wealth, and the wealth of others like you, to the liquidation of the state debt? True, as you say, you came honestly by all this property: but so did I by my invention. True, as you say, this capital, on the interest of which you subsist, was acquired by years of toil—is the reward of persevering industry: well, I may say the like of this machine. Whilst you were gathering profits, I was collecting ideas; the time you spent in conning the prices current, was employed by me in studying mechanics; your speculations in new articles of merchandise, answer to my experiments, many of which were costly and fruitless; when you were writing out your accounts, I was making drawings; and the same perseverance, patience, thought, and toil, which enabled you to make a fortune, have enabled me to complete my invention. Like your wealth, it represents so much accumulated labour; and I am living upon the profits it produces me, just as you are living upon the interest of your invested savings. Beware, then, how you question my claim. If I am a monopolist, so also are you; so also is every man. If I have no right to these products of my brain, neither have you to those of your hands: no one can become the sole owner of any article whatever; and ‘all property is robbery.’—
They fall into a serious error, who suppose that the exclusive right assumed by a discoverer, is something taken from the public. He who in any way increases the powers of production, is seen by all, save a few insane Luddites, to be a general benefactor who gives rather than takes. The successful inventor makes a further conquest over nature. By him the laws of matter are rendered still more subservient to the wants of mankind. He economises labour—helps to emancipate men from their slavery to the needs of the body—harnesses a new power to the car of human happiness. He cannot, if he would, prevent society from largely participating in his good fortune. Before he can realize any benefit from his new process or apparatus, he must first confer a benefit on his fellow men—must either offer them a better article at the price usually charged, or the same article at a less price. If he fails to do this, his invention is a dead letter; if he does it, he makes society a partner in the new mine of wealth he has opened. For all the exertion he has had in subjugating a previously unknown region of nature, he simply asks an extra proportion of the fruits. The rest of mankind unavoidably come in for the main advantage—will in a short time have the whole. Meanwhile, they cannot without injustice disregard his claims.
Let us remember, too, that in this, as in other cases, disobedience to the moral law is ultimately detrimental to all parties—to those who infringe the rights of the individual as well as to the individual himself. It is a well-proved fact, that that insecurity of material property which results from general dishonesty, inevitably reacts to the punishment of all. The rationale of this is obvious. Industrial energy diminishes just in proportion to the uncertainty of its reward. Those who do not know that they shall reap will not sow. Instead of employing it in business, capitalists hoard what they possess, because productive investments are dangerous. Hence arises a universal straitness of means. Every enterprise is crippled by want of confidence. And from general distrust spring general discouragement, apathy, idleness, poverty, and their attendant miseries, involving alike all grades of men. Similar in kind, and less only in degree, is the curse attendant upon insecurity of property in ideas. Just in so far as the benefits likely to accrue to the inventor are precarious, will he be deterred from carrying out his plans.—If,—thinks he to himself,—others are to enjoy the fruits of these wearisome studies and these numberless experiments, why should I continue them? If, in addition to all the possibilities of failure in the scheme itself, all the time, trouble, and expense of my investigations, all the chances of destruction to my claim by disclosure of the plan, all the heavy costs attendant upon obtaining legal protection, I am liable to be deprived of my right by any scoundrel who may infringe it in the expectation that I shall not have money or madness enough to institute a chancery suit against him, I had better abandon the project at once.—And although such reflections may often fail to extinguish the sanguine hopes of an inventor—although he may still prosecute his scheme to the end, regardless of all risks, yet after having once suffered the losses which ten to one society will inflict upon him, he will take good care never again to enter upon a similar undertaking. Whatever other ideas he may then or subsequently entertain—some of them most likely valuable ones—will remain undeveloped and probably die with him. Did mankind know the many important discoveries which the ingenious are prevented from giving to the world by the cost of obtaining legal protection, or by the distrust of that protection if obtained—were people duly to appreciate the consequent check put upon the development of the means of production—and could they properly estimate the loss thereby entailed upon themselves, they would begin to see that the recognition of the right of property in ideas, is only less important than the recognition of the right of property in goods.
In consequence of the probability, or perhaps we may say the certainty, that the causes leading to the evolution of a new idea in our mind, will eventually produce a like result in some other mind, the claim above set forth must not be admitted without limitation. Many have remarked the tendency that exists for an important invention or discovery to be made by independent investigators nearly at the same time. There is nothing really mysterious in this. A certain state of knowledge, a recent advancement in science, the occurrence of some new social want,—these form the conditions under which minds of similar characters are stimulated to like trains of thought, ending as they are prone to do in the same result. Such being the fact, there arises a qualification to the right of property in ideas, which it seems difficult and even impossible to specify definitely. The laws of patent and copyright, express this qualification by confining the inventor’s or author’s privilege within a certain term of years. But in what way the length of that term may be found with correctness there is no saying. In the mean time, as already pointed out (p. 110), such a difficulty does not in the least militate against the right itself.
the right of property in character.
Could we accurately analyze the stimulus by which men are usually impelled to action—could we determine the proportions of the several motives which go to make up that stimulus, we should probably find that amongst those classes removed from the absolute pressure of bodily wants, its chief component is a desire for the good opinion, regard, or admiration of others. Whether we observe this feeling as shown by the tattooed savage in his willingness to undergo torture that he may obtain a character for fortitude, and to risk any amount of danger that he may be called brave; or whether, turning to civilized life, we contemplate that ambition so universally exhibited by poets, orators, statesmen, artists, soldiers, and others known to fame; or whether, by taking off its disguises, we discover the true nature of that insane eagerness with which people pursue wealth; we are alike instructed in the fact that, after those instincts immediately connected with the preservation of life, love of approbation exercises the greatest influence over human conduct.
Reputation therefore, as a thing which men strive so incessantly to acquire and preserve, may be regarded as property. Earned like other property by labour, care, and perseverance—similarly surrounding its owner with facilities for securing his ends, and affording him as it does a constant supply of food for divers of his desires; the esteem of others is a possession, having many analogies with possessions of a more palpable nature. An estate in the general good-will, appears to many of more worth than one in land. By some great action to have bought golden opinions, may be a richer source of gratification than to have obtained bank stock or railway shares. There are those to whom a crown of bay leaves would be a greater treasure than a fat legacy. Titles had once a definite pounds, shillings and pence price; and if they are now becoming depreciated in value when compared with the honours spontaneously awarded by the public voice, it is that they do not represent so large an amount of genuine approbation. Men therefore who cultivate character, and live on the harvests of praise they reap—men who have invested their labour in noble deeds, and receive by way of interest the best wishes and cordial greetings of society, may be considered as having claims to these rewards of good conduct, resembling the claims of others to the rewards of their industry. Of course this is true not only of such as are distinguished by unusual worth; it is true of all. To the degree in which each has shown probity, kindness, truth or other virtue, and has gained amongst his fellows a reputation for it, we must hold him entitled to the character he has thus fairly won, as to a species of property; a species of property too, which, without quoting the hackneyed saying of Iago, may be described as of greater value than property of any other kind.
Those who hesitate to admit that a good name is property, should remember that it has really a money value. To be accounted honest is to be preferred as one with whom commercial dealings may be most safely carried on. Whose is said to be particularly industrious, is likely, other things being equal, to get better pay than his competitors. The celebrity attending great intellectual capacity, introduces those possessing it to responsible and remunerative situations. It is quite allowable therefore, to classify reputation under this head, seeing that, like capital, it may bring its owner an actual revenue in hard cash.
The position that a good character is property being granted, a right to the possession of it when fairly earned, is demonstrable by arguments similar to those used in the two preceding chapters. Such character is attainable without any infringement of the freedom of others; is indeed a concrete result of habitual regard for that freedom; and being thus a source of gratification which its owner legitimately obtains—a species of property, as we say—it can no more be taken away from him without a breach of equity, than property of other kinds can. This conclusion manifestly serves as the foundation for a law of libel.
Possibly this reasoning will be thought inconclusive. The position that character is property may be considered open to dispute; and it must be confessed that the propriety of so classifying it is not proveable with logical precision. Should any urge that this admission is fatal to the argument, they have the alternative of regarding slander as a breach, not of that primary law which forbids us to trench upon each other’s spheres of activity, but of that secondary one which forbids us to inflict pain on each other. If the destruction of a fellow-man’s deserved reputation does not amount to a trespass against the law of equal freedom, then the flagitiousness of such an act remains to be treated of in that supplementary department of morals elsewhere generalized under the term negative beneficence. Of these alternatives each must make his own choice; for there seems to be no way of deciding between them with certainty. And here indeed we meet with an illustration of a remark previously made (p. 70), namely, that the division of morality into separate sections, though needful for our due comprehension of it, is yet artificial; and that the lines of demarcation are not always capable of being maintained.
the right of exchange.
Freedom to exchange his property for the property of others, is manifestly included in a man’s general freedom. In claiming this as his right, he in no way transgresses the proper limit put to his sphere of action by the like spheres of action of others. The two parties in a trade transaction, whilst doing all that they will to do, are not assuming more liberty than they leave to others. Indeed their act ends with themselves—does not affect the condition of the bystanders at all—leaves these as much power to pursue the objects of their desires as before. Hence, exchanges may be made in complete conformity with the law of equal freedom.
Possibly it will be said, that in cases where several men are wishing to deal with the same man, and a bargain is ultimately made between him and one of them, the rest are by this event excluded from a certain prospective field for the fulfilment of their wants, which was previously open to them; and that consequently they have had the liberty to exercise their faculties diminished by the success of their competitor. This, however, is a distorted view of the matter. Let us for a moment turn back to first principles. What is it that we have to do? We have to divide out equally amongst all men, the whole of that freedom which the conditions of social existence afford. Observe, then, in respect of trade relationships, how much falls to the share of each. Evidently each is free to offer; each is free to accept; each is free to refuse; for each may do these to any extent without preventing his neighbours from doing the like to the same extent, and at the same time. But no one may do more; no one may force another to part with his goods; no one may force another to take a specified price; for no one can do so without assuming more liberty of action than the man whom he thus treats. If, therefore, every one is entitled to offer, to accept, and to refuse, but to do nothing more, it is clear that, under the circumstances above put, the closing of an agreement between two of the parties implies no infringement of the claims of the disappointed ones; seeing that each of them remains as free as ever, to offer, accept, and refuse.
To say that, as a corollary from this, all interference between those who would traffic with each other amounts to a breach of equity, is hardly needful. Nor is there any occasion here to assign reasons why the recognition of liberty of trade is expedient. Harmonizing as it does with the settled convictions of thinking people, the foregoing conclusion may safely be left to stand unsupported. Some remarks upon the limits it puts to legislation are indeed called for. But these will come in more appropriately elsewhere.
the right of free speech.
The utterance of thought being one species of action, there arises from the proposition that every man is free within specified bounds to do what he wills, the self-evident corollary, that, with the like qualification, he is free to say what he wills; or, in other words, as the rights of his fellow-men form the only legitimate restraint upon his deeds, so likewise do they form the only legitimate restraint upon his words.
There are two modes in which speech may exceed the ordained limits. It may be used for the propagation of slander, which, as we have seen in a foregoing chapter, involves a disregard of moral obligation; or it may be used in inciting and directing another to injure a third party. In this last case, the instigator, although not personally concerned in the trespass proposed by him, must be considered as having virtually committed it. We should not exonerate an assassin who pretended that his dagger was guilty of the murder laid to his charge rather than himself. We should reply, that the having moved a dagger with the intention of taking away life, constituted his crime. Following up the idea, we must also assert that he who, by bribes or persuasion, moved the man who moved the dagger, is equally guilty with his agent. He had just the same intention, and similarly used means for its fulfilment; the only difference being that he produced death through a more complicated mechanism. As, however, no one will argue that the interposing of an additional lever between a motive force and its ultimate effect, alters the relationship between the two, so neither can it be said that he who gets a wrong done by proxy, is less guilty than if he had done it himself. Hence, whoso suggests or urges the infraction of another’s rights, must be held to have transgressed the law of equal freedom.
Liberty of speech, then, like liberty of action, may be claimed by each, to the fullest extent compatible with the equal rights of all. Exceeding the limits thus arising, it becomes immoral. Within them, no restraint of it is permissible.
A new Areopagitica, were it possible to write one, would surely be needless in our age of the world and in this country. And yet there still prevails, and that too amongst men who plume themselves on their liberality, no small amount of the feeling which Milton combated in his celebrated essay. Not-withstanding the abatement of intolerance, and the growth of free institutions, the repressive policy of the past has occasional advocates even now. Were it put to the vote, probably not a few would say ay to the proposition, that the public safety requires some restriction to be placed on the freedom of speech. The imprisonment of a socialist for blasphemy some few years since, called forth no indignant protest against the violation of—the liberty of unlicensed—speaking, but was even approved by staunch maintainers of religious freedom. Many would like to make it a penal offence to preach discontent to the people; and there are not wanting others who would hang up a few demagogues by way of scarecrows. Let us look at what may be said by the advocates of a mild censorship on behalf of their opinions.
It is an assertion often made, as of indisputable truth, that government ought to guarantee to its subjects—security and a sense of security.—From which maxim to the inference that it is the duty of the magistrate to keep an ear open to the sayings of popular orators, and to stop violent declamation, as being calculated to create alarm, is an obvious step. Were the premises good, the deduction might pass; but the premises are more than questionable. That it is the special function of the legislator to guard every man in the peaceable possession of his person and property, all admit; but that the legislator is called upon to quiet the fears aroused by every trifling excitement, is a notion almost too ridiculous for serious argument. Consider a moment to what it leads. Coupled as are the ideas—security and a sense of security,—we must suppose that as governors are required to carry home—security—to every individual, so also may every individual claim the—sense of security—at their hands. Here is a pretty prospect for overburdened premiers! If such a doctrine be true, where shall the cares of the statesman end? Must he listen to the apprehensions of every hypochondriac, in whose morbid imagination Reform is pictured as a grim ogre of anthropophagous propensities, with pikes for claws and guillotines for teeth? If not, why not?—Sense of security—in such an one has been destroyed by the violent denunciations of some hot patriot; he wishes his trepidations allayed by the suppression of what he thinks dangerous speaking; and, according to the hypothesis, his wishes ought to be obeyed. On the same grounds all agitation should be extinguished, for there are invariably some—and not a small number either—who regard the discussion of every public question that comes uppermost with dread, and predict all kinds of disasters from its continuance. Old women of both sexes working themselves into a state of great tribulation over the terrible vaticinations of a Standard, or the melancholy wailings of a Herald, would fain have put down the Free Trade propaganda; and if their—sense of security—had been duly consulted, they should have had their way. Religious disabilities too ought, for the like reason, to have been still maintained, for the proposal to repeal them was productive of extreme consternation to multitudes of weak-minded people. Prophecies were rife of the return of papal persecutions; every horror narrated in the Book of Martyrs was expected to be acted over afresh; and an epidemic fright invalided its thousands. Credulous individuals listened with raised eyebrows and pendant jaws to the dismal tales of some incipient Titus Oates, and straightway had visions of fire and faggots; each saw himself in Smithfield with a stake at his back and a torch at his feet; or dreamed he was in the torture-chamber of an inquisition, and awoke in a cold perspiration to find that he had mistaken the squeak of a mouse for the creak of a thumb-screw. Well, here was a woful loss of the—sense of security;—and therefore the authorities ought to have stopped the movement for Catholic emancipation, by gagging all its advocates, fettering its press, and preventing its meetings.
It is useless to say that these are exaggerations, and that the alarms of nervous valetudinarians or foolish bigots are to be disregarded. If the fears of a hundred are not to be attended to, why those of a thousand? If not those of a thousand, why those of ten thousand? How shall the line be drawn? where is the requisite standard? who shall tell when the sense of insecurity has become general enough to merit respect? Is it to be when the majority participate in it? If so, who shall decide when they do this? Perhaps it will be said that the apprehensions must be reasonable ones. Good; but who is to determine whether they are so or not? Where is the pope who shall give an infallible judgment on such a matter? To all which questions those who would make the preservation of a—sense of security—the limit to liberty of speech, must first find answers.
Of those animadversions upon state affairs which constitute the legal offence of bringing government into contempt, and of which offence, by the way, all parties might be accused, from a chartist orator, to the leader of the opposition—from the Times, with its burlesques upon the pitiful results of an annual—great talk,—to its facetious contemporary who quizzes the eccentricities of a versatile ex-chancellor—of such animadversions the only needful question to be asked is—are they deserved? Are the allegations contained in them true? If it can be shown that they are not—that is, if it can be shown that the parties referred to have been unjustly aspersed—that is, if it can be shown that a violation of the law has been committed—there is an end of the matter, so far as the moralist is concerned. But, on the other hand, should they prove to be substantially correct, on what grounds shall the suppression of them be defended? That which is really contemptible ought to be exposed to contempt; and, if so, derogatory charges ought to have full publicity. To argue otherwise, is to take up the Machiavellian position, that it is right for the legislature to be an imposture, an—organized hypocrisy——that it is necessary for a nation to be cheated by the semblance of virtue when there is no reality—that public opinion ought to be in error rather than in truth—or that it is well for the people to believe a lie!
There may be much danger in placing an invalid under the regimen proper to people in robust health. For a dyspeptic, chicken-broth may be in all respects better suited than more substantial fare. And whoso is suffering under an attack of influenza, will do wisely to avoid a blustering north-wester, or even a gentle breeze from the south. But he would be thought more than silly who inferred from such facts that solid food and fresh air are bad things. To ascribe any evil results to these, rather than to the unhealthy condition of the patients, would simply extremely crude ideas of causation.
Similarly crude, however, are the ideas of those who infer that unlimited liberty of speech is improper, because productive in certain states of society of disastrous results. It is to the abnormal condition of the body politic that all evils arising from an unrestrained expression of opinion must be attributed, and not to the unrestrained expression itself. Under a sound social regime and its accompanying contentment, nothing is to be feared from the most uncontrolled utterance of thought and feeling. On the other hand it may happen that where disease exists, exposure of the sore places of the state to the cold breath of criticism, will superinduce alarming symptoms. But what then? A Louis Philippe, a General Cavaignac, or a Louis Napoleon, may find excuse in a corrupted and disorganized state of things for espionnage, censorships, and the suppression of public meetings. But what then? If a nation cannot be governed on principles of pure equity, so much the worse for the nation. Those principles remain true notwithstanding. As elsewhere pointed out (p. 37), there must necessarily exist incongruity between the perfect law and the imperfect man. And if evils are entailed upon a people by immediate and entire recognition of the law of equal freedom, in the matter of speech as well as in that of action, such evils are merely significant of the incomplete adaptation of that people to the social state, and not of any defect in the law.
Did circumstances demand it, sundry other chapters of the same nature as the preceding ones, could be added. Were this France, it might be needful formally to deduce from the law of equal freedom, the right to move from place to place without leave of a government official. In addressing the Chinese, some proof that a man is at liberty to cut his clothes after whatever fashion may best suit him, would perhaps be called for. And, similarly, there might be found in different times and places, many other directions in which the law of equal freedom required asserting. But it is unnecessary now to repeat over again the reasoning so many times used. These that we call rights, are nothing but artificial divisions of the general claim to exercise the faculties—applications of that general claim to particular cases; and each of them is proved in the same way, by showing that the particular exercise of faculties referred to, is possible without preventing the like exercise of faculties by other persons. The reader has already seen the most important rights thus established; and the establishment of such minor ones as have not been touched upon, may safely be left with himself.
the rights of women.
Equity knows no difference of sex. In its vocabulary the word man must be understood in a generic, and not in a specific sense. The law of equal freedom manifestly applies to the whole race—female as well as male. The same à priori reasoning which establishes that law for men (Chaps. III. and IV.), may be used with equal cogency on behalf of women. The Moral Sense, by virtue of which the masculine mind responds to that law, exists in the feminine mind as well. Hence the several rights deducible from that law must appertain equally to both sexes.
This might have been thought a self-evident truth, needing only to be stated to meet with universal acceptation. There are many, however, who either tacitly, or in so many words, express their dissent from it. For what reasons they do so, does not appear. They admit the axiom, that human happiness is the Divine will; from which axiom, what we call rights are primarily derived. And why the differences of bodily organization, and those trifling mental variations which distinguish female from male, should exclude one half of the race from the benefits of this ordination, remains to be shown. The onus of proof lies on those who affirm that such is the fact; and it would be perfectly in order to assume that the law of equal freedom comprehends both sexes, until the contrary has been demonstrated. But without taking advantage of this, suppose we go at once into the controversy.
Three positions only are open to us. It may be said that women have no rights at all—that their rights are not so great as those of men—or that they are equal to those of men.
Whoever maintains the first of these dogmas, that women have no rights at all, must show that the Creator intended women to be wholly at the mercy of men—their happiness, their liberties, their lives, at men’s disposal; or, in other words, that they were meant to be treated as creatures of an inferior order. Few will have the hardihood to assert this.
From the second proposition, that the rights of women are not so great as those of men, there immediately arise such queries as—If they are not so great, by how much are they less? What is the exact ratio between the legitimate claims of the two sexes? How shall we tell which rights are common to both, and where those of the male exceed those of the female? Who can show us a scale that will serve for the apportionment? Or, putting the question practically, it is required to determine by some logical method, whether the Turk is justified in plunging an offending Circassian into the Bosphorus? whether the rights of women were violated by that Athenian law, which allowed a citizen under certain circumstances to sell his daughter or sister? whether our own statute, which permits a man to beat his wife in moderation, and to imprison her in any room in his house, is morally defensible? whether it is equitable that a married woman should be incapable of holding property? whether a husband may justly take possession of his wife’s earnings against her will, as our law allows him to do?—and so forth. These, and a multitude of similar problems, present themselves for solution. Some principle rooted in the nature of things has to be found, by which they may be scientifically decided—decided, not on grounds of expediency, but in some definite, philosophical way. Does any one holding the doctrine that women’s rights are not so great as men’s, think he can find such a principle?
If not, there remains no alternative but to take up the third position—that the rights of women are equal with those of men.
Whoso urges the mental inferiority of women in bar of their claim to equal rights with men, may be met in various ways.
In the first place, the alleged fact may be disputed. A defender of her sex might name many whose achievements in government, in science, in literature, and in art, have obtained no small share of renown. Powerful and sagacious queens the world has seen in plenty, from Zenobia, down to the empresses Catherine and Maria Theresa. In the exact sciences, Mrs. Somerville, Miss Herschel, and Miss Zornlin, have gained applause; in political economy, Miss Martineau; in general philosophy, Madame de Staël; in politics, Madame Roland. Poetry has its Tighes, its Hemanses, its Landons, its Brownings; the drama its Joanna Baillie; and fiction its Austens, Bremers, Gores, Dudevants, &c., without end. In sculpture, fame has been acquired by a princess; a picture like—The Momentons Question—is tolerable proof of female capacity for painting; and on the stage, it is certain that women are on a level with men, if they do not even bear away the palm. Joining to such facts the important consideration, that women have always been, and are still, placed at a disadvantage in every department of learning, thought, or skill—seeing that they are not admissible to the academies and universities in which men get their training; that the kind of life they have to look forward to, does not present so great a range of ambitions; that they are rarely exposed to that most powerful of all stimuli—necessity; that the education custom dictates for them is one that leaves uncultivated many of the higher faculties; and that the prejudice against blue-stockings, hitherto so prevalent amongst men, has greatly tended to deter women from the pursuit of literary honours;—adding these considerations to the above facts, we shall see good reason for thinking that the alleged inferiority of the feminine mind, is by no means self-evident.
But, waiving this point, let us contend with the proposition on its own premises. Let it be granted that the intellect of woman is less profound than that of man—that she is more uniformly ruled by feeling, more impulsive, and less reflective, than man is—let all this be granted; and let us now see what basis such an admission affords to the doctrine, that the rights of women are not co-extensive with those of men.
Not only, however, does the theory thus fall to pieces under the mere process of inspection; it is absurd on the very face of it, when freed from the disguise of hackneyed phraseology. For what is it that we mean by rights? Nothing else than freedom to exercise the faculties. And what is the meaning of the assertion that woman is mentally inferior to man? Simply that her faculties are less powerful. What then does the dogma, that because woman is mentally inferior to man she has less extensive rights, amount to? Just this,—that because woman has weaker faculties than man, she ought not to have like liberty with him, to exercise the faculties she has!
Belief always bears the impress of character—is, in fact, its product. Anthropomorphism sufficiently proves this. Men’s wishes eventually get expressed in their faiths—their real faiths, that is; not their nominal ones. Pull to pieces a man’s Theory of Things, and you will find it based upon facts collected at the suggestion of his desires. A fiery passion consumes all evidences opposed to its gratification, and fusing together those that serve its purpose, casts them into weapons by which to achieve its end. There is no deed so vicious but what the actor makes for himself an excuse to justify; and if the deed is often repeated, such excuse becomes a creed. The vilest transactions on record—Bartholomew massacres and the like—have had defenders; nay, have been inculcated as fulfilments of the Divine will. There is wisdom in the fable which represents the wolf as raising accusations against the lamb before devouring it. It is always thus amongst men. No invader ever raised standard, but persuaded himself that he had a just cause. Sacrifices and prayers have preceded every military expedition, from one of Cæsar’s campaigns, down to a border foray. God is on our side, is the universal cry. Each of two conflicting nations consecrates its flags; and whichever conquers sings a Te Deum. Attila conceived himself to have a—divine claim to the dominion of the earth:—the Spaniards subdued the Indians under plea of converting them to Christianity; hanging thirteen refractory ones in honour of Jesus Christ and his apostles: and we English justify our colonial aggressions by saying that the Creator intends the Anglo-Saxon race to people the world! An insatiate lust of conquest transmutes manslaying into a virtue; and, amongst more races than one, implacable revenge has made assassination a duty. A clever theft was praiseworthy amongst the Spartans; and it is equally so amongst Christians, provided it be on a sufficiently large scale. Piracy was heroism with Jason and his followers; was so also with the Norsemen; is so still with the Malays; and there is never wanting some golden fleece for a pretext. Amongst money-hunting people a man is commended in proportion to the number of hours he spends in business; in our day the rage for accumulation has apotheosized work; and even the miser is not without a code of morals by which to defend his parsimony. The ruling classes argue themselves into the belief that property should be represented rather than person—that the landed interest should preponderate. The pauper is thoroughly persuaded that he has a right to relief. The monks held printing to be an invention of the devil; and some of our modern sectaries regard their refractory brethren as under demoniacal possessiona . To the clergy nothing is more obvious than that a state-church is just, and essential to the maintenance of religion. The sinecurist thinks himself rightly indignant at any disregard of his vested interests. And so on throughout society.
Perhaps the slave-owner’s assertion that negroes are not human beings, and the kindred dogma of the Mahometans, that women have no souls,b , are the strangest samples of convictions so formed. In these, as in the foregoing cases, selfishness finds out a satisfactory reason why it may do what it wills—collects and distorts, exaggerates and suppresses, so as ultimately to cheat itself into the desired conclusion. Does any one doubt that men can really believe things thus palpably opposed to the plainest facts? Does any one assert that those who profess opinions so manifestly absurd must be hypocrites? Let him beware. Let him consider whether selfishness has not deluded him into absurdities almost as gross. The laws of England, and the public opinion of England, countenance doctrines nearly as preposterous as these that look to us inconceivable; nay, the very same doctrines somewhat softened down. For what, when closely examined, is this notion that the rights of women are not equal with those of men? Simply an evanescent form of the theory that women have no souls.
That a people’s condition may be judged by the treatment which women receive under it, is a remark that has become almost trite. The facts, of which this remark is a generalization, are abundant enough. Look where we will, we find that just as far as the law of the strongest regulates the relationships between man and man, does it regulate the relationships between man and woman. To the same extent that the triumph of might over right is seen in a nation’s political institutions, it is seen in its domestic ones. Despotism in the state is necessarily associated with despotism in the family. The two being alike moral in their origin, cannot fail to co-exist. Turkey, Egypt, India, China, Russia, the feudal states of Europe—it needs but to name these to suggest hosts of facts illustrative of such an accordance.
Yet, strangely enough, almost all of us who let fall this observation, overlook its application to ourselves. Here we sit over our tea-tables, and pass criticisms upon national character, or philosophize upon the development of civilized institutions, quietly taking it for granted that we are civilized—that the state of things we live under is the right one, or thereabouts. Although the people of every past age have thought the like and have been uniformly mistaken, there are still many to whom it never occurs that we may be mistaken too. Amidst their strictures upon the ill-treatment of women in the East, and the unhealthy social arrangements implied by it, most persons do not see that the same connection between political and domestic oppression exists in this England of ours at the present hour, and that in as far as our laws and customs violate the rights of humanity by giving the richer classes power over the poorer, in so far do they similarly violate those rights by giving the stronger sex power over the weaker. Yet, looking at the matter spart from prejudice, and considering all institutions to be, as they are, products of the popular character, we cannot avoid confessing that such must be the ease. To the same extent that the old leaven of tyranny shows itself in the transactions of the senate, it will creep out in the doings of the household. If injustice sways men’s public acts, it will inevitably sway their private ones also. The mere fact, therefore, that oppression marks the relationships of out-door life, is ample proof that it exists in the relationships of the fireside.
The desire to command is essentially a barbarous desire. Whether seen in the ukase of a Czar, or in the order of an Eton bully to his fag, it is alike significant of brutality. Command cannot be otherwise than savage, for it implies an appeal to force, should force be needful. Behind its—You shall,—there lies the scarcely hidden—If you won’t, I’ll make you.—Command is the growl of coercion crouching in ambush. Or we might aptly term it—violence in a latent state. All its accessories—its frown, its voice, its gestures, prove it akin to the ferocity of the uncivilized man. Command is the foe of peace, for it breeds war of words and feelings—sometimes of deeds. It is inconsistent with the first law of morality. It is radically wrong.
All the barbarisms of the past have their types in the present. All the barbarisms of the past grew out of certain dispositions: those dispositions may be weakened, but they are not extinct; and so long as they exist there must be manifestations of them. What we commonly understand by command and obedience, are the modern forms of bygone despotism and slavery. Philosophically considered, they are indentical with these. Despotism may be defined as the making of another’s will bend to the fulfilment of our own: and its counterpart—slavery—as the having our own will subordinated to the will of another. True, we apply the terms only when the rule of one will over another is extreme—when the one wholly, or almost wholly extinguishes the other. But if the subjection of man to man is bad when carried to its full extent, it is bad in any degree. If every man has freedom to exercise his faculties within specified limits; and if, as we have seen (Chap. VIII.), slavery is wrong because it transgresses that freedom, and makes one man use his powers, to satisfy not his own wants, but the wants of another; then, whatsoever involves command, or whatsoever implies obedience, is wrong also; seeing that it too, necessitates the subserviency of one man’s actions to the gratifications of another.—You must do not as you will, but as I will,—is the basis of every mandate, whether used by a planter to his negro, or by a husband to his wife. Not satisfied with being sole ruler over his own doings, the petty autocrat oversteps the boundary dividing his sphere of action from his neighbour’s, and takes upon himself to direct his or her doings also. It matters not, in point of principle, whether such domination is entire or partial. To whatever extent the will of the one is overborne by the will of the other, to that extent the parties are tyrant and slave.
There are, without doubt, many who will rebel against this doctrine. There are many who hold that the obedience of one human being to another is proper, virtuous, praiseworthy. There are many to whose moral sense command is not repugnant. There are many who think the subjection of the weaker sex to the stronger legitimate and beneficial. Let them not be deceived. Let them remember that a nation’s institutions and beliefs are determined by its character. Let them remember that men’s perceptions are warped by their passions. Let them remember that our social state proves our superior feelings to be very imperfectly developed. And let them remember that, as many customs deemed right by our ancestors, appear detestable to us, so, many customs which we think proper, our more civilized descendants may regard with aversion—even as we loathe those barbarian manners which forbid a woman to sit at table with her lord and master, so may mankind one day loathe that subserviency of wife to husband, which existing laws enjoin.
As elsewhere shown (page 29), moral sense becomes a trustworthy guide only when it has logic for an interpreter. Nothing but its primary intuition is authoritative. From the fundamental law to which it gives utterance, reason has to deduce the consequences; and from these, when correctly drawn, there is no appeal. It proves nothing, therefore, that there are some who do not feel command to be improper. It is for such to inquire whether command is or is not consistent with that first principle expressive of the Divine will—that axiom to which the Moral Sense responds. And they will find that, thus judged by the law of equal freedom, command is at once pronounced wrong; for whoso commands, manifestly claims more freedom than whoso is commanded.
A future belief that subordination of sex is inequitable, is clearly prophesied by the change civilization is working in men’s sentiments. The arbitrary rule of one human being over another, no matter in what form it may appear, is fast getting recognised as essentially rude and brutal. In our day, the man of refined feeling does not like to play the despot over his fellow. He is disgusted if one in humble circumstances cringes to him. So far from wishing to elevate himself by depressing his poor and ignorant neighbours, he strives to put them at their ease in his presence—encourages them to behave in a less submissive and more self-respecting manner. He feels that a fellow-man may be enslaved by imperious words and manners as well as by tyrannical deeds; and hence he avoids a dictatorial style of speech to those below him. Even paid domestics, to whose services he has obtained a right by contract, he does not like to address in a tone of authority. He seeks rather to disguise his character of master: to this end wraps up his commands in the shape of requests; and continually employs the phrases,—If you please,—and—Thank you.—
In the conduct of the modern gentleman to his friend, we have additional signs of this growing respect for another’s dignity. Every one must have observed the carefulness with which those who are on terms of affectionate intimacy, shun anything in the form of supremacy on either side, or endeavour to banish from remembrance, by their behaviour to each other, whatever of supremacy there may exist. Who is there that has not witnessed the dilemma in which the wealthier of two such is sometimes placed, between the wish to confer a benefit on the other, and the fear that in so doing he may offend by assuming the attitude of a patron? And who is there that does not feel how destructive it would be of the sentiment subsisting between himself and his friend, were he to play the master over his friend, or his friend to play the master over him?
A further increase of this same refinement will show men that there is a fatal incongruity between the matrimonial servitude which our law recognises, and the relationship that ought to exist between husband and wife. Surely if he who possesses any generosity of nature dislikes speaking to a hired domestic in a tone of authority—if he cannot bear assuming towards his friend the behaviour of a superior—how utterly repugnant to him should it be, to make himself ruler over one on whose behalf all his kindly sentiments are specially enlisted; one to whom he is bound by the strongest attachment that his nature is capable of; and for whose rights and dignity he ought to have the most active sympathy!
Command is a blight to the affections. Whatsoever of refinement—whatsoever of beauty—whatsoever of poetry, there is in the passion that unites the sexes, withers up and dies in the cold atmosphere of authority. Native as they are to such widely-separated regions of our nature, Love and Coercion cannot possibly flourish together. The one grows out of our best feelings: the other has its root in our worst. Love is sympathetic: Coercion is callous. Love is gentle: Coercion is harsh. Love is self-sacrificing: Coercion is selfish. How then can they co-exist? It is the property of the first to attract; whilst it is that of the last to repel: and, conflicting as they thus do, it is the constant tendency of each to destroy the other. Let whoever thinks the two compatible imagine himself acting the master over his betrothed. Does he believe that he could do this without any injury to the subsisting relationship? Does he not know rather that a bad effect would be produced upon the feelings of both parties by the assumption of such an attitude? And confessing this, as he must, is he superstitious enough to suppose that the going through a form of words will render harmless that use of command which was previously hurtful?
Of all the causes which conspire to produce the disappointment of those glowing hopes with which married life is usually entered upon, none is so potent as this supremacy of sex—this degradation of what should be a free and equal relationship into one of ruler and subject—this supplanting of the sway of affection by the sway of authority. Only as that condition of slavery to which women are condemned amongst barbarous nations is ameliorated, does ideal love become possible; and only when that condition of slavery shall have been wholly abolished, will ideal love attain fulness and permanence. The facts around us plainly indicate this. Where-ever anything worth calling connubial happiness at present exists, we shall find that the subjugation of wife to husband is not enforced; though perhaps still held in theory, it is practically repudiated.
There are many who think that authority, and its ally compulsion, are the sole agencies by which human beings can be controlled. Anarchy or government are, with them, the only conceivable alternatives. Believing in nothing but what they see, they cannot realize the possibility of a condition of things in which peace and order shall be maintained without force, or the fear of force. By such as these, the doctrine that the reign of man over woman is wrong, will no doubt be combated on the ground that the domestic relationship can only exist by the help of such supremacy. The impracticability of an equality of rights between the sexes will be urged by them in disproof of its rectitude. It will be argued, that were they put upon a level husband and wife would be for ever in antagonism—that as, when their wishes clashed, each would possess a like claim to have his or her way, the matrimonial bond would daily be endangered by the jar of opposing wills, and that, involving as it would a perpetual conflict, such an arrangement of married life must necessarily be an erroneous one.
A very superficial conclusion this. It has been already pointed out (p. 37), that there must be an inconsistency between the perfect law and an imperfect state. The worse the condition of society, the more visionary must a true code of morality appear. The fact that any proposed principle of conduct is at once fully practicable—requires no reformation of human nature for its complete realization—is not a proof of its truth: is proof rather of its error. And, conversely, a certain degree of incongruity between such a principle and humanity as we know it, though no proof of the correctness of that principle, is at any rate a fact in its favour. Hence the allegation that mankind are not good enough to admit of the sexes living together harmoniously under the law of equal freedom, in no way militates against the validity or sacredness of that law.
But the never-ceasing process of adaptation will gradually remove this obstacle to domestic rectitude. Recognition of the moral law, and an impulse to act up to it, going hand in hand, as we have seen that they must do (p. 26), equality of rights in the married state will become possible as fast as there arises a perception of its justness. That selfish conflict of claims which, according to the foregoing objection, would reduce a union, founded on the law of equal freedom, to a condition of anarchy, presupposes a deficiency in those feelings with which a belief in the law of equal freedom originates, and would decrease with the growth of those feelings. As elsewhere shown (p. 97), the same sentiment which leads us to maintain our own rights, leads us, by its sympathetic excitement, to respect the rights of our neighbours. Other things equal, the sense of justice to ourselves, and the sense of justice to our fellow-creatures, bear a constant ratio to each other. A state in which every one is jealous of his natural claims, is not therefore a litigious state, because it is one in which there is of necessity a diminished tendency to aggression. Experience proves this. For, as it cannot be denied that there is now a greater disposition amongst men towards the assertion of individual liberty than existed during the feudal ages, so neither can it be denied that there is now a less disposition amongst men to trespass against each other than was then exhibited. The two changes are co-ordinate, and must continue to be so. Hence, whenever society shall have become civilized enough to recognise the equality of rights between the sexes—when women shall have attained to a clear perception of what is due to them, and men to a nobility of feeling which shall make them concede to women the freedom which they themselves claim—humanity will have undergone such a modification as to render an equality of rights practicable.
Married life under this ultimate state of things will not be characterised by perpetual squabbles, but by mutual concessions. Instead of a desire on the part of the husband to assert his claims to the uttermost, regardless of those of his wife, or on the part of the wife to do the like, there will be a watchful desire on both sides not to transgress. Neither will have to stand on the defensive, because each will be solicitous for the rights of the other. Not encroachment, but self-sacrifice, will be the ruling principle. The struggle will not be which shall gain the mastery, but which shall give way. Committing a trespass will be the thing feared, and not the being trespassed against. And thus, instead of domestic discord, will come a higher harmony than any we yet know.
There is nothing Utopian in this. We may already trace the beginnings of it. An attitude like that described is not uncommonly maintained in the dealings of honourable men with each other; and if so, why should it not exist between the sexes? Here and there, indeed, may be found, even now, a wedded pair who preserve such a relationship. And what is at present the exception may one day be the rule.
The extension of the law of equal freedom to both sexes will doubtless be objected to, on the ground that the political privileges exercised by men must thereby be ceded to women also. Of course they must; and why not? Is it that women are ignorant of state affairs? Why then their opinions would be those of their husbands and brothers; and the practical effect would be merely that of giving each male elector two votes instead of one. Is it that they might by-and-by become better informed, and might then begin to act independently? Why, in such case, they would be pretty much as competent to use their power with intelligence as the members of our present constituencies.
We are told, however, that—woman’s mission—is a domestic one—that her character and position do not admit of her taking a part in the decision of public questions—that politics are beyond her sphere. But this raises the question—Who shall say what her sphere is? Amongst the Pawnees and Sioux it is that of a beast of burden; she has to carry the baggage, to drag home fuel from the woods, and to do everything that is menial and laborious. In slave-countries it is within woman’s sphere to work side by side with men, under the lash of the taskmaster. Clerkships, cashierships, and other responsible business situations, are comprised in her sphere in modern France. Whilst, on the other hand, the sphere of a Turkish or Egyptian lady extends scarcely an inch beyond the walls of the harem. Who now will tell us what woman’s sphere really is? As the usages of mankind vary so much, let us hear how it is to be shown that the sphere we assign her is the true one—that the limits we have set to female activity are just the proper limits. Let us hear why on this one point of our social polity we are exactly right, whilst we are wrong on so many others.
It is indeed said, that the exercise of political power by women is repugnant to our sense of propriety—conflicts with our ideas of the feminine character—is altogether condemned by our feelings. Granted; but what then? The same plea has been urged in defence of a thousand absurdities, and if valid in one case is equally so in all others. Should a traveller in the East inquire of a Turk why women in his country conceal their faces, he would be told that for them to go unveiled would be considered indecent; would offend the feelings of the spectators. In Russia female voices are never heard in church: women not being thought worthy—to sing the praises of God in the presence of men;—and the disregard of this regulation would be censured as an outrage upon public feeling. There was a time in France when men were so enamoured of ignorance, that a lady who pronounced any but the commonest words correctly, was blushed for by her companions; a tolerable proof that people’s feelings then blamed in a woman that literateness which it is now thought a disgrace for her to be without. In China cramped feet are essential to female refinement; and so strong is the feeling in this matter, that a Chinese will not believe that an Englishwoman who walks naturally, can be one of a superior class. It was once held unfeminine for a lady to write a book; and no doubt those who thought it so, would have quoted feelings in support of their opinion. Yet, with facts like these on every hand, people assume that the enfranchisement of women cannot be right, because it is repugnant to their feelings!
We have some feelings that are necessary and eternal; we have others that, being the results of custom, are changeable and evanescent. And there is no way of distinguishing those feelings which are natural from those which are conventional, except by an appeal to first principles. If a sentiment responds to some necessity of our condition, its dictates must be respected. If otherwise—if opposed to a necessity, instead of in harmony with one, we must regard that sentiment as the product of circumstances, of education, of habit, and consequently without weight. However much, therefore, the giving of political power to women may disagree with our notions of propriety, we must conclude that, being required by that first pre-requisite to greatest happiness—the law of equal freedom—such a concession is unquestionably right and good.
Thus it has been shown that the rights of women must stand or fall with those of men; derived as they are from the same authority; involved in the same axiom; demonstrated by the same argument. That the law of equal freedom applies alike to both sexes, has been further proved by the fact that any other hypothesis involves us in inextricable difficulties. The idea that the rights of women are not equal to those of men, has been condemned as akin to the Eastern dogma, that women have no souls. It has been argued that the position at present held by the weaker sex is of necessity a wrong one, seeing that the same selfishness which vitiates our political institutions, must inevitably vitiate our domestic ones also. Subordination of females to males has been also repudiated, because it implies the use of command, and thereby reveals its descent from barbarism. Proof has been given that the attitudes of mastery on the one side, and submission on the other, are essentially at variance with that refined sentiment which should subsist between husband and wife. The argument that married life would be impracticable under any other arrangement, has been met by pointing out how the relationship of equality must become possible as fast as its justness is recognised. And lastly, it has been shown that the objections commonly raised against giving political power to women, are founded on notions and prejudices that will not bear examination.
the rights of children.
If we are once sure of our law—sure that it is a Divine ordination—sure that it is rooted in the nature of things, then whithersoever it leads we may safely follow. As elsewhere pointed out (Lemma II.), a true rule has no exceptions. When therefore that first principle from which the rights of adults are derived, turns out to be a source from which we may derive the rights of children, and when the two processes of deduction prove to be identical, we have no choice but to abide by the result, and to assume that the one inference is equally authoritative with the other.
That the law—Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man—applies as much to the young as to the mature, becomes manifest on referring back to its origin. God wills human happiness; that happiness is attainable only through the medium of faculties; for the production of happiness those faculties must be exercised; the exercise of them pre-supposes liberty of action: these are the steps by which we find our way from the Divine will to the law of equal freedom. But the demonstration is fully as complete when used on behalf of the child, as when used on behalf of the man. The child’s happiness, too, is willed by the Deity; the child, too, has faculties to be exercised; the child, too, needs scope for the exercise of those faculties; the child therefore has claims to freedom—rights, as we call them—co-extensive with those of the adult. We cannot avoid this conclusion, if we would. Either we must reject the law altogether, or we must include under it both sexes and all ages.
The candid thinker will find himself obliged to concede this, when he considers the many perplexities which follow in the train of any other theory. For, if it be asserted that the law of equal freedom applies only to adults; that is, if it be asserted that men have rights, but that children have none, we are immediately met by the question—When does the child become a man? at what period does the human being pass out of the condition of having no rights, into the condition of having rights? None will have the folly to quote the arbitrary dictum of the statute-book as an answer. The appeal is to an authority above that of legislative enactments—demands on what these are to be founded—on what attribute of manhood recognition by the law of equal freedom depends. Shall the youth be entitled to the rights of humanity when the pitch of his voice sinks an octave? or when he begins to shave? or when he ceases growing? or when he can lift a hundred weight? Are we to adopt the test of age, of stature, of weight, of strength, of virility, or of intelligence? Much may no doubt be said in favour of each of these; but who can select the true one? And who can answer the objection, that whichever qualification is chosen, will class many as men who are not at present considered such; whilst it will reject from the list, others who are now by universal consent included in it?
Nor is this all. For even supposing that, by some undiscovered species of logic, it has been determined on what particular day of his life the human being may equitably claim his freedom, it still remains to define the position he holds previously to this period. Has the minor absolutely no rights at all? If so, there is nothing wrong in infanticide. If so, robbery is justifiable, provided the party robbed be under age. If so, a child may equitably be enslaved. For, as already shown (pp. 112, 134), murder, theft, and the holding of others in bondage are wrong, simply because they are violations of human rights; and if children have no rights, they cannot become the subjects of these crimes. But if, on the other hand, it be held, as it is held, that children have some rights; if it be held that the youth has an equal claim to life with the adult; if it be held that he has something like the same title to liberty; and if it be held (though not by law, yet by public opinion) that he is similarly capable of owning property, then it becomes needful to show why these primary rights must be conceded, but no others. They who assert that children are wholly without rights, and that, like the inferior animals, they exist only by permission of grown men, take up a precise, unmistakable position. But they who suppose children to occupy a place morally above that of brutes, and yet maintain that whilst children have certain rights, their rights are not equal with those of men, are called upon to draw the line, to explain, to define. They must say what rights are common to children and adults, and why. They must say where the rights of adults exceed those of children, and why. And their answers to these queries must be drawn, not from considerations of expediency, but from the original constitution of things.
Should it be argued, that the relationship in which a parent stands to his child, as supplying it with the necessaries of life, is a different one from that subsisting between man and man, and that consequently the law of equal freedom does not apply, the answer is, that though by so maintaining it a parent establishes a certain claim upon his child—a claim which he may fairly expect to have discharged by a like kindness towards himself should he ever need it, yet he establishes no title to dominion. For if the conferring an obligation establishes a title to dominion in this case, then must it do so in others; whence it will follow that if one man becomes a benefactor to another, he thereby obtains the right to play the master over that other; a conclusion which we do not admit. Moreover, if in virtue of his position a parent may trench upon the liberties of his child, there necessarily arises the question—To what extent may he do this? may he destroy them entirely, as by committing murder? If not, it is required to ascertain the limit up to which he may go, but which he must not exceed; a problem equally insoluble with the similar one just noticed.
Unless, therefore, the reader can show that the train of reasoning by which the law of equal freedom is deduced from the Divine will, does not recognise children, which he cannot; unless he can show exactly at what time the child becomes a man, which he cannot; unless he can show why a certain share of liberty naturally attaches to both childhood and manhood, and another share to only one, which he cannot; he must admit that the rights of the youth and the adult are co-extensive.
There is indeed one plausible-looking way of meeting these arguments. It may be urged that in the child many of the faculties of the future man are undeveloped, and that as rights are primarily dependent on faculties, the rights of children cannot be co-extensive with those of adults, because their faculties are not so. A fatal objection this, did it touch the question; but it happens to be wholly beside it. The fullest endowment of rights that any being can possess, is perfect freedom to exercise all his faculties. And if each of two beings possesses perfect freedom to exercise all his faculties, each possesses complete rights; that is, the rights of the two are equal; no matter whether their faculties are equal or not. For, to say that the rights of the one are less than those of the other, because his faculties are fewer, is to say that he has no right to exercise the faculties he has not got!—a curious compound of truism and absurdity.
Due warning was given (p. 51) that our first principle carried in it the germs of sundry unlocked-for conclusions. We have now met with one of these. We have just found ourselves committed to a proposition at war with the convictions of almost all. Truth, however, must of necessity be consistent. We have therefore no alternative but to re-examine our preconceived opinions, in the expectation of finding them erroneous.
That we may enter upon this task in a philosophical spirit, it will be well, at the risk even of something like repetition, to glance at the influences by which our beliefs are in danger of being warped. We need constantly reminding of these. As an abstract truth, we all admit that passion distorts judgment; yet never inquire whether our passions are influencing us. We all decry prejudice, yet are all prejudiced. We see how habits, and interests, and likings, mould the theories of those around us; yet forget that our own theories are similarly moulded. Nevertheless, the instances in which our feelings bias us in spite of ourselves are of hourly recurrence. That proprietary passion, which a man has for his ideas, veils their defects to him as effectually as maternal fondness blinds a mother to the imperfections of her offspring. An author cannot, for the life of him, judge correctly of what he has just written; he has to wait until lapse of time enables him to read it as though it were a stranger’s, and he then discerns flaws where all had seemed perfect. It is only when his enthusiasm on its behalf has grown cold, that the artist is able to see the faults of his picture. Whilst they are transpiring, we do not perceive the ultimate bearing of our own acts or the acts of others towards us; only in after years are we able to philosophize upon them. Just so, too, is it with successive generations. Men of the past quite misunderstood the institutions they lived under; they pertinaciously adhered to the most vicious principles, and were bitter in their opposition to right ones, at the dictates of their attachments and antipathies. So difficult is it for man to emancipate himself from the invisible fetters which habit and education cast over his intellect; and so palpable is the consequent incompetency of a people to judge rightly of itself and its deeds or opinions, that the fact has been embodied in the current aphorism——No age can write its own history:—an aphorism sufficiently expressive of the universality of prejudice.
If we act wisely, we shall assume that the reasonings of modern society are subject to the like disturbing influences. We shall conclude that, even now, as in times gone by, opinion is but the counterpart of condition—merely expresses the degree of civilisation to which we have attained. We shall suspect that many of those convictions which seem the results of dispassionate thinking, have been nurtured in us by circumstances. We shall confess that as, heretofore, fanatical opposition to this doctrine, and bigoted adhesion to that, have been no tests of the truth or falsity of the said doctrines; so neither is the strength of attachment, or dislike which a nation now exhibits towards certain principles, any proof of their correctness or their fallacy. Nay more—we shall not only admit that public opinion may be wrong, but that it must be so. Without a general equilibrium between institutions and ideas society cannot subsist; and hence, if error pervades our institutions, it must similarly pervade our ideas. Just as much as a people falls short of perfection in its state, will it lack of truth in its beliefs.
Thus much by way of bespeaking a calm hearing. As lately said, the proposition about to be maintained conflicts with the habits, associations, and most cherished convictions of the great majority. That the law of equal freedom applies to children as much as to adults; that consequently the rights of children are co-extensive with those of adults; that, as violating those rights, the use of coercion is wrong; and that the relationship now commonly existing between parents and children is therefore a vicious one—these are assertions which perhaps few will listen to with equanimity. Nevertheless, if there be any weight in the foregoing considerations, we shall do well to disregard all protests of feeling, and place implicit faith in the conclusions of abstract equity.
We say that a man’s character may be told by the company he keeps. We might similarly say that the truth of a belief may be judged by the morality with which it is associated. Given a theory universally current amongst the most degraded sections of our race—a theory received only with considerable abatements by civilized nations—a theory in which men’s confidence diminishes as fast as society advances—and we may safely pronounce that theory to be a false one. On such, along with other evidence, the subordination of sex was lately condemned. Those commonly-observed facts, that the enslavement of woman is invariably associated with a low type of social life, and that conversely, her elevation towards an equality with man uniformly accompanies progress, were cited in part proof that the subjection of female to male is essentially wrong. If now, instead of women we read children, similar facts may be cited, and a similar deduction may be drawn. If it be true that the dominion of man over woman has been oppressive in proportion to the badness of the age or the people, it is also true that parental authority has been stringent and unlimited in a like proportion. If it be a fact that the emancipation of women has kept pace with the emancipation of society, it is likewise a fact that the once despotic rule of the old over the young has been ameliorated at the same rate. And if in our own day, we find the fast-spreading recognition of popular rights accompanied by a silently-growing perception of the rights of women, we also find it accompanied by a tendency towards systems of non-coercive education—that is, towards a practical admission of the rights of children.
Whoever wants illustrations of this alleged harmony between the political, connubial, and filial relationships, may discover them anywhere and everywhere. Scanning that aboriginal state of existence during which the aggressive conduct of man to man renders society scarcely possible, he will see not only that wives are slaves and exist by sufferance, but that children hold their lives by the same tenure, and are sacrificed to the gods when fathers so will. He may observe how during classic times, the thraldom of five-sixths of the population was accompanied both by a theory that the child is the property and slave of its male parent, and by a legal fiction which regarded wives, as children similarly owned. That political degradation of the present East-Indian races for whom absolute monarchy seems still the only possible form of rule, he will find accompanied alike by suttees and by infanticide. The same connection of facts will be seen by him in China, where under a government, purely autocratic, there exists a public opinion which deems it an unpardonable offence for a wife to accuse her husband to the magistrate, and which ranks filial disobedience as a crime next in atrocity to murder. Nor is our own history barren of illustrations. On reviewing those times when constitutional liberty was but a name, when men were denied freedom of speech and belief, when the people’s representatives were openly bribed and justice was bought—the times, too, with which the laws enacting the servitude of women were in complete harmony—the observer cannot fail to be struck with the harshness of parental behaviour, and the attitude of humble subjection which sons and daughters had to assume. Between the close of the last century, when our domestic condition was marked by the use of Sir and Madam in addressing parents, and by the doctrine that a child ought unhesitatingly to marry whomsoever a father appointed; and when our political condition was marked by aristocratic supremacy, by the occurrence of church-and-king riots, and by the persecution of reformers—between that day and ours, the decline in the rigour of paternal authority and in the severity of political oppression, has been simultaneous. And, as already remarked, the like companionship of facts is seen in the present rapid growth of democratic feeling, and the equally rapid spread of a milder system of juvenile training.
Thus, the biography of the race affords ample illustration of the alleged law. That uniformity of moral tone, which it was asserted must necessarily pervade a nation’s arrangements—social, marital, and parental, we see exemplified alike under all phases of civilisation. Indeed this position hardly needed proof, being, as it is, a direct corollary from self-evident truths. As surely as a man’s character shines through all his deeds, so surely does the character of a people shine through all its laws and customs. Having a common root in human nature, cotemporary institutions cannot fail to be equally affected by the imperfection of that nature. They must all be right or wrong together. The evil which taints one must taint all. The change which reforms one must at the same time reform all. The progress which perfects one must eventually perfect all.
Consequently, whoever admits that injustice is still visible in the dealings of class with class—whoever admits that it similarly exhibits itself in the behaviour of one sex to the other, cannot but admit that it necessarily exists in the conduct of the old to the young. And he must further admit that being most implicitly received amongst the most barbarous nations, and waning as its influence does with the advance of civilisation, the doctrine of filial subjection is entirely condemned by its associations.
If coercive education be right, it must be productive of good, and if wrong, of evil. By an analysis of its results, therefore, we shall obtain so much evidence for or against the doctrine that the liberties of children are co-extensive with those of adults.
That coercive education is impolitic, may be strongly suspected from the fact lately adverted to—the evident disposition towards the abandonment of it which modern systems of training evince. Considering what universal attention the culture of the young has lately received—the books written about it, the lectures delivered on it, the experiments made to elucidate it—there is reason for concluding that as the use of brute force for educational purposes has greatly declined, something radically wrong must be involved in it. But without dwelling upon this, which, like all inferences drawn from expediency, is liable to have its premises called in question, let us judge of coercive education not by the effects it is believed to produce, but by those it must produce.
Education has for its object the formation of character. To curb restive propensities, to awaken dormant sentiments, to strengthen the perceptions, and cultivate the tastes, to encourage this feeling and repress that, so as finally to develop the child into a man of well proportioned and harmonious nature—this is alike the aim of parent and teacher. Those, therefore, who advocate the use of authority, and if need be—force in the management of children, must do so because they think these the best means of compassing the desired object—formation of character. Paternity has to devise some kind of rule for the nursery. Impelled partly by creed, partly by custom, partly by inclination, paternity decides in favour of a pure despotism, proclaims its word the supreme law, anathematizes disobedience, and exhibits the rod as the final arbiter in all disputes. And of course this system of discipline is defended as the one best calculated to curb restive propensities, awaken dormant sentiments, &c., &c., as aforesaid. Suppose, now, we inquire how the plan works. An unamiable little urchin is pursuing his own gratification regardless of the comfort of others—is perhaps annoyingly vociferous in his play; or is amusing himself by teasing a companion; or is trying to monopolize the toys intended for others in common with himself. Well; some kind of interposition is manifestly called for. Paternity with knit brows, and in a severe tone, commands desistance—visits anything like reluctant submission with a sharp—Do as I bid you——if need be, hints at a whipping or the black hole—in short carries coercion, or the threat of coercion, far enough to produce obedience. After sundry exhibitions of perverse feeling, the child gives in; showing, however, by its sullenness the animosity it entertains. Meanwhile paternity pokes the fire and complacently resumes the newspaper under the impression that all is as it should be: most unfortunate mistake!
If the thing wanted had been the mere repression of noise, or the mechanical transfer of a plaything, perhaps no better course could have been pursued. Had it been of no consequence under what impulse the child acted, so long as it fulfilled a given mandate, nothing would remain to be said. But something else was needed. Character was the thing to be changed rather than conduct. It was not the deeds, but the feeling from which the deeds sprung that required dealing with. Here were palpable manifestations of selfishness—an indifference to the wishes of others, a marked desire to tyrannise, an endeavour to engross benefits intended for all—in short, here were exhibitions on a small scale of that unsympathetic nature to which our social evils are mainly attributable. What, then, was the thing wanted? Evidently an alteration in the child’s disposition. What was the problem to be solved? Clearly to generate a state of mind which had it previously existed would have prevented the offending actions. What was the final end to be achieved? Unquestionably the formation of a character which should spontaneously produce greater generosity of conduct. Or, speaking definitely, it was necessary to strengthen that sympathy to the weakness of which this ill behaviour was traceable.
But sympathy can be strengthened only by exercise. No faculty whatever will grow, save by the performance of its special function—a muscle by contraction; the intellect by perceiving and thinking; a moral sentiment by feeling. Sympathy, therefore, can be increased only by exciting sympathetic emotions. A selfish child is to be rendered less selfish, only by arousing in it a fellow-feeling with the desires of others. If this is not done, nothing is done.
Observe, then, how the case stands. A grasping hard-natured boy is to be humanized—is to have whatever germ of better spirit may be in him developed; and to this end it is proposed to use frowns, threats, and the stick! To stimulate that faculty which originates our regard for the happiness of others, we are told to inflict pain, or the fear of pain! The problem is—to generate in a child’s mind a sympathetic feeling; and the answer is—beat it, or send it supperless to bed!
Thus we have but to reduce the subjection-theory to a definite form to render its absurdity self-evident. Contrasting the means to be employed with the work to be done, we are at once struck with their utter unfitness. Instead of creating a new internal state which shall exhibit itself in better deeds, coercion can manifestly do nothing but forcibly mould externals into a coarse semblance of such a state. In the family, as in society, it can simply restrain; it cannot educate. Just as the recollection of Bridewell, and the dread of a policeman, whilst they serve to check the thief’s depredations, effect no change in his morals, so, although a father’s threats may produce in a child a certain outside conformity with rectitude, they cannot generate any real attachment to it. As some one has well said, the utmost that severity can do is to make hypocrites; it can never make converts.
Let those who have no faith in any instrumentalities for the rule of human beings, save the stern will and the strong hand, visit the Hanwell Asylum for the insane. Let all self-styled practical men, who, in the pride of their semi-savage theories, shower sarcasms upon the movements for peace, for the abolition of capital punishments and the like, go and witness to their confusion how a thousand lunatics can be managed without the use of force. Let these sneerers at—sentimentalisms—reflect on the horrors of madhouses as they used to be; where was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, where chains clanked dismally, and where the silence of the night was rent by shrieks that made the belated passer-by hurry on shudderingly; let them contrast with these horrors, the calmness, the contentment, the tractability, the improved health of mind and body, and the not unfrequent recoveries, that have followed the abandonment of the strait-jacket regimea : and then let them blush for their creed.
And shall the poor maniac, with diseased feelings and a warped intellect, persecuted as he constantly is by the suggestions of a morbid imagination, shall a being with a mind so hopelessly chaotic that even the most earnest pleader for human rights would make his case an exception, shall he be amenable to a non-coercive treatment, and shall a child not be amenable to it? Will any one maintain that madmen can be managed by suasion, but not children? that moral-force methods are best for those deprived of reason, but physical-force methods for those possessing it? Hardly. The boldest defender of domestic despotism will not assert so much. If by judicious conduct the confidence even of the insane may be obtained—if even to the beclouded intelligence of a lunatic, kind attentions and a sympathetic manner will carry the conviction that he is surrounded by friends and not by demons—and if, under that conviction, even he, though a slave to every disordered impulse, becomes comparatively docile, how much more under the same influence will a child become so. Do but gain a boy’s trust; convince him by your behaviour that you have his happiness at heart; let him discover that you are the wiser of the two; let him experience the benefits of following your advice, and the evils that arise from disregarding it; and fear not you will readily enough guide him. Not by authority is your sway to be obtained; neither by reasoning; but by inducement. Show in all your conduct that you are thoroughly your child’s friend, and there is nothing that you may not lead him to. The faintest sign of your approval or dissent will be his law. You have won from him the key of all his feelings; and, instead of the vindictive passions that severe treatment would have aroused, you may by a word call forth tears, or blushes, or the thrill of sympathy—may excite any emotion you please—may, in short, effect something worth calling education.
If we wish a boy to become a good mechanic, we ensure his expertness by an early apprenticeship. The young musician that is to be, passes several hours a day at his instrument. Initiatory courses of outline drawing and shading are gone through by the intended artist. For the future accountant, a through drilling in arithmetic is prescribed. The reflective powers are sought to be developed by the study of mathematics. Thus, all training is founded on the principle that culture must precede proficiency. In such proverbs as——Habit is second nature,—and—Practice makes perfect,—men have expressed those net products of universal observation on which every educational system is ostensibly based. The maxims of a village schoolmistress and the speculations of a Pestalozzi are alike pervaded by the thory that the child should be accustomed to those exertions of body and mind which will in future life be required of it. Education means this or nothing.
What now is the most important attribute of man as a moral being? What faculty above all others should we be solicitous to cultivate? May we not answer—the faculty of self-control? This it is which forms a chief distinction between the human being and the brute. It is in virtue of this that man is defined as a creature—looking before and after.—It is in their larger endowment of this that the civilized races are superior to the savage. In supremacy of this consists one of the perfections of the ideal man. Not to be impulsive—not to be spurred hither and thither by each desire that in turn comes uppermost; but to be self-restrained, self-balanced, governed by the joint decision of the feelings in council assembled, before whom every action shall have been fully debated and calmly determined—this it is which education—moral education at least—strives to produce.
But the power of self-government, like all other powers, can be developed only by exercise. Whoso is to rule over his passions in maturity, must be practised in ruling over his passions during youth. Observe, then, the absurdity of the coercive system. Instead of habituating a boy to be a law to himself as he is required in after-life to be, it administers the law for him. Instead of preparing him against the day when he shall leave the paternal roof, by inducing him to fix the boundaries of his actions and voluntarily confine himself within them, it marks out these boundaries for him, and says——cross them at your peril.—Here we have a being who, in a few years, is to become his own master, and, by way of fitting him for such a condition, he is allowed to be his own master as little as possible. Whilst in every other particular it is thought desirable that what the man will have to do, the child should be well drilled in doing, in this most important of all particulars—the controlling of himself—it is thought that the less practice he has the better. No wonder that those who have been brought up under the severest discipline should so frequently turn out the wildest of the wild. Such a result is just what might have been looked for.
Indeed, not only does the physical-force system fail to fit the youth for his future position; it absolutely tends to unfit him. Were slavery to be his lot—if his after-life had to be passed under the rule of a Russian autocrat, or of an American cotton planter, no better method of training could be devised than one which accustomed him to that attitude of complete subordination he would subsequently have to assume. But just to the degree in which such treatment would fit him for servitude, must it unfit him for being a free man amongst free men.
But why is education needed at all? Why does not the child grow spontaneously into a normal human being? Why should it be requisite to curb this propensity, to stimulate the other sentiment, and thus by artificial aids to mould the mind into something different from what it would of itself become? Is not there here an anomaly in nature? Throughout the rest of creation we find the seed and the embryo attaining to perfect maturity without external aid. Drop an acorn into the ground, and it will in due time become a healthy oak without either pruning or training. The insect passes through its several transformations unhelped, and arrives at its final form possessed of every needful capacity and instinct. No coercion is needed to make the young bird or quadruped adopt the habits proper to its future life. Its character like its body, spontaneously assumes complete fitness for the part it has to play in the world. How happens it, then, that the human mind alone tends to develop itself wrongly? Must there not be some exceptional cause for this? Manifestly: and if so a true theory of education must recognise this cause.
It is an indisputable fact that the moral constitution which fitted man for his original predatory state, differs from the one needed to fit him for this social state to which multiplication of the race has led. In a foregoing part of our inquiry (Chap. II.), it was shown that the law of adaptation is effecting a transition from the one constitution to the other. Living then, as we do, in the midst of this transition, we must expect to find sundry phenomena which are explicable only upon the hypothesis that humanity is at present partially adapted to both these states, and not completely to either—has only in a degree lost the dispositions needed for savage life, and has but imperfectly acquired those needed for social life. The anomaly just specified is one of these. The tendency of each new generation to develop itself wrongly, indicates the degree of modification that has yet to take place. Those respects in which a child requires restraint, are just the respects in which he is taking after the aboriginal man. The selfish squabbles of the nursery, the persecution of the play-ground, the lyings and petty thefts, the rough treatment of inferior creatures, the propensity to destroy—all these imply that tendency to pursue gratification at the expense of other beings, which qualified man for the wilderness, and which disqualifies him for civilized life.
We have seen, however, that this incongruity between man’s attributes and his conditions is in course of being remedied. We have seen that the instincts of the savage must die of inanition—that the sentiments called forth by the social state must grow by exercise, and that if the laws of life remain constant, this modification will continue until our desires are brought into perfect conformity with our circumstances. When now that ultimate state in which morality shall have become organic is arrived at, this anomaly in the development of the child’s character will have disappeared. The young human being will no longer be an exception in nature—will not as now tend to grow into unfitness for the requirements of after-life; but will spontaneously unfold itself into that ideal manhood, whose every impulse coincides with the dictates of the moral law.
Education therefore, in so far as it seeks to form character, serves only a temporary purpose, and, like other institutions resulting from the non-adaptation of man to the social state, must in the end die out. Hence we see how doubly in congruous with the moral law, is the system of training by coercion. Not only does it necessitate direct violations of that law, but the very work which it so futilely attempts to perform, will not need performing when that law has attained to its final supremacy. Force in the domestic circle, like magisterial force, is merely the complement of immorality: immorality we have found to be resolvable into non-adaptation: non-adaptation must in time cease: and thus the postulate with which this old theory of education starts will eventually become false. Rods and ferules, equally with the staffs and handcuffs of the constable; the gaoler’s keys; the swords, bayonets and cannon, with which nations restrain each other, are the offspring of iniquity—can exist only whilst supported by it, and necessarily share in the badness of their parentage. Born therefore as it is of man’s imperfections—governing as it does by means of those imperfections—and abdicating as it must when Equity begins to reign, Coercion in all its forms—educational or other—is essentially vicious.
And here we are naturally led to remark once more the necessary incongruity between the perfect law and the imperfect man. Whatsoever of Utopianism there may seem to be in the foregoing doctrines, is due not to any error in them but to faults in ourselves. A partial impracticability must not perplex us; must, on the contrary, be expected. Just in proportion to our distance below the purely moral state, must be our difficulty in acting up to the moral law, either in the treatment of children or in anything else. It is not for us, however, to magnify and ponder over this difficulty. Our course is simple. We have just to fulfil the law as far as in us lies, resting satisfied that the limitations necessitated by our present condition will quite soon enough assert themselves.
Meanwhile let it be remarked that the main obstacle to the right conduct of education lies rather in the parent than in the child. It is not that the child is insensible to influences higher than that of force, but that the parent is not virtuous enough to use them. Fathers and mothers who enlarge upon the trouble which filial misbehaviour entails upon them, strangely assume that all the blame is due to the evil propensities of their offspring and none to their own. Though on their knees they confess to being miserable sinners, yet to hear their complaints of undutiful sons and daughters you might suppose that they were themselves immaculate. They forget that the depravity of their children is a reproduction of their own depravity. They do not recognise in these much-scolded, often-beaten little ones so many looking-glasses wherein they may see reflected their own selfishness. It would astonish them to assert that they behave as improperly to their children as their children do to them. Yet a little candid self-analysis would show them that half their commands are issued more for their own convenience or gratification than for corrective purposes.—I won’t have that noise!—exclaims a disturbed father to some group of vociferous juveniles: and the noise ceasing, he claims to have done something towards making his family orderly. Perhaps he has; but how? By exhibiting that same evil disposition which he seeks to check in his children—a determination to sacrifice to his own happiness the happiness of others. Observe, too, the impulse under which a refractory child is punished. Instead of anxiety for the delinquent’s welfare, that severe eye and compressed lip denote rather the ire of an offended ruler—express some such inward thought as—You little wretch, we’ll soon see who is to be master.—Uncover its roots, and the theory of parental authority will be found to grow not out of man’s love for his offspring but out of his love of dominion. Let any one who doubts this listen to that common reprimand—How dare you disobey me?—and then consider what the emphasis means. No no, moral-force education is widely practicable even now, if parents were civilized enough to use it.
But of course the obstacle is in a measure reciprocal. Even the best samples of childhood as we now know it will be occasionally unmanageable by suasion: and when inferior natures have to be dealt with, the difficulty of doing without coercion must be proportionably great. Nevertheless patience, self-denial, a sufficient insight into youthful emotions, and a due sympathy with them, added to a little ingenuity in the choice of means, will usually accomplish all that can be wished. Only let a parent’s actions and words and manner show that his own feeling is a thoroughly right one, and he will rarely fail to awaken a responsive feeling in the breast of his child.
One further objection remains to be noticed. It will probably be said that if the rights of children are co-extensive with those of adults, it must follow that children are equally entitled with adults to citizenship, and ought to be similarly endowed with political power. This inference looks somewhat alarming; and it is easy to imagine the triumphant air of those who draw it, and the smiles with which they meditate upon the absurdities it suggests. Nevertheless the answer is simple and decisive. There must go two things to originate an incongruity; and, before passing censure, it is needful to say which of the two incongruous things is in fault. In the present case the incongruity is between the institution of government on the one side, and a certain consequence of the law of equal freedom on the other. Which of the two is to be condemned for this? In the above objection it is tacitly assumed that the blame lies with this consequence of the law of equal freedom: whereas the fact is just the other way. It is with the institution of government that the blame lies. Were the institution of government an essentially right one, there would be reason to suppose that our conclusion was fallacious; but being as it is the offspring of immorality, it must be condemned for conflicting with the moral law, and not the moral law for conflicting with it. Were the moral law universally obeyed, government would not exist; and did government not exist, the moral law could not dictate the political enfranchisement of children. Hence the alleged absurdity is traceable to the present evil constitution of society, and not to some defect in our conclusion.
Concerning the extension of the law of equal freedom to children, we must therefore say, that equity commands it, and that expediency recommends it. We find the rights of children to be deducible from the same axiom, and by the same argument as the rights of adults; whilst denial of them involves us in perplexities out of which there seems to be no escape. The association between filial subservience and barbarism—the evident kinship of filial subservience to social and marital slavery—and the fact that filial subservience declines with the advance of civilization, suggest that such subservience is bad. The viciousness of a coercive treatment of children is further proved by its utter failure to accomplish the chief end of moral education—the culture of the sympathies; by its tendency to excite feelings of antagonism and hate; and by the check which it necessarily puts upon the development of the all-important faculty of self-control. Whilst, on the other hand, a non-coercive treatment being favourable to, and almost necessitating, constant appeals to the higher feelings, must, by exercising those feelings, improve the character; and must, at the same time, accustom the child to that condition of freedom in which its after-life is to be passed. It turns out, too, that the very need for a moral training of children is but temporary, and that, consequently, a true theory of the filial relationship must not presuppose like the command-and-obedience theory that such a need is permanent. Lastly, we find reason to attribute whatever of incompatibility there may be between these conclusions and our daily experience, not to any error in them, but to the necessary incongruity between the perfect law and an imperfect humanity.
[a]Why the appetite for food should now be greater than is proper, seems at first difficult to understand. On calling to mind, however, the conditions of the aboriginal man, we shall find an explanation of this apparent anomaly in the fact, that the irregularity in his supplies of food necessitated an ability to eat largely when food was attainable, and necessitated, therefore, a corresponding desire. Now that the supplies of food have become regular, and no contingent periods of long fasting have to be provided against, the desire is in excess and has to be abated.
[a]We need not here debate the claims of this maxim. It is sufficient for present purposes to remark, that were it true it would be utterly useless as a first principle; both from the impossibility of determining specifically what happiness is, and from the want of a measure by which equitably to mete it out, could we define it.
[a]Four Years in the Pacific. By Lieut. Walpole.
[a]These inferences do not at all militate against joint-stock systems of production and living, which are in all probability what Socialism prophesies.
[a]Speech of Mr. Garland, one of the Conference Methodists.
[b]Though Washington Irving has pointed out that the Koran does not teach this, he has not shown that Mahomet’s followers do not hold it. Most likely the Mahometan faith has undergone corruptions similar to those suffered by Christianity.
[a]See Dr. Conolly on Lunatic Asylums.