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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

Changes Favour Individualism

Changes Favour Individualism.

It is to be observed that these changes, alike in

Changes Favour Individualism.

the old world and in the new, have been in the same direction and with the same object—to favour and strengthen individual property in land and to promote its distribution. There is not in any of the legislation alluded to the slightest trace of communism, or of any new-fangled ideas of property in land. No attempt has been made towards state appropriation of land. No step has been taken to secure to the community what is called the unearned increment. The individual owner is everywhere invested with full, absolute, and undisputed control of the land which he owns. Freedom of contract is nowhere interfered with.

Mr. West says of France, "Proprietary rights can never be called in question. Whether a property consists of one acre or one hundred, the owner is absolute in all matters relating to possession. The legislature cannot interfere between him and the tenant on questions respecting compensation for improvements or indemnities. Tenant right and fixity of tenure are phrases scarely ever heard of in France."

page 56

Changes Favour Individualism.

Monsieur de Lavelaye says of Flanders,1 "The Flemish tenant, though ground down by the constant rise of rents, lives among his equals, peasants like himself, who have tenants whom they can use just as the large landowner does his. His father, his brother, perhaps the man himself, possesses something like an acre of land, which he lets at as high a rent as he can get. In the public-house, peasant proprietors will boast of the high rents they get for their lands, just as they might boast of having sold their pigs or potatoes very dear. . . .

"Thus the distribution of a number of small properties among the peasantry forms a kind of rampart and safeguard for the holders of large estates; and the peasant property may without exaggeration be called the lightning-conductor that averts from society dangers which might otherwise lead to catastrophes."

Let it not then be said that any legislation in the same direction, has any the slightest taint either of communism or confiscation. The one great object in view is not to destroy property, or to lessen its value and the sense of security which it gives, but to extend its influence as one of the strongest and best agents in promoting individual exertion, and as a spur to efforts to rise in the social scale, which is equally powerful with the page 57 lowest as with the highest. It proceeds then on

Changes Favour Individualism.

the principle of individualism as opposed to any principle of socialism or communism.

If then a right view has been taken of the motives which have led to all the changes already described in other countries, and of the results attained, equally in the old world as in the new, it must be difficult to suppose that England can withdraw herself from the stream of modem life, can hope to live in an atmosphere of her own, resist all changes in her laws, and content herself with going onward in the old groove, and under the pleasing assurance of philosophers that land was intended as a luxury for the rich, and that no poor man need hope for a permanent interest in the soil of his country, other than perhaps so much as is covered by his hearth-stone when alive, and his grave-stone when dead.

To those who argue that it is an inevitable law of nature that land should in a wealthy country become the luxury only of the rich, and that the existing state of things in England is due to this and not to our positive laws, two questions may fairly be put with reference to the condition of other countries. The one is, whether they would really desire to substitute the English system of complete separation between the three classes of landowners, farmers, and labourers, for the yeoman and peasant proprietorship which so extensively prevails elsewhere? whether they would page 58

Changes Favour Individualism.

contemplate with pleasure the possibility, or whether they expect, that the three million farming owners of the United States, with the advancing wealth and population of that country, will gradually be merged in about one-twentieth of their number of landlords, and that the relation of landlord and tenant should be universally substituted there?—whether in France it would be better, or be desirable in any sense, that the five millions of peasant owners should be reduced to the position of tenants at will to about one-hundredth part of their number of landlords, and that the Irish system should prevail there and in the Channel Islands as well as in Ireland?

The other question is what, on the assumption that these changes are desirable and to be aimed at, should be the first steps taken with a view to this end, and with the object of facilitating and promoting the gradual accumulation of land in few hands, and the substitution of a class of large landowners, with farming tenants for the existing systems of widely distributed landownerships

Would not the first measures, adopted with this object, be that their legislatures should again give the sanction of law to primogeniture, should again give facilities for the entail of landed property, and should again revert to a system of land laws which would make the title to land obscure and complicated, and its transfer therefore costly and difficult? And if this be conceded, how can it be doubted page 59 that these same laws and difficulties have in this

Changes Favour Individualism.

country been mainly instrumental in producing the result which we now observe?

1 See System of Land Tenure, published by the Cobden Club.