The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
Chapter IX. — The Liberty and Property Defense League
The Liberty and Property Defense League.
"They were long in coming, but they have come at last. I thought they would."
This I whispered to my Socialist friend, as our conversation was interrupted by a large and "influential" deputation, which entered the audience chamber in procession, and with much ceremony. They consisted of Dukes, Lords, Lawyers, Bishops, and Stock-jobbers. There was some confusion among them about the order in which they should follow each other, and it was some time before they could settle the delicate point of "precedence" between lawyers, bishops, and "financiers "—as they euphemistically called those who knew how to make ducats breed. But at last they agreed that each bishop should be supported by a lawyer on one side, and a financier on the other, himself turning his face toward the ceiling, as if unconscious of the presence of either—as I heard the M. C. of the deputation arrange.
One of their number, oddly dressed, and, "supported" by still more odd-looking creatures (carrying sticks, coronets, coats-of-arms, gold keys, etc., evidently designed to impress me with the speaker's importance—so it appeared in my dream) stepped forward and addressed me in a haughty manner. He said:
"I have not deemed it necessary to interfere sooner, because I felt sure that you would see the folly, if not the wickedness, of your doings. But it seems that, like the class to which you belong, it is hopeless to expect that you would be guided by any moral considerations and so—"
I cut short his oration by asking him on whose behalf he was speaking and what business brought him and his comrades here.
"I am speaking on behalf of the following influential organizations, of all of which I am a prominent functionary—president of one, vice-president or chairman of another, as the case may be."
- "The Property and Liberty Defense League."
- "The National Association."
- "The Farmers' Protection Association."
- "The London Ratepayers' Defense League."
- "The United Empire Trade League."
- "The Imperial Extension Committee."
- "The Working Men's Block League."
- "The Society for Promoting the Interests of Farm Laborers."
- "The Religious Tract Society."
- "The League for Spreading Morals and Religion among the Working Classes."
A cold shudder came over me as I looked from the card to the speaker and his allies, and from them to the list of cunningly worded titles of leagues and associations; for the "Councils-of these various organizations consisted of a long list of dukes, earls, lords, and baronets, with just a few "esquires" at the tail-end, but not a single farmer, laborer, or "commoner" undent status of £ with six figures to it. I could not help thinking of some of Æsop's fables, especially that of the wolf and the lamb.
"Poor fellows," I sighed involuntarily. "Fancy the mice appointing a council of cats, hedgehogs, and ferrets to plead their cause and guard their interests!" But I endeavored to suppress my prejudices as much as I could, and resolved to treat their case on its merits.
"Well, then," I said, in what capacity and on whose behalf are you speaking now?"
"In my capacity as chairman of The Liberty and Property Defense League, since this is the parent institution of all the others; that is, if the principles of this League were fully carried out, there would be no need for further agitation."
"In that case your language simply surprises me." I replied, l since I am only putting into practice and am enforcing those very principles which the said League have taken so much pains to disseminate. Allow me to read to you from your own Liberty Annual for 1892. There you say:
"'What are human rights? They depend, as we Libert people are constantly pointing out, in the frank recognition that every man or woman is the one true owner of his or her own body and mind; that, as a consequence, we have no right to limit or to restrict the use by any person of their own faculties (always excepting those cases falling under the Spencerian limit, where persons employ their faculties to interfere by force or fraud with others in the equal use of their faculties); that each person must be free to employ his faculties, or the product or gain of his faculties, according to his own choice, and to his own best advantage; that he must be free to acquire or possess, to contract and exchange, to sell and to buy, to hire and to let, just as page 43 he himself, and those with whom he enters into free relations, think right.'"
"So you think your actions are in accordance with these true political principles?" he asked haughtily.
"I do, indeed; in strict accordance therewith."
"But, sir, it is this very principle of individual liberty you are violating."
"Indeed! I was not aware of it. Please enlighten my ignorance; and if your due liberties are in any way being encroached upon, your grievances shall receive prompt redress."
"I will state then, emphatically, that you are interfering with our liberties to dispose of our possessions in any way we like. You seem ignorant of the real meaning of true freedom. You have quoted one portion of our publication, but have ignored the other, which I will now read to you. We there say:
"'This freedom in the use of faculties not only means free labor in the widest sense, but it means free exchange. It not only means that no man is to prevent my producing the articles of my own industry in my own way—whether they are farthing match boxes or the highest works of art; but it also means that no man is to limit or restrict my exchanging what I can produce or acquire through my faculties, in return for what my fellow-men produce or acquire through their faculties.'"
"Sir," I interposed, "I heartily concur with every word. Why, these principles are the very essence of our Constitution."
"You admit all this?"
"Yes, heartily and entirely."
"Well, then,"—here he raised his voice—"I will finish the quotation, which goes on to say:
How does this apply to the case of land? It means that no person has the right to obstruct the free market for land—to do anything which prevents another man from acquiring land by exchanging against it the products or gain of his own faculties. In a word, it means that no man, or body of men, has the moral right to prevent any fellow-men from buying in an open market such land as he wishes to buy. The open market for land is a human right, just as sacred as the open market for bread or corn, and no person has the right to close it against his fellow-men. The buying of land is an integral part of the right of exchanging all articles of use one against another, which is derived from the primary right of exercising our faculties as we will. Whoever restricts that right of exchange makes war upon the ownership of each person of his own faculties—makes war upon the primary right of the human race.'"
I knew that paragraph; it was heavily scored in my own copy of that sophistical publication. I also knew the difficulty of briefly exposing the many sophistries it contained. It would, I recognized, be absurd to try and convince such men of the es- page 44 sential difference between the claims of the individual to the fullest possession and control of such things as were due to human exertions, and of the claims to control the sources of all such things. I might succeed in convincing the ignorant, but not the titled members of a Liberty and Property Defense League. Whatever else may be true of them, I did not consider them ignorant people. So I said:
"Be it so; but if it is a human right to own land, is it not a right of all human beings?"
"It is; for those who happen to possess it, or who have acquired it through their faculties."
"Pray, by what faculties have you acquired your land?"
"That has nothing to do with the question."
"Excuse me, but it has a good deal to do with it, my lord. I have had a man here, the first applicant on my assuming office, now known as the reformed loafer, who possessed special faculties for acquiring land, and also other things for that matter. And had I not restrained his liberties he might have measured his faculties against those of your lordship."
"Then you have restrained a man? You have violated the liberties of man? By your own confession you have committed such an iniquity?"
"Yes, because it was one of those cases falling under the Spencerian limit, 'where persons employ their faculties to interfere by force or fraud with others in the equal use of their faculties." The liberty which that man claimed was to knock your lordship down, so that he might acquire by his own faculties the right of buying or selling land in the open market"
At this my oponent changed color and altered his tone.
"Oh, that, of course, alters the case! In that case you were quite right to interfere. But you have no right to prevent me doing with my land and my property as I please."
"None whatever, my ford. You may do with yours just as you please. Who prevents you from doing so?"
"Who? Why you, of course. What business of yours is it whether I care to keep a deer park or not?"
"None, whatever, as far as I can see. You may keep as many deer as you like, and I even think you might thus render a good service to the community by supplying the people with good venison, and so make a handsome profit for yourself."
"I am not a trader," he said indignantly. "And under your unrighteous rule I could not afford to keep deer for sport."
"Very well; then your lordship is at perfect liberty to dispose of your estate as you please. No doubt there are plenty of people ready to take it."
"But no one wants to pay for it."
"Well, if they do not want to, I have, according to your own doctrines, no power to compel them."page 45
"It will do no good for you to assume this innocent ignorance. You know perfectly well that you have taxed away all the value of my land."
"No, not all the value; none of it which is due to the 'human faculties,' but only that which falls under the Spencerian limit. I have not taxed away the yielding power of the land; on the contrary, I have removed every tax and incumbrance whatever from industry, and any crop your lordship may raise from the land is free from every burden, save that of producing it."
"But I do not raise crops. I leave such pursuits to my tenants."
"In that case, as your lordship is also President of the Farmers' Protection Association, you will be glad to learn that their crops are free from every encumbrance. And the fact that you can leave the farming to your tenants is evidence that your liberties are not interfered with."
"But they are, because all the crops that are raised on my estate are retained by the farmers, while I get nothing, or next to nothing."
"Probably because you do next to nothing. But I fear that we have wandered from the subject. You came here on behalf of farmer, artisan, working man, liberty, justice, and so on. I do not see on your card anything about landlords, or landlordism. Yet clearly you are advocating your own cause all this time."
"And am I not at liberty to do so?"
"Clearly. Only in that case we should get nearer to our purpose by plain sailing. Let us drop our masks, my lord, and speak plainly and to the point. I have abolished all taxes, direct and indirect, and have imposed a tax on unimproved land values. That is, I have resumed, on behalf of the community, that which belongs to the community, and which in a free State must belong to the community, or else equal liberties are impossible."
"Why so? Explain yourself."
"Because all men cannot be said to enjoy equal rights to life or liberty, while some of them have to pay to the others for permission to use the soil to breathe the fresh air, or to bask in the light and sunshine. These things have not been produced by human faculties. They are essential to life, and to deprive others of them restricts them from employing their own faculties according to their choice and best advantage. Such acts clearly and pre-eminently fall within the Spencerian limit. See here what your present champion and chosen authority, Mr Spencer, wrote on this subject."
And picking up a paper from the table, I read as follows:
"'Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the page 46 possession of an individual, and may be held by him for his [unclear: so] 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, [unclear: an] our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the [unclear: enti] habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the land-owners have a valid right to its surface all who are not land-owners have no right at all to its surface. Hence such can [unclear: exist] on the earth by sufferance only. They are all [unclear: trespasses] Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can hav[unclear: e] room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others thin[unclear: k] 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 [unclear: exercise] their faculties—can then exist even—only by consent of the land owners, it is manifest that an exclusive possession of the [unclear: s] 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 these others.'"
"But Mr Spencer himself has renounced this utterance of his," said his lordship.
"He may have renounced, but he has not disproved it," I [unclear: torted.]
At this moment the noble lord turned round, as if looking for someone, and I noticed an elderly person gliding out of the room, shielding his face behind his hat.
"The land I own has been in my family since the [unclear: Conquest] No one has ever claimed it or could claim it."
"Ah," said I; there was no Liberty League in existence, [unclear: you] see, to teach people their inalienable rights."
"With your abstract morals I have no concern," he bursty indignantly.
"So it seems, my lord; yet you came here burdened [unclear: wi] moral duties and moral indignation. But I suppose you find morals distasteful when you are required to observe them yourself."
"None of your impudence, sir. Are we to have our ancient rights thus interfered with?"
"Time, my lord, may be a great legalizer, but it cannot make a wrong into a right. Nay, the longer a wrong endures, the greater does the wrong become. You say your family [unclear: owned] certain lands for centuries. That means that your family has plundered the people, and deprived them of all their natural rights, for centuries. Do you not think it were time that this practice were discontinued?"
"But what compensation do you offer?"page 47
"Compensation for what? For ceasing to take from the farmer the best part of his crop? Compensation for allowing Britons to live on British soil? For allowing them to use their faculties for the satisfaction of their own needs? Be advised by me, and mention that word 'compensation' no more. Consider what you and yours have taken from the people since the time of the Conqueror. The buildings and other improvements on your estate are still secured to you as being due to human labor. You are aware, however, that it was not your labor which built them. You are left in their possession because we do not wish to legislate retrospectively, and because we wish to bury the past. Though unrighteously gotten, we leave you in possession of past plunder, and simply enjoin on you to sin no more. I would not, therefore, advise you to start the cry of compensation, lest those who have been your victims may take it up. Verily, you would find it hard to give adequate compensation to those over whom your family has lorded it for these many centuries, and for the many broken hearts your rule has occasioned. Let the sleeping dog lie, my lord, is my earnest advice to you. Be satisfied with our mercy, and ask not for justice, lest you might receive more justice than is to your liking."