Thursday, December 30, 2021


“VIII. There remain, however, various important questions yet to be answered, and many other titles to property yet to be examined.  Why, it has been asked, should man be allowed to appropriate more than is necessary for his support?  We ask, what support is meant?  The momentary satisfying of his hunger, by shooting a deer, plucking a fruit?  Is he allowed to shoot several deer and dry the meat for the winter?  Is he not allowed to cultivate a tree, which shall give him fruit for certainty, so that he may not be exposed again to hunger, the pain of which he knows already?  May he not cultivate a patch of land to have corn for his children?  If he has slain a buck to satisfy his hunger, is he allowed to appropriate the skin to himself and call it his own?  If the industrious fisherman sails to the bank of Newfoundland to appropriate to himself the unappropriated codfish, has he no right to catch as many as he thinks he and his children shall want for the whole year?  But they cannot live upon codfish alone; may he not take so many codfish as to exchange part of them for other food, for clothing?  Does supporting his family not include the sending of his children to school?  May he not catch some more to save the money he may obtain for it, that, should he perish at sea, his wife and children may not suffer from want or become a burthen to others?  Where does the meaning of support stop?  Why should it apply to the satisfying of physical wants only?  There are wants far higher than these—the wants of civilisation.  We want accumulated property; without it, no ease; without ease, no leisure; without leisure, no earnest and persevering pursuit of knowledge, no high degree of national civilisation.  Aristotle already lays it down as the basis of high civilisation, to be free and have leisure.  Still the question would remain, why have private property?  It is the very ease which we are promised by those who recommend to us a system of common property.

 “IX. Each man is a being of himself, an individual his individuality is all-important.  He has a natural aversion to being absorbed in an undefined generality.  From early childhood man feels an anxiety to be a distinct individual, to express it, and consequently to individualise everything around him.  Man must ever represent in the outward world, that which moves his inmost soul, the inmost agents of his mind.  Property is nothing else than the application of man’s individuality to external things, or the realisation and manifestation of man’s individuality in the material world.  Man cannot be, never was, without property, without mine and thine.  If he could he would not be man.  In all stages of civilisation, at all ages of his life, we find him anxious to individualise things, to rescue them as it were from undefined generality—to appropriate.  It is a desire most deeply implanted in man . . . And why should this anxiety have been so deeply implanted in the human breast?  Because, as will be shown, private property is the most powerful agent in the promotion of civilisation; an agent which has this striking peculiarity, that while it originates with man’s individuality, it is at the same time the surest and firmest bond of society.”

-Francis Lieber, Manual of Political Ethics

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