An Unfortunate Analogy.

An Unfortunate Analogy.

[Liberty, November 5, 1887.]

A question has arisen in England whether the public have a right of access to the top of Latrigg in Keswick Vale, the public claiming such right and certain landowners denying it. It is probable that the claim of the public is good, but, as I am not informed regarding the basis of the landholders’ title in this particular case, it is not my purpose to discuss the matter. The London Jus, however, has discussed the matter, and I refer to it only to expose an inconsistency into which that journal has fallen. It seems that Mr. Plimsoll, who champions the claim of the public, has made this declaration:(46 ¶ 1)

What Parliament has given Parliament can take away. Not rightly, declares Jus; and it imagines a case.(46 ¶ 2)

Suppose Parliament grants a life-pension to a distinguished general; suppose that the next Parliament, being of another color, rejects the grant, will Mr. Plimsoll pretend that in such a case Parliament would have the right to take it away? Not he; no honest man could think so for a moment. Private persons do not consider themselves entitled to take back that which they have given to others, even without any consideration whatever.(46 ¶ 3)

True, so far as private persons are concerned. But private persons do consider themselves entitled to take back that which has been taken from them and given to others. If the body politic, or State, which compels A to belong to it and aid in supporting it, pledges a certain sum annually to B, and, to meet this pledge, forcibly collects annually from A’s proportional part of the sum, then A, when he becomes strong enough, may not only decline to make any further annual payments to B, but may take from B all that he has been compelled to pay to him in the past. To-day, to be sure, A, as soon as he acquires power, generally vitiates his claim upon B by proceeding to pledge others in the same manner in which others, when they were in power, had pledged him. But this fact, being accidental rather than essential, has no logical bearing upon the question of A’s right to recover from B. It follows, then, that private persons cannot be held to the pledges of an association which forces them into its membership, and that Parliament, which represents the will of a majority of the members of such an association, and of a majority which necessarily varies continually in its make-up, stands on a very different footing from that of private persons in the matter of observing or violating contracts.(46 ¶ 4)

But suppose that the position of Jus that they stand on the same footing to be granted. What has Jus to say then? This,—namely that it finds itself in sympathy with Mr. Plimsoll and the people of Keswick in their desire to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Latrigg; that it believes the right of way to such enjoyment was originally theirs; and that the sooner they recover it, the better. But how? It has already denied that what Parliament has given Parliament can take away; so it finds itself obliged to pick its way around this difficulty by the following devious path:(46 ¶ 5)

If Parliament has given away to private persons that which ought to have been retained in public hands for the public use and benefit, with or without sufficient (or any) consideration, then let the Nation keep faith and buy it back.(46 ¶ 6)

The italics are mine. Bearing them in mind, let us return to the analogy between Parliament and private persons. Do private persons, then, consider themselves entitled to buy back that which they have given to others, on terms fixed by themselves, and whether the others desire to sell or not? Thta the private person who gives a thing to another and afterwards compels the latter to sell it back to him is less a thief than he would have been if he had taken it back without compensation is a principle unrecognized, so far as I know, either in law or in political economy. No more can be said of such a robber than that he shows some consideration for his victim. Then, if Parliament and private persons stand on the same footing, whence does Jus derive the right of Parliament to forcibly buy back what it has given away?(46 ¶ 7)

Jus is a fine paper. It maintains certain phases of Individualism with splendid force and vigor. But it continually puts itself into awkward situations simply by failing to be thorough in its Individualism. Here, for instance, it denies the right of the State to take from the individual without compensation what it has given him, but affirms the right of the State to compel the individual to sell to it what it has given him. In a word, Jus is not Anarchistic. It does not favor individual liberty in all things. It would confine interference with it within much narrower limits than those generally set by governmentalists, but, after all, like all other governmentalists, it fixes the limits in accordance with arbitrary standards prescribing that interference must be carried on only by methods and for purposes which it approves on grounds foreign to the belief in liberty as the necessary condition of social harmony.(46 ¶ 8)