Rent, and its Collection by Force.

Rent, and its Collection by Force.

[Liberty, January 19, 1889.]

To the Editor of Liberty.(112 ¶ 1)

I must confess that I may not fully grasp what its advocates exactly mean by Anarchism. Referring to the reply to my letter, in the issue of December 15, I cannot harmonize the sentiments of an opponent of even a temporary monopoly of inventors and authors with the defence of an indefinite monopoly of the discoverer of a gold mine. Moreover, the reference to the law of equal liberty appears to me inconsistent with your standpoint. If I understand this law, it can be thus expressed: Given a community of intelligent beings, who wish to live in peace and enjoy a maximum of happiness, what must they do to attain this result? Proposition: They must mutually combine and form such an agreement as will secure equal freedom to all; and if any one takes liberties at the expense of others, he must be restrained, even by force, if necessary.(112 ¶ 2)

This, however, appears to me a sound democratic doctrine and a repudiation of the doctrine of non-interference. Without a forcible measure against transgressors, equal freedom is unattainable. Force ,therefore, appears to be a most important factor in political economy, the creator of all rights. Now, in respect to rent, I would advocate compulsion against those only who violate the law of equal freedom in relation to local opportunities. Surely, if I had discovered a gold mine, unless I knew that the supreme power of society would protect me unconditionally in the sole possession, I would willingly give the economic rent, in order to prevent others, less blessed in the possession of natural opportunities, from doing that which their egoism would naturally prompt them to do. This you appear to recognize in your answer (2). Only those who fail to see that peaceful enjoyment of man’s labor depends upon social equality will expect to occupy land free, for the possession of which others are willing to give a consideration, and they must suffer the natural consequences, either by the invasion of the State, in confiscating rent, or by the more disastrous interference in the form of social disturbances and revolutions.(112 ¶ 3)

You are correct in surmising that I can recognize no right but that of might or ability, not referring, of course, to that concept of the ambiguous term right which is synonymous with righteousness; and as to that might which results from the social compact, I must accept it as a social right, whether or not it is in harmony with my notions of what it should be. This, however, does not prevent me from protesting and agitating against any of the laws that violate equity, being convinced that inequitable laws will bring disaster unless abolished before the oppression leads to extreme measures. Enlightened self-interest is no doubt the most forcible incentive to maintain equity, and history amply proves that the strong will never enter into a compact with the weak unless their power is threatened. This does not preclude the power of the weaker from being reinforced by the compassion of a portion of the strong; sentiment, in this sense, has often an indirect influence in the distribution of the social power. Our aim, as individualists, should therefore be to so direct the power of the State that it will maintain the equal liberty of all.(112 ¶ 4)


I find so little attempt to meet the various considerations which I have advanced that I have not much to add by way of comment. The monopoly of mining gold at a particular point exists in the physical constitution of things, and a pooling of the results thereof (which would be a virtual destruction of the monopoly) can only be directly achieved in one of two ways,—mutual agreement or an invasion of liberty. The monopoly of inventors and authors, on the contrary, has no existence at all except by mutual agreement or an invasion of liberty. It seems to me the difference between the two is sufficiently clear. Egoist’s statement of the law of equal liberty is satisfactory. Standing upon it, I would repel, by force if necessary, the confiscator of rent on the ground that he takes a liberty at the expense of others. I have no objection to forcible measures against transgressors, but the question recurs as to who are the transgressors. If the piece of land which I am using happens to be better than my neighbor’s, I do not consider myself a transgressor on that account; but if my neighbor digs some of my potatoes and carries them off, I certainly consider him a transgressor, even though he may name his plunder economic rent. But Egoist, viewing this case, considers me the transgressor and my neighbor the honest man. I believe that education in liberty will bring people to my view rather than his. If it doesn’t, I shall have to succumb. It is to be noted that Egoistmakes no further reference to my argument regarding skill. I urged that the levelling of inequalities in land logically leads to the levelling of inequalities in skill. Egoist replied that skill is inseparably attached to the individual, while land is not. I rejoined that the results of skill are not inseparably attached to the individual, and that the right of might recognizes nothing sacred about the individual. To this Egoist makes no reply. Hence my argument that the nationalization of rent logically involves the most complete State Socialism and minute regulation of the individual stands unassailed.(112 ¶ 5)