Mr. Simpson’s Final Shot.
To the Editor of Liberty:
You have a free and easy way of disposing of my difficulties. In a recentpicketnote you warned me that I was diverting from the direct road of Anarchy, and in last Liberty you assert that belief in monopoly of ideas is leading me to belief in monopoly of land, and that soon, if I am logical, I will be a complete Archist. To this I may retort that your denial of property in ideas (and I am claiming property, not monopoly, in ideas) will lead you to Communism in all things.
I threw up any attempt to disprove a logical possibility, and introduced the two arguments of Spooner, where he claims that, whether an idea is work of discovery or production, in either case it is a rightful subject of property, being the result of the exercise of his mental faculties. The argument that ideas are new wealth you summarily dismiss, thinking, I presume, that your former replies that ideas are works of discovery and not of production has disposed of the matter. But you refer me to Tak Kak as having killed the spook of intangible property. Well, I see no argument from Tak Kak; I see only a statement that ideas cannot be considered as property, because the owner will never miss them if he is robbed; or rather, he will have none less, whether he is robbed of them, or whether he sells them. That is coming pretty close to the Communistic argument that nothing that a man has not actual need for should be considered as private property.
But the second argument of Spooner, that ideas, being natural wealth, belong to the discoverer,on the same principle that he who first takes possession of any material production of nature thereby makes himself its rightful owner,you attempt to reduce to absurdity by interpreting it to mean (in the case of land) that a man can take possession of as much as he wills by merely putting a fence around it, and so owning immense tracts. And then you ask, What becomes of the Anarchistic doctrine of occupancy and use?
Now, I question whether you have any warrant in assuming that to be Spooner’s position. It is not to be found in his Intellectual Property. There he several times states that a man is entitled to as much unappropriated land as is necessary for his wants and desires.Such wants and desires are a sufficient warrant for him to take whatever nature has spread before him for their gratification.The first comer can at best take possession of but an infinitesimal portion of the whole, not even so much probably as would fall to his share if the whole were equally divided among the inhabitants of the globe.This may not be very explicit, but it is enough to show that there is little warrant in believing him to justify land monopoly. His Revolution pamphlet, a reply to Lord Dunraven, wherein he shows that landlords have no right to property in land that the people are bound to respect, is another proof that something else than mere getting possession was considered by him to be a just title to land, and what else that could be except occupancy and use, I don’t know.
But, supposing for the sake of argument, Spooner was so stupid, the fact does not help you. He may have been wrong on land and right on ideas. The cases are not parallel. No two or more men can discover and own the same piece of land, and so the right of property in land has to be qualified by the condition of occupancy and use, that being the best conceivable approximation to equal liberty. But there can be many independent discoverers of the same idea, and all can have property in their ideas, without violating the liberty of any of them. In the case of land only the first comer can own and use it: if land were like ideas, the principle of property would apply in the same way.
As this once more raises the point between private use of ideas and public exhibition of same, and that question is being dealt with by you and Mr. Yarros, and as Mr. Lloyd, Tak Kak, or myself have raised only incidental issues, which help to mystify more than they elucidate the real point which you and Yarros were discussing, I will retire in favor of the two greatest gladiators of them all.
Mr. Simpson’s retort that denial of property in ideas leads to Communism in all things is a silly one. There is nothing in the principle of property which necessarily renders everything appropriable. If there were, then Mr. Simpson’s denial of property in men would lead him to Communism in all things. But Anarchism posits equal liberty as a universal social law. Therefore to depart from equal liberty is, in the eyes of Anarchism, to deny it as a law, and after such denial the transition to Archism is an easy one. I am aware that Mr. Simpson thinks that he has not departed from equal liberty. But the fact that, in order to sustain property in ideas, he has been led to indorse a theory of landed property which all Anarchists agree in viewing as a denial of equal liberty, was put forward by me to show that he has made such a departure, and that each new step in this direction prepares another. One cannot well state arguments so simple in any but a
free and easy way. If Mr. Simpson does not like the ease with which I answer him, let him ask me harder questions.
I do not like to be rude, but I must flatly contradict Mr. Simpson’s statement that the doctrine of unlimited land ownership is not to be found in Spooner’s Intellectual Property. I will not discuss so plain a matter. If Mr. Simpson can read pages 21, 22, and 23 of that work and say that they are not utterly inconsistent with the Anarchistic doctrine of occupancy and use as the limit of property in land, it simply shows that he does not understand the Anarchistic doctrine, which I strongly suspect to be the case. Let him show me one other Anarchist—Mr. Yarros, for instance—who interprets the pages referred to as he interprets them himself, and I will discuss the matter with them.
Mr. Simpson’s reading of the Revolution pamphlet is on a par in slovenliness with his reading of Intellectual Property. In that pamphlet Mr. Spooner bases his opposition to Irish and English landlords on the sole ground that they or their ancestors took their lands by the sword from the original holders. This is plainly stated,—so plainly that I took issue with Mr. Spooner on this point when he had asked me to read the manuscript before its publication. I then asked him whether if Dunraven or his ancestors had found unoccupied the very lands that he now holds, and had fenced them off, he would have any objection to raise against Dunraven’s title to and leasing of these lands. He declared emphatically that he would not. Whereupon I protested that his pamphlet, powerful as it was within its scope, did not go to the bottom of the land question. Does Mr. Simpson consider Dunraven’s landholding and landlordship (setting aside the original seizure by force) an illustration of occupancy and use?
It is not to the purpose to urge that Spooner may have been wrong on land and right on ideas. I was asked by Mr. Simpson to disprove an argument advanced by Spooner in favor of property in ideas. In answer I pointed out to Mr. Simpson that this argument leads, through the same logical process, to property in ideas and to unlimited property in land, my contention being, of course, that, if this were the argument relied upon, the two results must stand or fall together. What point is there in saying, in reply to this, that the cases are not parallel? Mr. Spooner’s argument, which Mr. Simpson asked me to disprove, was that the cases are parallel. I say: Yes, the cases are parallel, it is true, but the position is false in both cases. No, rejoins Mr. Simpson, the cases are not parallel. Why does he bow before Mr. Spooner’s logic in one breath and repudiate it in the next?