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Herbert Spencer:
Social Statics (excerpts)


"Give us a guide," cry men to the philosopher. "We would escape from these miseries in which we are entangled. A better state is ever present to our imaginations, and we yearn after it; but all our efforts to realize it are fruitless. We are weary of perpetual failures; tell us by what rule we may attain our desire."

"Whatever is expedient is right;" is one of the last of the many replies to this appeal.

"True," rejoin some of the applicants. "With the Deity right and expedient are doubtless convertible terms. For us, however, there remains the question – which is the antecedent, and which is the consequent? Granting your assumption that right is the unknown quantity and expediency the known one, your formula may be serviceable. But we deny your premises; a painful experience has proved the two to be equally indeterminate. Nay, we begin to suspect that the right is the more easily ascertained of the two; and that your maxim would be better if transposed into – whatever is right is expedient."

"Let your rule be, the greatest happiness to the greatest number," interposes another authority.

"That, like the other, is no rule at all," it is replied; "but rather an enunciation of the problem to be solved. It is your 'greatest happiness' of which we have been so long and so fruitlessly in search; albeit we never gave it a name. You tell us nothing new; you merely give words to our want. What you call an answer, is simply our own question turned the right side up. If this is your philosophy it is surely empty, for it merely echoes the interrogation."

"Have a little patience," returns the moralist, "and I will give you my opinion as to the mode of securing this greatest happiness to the greatest number."

"There again," exclaim the objectors, "you mistake our requirement. We want something else than opinions. We have had enough of them. Every futile scheme for the general good has been based on opinion; and we have no guarantee that your plan will not add one to the list of failures. Have you discovered a means of forming an infallible judgment? If not, you are, for aught we can perceive, as much in the dark as ourselves. True, you have obtained a clearer view of the end to be arrived at; but concerning the route leading to it, your offer of an opinion proves that you know nothing more certain than we do. We demur to your maxim because it is not what we wanted – a guide; because it dictates no sure mode of securing the desideratum; because it puts no veto upon a mistaken policy; because it permits all actions – bad, as readily as good – provided only the actors believe them conducive to the prescribed end. Your doctrines of 'expediency' or 'utility' or 'general good' or 'greatest happiness to the greatest number' afford not a solitary command of a practical character. Let but rulers think, or profess to think, that their measures will benefit the community, and your philosophy stands mute in the presence of the most egregious folly, or the blackest misconduct. This will not do for us. We seek a system that can return a definite answer when we ask – 'Is this act good?' and not like yours, reply – 'Yes, if it will benefit you.' If you can show us such an one – if you can give us an axiom from which we may develope successive propositions until we have with mathematical certainty solved all our difficulties – we will thank you. If not, we must go elsewhere." ...

Happiness signifies a gratified state of all the faculties. The gratification of a faculty is produced by its exercise. To be agreeable that exercise must be proportionate to the power of the faculty; if it is insufficient discontent arises, and its excess produces weariness. Hence, to have complete felicity is to have all the faculties exerted in the ratio of their several developments; and an ideal arrangement of circumstances calculated to secure this constitutes the standard of "greatest happiness;" but the minds of no two individuals contain the same combination of elements. Duplicate men are not to be found. There is in each a different balance of desires. Therefore the conditions adapted for the highest enjoyment of one, would not perfectly compass the same end for any other. And consequently the notion of happiness must vary with the disposition and character; that is, must vary indefinitely.

Whereby we are also led to the inevitable conclusion that a true conception of what human life should be, is possible only to the ideal man. We may make approximate estimates, but he only in whom the component feelings exist in their normal proportions is capable of a perfect aspiration. And as the world yet contains none such, it follows that a specific idea of "greatest happiness" is for the present unattainable. It is not then to be wondered at, if Paleys and Benthams make vain attempts at a definition. The question involves one of those mysteries which men are ever trying to penetrate and ever failing. It is the insoluble riddle which Care, Sphinx-like, puts to each new comer, and in default of answer devours him. And as yet there is no Œdipus, nor any sign of one. ...

Even were the fundamental proposition of the expediency system not thus vitiated by the indefiniteness of its terms, it would still be vulnerable. Granting for the sake of argument, that the desideratum, "greatest happiness," is duly comprehended, its identity and nature agreed upon by all, and the direction in which it lies satisfactorily settled, there yet remains the unwarranted assumption that it is possible for the self-guided human judgment to determine, with something like precision, by what methods it may be achieved. Experience daily proves that just the same uncertainty which exists respecting the specific ends to be obtained, exists likewise respecting the right mode of attaining them when supposed to be known. In their attempts to compass one after another the several items which go to make up the grand total, "greatest happiness," men have been anything but successful; their most promising measures having commonly turned out the greatest failures. Let us look at a few cases.

When it was enacted in Bavaria that no marriage should be allowed between parties without capital, unless certain authorities could "see a reasonable prospect of the parties being able to provide for their children," it was doubtless intended to advance the public weal by checking improvident unions, and redundant population; a purpose most politicians will consider praiseworthy, and a provision which many will think well adapted to secure it. Nevertheless this apparently sagacious measure has by no means answered its end; the fact being that in Munich, the capital of the kingdom, half the births are illegitimate!

Those too were admirable motives, and very cogent reasons, which led our government to establish an armed force on the coast of Africa for the suppression of the slave trade. What could be more essential to the "greatest happiness" than the annihilation of the abominable traffic? And how could forty ships of war, supported by an expenditure of £700,000 a year, fail to wholly or partially accomplish this? The results have, however, been anything but satisfactory. When the abolitionists of England advocated it, they little thought that such a measure instead of preventing would only "aggravate the horrors, without sensibly mitigating the extent of the traffic;" that it would generate fast-sailing slavers with decks one foot six inches apart, suffocation from close packing, miserable diseases, and a mortality of thirty-five per cent. They dreamed not that when hard pressed a slaver might throw a whole cargo of 500 negroes into the sea; nor that on a blockaded coast the disappointed chiefs would, as at Gallinas, put to death 200 men and women, and stick their heads on poles, along shore, in sight of the squadron. In short, they never anticipated having to plead as they now do for the abandonment of coercion. ...

But why cite individual cases? Does not the experience of all nations testify to the futility of these empirical attempts at the acquisition of happiness? What is the statute-book but a record of such unhappy guesses? or history but a narrative of their unsuccessful issues? And what forwarder are we now? Is not our government as busy still as though the work of law-making commenced but yesterday? Has it made any apparent progress toward a final settlement of social arrangements? Does it not rather each year entangle itself still further in the web of legislation, confounding the already heterogeneous mass of enactments into still greater confusion? Nearly every parliamentary proceeding is a tacit confession of incompetency. There is scarcely a bill introduced but is entitled "An Act to amend an Act." The "Whereas" of almost every preamble heralds an account of the miscarriage of previous legislation. Alteration, explanation, and repeal, form the staple employment of every session. All our great agitations are for the abolition of institutions purporting to be for the public good. Witness those for the removal of the Test and Corporation Acts, for Catholic Emancipation, for the repeal of the Corn Laws; to which may now be added, that for the separation of Church and State. The history of one scheme is the history of all. First comes enactment, then probation, then failure; next an amendment and another failure; and, after many alternate tinkerings and abortive trials, arrives at length repeal, followed by the substitution of some fresh plan, doomed to run the same course, and share a like fate.

The expediency-philosophy, however, ignores this world full of facts. Though men have so constantly been balked in their attempts to secure, by legislation, any desired constituent of that complex whole, "greatest happiness," it nevertheless continues to place confidence in the unaided judgment of the statesman. It asks no guide; it possesses no eclectic principle; it seeks no clue whereby the tangled web of social existence may be unravelled and its laws discovered. But, holding up to view the great desideratum, it assumes that after an inspection of the aggregate phenomena of national life, governments are qualified to concoct such measures as shall be "expedient." It considers the philosophy of humanity so easy, the constitution of the social organism so simple, the causes of a people's conduct so obvious, that a general examination can give to "collective wisdom," the insight requisite for law-making. It thinks that man's intellect is competent, first, to observe accurately the facts exhibited by associated human nature; to form just estimates of general and individual character, of the effects of religions, customs, superstitions, prejudices, of the mental tendencies of the age, of the probabilities of future events, &c., &c.; and then, grasping at once the multiplied phenomena of this ever-agitated, ever-changing sea of life, to derive from them that knowledge of their governing principles which shall enable him to say whether such and such measures will conduce to "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

If without any previous investigation of the properties of terrestrial matter, Newton had proceeded at once to study the dynamics of the universe, and after years spent with the telescope in ascertaining the distances, sizes, times of revolution, inclinations of axes, forms of orbits, perturbations, &c., of the celestial bodies, had set himself to tabulate this accumulated mass of observations, and to educe from them the fundamental laws of planetary and stellar equilibrium, he might have cogitated to all eternity without arriving at a result.

But absurd as such a method of research would have been, it would have been far less absurd, than is the attempt to find out the principles of public polity, by a direct examination of that wonderfully intricate combination – society. It needs excite no surprise when legislation, based upon the theories thus elaborated, fails. Rather would its success afford matter for extreme astonishment. Considering that men as yet so imperfectly understand man – the instrument by which, and the material on which, laws are to act – and that a complete knowledge of the unit – man, is but a first step to the comprehension of the mass – society, it seems obvious enough that to educe from the infinitely-ramified complications of universal humanity, a true philosophy of national life, and to found thereon a code of rules for the obtainment of "greatest happiness" is a task far beyond the ability of any finite mind. ...

Yet another fatal objection to the expediency-philosophy, is to be found in the fact, that it implies the eternity of government. It is a mistake to assume that government must necessarily last for ever. The institution marks a certain stage of civilization – is natural to a particular phase of human development. It is not essential but incidental. As amongst the Bushmen we find a state antecedent to government; so may there be one in which it shall have become extinct. Already has it lost something of its importance. The time was when the history of a people was but the history of its government. It is otherwise now. The once universal despotism was but a manifestation of the extreme necessity of restraint. Feudalism, serfdom, slavery – all tyrannical institutions, are merely the most vigorous kinds of rule, springing out of, and necessary to, a bad state of man. The progress from these is in all cases the same – less government. Constitutional forms mean this. Political freedom means this. Democracy means this. In societies, associations, joint-stock companies, we have new agencies occupying fields filled in less advanced times and countries by the State. With us the legislature is dwarfed by newer and greater powers – is no longer master but slave. "Pressure from without" has come to be acknowledged as ultimate ruler. The triumph of the Anti-Corn-Law League is simply the most marked instance yet, of the new style of government – that of opinion, overcoming the old style – that of force. ...

What then must be thought of a morality which chooses this probationary institution for its basis, builds a vast fabric of conclusions upon its assumed permanence, selects acts of parliament for its materials, and employs the statesman for its architect? The expediency-philosophy does this. It takes government into partnership – assigns to it entire control of its affairs – enjoins all to defer to its judgment – makes it in short the vital principle, the very soul of its system. When Paley teaches that "the interest of the whole society is binding upon every part of it," he implies the existence of some supreme power by which that "interest of the whole society" is to be determined. And elsewhere he more explicitly tells us, that for the attainment of a national advantage the private will of the subject is to give way; and that "the proof of this advantage lies with the legislature." Still more decisive is Bentham, when he says that "the happiness of the individuals of whom a community is composed, that is, their pleasures and their security, is the sole end which the legislator ought to have in view; the sole standard in conformity with which each individual ought, as far as depends upon the legislature, to be made to fashion his behaviour." These positions, be it remembered, are not voluntarily assumed; they are necessitated by the premises. If, as its propounder tells us, "expediency" means the benefit of the mass, not of the individual – of the future as much as of the present, it presupposes some one to judge of what will most conduce to that benefit. Upon the "utility" of this or that measure, the views are so various as to render an umpire essential. Whether protective duties, or established religions, or capital punishments, or poor laws, do or do not minister to the "general good," are questions concerning which there is such difference of opinion, that were nothing to be done till all agreed upon them, we might stand still to the end of time. If each man carried out, independently of a state power, his own notions of what would best secure "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," society would quickly lapse into confusion. Clearly, therefore, a morality established upon a maxim of which the practical interpretation is questionable, involves the existence of some authority whose decision respecting it shall be final—that is, a legislature. And without that authority, such a morality must ever remain inoperative.

See here then the predicament. A system of moral philosophy professes to be a code of correct rules for the control of human beings – fitted for the regulation of the best, as well as the worst members of the race – applicable, if true, to the guidance of humanity in its highest conceivable perfection. Government, however, is an institution originating in man's imperfection; an institution confessedly begotten by necessity out of evil; one which might be dispensed with were the world peopled with the unselfish, the conscientious, the philanthropic; one, in short, inconsistent with this same "highest conceivable perfection." How, then, can that be a true system of morality which adopts government as one of its premises? ...

There is no way of coming at a true theory of society, but by inquiring into the nature of its component individuals. To understand humanity in its combinations, it is necessary to analyze that humanity in its elementary form – for the explanation of the compound, to refer back to the simple. We quickly find that every phenomenon exhibited by an aggregation of men, originates in some quality of man himself. A little consideration shows us, for instance, that the very existence of society, implies some natural affinity in its members for such a union. It is pretty clear too, that without a certain fitness in mankind for ruling, and being ruled, government would be an impossibility. The infinitely complex organizations of commerce, have grown up under the stimulus of certain desires existing in each of us. And it is from our possession of a sentiment to which they appeal, that religious institutions have been called into existence.

In fact, on looking closely into the matter, we find that no other arrangement is conceivable. The characteristics exhibited by beings in an associated state cannot arise from the accident of combination, but must be the consequences of certain inherent properties of the beings themselves. True, the gathering together may call out these characteristics; it may make manifest what was before dormant; it may afford the opportunity for undeveloped peculiarities to appear; but it evidently does not create them. No phenomenon can be presented by a corporate body, but what there is a pre-existing capacity in its individual members for producing.

This fact, that the properties of a mass are dependent upon the attributes of its component parts, we see throughout nature. In the chemical combination of one element with another, Dalton has shown us that the affinity is between atom and atom. What we call the weight of a body, is the sum of the gravitative tendencies of its separate particles. The strength of a bar of metal, is the total effect of an indefinite number of molecular adhesions. And the power of the magnet, is a cumulative result of the polarity of its independent corpuscles. After the same manner, every social phenomenon must have its origin in some property of the individual. And just as the attractions and affinities which are latent in separate atoms, become visible when those atoms are approximated; so the forces that are dormant in the isolated man, are rendered active by juxtaposition with his fellows.

This consideration, though perhaps needlessly elaborated, has an important bearing on our subject. It points out the path we must pursue in our search after a true social philosophy. It suggests the idea that the moral law of society, like its other laws, originates in some attribute of the human being. It warns us against adopting any fundamental doctrine which, like that of "the greatest happiness to the greatest number," cannot be expressed without presupposing a state of aggregation. On the other hand it hints that the first principle of a code for the right ruling of humanity in its state of multitude, is to be found in humanity in its state of unitude – that the moral forces upon which social equilibrium depends, are resident in the social atom—man; and that if we would understand the nature of those forces, and the laws of that equilibrium, we must look for them in the human constitution. ...

Had we no other inducement to eat than that arising from the prospect of certain advantages to be thereby obtained, it is scarcely probable that our bodies would be so well cared for as now. One can quite imagine, that were we deprived of that punctual monitor—appetite, and left to the guidance of some reasoned code of rules, such rules, were they never so philosophical, and the benefits of obeying them never so obvious, would form but a very inefficient substitute. Or, instead of that powerful affection by which men are led to nourish and protect their offspring, did there exist merely an abstract opinion that it was proper or necessary to maintain the population of the globe, it is questionable whether the annoyance, anxiety, and expense, of providing for a posterity, would not so far exceed the anticipated good, as to involve a rapid extinction of the species. And if, in addition to these needs of the body, and of the race, all other requirements of our nature were similarly consigned to the sole care of the intellect – were knowledge, property, freedom, reputation, friends, sought only at its dictation – then would our investigations be so perpetual, our estimates so complex, our decisions so difficult, that life would be wholly occupied in the collection of evidence, and the balancing of probabilities. Under such an arrangement the utilitarian philosophy would indeed have strong argument in nature; for it would be simply applying to society, that system of governance by appeal to calculated final results, which already ruled the individual.

Quite different, however, is the method of nature. Answering to each of the actions which it is requisite for us to perform, we find in ourselves some prompter called a desire; and the more essential the action, the more powerful is the impulse to its performance, and the more intense the gratification derived therefrom. Thus, the longings for food, for sleep, for warmth, are irresistible; and quite independent of foreseen advantages. The continuance of the race is secured by others equally strong, whose dictates are followed, not in obedience to reason, but often in defiance of it. That men are not impelled to accumulate the means of subsistence solely by a view to consequences, is proved by the existence of misers, in whom the love of acquirement is gratified to the neglect of the ends meant to be subserved. We find employed a like system of regulating our conduct to our fellows. That we may behave in the public sight in the most agreeable manner, we possess a love of praise. It is desirable that there should be a segregation of those best fitted for each other's society – hence the sentiment of friendship. And in the reverence felt by men for superiority, we see a provision intended to secure the supremacy of the best.

May we not then reasonably expect to find a like instrumentality employed in impelling us to that line of conduct, in the due observance of which consists what we call morality? All must admit that we are guided to our bodily welfare by instincts; that from instincts also, spring those domestic relationships by which other important objects are compassed – and that similar agencies are in many cases used to secure our indirect benefit, by regulating social behaviour. Seeing, therefore, that whenever we can readily trace our actions to their origin, we find them produced after this manner, it is, to say the least of it, highly probable that the same mental mechanism is employed in all cases—that as the all-important requirements of our being are fulfilled at the solicitations of desire, so also are the less essential ones – that upright conduct in each being necessary to the happiness of all, there exists in us an impulse towards such conduct; or, in other words, that we possess a "Moral Sense," the duty of which is to dictate rectitude in our transactions with each other; which receives gratification from honest and fair dealing; and which gives birth to the sentiment of justice.

In bar of this conclusion it is indeed urged, that did there exist such an agency for controlling the behaviour of man to man, we should see universal evidence of its influence. Men would exhibit a more manifest obedience to its supposed dictates than they do. There would be a greater uniformity of opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of actions. And we should not, as now, find one man, or nation, considering as a virtue, what another regards as a vice – Malays glorying in the piracy abhorred by civilized races – a Thug regarding as a religious act, that assassination at which a European shudders – a Russian piquing himself on his successful trickery – a red Indian in his undying revenge – things which with us would hardly be boasted of.

Overwhelming as this objection appears, its fallacy becomes conspicuous enough, if we observe the predicament into which the general application of such a test betrays us. As thus: – None deny the universal existence of that instinct already adverted to, which urges us to take the food needful to support life; and none deny that such instinct is highly beneficial, and in all likelihood essential to being. Nevertheless there are not wanting infinite evils and incongruities, arising out of its rule. All know that appetite does not invariably guide men aright in the choice of food, either as to quality or quantity. Neither can any maintain that its dictates are uniform, when reminded of those unnumbered differences in the opinions called "tastes" which it originates in each. The mere mention of "gluttony," "drunkenness," reminds us that the promptings of appetite are not always good. Carbuncled noses, cadaverous faces, fœtid breaths, and plethoric bodies, meet us at every turn; and our condolences are perpetually asked for headaches, flatulence, nightmare, heartburn, and endless other dyspeptic symptoms. Again: – equally great irregularities may be found in the workings of that generally recognised feeling – parental affection. Amongst ourselves, its beneficial sway seems tolerably uniform. In the East, however, infanticide is practised now as it ever has been. During the so-called classic times, it was common to expose babes to the tender mercies of wild beasts. And it was the Spartan practice to cast all the newly-born who were not approved by a committee of old men, into a public pit provided for the purpose. If, then, it be argued that the want of uniformity in men's moral codes, together with the weakness and partiality of their influence, prove the non-existence of a feeling designed for the right regulation of our dealings with each other, it must be inferred from analogous irregularities in men's conduct as to food and offspring, that there are no such feelings as appetite and parental affection. As, however, we do not draw this inference in the one case, we cannot do so in the other. Hence, notwithstanding all the incongruities, we must admit the existence of a Moral Sense to be both possible and probable. ...

It seems at first sight a very rational way of testing any proposed rule of conduct to ask – How will it work? Taking men as we know them, and institutions as they are, what will result from carrying such a theory into practice? This very common-sense style of inquiry is that by which most opinions on morals and politics are formed. People consider of any system, whether it seems feasible, whether it will square with this or the other social arrangement, whether it fits what they see of human nature. They have got certain notions of what man is, and what society must be; and their verdict on any ethical doctrine depends upon its accordance or discordance with these.

Such a mode of settling moral questions, is clearly open to all the criticisms so fatal to the expediency-philosophy. Incapacity for guiding ourselves in detail by making estimates of consequences, implies incapacity for judging of first principles by that method. But passing over this, there is yet another reason for rejecting an inquiry so pursued as worthless; namely, that it assumes the character of mankind to be constant. If moral systems are adopted or condemned, because of their consistency or inconsistency, with what we know of men and things, then it is taken for granted that men and things will ever be as they are. It would be absurd to measure with a variable standard. If existing humanity is the gauge by which truth must be determined, then must that gauge – existing humanity – be fixed.

Now that it is not fixed, might have been thought sufficiently obvious without any proving – so obvious indeed as to make proof look ridiculous. But, unfortunately, those whose prejudices make them think otherwise are too numerous to be passed by. Their scepticism needs to be met by facts; and, wearisome though it may be to the philosophic reader, there is no alternative but to go into these. ...

And first, let us pause a moment to consider the antecedent improbability of this alleged constancy in human nature. It is a trite enough remark that change is the law of all things: true equally of a single object, and of the universe. Nature in its infinite complexity is ever growing to a new development. Each successive result becomes the parent of an additional influence, destined in some degree to modify all future results. No fresh thread enters into the texture of that endless web, woven in "the roaring loom of Time" but what more or less alters the pattern. It has been so from the beginning. As we turn over the leaves of the earth's primeval history – as we interpret the hieroglyphics in which are recorded the events of the unknown past, we find this same ever-beginning, never-ceasing change. We see it alike in the organic and the inorganic – in the decompositions and recombinations of matter, and in the constantly-varying forms of animal and vegetable life. Old formations are worn down; new ones are deposited. Forests and bogs become coal basins; and the now igneous rock was once sedimentary. With an altering atmosphere, and a decreasing temperature, land and sea perpetually bring forth fresh races of insects, plants, and animals. All things are metamorphosed; infusorial shells into chalk and flint, sand into stone, stone into gravel. Strata get contorted; seas fill up; lands are alternately upheaved and sunk. Where once rolled a fathomless ocean, now tower the snow-covered peaks of a wide-spread, richly-clothed country, teeming with existence; and where a vast continent once stretched, there remain but a few lonely coral islets to mark the graves of its submerged mountains. Thus also is it with systems, as well as with worlds. Orbits vary in their forms, axes in their inclinations, suns in their brightness. Fixed only in name, the stars are incessantly changing their relationships to each other. New ones from time to time suddenly appear, increase and wane; whilst the members of each nebula – suns, planets, and their satellites, sweep for ever onwards into unexplored infinity.

Strange indeed would it be, if, in the midst of this universal mutation, man alone were constant, unchangeable. But it is not so. He also obeys the law of indefinite variation. His circumstances are ever altering; and he is ever adapting himself to them. ...

And if humanity is indefinitely variable, it cannot be used as a gauge for testing moral truth. When we see that institutions impracticable in one age have flourished in a subsequent one; and that what were once salutary laws and customs have become repugnant; we may shrewdly suspect that the like changes will take place in future. That incongruity with the state of men and things which at present gives to certain proposed principles an appearance of impracticability, may, in a coming age, no longer exist; and those principles that now seem so well adapted to our social condition, may then no longer harmonise with it. Unless, therefore, we assume that human nature, although hitherto variable, will henceforth remain fixed – a somewhat unwarrantable assumption – we must not allow the disagreement between any system of ethics and the present state of mankind, to be taken as evidence against that system.

Nay more: not only ought we to regard such disagreement, when it appears, without prejudice; but we ought to expect it; and to consider it, if anything, rather an indication of truth than of error. It is preposterous to look for consistency between absolute moral truth, and the defective characters and usages of our existing state! As already said, Morality professes to be a code of rules proper for "the guidance of humanity in its highest conceivable perfection." A universal obedience to its precepts implies an ideal society. How then can it be expected to harmonise with the ideas, and actions, and institutions of man as he now is? When we say that mankind are sinful, weak, frail, we simply mean that they do not habitually fulfil the appointed law. Imperfection is merely another word for disobedience. So that congruity between a true theory of duty, and an untrue state of humanity, is an impossibility, a contradiction in the nature of things. Whoever, by way of recommending his scheme of ethics, sets forth its immediate and entire practicability, thereby inevitably proves its falsehood. Right principles of action become practicable, only as man becomes perfect; or rather, to put the expressions in proper sequence – man becomes perfect, just in so far as he is able to obey them.

A total disagreement may therefore be looked for between the doctrines promulgated in the following pages, and the institutions amidst which we live. And the reader will be prepared to view such disagreement not only as consistent with their truth, but as adding to its probability. ...

Even supposing for a moment, that a solitary act of disobedience may pass without evil results – nay, may bring beneficial ones: even supposing this, the wisdom of the act is not thereby proved. For consider the probable effects of a wrong precedent. As Paley truly says, "the bad consequences of actions are twofold, particular and general." And admitting even that a particular good has been secured, a far greater general evil has been entailed by opening the way to future disobedience. There is no security in this lax creed. One breach of the law leaves a gap for numberless subsequent trespasses. If the first false step has been taken with seeming impunity, it will inevitably be followed by others. School-boy promises of—"only this once" are not to be believed. Make a hole through a principle to admit a solitary exception, and, on one pretence or other, so many other exceptions will by and by be thrust through after it, as to render the principle utterly good-for-nothing. In fact, if its consequences are closely traced, this same plea for licence in special cases turns out to be the source of nearly all the evils that afflict us. Almost every wrong doing is excused by the doer on this ground. He confesses his act is at variance with the moral law, which he admits to be, and in some sort believes to be, the best guide. He thinks, however, that his interest requires him now and then to make exceptions. All men do this; – and see the result. ...

But can we ever be sure that an exceptional disobedience will bring the anticipated benefits? Whose would forsake for a time a confessedly-legitimate guide, should remember that he is falling back upon that expediency-hypothesis of which we have already seen the falsity. He is laying claim to a perfect knowledge of man, of society, of institutions, of events, of all the complex, ever-varying phenomena of human existence; and to a grasp of mind that can infer from these how things will go in future. In short, he is assuming that same omniscience, which, as we saw, is requisite for the successful carrying out of such a system. Does he shrink from arrogating as much? Then observe his dilemma. He deserts what he admits to be on the whole a safe rule of conduct, to follow one which is difficult to understand; unsettled in its directions; doubtful in its consequences.

Chapter 2: The Evanescence of Evil

All evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions. This is true of everything that lives. Does a shrub dwindle in poor soil, or become sickly when deprived of light, or die outright if removed to a cold climate? it is because the harmony between its organization and its circumstances has been destroyed. Those experiences of the farmyard and the menagerie which show that pain, disease, and death, are entailed upon animals by certain kinds of treatment, may all be generalised under the same law. Every suffering incident to the human body, from a headache up to a fatal illness – from a burn or a sprain, to accidental loss of life, is similarly traceable to the having placed that body in a situation for which its powers did not fit it. Nor is the expression confined in its application to physical evil; it comprehends moral evil also. Is the kindhearted man distressed by the sight of misery? is the bachelor unhappy because his means will not permit him to marry? does the mother mourn over her lost child? does the emigrant lament leaving his fatherland? are some made uncomfortable by having to pass their lives in distasteful occupations, and others from having no occupation at all? the explanation is still the same. No matter what the special nature of the evil, it is invariably referable to the one generic cause – want of congruity between the faculties and their spheres of action. ...

Equally true is it that evil perpetually tends to disappear. In virtue of an essential principle of life, this non-adaptation of an organism to its conditions is ever being rectified; and modification of one or both, continues until the adaptation is complete. Whatever possesses vitality, from the elementary cell up to man himself, inclusive, obeys this law. We see it illustrated in the acclimatization of plants, in the altered habits of domesticated animals, in the varying characteristics of our own race. Accustomed to the brief arctic summer, the Siberian herbs and shrubs spring up, flower, and ripen their seeds, in the space of a few weeks. If exposed to the rigour of northern winters, animals of the temperate zone get thicker coats, and become white. The greyhound which, when first transported to the high plateaus of the Andes, fails in the chase from want of breath, acquires, in the course of generations, a more efficient pair of lungs. Cattle which in their wild state gave milk but for short periods, now give it almost continuously. Ambling is a pace not natural to the horse; yet there are American breeds that now take to it without training.

Man exhibits just the same adaptability. He alters in colour according to temperature – lives here upon rice, and there upon whale oil – gets larger digestive organs if he habitually eats innutritious food – acquires the power of long fasting if his mode of life is irregular, and loses it when the supply of food is certain – becomes fleet and agile in the wilderness and inert in the city – attains acute vision, hearing, and scent, when his habits of life call for them, and gets these senses blunted when they are less needful. That such changes are towards fitness for surrounding circumstances no one can question. When he sees that the dweller in marshes lives in an atmosphere which is certain death to a stranger – when he sees that the Hindoo can lie down and sleep under a tropical sun, whilst his white master with closed blinds, and water sprinklings, and punkah, can hardly get a doze – when he sees that the Greenlander and the Neapolitan subsist comfortably on their respective foods – blubber and macaroni, but would be made miserable by an interchange of them – when he sees that in other cases there is still this fitness to diet, to climate, and to modes of life, even the most sceptical must admit that some law of adaptation is at work. Nay, indeed, if he interprets facts aright, he will find that the action of such a law, is traceable down to the minutest ramifications of individual experience. In the drunkard who needs an increasing quantity of spirits to intoxicate him, and in the opium eater, who has to keep taking a larger dose to produce the usual effect, he may mark how the system gradually acquires power to resist what is noxious. Those who smoke, who take snuff, or who habitually use medicines, can furnish like illustrations. Nor in fact, is there any permanent change of bodily state or capability, which is not to be accounted for on the same principle.

This universal law of physical modification, is the law of mental modification also. The multitudinous differences of capacity and disposition that have in course of time grown up between the Indian, African, Mongolian and Caucasian races, and between the various subdivisions of them, must all be ascribed to the acquirement in each case of fitness for surrounding circumstances. Those strong contrasts between the characters of nations and of times awhile since exemplified ... admit of no other conceivable explanation. Why all this divergence from the one common original type? If adaptation of constitution to conditions is not the cause, what is the cause?

There are none, however, who can with anything like consistency combat this doctrine; for all use arguments that presuppose its truth. Even those to whose prejudices the theory of man's indefinite adaptability is most opposed, are continually betraying their involuntary belief in it. They do this when they attribute differences of national character to differences in social customs and arrangements: and again when they comment on the force of habit: and again when they discuss the probable influence of a proposed measure upon public morality: and again when they recommend practice as a means of acquiring increased aptitude: and again when they describe certain pursuits as elevating and others as degrading: and again when they talk of getting used to anything: and again when they advocate certain systems of mental discipline—when they teach that virtuous conduct eventually becomes pleasurable, and when they warn against the power of a long-encouraged vice.

In fact, if we consider the question closely, no other arrangement of things can be imagined. For we must adopt one of three propositions. We must either affirm that the human being is wholly unaltered by the influences that are brought to bear upon him – his circumstances as we call them; or that he perpetually tends to become more and more unfitted to those circumstances; or that he tends to become fitted to them. If the first is true, then all schemes of education, of government, of social reform – all instrumentalities by which it is proposed to act upon man, are utterly useless, seeing that he cannot be acted upon at all. If the second is true, then the way to make a man virtuous is to accustom him to vicious practices, and vice versâ. Both of which propositions being absurd, we are compelled to admit the remaining one. ...

Keeping in mind then the two facts, that all evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions; and that where this non-adaptation exists it is continually being diminished by the changing of constitution to suit conditions, we shall be prepared for comprehending the present position of the human race.

By the increase of population the state of existence we call social has been necessitated. Men living in this state suffer under numerous evils. By the hypothesis it follows that their characters are not completely adapted to such a state.

In what respect are they not so adapted? what is the special qualification which the social state requires?

It requires that each individual shall have such desires only, as may be fully satisfied without trenching upon the ability of other individuals to obtain like satisfaction. If the desires of each are not thus limited, then either all must have certain of their desires ungratified; or some must get gratification for them at the corresponding expense of others. Both of which alternatives necessitating pain, imply non-adaptation.

But why is not man adapted to the social state?

Simply because he yet partially retains the characteristics that adapted him for an antecedent state. The respects in which he is not fitted to society are the respects in which he is fitted for his original predatory life. His primitive circumstances required that he should sacrifice the welfare of other beings to his own; his present circumstances require that he should not do so; and in as far as his old attribute still clings to him, in so far is he unfit for the social state. All sins of men against each other, from the cannibalism of the Carrib to the crimes and venalities that we see around us; the felonies that fill our prisons, the trickeries of trade, the quarrelings of nation with nation, and of class with class, the corruptness of institutions, the jealousies of caste, and the scandal of drawing-rooms, have their causes comprehended under this generalization.

Concerning the present position of the human race, we must therefore say, that man needed one moral constitution to fit him for his original state; that he needs another to fit him for his present state; and that he has been, is, and will long continue to be, in process of adaptation. By the term civilization we signify the adaptation that has already taken place. The changes that constitute progress are the successive steps of the transition. And the belief in human perfectibility, merely amounts to the belief, that in virtue of this process, man will eventually become completely suited to his mode of life. ...

If there be any conclusiveness in the foregoing arguments, such a faith is well founded. As commonly supported by evidence drawn from history, it cannot be considered indisputable. The inference that as advancement has been hitherto the rule, it will be the rule henceforth, may be called a plausible speculation. But when it is shown that this advancement is due to the working of a universal law; and that in virtue of that law it must continue until the state we call perfection is reached, then the advent of such a state is removed out of the region of probability into that of certainty. If any one demurs to this, let him point out the error. Here are the several steps of the argument.

All imperfection is unfitness to the conditions of existence.

This unfitness must consist either in having a faculty or faculties in excess; or in having a faculty or faculties deficient; or in both.

A faculty in excess, is one which the conditions of existence do not afford full exercise to; and a faculty that is deficient, is one from which the conditions of existence demand more than it can perform.

But it is an essential principle of life that a faculty to which circumstances do not allow full exercise diminishes; and that a faculty on which circumstances make excessive demands increases.

And so long as this excess and this deficiency continue, there must continue decrease on the one hand, and growth on the other.

Finally all excess and all deficiency must disappear; that is, all unfitness must disappear; that is, all imperfection must disappear.

Thus the ultimate development of the ideal man is logically certain – as certain as any conclusion in which we place the most implicit faith; for instance, that all men will die. For why do we infer that all men will die? Simply because, in an immense number of past experiences, death has uniformly occurred. Similarly then as the experiences of all people in all times—experiences that are embodied in maxims, proverbs, and moral precepts, and that are illustrated in biographies and histories, go to prove that organs, faculties, powers, capacities, or whatever else we call them, grow by use and diminish from disuse, it is inferred that they will continue to do so. And if this inference is unquestionable, then is the one above deduced from it – that humanity must in the end become completely adapted to its conditions – unquestionable also.

Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity. Instead of civilization being artificial, it is a part of nature; all of a piece with the development of the embryo or the unfolding of a flower. The modifications mankind have undergone, and are still undergoing, result from a law underlying the whole organic creation; and provided the human race continues, and the constitution of things remains the same, those modifications must end in completeness. As surely as the tree becomes bulky when it stands alone, and slender if one of a group; as surely as the same creature assumes the different forms of cart-horse and race-horse, according as its habits demand strength or speed; as surely as a blacksmith's arm grows large, and the skin of a labourer's hand thick; as surely as the eye tends to become long-sighted in the sailor, and short-sighted in the student; as surely as the blind attain a more delicate sense of touch; as surely as a clerk acquires rapidity in writing and calculation; as surely as the musician learns to detect an error of a semitone amidst what seems to others a very babel of sounds; as surely as a passion grows by indulgence and diminishes when restrained; as surely as a disregarded conscience becomes inert, and one that is obeyed active; as surely as there is any efficacy in educational culture, or any meaning in such terms as habit, custom, practice;—so surely must the human faculties be moulded into complete fitness for the social state; so surely must the things we call evil and immorality disappear; so surely must man become perfect.

Chapter 3: The Divine Idea, and the Conditions of Its Realization

If, instead of proposing it as the rule of human conduct, Bentham had simply assumed "greatest happiness" to be the creative purpose, his position would have been tenable enough. Almost all men do in one way or other assert the same. There have indeed been times when such a faith was far from universal. Had the proposition been made before Simeon Stylites on the top of his column, he would very likely have demurred to it. Probably the Flagellants of the thirteenth century may have thought otherwise. And even now it is possible that the Fakeers of India hold a contrary opinion. But, whilst it may be true that a savage asceticism attributes to the Deity a barbarity equal to its own, and conceives him as delighting in human sacrifices; whilst it may be true that amongst ourselves the same notion yet lingers, under the form of occasional fasts and penances; still there are few if any amongst civilized people who do not agree that human well-being is in accordance with the Divine will. The doctrine is taught by all our religious teachers; it is assumed by every writer on morality: we may therefore safely consider it as an admitted truth.

It is one thing, however, to hold that greatest happiness is the creative purpose, and a quite different thing to hold that greatest happiness should be the immediate aim of man. It has been the fatal error of the expediency-philosophers to confound these positions. They have not observed that the truth has two sides, a Divine side and a human side; and that it matters much to us which we look at. Greatest Happiness and Morality, are the face and obverse of the same fact; what is written on the one surface is beyond our interpretation: what is written on the other we may read easily enough.

Or dropping metaphor, and speaking in philosophical language, we may say that it is for us to ascertain the conditions by conforming to which this greatest happiness may be attained. Not to put trust in guesses: not to do this or that, because we think it will be beneficial: but to find out what really is the line of conduct that leads to the desired end. For unquestionably there must be in the nature of things some definite and fixed pre-requisites to success. Man is a visible, tangible entity, having properties. In the circumstances that surround him there are certain unchanging necessities. Life is dependent upon the fulfilment of specific functions; and happiness is a particular kind of life. Surely then if we would know how, in the midst of these appointed circumstances, the being Man must live, so as to achieve the result – greatest happiness, we ought first to determine what the essential conditions are. If we solve the problem, it can only be by consulting these and submitting ourselves to them. To suppose that we may, in ignorance or disregard of them, succeed by some hap-hazard speculation, is sheer folly. Only in one way can the desideratum be reached. What that one way is must depend upon the fundamental necessities of our position. And if we would discover it, our first step must be to ascertain those necessities. ...

At the head of them stands this unalterable fact – the social state. In the pre-ordained course of things, men have multiplied until they are constrained to live more or less in presence of each other. That, as being needful for the support of the greatest sum of life, such a condition is preliminary to the production of the greatest sum of happiness, seems highly probable. Be that as it may, however, we find this state established; are henceforth to continue in it; and must therefore set it down as one of those necessities which our rules for the achievement of the greatest happiness must recognise and conform to.

In this social state the sphere of activity of each individual being limited by the spheres of activity of other individuals, it follows that the men who are to realize this greatest sum of happiness, must be men of whom each can obtain complete happiness within his own sphere of activity, without diminishing the spheres of activity required for the acquisition of happiness by others. For manifestly, if each or any of them cannot receive complete happiness without lessening the spheres of activity of one or more of the rest, he must either himself come short of complete happiness, or must make one or more do so; and hence under such circumstances, the sum total of happiness cannot be as great as is conceivable, or cannot be greatest happiness. Here then is the first of those fixed conditions to the obtainment of greatest happiness, necessitated by the social state. It is the fulfilment of this condition which we express by the word justice.

To this all-essential pre-requisite there is a supplementary one of kindred nature. We find that without trenching upon each other's spheres of activity, men may yet behave to one another in such a way as to produce painful emotions. And if any have feelings that lead them to do this, it is clear that the total amount of happiness is not so great as it would be were they devoid of those feelings. Hence, to compass greatest happiness, the human constitution must be such as that each man may perfectly fulfil his own nature, not only without diminishing other men's spheres of activity, but without giving unhappiness to other men in any direct or indirect way. This condition, as we shall by-and-by see, needs to be kept quite distinct from the foregoing one. The observance of it may be called negative beneficience.

Yet another requirement is there by fulfilment of which the happiness flowing from compliance with the foregoing ones is indefinitely multiplied. Let a race of beings be so constituted as that each individual may be able to obtain full satisfaction for all his desires, without deducting from the satisfaction obtainable by other individuals, and we have a state of things in which the amount of isolated happiness is the greatest conceivable. But let these beings be so constituted as that each, in addition to the pleasurable emotions personally received by him, can sympathetically participate in the pleasurable emotions of all others, and the sum-total of happiness becomes largely increased. Hence, to the primary requisite that each shall be able to get complete happiness without diminishing the happiness of the rest, we must now add the secondary one that each shall be capable of receiving happiness from the happiness of the rest. Compliance with this requisite implies positive beneficence.

Lastly there must go to the production of the greatest happiness the further condition, that, whilst duly regardful of the preceding limitations, each individual shall perform all those acts required to fill up the measure of his own private happiness.

These then are necessities. They are not matters of opinion, but matters of unalterable fact. Denial of them is impossible, for nothing else can be stated but what is self-contradictory. Without any alternative, beings who are to realize the Divine Idea must be thus constituted. Before greatest happiness can be brought about, every man must answer to these definitions; and all approach to greatest happiness, presupposes an approach towards conformity with them. Schemes of government and culture which ignore them, cannot but be essentially absurd. Everything must be good or bad, right or wrong, in virtue of its accordance or discordance with them. We have no need to perplex ourselves with investigations into the expediency of every measure, by trying to trace out its ultimate results in all their infinite ramifications – a task which it is folly to attempt. Our course is to inquire concerning such measure, whether or not it fully recognises these fundamental necessities, and to be sure that it must be proper or improper accordingly. Our whole code of duty is comprehended in the endeavour to live up to these necessities. If we find pleasure in doing this, it is well; if not, our aim must be to acquire that pleasure. Greatest happiness is obtained only when conformity to them is spontaneous; seeing that the restraint of desires inciting to trespass implies pain, or deduction from greatest happiness. Hence it is for us to habituate ourselves to fulfil these requirements as fast as we can. The social state is a necessity. The conditions of greatest happiness under that state are fixed. Our characters are the only things not fixed. They, then, must be moulded into fitness for the conditions. And all moral teaching and discipline, must have for its object, to hasten this process. ...

It is with the several inferences to be drawn from that primary condition to greatest happiness, the observance of which is vaguely signified by the word justice, that we have now to deal. Our work will be to unfold that condition into a system of equity; to mark out those limits put to each man's proper sphere of activity, by the like spheres of other men; to delineate the relationships that are necessitated by a recognition of those limits; or – in other words – to develop the principles of Social Statics.

Chapter 4: Derivation of a First Principle

Happiness is a certain state of consciousness. That state must be produced by the action upon consciousness of certain modifying influences – by certain affections of it. All affections of consciousness we term sensations. And amongst the rest, those affections of it which constitute happiness must be sensations.

But how do we receive sensations? Through what are called faculties. It is certain that a man cannot see without eyes. Equally certain is it that he can experience no impression of any kind, unless he is endowed with some power fitted to take in that impression; that is, a faculty. All the mental states which he calls feelings and ideas, are affections of his consciousness received through the faculties – sensations given to it by them.

There next comes the question – under what circumstances do the faculties yield those sensations of which happiness consists? The reply is – when they are exercised. It is from the activity of one or more of them that all gratification arises. To the healthful performance of each function of mind or body attaches a pleasurable feeling. And this pleasurable feeling is obtainable only by the performance of the function; that is, by the exercise of the correlative faculty. Every faculty in turn affords its special emotion; and the sum of these constitutes happiness.

Or the matter may be briefly put thus. A desire is the need for some species of sensation. A sensation is producible only by the exercise of a faculty. Hence no desire can be satisfied except through the exercise of a faculty. But happiness consists in the due satisfaction of all the desires; that is, happiness consists in the due exercise of all the faculties. ...

Now if God wills man's happiness, and man's happiness can be obtained only by the exercise of his faculties, then God wills that man should exercise his faculties; that is, it is man's duty to exercise his faculties; for duty means fulfilment of the Divine will. That it is man's duty to exercise his faculties is further proved by the fact, that what we call punishment attaches to the neglect of that exercise. Not only is the normal activity of each faculty productive of pleasure, but the continued suspension of that activity is productive of pain. As the stomach hungers to digest food, so does every bodily and mental agent hunger to perform its appointed action. And as the refusal to satisfy the cravings of the digestive faculty is productive of suffering, so is the refusal to satisfy the cravings of any other faculty also productive of suffering, to an extent proportionate to the importance of that faculty. But as God wills man's happiness, that line of conduct which produces unhappiness is contrary to his will. Therefore the non-exercise of the faculties is contrary to his will. Either way then, we find that the exercise of the faculties is God's will and man's duty.

But the fulfilment of this duty necessarily presupposes freedom of action. Man cannot exercise his faculties without certain scope. He must have liberty to go and to come, to see, to feel, to speak, to work; to get food, raiment, shelter, and to provide for each and all of the needs of his nature. He must be free to do everything which is directly or indirectly requisite for the due satisfaction of every mental and bodily want. Without this he cannot fulfil his duty or God's will. But if he cannot fulfil God's will without it, then God commands him to take it. He has Divine authority, therefore, for claiming this freedom of action. God intended him to have it; that is, he has a right to it.

From this conclusion there seems no possibility of escape. Let us repeat the steps by which we arrive at it. God wills man's happiness. Man's happiness can only be produced by the exercise of his faculties. Then God wills that he should exercise his faculties. But to exercise his faculties he must have liberty to do all that his faculties naturally impel him to do. Then God intends he should have that liberty. Therefore he has a right to that liberty. ...

This, however, is not the right of one but of all. All are endowed with faculties. All are bound to fulfil the Divine will by exercising them. All therefore must be free to do those things in which the exercise of them consists. That is, all must have rights to liberty of action.

And hence there necessarily arises a limitation. For if men have like claims to that freedom which is needful for the exercise of their faculties, then must the freedom of each be bounded by the similar freedom of all. When, in the pursuit of their respective ends, two individuals clash, the movements of the one remain free only in so far as they do not interfere with the like movements of the other. This sphere of existence into which we are thrown not affording room for the unrestrained activity of all, and yet all possessing in virtue of their constitutions similar claims to such unrestrained activity, there is no course but to apportion out the unavoidable restraint equally. Wherefore we arrive at the general proposition, that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man. ...

Upon a partial consideration this statement of the law will perhaps seem open to criticism. It may be thought better to limit the right of each to exercise his faculties, by the proviso that he shall not hurt any one else – shall not inflict pain on any one else. But although at first sight satisfactory, this expression of the law allows of erroneous deductions. It is true that men, answering to those conditions of greatest happiness set forth in the foregoing chapter, cannot exercise their faculties to the aggrieving of one another. It is not, however, that each avoids giving pain by refraining from the full exercise of his faculties; but it is that the faculties of each are such that the full exercise of them offends no one. And herein lies the difference. The giving of pain may have two causes. Either the abnormally-constituted man may do something displeasing to the normal feelings of his neighbours, in which case he acts wrongly; or the behaviour of the normally-constituted man may irritate the abnormal feelings of his neighbours; in which case it is not his behaviour that is wrong, but their characters that are so. Under such circumstances the due exercise of his faculties is right, although it gives pain; and the remedy for the evil lies in the modification of those abnormal feelings to which pain is given.

To elucidate this distinction let us take a few illustrations. An honest man discovers some friend, of whom he had previously thought well, to be a rogue. He has certain high instincts to which roguery is repugnant; and allowing free play to these, he drops the acquaintanceship of this unworthy one. Now, though in doing so he gives pain, it does not follow that he transgresses the law. The evil must be ascribed, not to an undue exercise of faculties by him, but to the immorality of the man who suffers. Again, a Protestant in a Roman Catholic country, refuses to uncover his head on the passing of the host. In so obeying the promptings of certain sentiments, he annoys the spectators; and were the above modified expression of the law correct, would be blameable. The fault, however, is not with him, but with those who are offended. It is not that he is culpable in thus testifying to his belief, but it is that they ought not to have so tyrannical an intolerance of other opinions than their own. Or again, a son, to the great displeasure of his father and family, marries one who, though in all respects admirable, is dowerless. In thus obeying the dictates of his nature he may entail considerable distress of mind upon his relatives; but it does not follow that his conduct is bad; it follows rather that the feelings which his conduct has wounded are bad.

Hence we see that in hourly-occurring cases like these, to limit the exercise of faculties by the necessity of not giving pain to others, would be to stop the proper exercise of faculties in some persons, for the purpose of allowing the improper exercise of faculties in the rest. Moreover, the observance of such a rule does not, as at first sight appears, prevent pain. For though he who is restrained by it avoids inflicting suffering on his fellows, he does so at the expense of suffering to himself. The evil must be borne by some one, and the question is by whom. Shall the Protestant, by showing reverence for what he does not revere, tell a virtual lie, and thus do violence to his conscientious feeling that he may avoid vexing the intolerant spirit of his Catholic neighbours? or shall he give the rein to his own healthy sincerity and independence, and offend their unhealthy bigotry? Shall the honest man repress those sentiments that make him honest, lest the exhibition of them should give pain to a rogue? or shall he respect his own nobler feelings, and hurt the other's baser ones? Between these alternatives no one can well pause. And here indeed we get down to the root of the matter. For be it remembered the universal law of life is, that the exercise or gratification of faculties strengthens them; whilst, on the contrary, the curbing or inflicting pain upon them, entails a diminution of their power. And hence it follows that when the action of a normal faculty is checked, to prevent pain being given to the abnormal faculties of others, those abnormal faculties remain as active as they were, and the normal one becomes weaker or abnormal. Whereas under converse circumstances the normal one remains strong, and the abnormal ones are weakened, or made more normal. In the one case the pain is detrimental, because it retards the approximation to that form of human nature under which the faculties of each may be fully exercised without displeasure to the like faculties of all. In the other case the pain is beneficial, because it aids the approximation to that form. Thus, that first expression of the law which arises immediately from the conditions of social existence, turns out to be the true one: any such modification of it as the above, necessitating conduct that is in many cases absolutely mischievous.

And yet, on the other hand, when we seek to express the law by saying that every man has full liberty to exercise his faculties, provided always he does not trench upon the similar liberty of any other, we commit ourselves to an imperfection of an opposite character; and we find that there are many cases in which the above modified expression answers better. Various ways exist in which the faculties may be exercised to the aggrieving of other persons, without the law of equal freedom being overstepped. A man may behave unamiably, may use harsh language, or annoy by disgusting habits; and whoso thus offends the normal feelings of his fellows, manifestly diminishes happiness. If we say that every one is free to exercise his faculties so long only as he does not inflict pain upon any one else, we forbid all such conduct. Whereas if we simply limit the liberty of each by the like liberty of all, we do not forbid it; seeing that he who exercises his faculties in this way, does not hinder others from exercising theirs in the same way, and to the same extent. How then are we to escape from this difficulty? Neither statement of the law quite fulfils our requirement, and yet we must choose one of them. Which must it be, and why?

It must be the original one, and for a very good reason. Limiting the liberty of each by the like liberty of all, excludes a wide range of improper actions, but does not exclude certain other improper ones. Limiting the liberty of each by the necessity of not giving pain to the rest, excludes the whole of these improper actions, but excludes along with them many others that are proper. The one does not cut off enough; the other cuts off too much. The one is negatively erroneous; the other is positively so. Evidently, then, we must adopt the negatively erroneous one, seeing that its shortcomings may be made good by a supplementary law. And here we find the need for that distinction lately drawn between justice and negative beneficence – a distinction which we habitually make in the affairs of life. Justice imposes upon the exercise of faculties a primary series of limitations, which is strictly true as far as it goes. Negative beneficence imposes a secondary series. It is no defect in the first of these that it does not include the last. The two are, in the main, distinct; and, as we have just seen, the attempt to unite them under one expression leads us into fatal errors. ...

Yet another objection will probably be started. By full liberty to exercise the faculties, is meant full liberty to do all that the faculties prompt, or, in other words, to do all that the individual wills; and it may be said, that if the individual is free to do all that he wills, provided he does not trespass upon certain specified claims of others, then he is free to do things that are injurious to himself – is free to get drunk, or to commit suicide. To this it must be in the first place replied, as above, that whilst the law now laid down forbids a certain class of actions as immoral, it does not recognise all kinds of immorality – that the restriction it puts on the free exercise of faculties, though the chief, is not the sole restriction, and must be received without prejudice to further ones. Of the need for such further ones, the difficulty here raised furnishes a second instance.

Mark now, however, that these supplementary restrictions are of quite inferior authority to the original law. Instead of being, like it, capable of strictly scientific development, they (under existing circumstances) can be unfolded only into superior forms of expediency. The limit put to each man's freedom, by the like freedom of every other man, is a limit almost always possible of exact ascertainment; for let the condition of things be what it may, the respective amounts of freedom men assume can be compared, and the equality or inequality of those amounts recognised. But when we set about drawing practical deductions from the propositions that a man is not at liberty to do things injurious to himself, and that he is not at liberty (except in cases like those lately cited) to do what may give unhappiness to his neighbours, we find ourselves involved in complicated estimates of pleasures and pains, to the obvious peril of our conclusions. It is very true, that to trace out the consequences a given act will entail upon oneself or another, is incomparably less difficult than to determine the ultimate effects of some public measure upon a whole nation; and hence the being guided by expediency in private life is proportionably less dangerous. Yet it is also true, that even here, trustworthy inferences are attainable in but a minority of cases. In the first place we frequently cannot say whether the bad results will exceed the good ones; and in the second place we frequently cannot say whether the faculties on which suffering will be inflicted, are in normal or abnormal states. For example, though it is very manifest that drunkenness is an injurious exercise of faculties, as being clearly productive of more pain than pleasure, it is by no means manifest how much work is proper for us, and when work becomes detrimental; it is by no means manifest where lies the line between due and undue intellectual activity; it is by no means manifest what amount of advantage will justify a man in submitting to unsuitable climate and mode of life; and yet in each of these cases happiness is at stake, and the wrong course is wrong for the same reason that drunkenness is so. Even were it possible to say of each private action whether the resulting gratification did or did not preponderate over the resulting suffering, there would still present itself this second difficulty, that we cannot with certainty distinguish suffering that is detrimental, from suffering that is beneficial. Whilst we are as yet imperfectly adapted to our conditions, pain must inevitably arise from the repression of faculties that are too active, and from the overtasking of those that are not equal to their duties; and, as being needful to the development of the ultimate man, such pain cannot be held damnatory of the actions causing it. Thus, referring again to the instances just cited, it is self-evident that the ability to work is needful for the production of the greatest happiness; yet is the acquirement of this ability by the uncivilized man so distressing, that only the severest discipline will force him to it. That degree of intelligence which our existing mode of life necessitates, cannot be arrived at without ages of wearisome application; and perhaps cannot get organized in the race without a partial and temporary sacrifice of bodily health. The realization of the Divine Idea implies the peopling of every habitable region; and this implies the adaptation of mankind to a variety of climates – an adaptation which cannot be undergone without great suffering. Here, then, are cases in which men's liberty must not be limited by the necessity of not injuring themselves; seeing that it cannot be so limited without a suspension of our approach to greatest happiness. Similarly we saw awhile since ... that there are cases in which for the same reason men's liberty must not be limited by the necessity of not inflicting pain upon others. And the fact now to be noticed is, that we possess no certain way of distinguishing the two groups of cases thus exemplified from those cases in which the doing what diminishes happiness, either in ourselves or others, is both immediately and ultimately detrimental, and therefore wrong. Not being able to define specifically the constitution of the ideal man, but being able to define it generically only – not being able to determine the ratios of the several faculties composing that constitution, but being able simply to lay down certain laws which their action must conform to – we are quite incompetent to say of every particular deed whether it is or is not accordant with that constitution. Or, putting the difficulty in its simplest form, we may say, that as both of these supplementary limitations involve the term happiness, and as happiness is for the present capable only of a generic and not of a specific definition ..., they do not admit of scientific development. Though abstractedly correct limitations, and limitations which the ideal man will strictly observe, they cannot be reduced to concrete forms until the ideal man exists. ...

And now we have arrived at the threshold of an important truth touching this matter; the truth namely, that only by a universal exercise of this alleged liberty of each, limited alone by the like liberty of all, can there ever arise a separation of those acts which, though incidentally and temporarily injurious to ourselves or others, are indirectly beneficial, from those acts which are necessarily and eternally injurious. For manifestly, that non-adaptation of faculties to their functions, from which springs every species of evil, must consist either in excess or defect. And manifestly, in the wide range of cases we are now treating of, there exists no mode but a tentative one of distinguishing that exercise of faculties which produces suffering because it oversteps the conditions of normal existence, from that other exercise of faculties which produces suffering because it falls short of those conditions. And manifestly, the due employment of this tentative mode requires that each man shall have the greatest freedom compatible with the like freedom of all others. Or, turning the proposition the other side up, we may say, that whilst these secondary conditions of greatest happiness are really fixed, yet the practical interpretation of them requiring a detailed knowledge of the ultimate human constitution, bodily and mental, and such detailed knowledge being unattainable, our course is to regard the law of equal freedom as setting up the only recognisable limit to the exercise of faculties, knowing that the other limits will inevitably make themselves felt, and that in virtue of the law of adaptation, there must eventually arise a complete conformity to them. ...

There exists, however, a dominant sect of so-called philosophical politicians who treat with contempt this belief that men have any claims antecedent to those endorsed by governments. As disciples of Bentham, consistency requires them to do this. Accordingly, although it does violence to their secret perceptions, they boldly deny the existence of "rights" entirely. They nevertheless perpetually betray a belief in the doctrines which they professedly reject. They inadvertently talk about justice, especially when it concerns themselves, in much the same style as their opponents. They draw the same distinction between law and equity that other people do. They applaud fairness, and honour, quite as if they thought them something more than mere words. And when robbed, or assaulted, or wrongly imprisoned, they exhibit the same indignation, the same determination to oppose the aggressor, utter the same denunciations of tyranny, and the same loud demands for redress, as the sternest assertors of the rights of man. By way of explaining such inconsistencies, it is indeed alleged, that the feeling thus manifested is nothing but the result of a gradually-acquired conviction that benefits flow from some kinds of action, and evils from other kinds; and it is said that the sympathies and antipathies respectively contracted towards these, exhibit themselves, as a love of justice, and a hatred of injustice. To which supposition it was by implication elsewhere replied, that it would be equally wise to conclude that hunger springs from a conviction of the benefit of eating; or that love of offspring is the result of a wish to maintain the species!

But it is amusing when, after all, it turns out that the ground on which these philosophers have taken their stand, and from which with such self-complacency they shower their sarcasms, is nothing but an adversary's mine, destined to blow the vast fabric of conclusions they have based on it into nonentity. This so solid-looking principle of "the greatest happiness to the greatest number," needs but to have a light brought near it, and lo! it explodes into the astounding assertion, that all men have equal rights to happiness ... — an assertion far more sweeping and revolutionary than any of those which are assailed with so much scorn.

When we see, then, that an instinct of personal rights manifests itself unceasingly in opinions and institutions; when further we find that the attempt to trace the monitions of this instinct to experience, betrays us into an absurdity; and when lastly, the dogma of those who most sturdily deny that there is such an instinct, proves to be only another emanation from it—we find ourselves in possession of the strongest possible evidence of its existence—the testimony of all parties. We are therefore justified in considering that existence as sufficiently proved. ...

But why, it may be asked, should there need any sentiment leading men to claim the liberty of action requisite for the due exercise of faculties, and prompting them to resist encroachments upon that liberty? Will not the several faculties themselves do this, by virtue of their desires for activity, which cannot otherwise be gratified? Surely there is no necessity for a special impulse to make a man do that which all his impulses conjointly tend to make him do.

This is not so serious an objection as it appears to be. For although, were there no such sentiment as this supposed one, each faculty in turn might impel its possessor to oppose a diminution of its own sphere of action, yet, during the dormancy of that faculty, there would be nothing to prevent the freedom requisite for its future exercise from being infringed upon. It may, perhaps, be rejoined, that the mere consciousness that there must again occur occasions for the use of such freedom will constitute a sufficient incentive to defend it. But plausible as this supposition looks, it does not tally with facts. We do not find on inquiry, that each faculty has a special foresight – takes thought for its gratifications to come: we find, on the contrary, that to provide for the future gratification of the faculties at large, is the office of faculties appointed solely for that purpose. Thus, referring once more by way of illustration to the acquisitive instinct, we see that, when this is wanting, the desires for food, for clothing, for shelter, together with those many other desires which property minsters to, do not of themselves prompt that accumulation of property on which the continuance of their satisfaction depends. Each of them, when active, impels the individual to take means for its present fulfilment; but does not prompt him to lay by the means for its future fulfilment. To so prompt him there needs a certain amount of this acquisitive instinct, which, in pursuing its own gratification, incidentally secures to other instincts the means of their gratification. Similarly, then, with liberty of action. It is argued, that as each faculty does not look after its own particular fund of necessaries, so neither does it look after its own particular sphere of activity; and that as there is a special faculty to which the providing of a general fund of necessaries is consigned, so likewise is there a special faculty to which the maintenance of a general sphere of activity is consigned. Or perhaps we may most clearly express the relationship in which these two faculties stand to the rest, by saying, that whilst it is the function of the one to accumulate the matter on which the faculties at large are to be exercised, it is the function of the other to preserve the freedom of motion by which that matter is both obtained and made use of. ...

Seeing, however, that this instinct of personal rights is a purely selfish instinct, leading each man to assert and defend his own liberty of action, there remains the question – Whence comes our perception of the rights of others?

The way to a solution of this difficulty has been opened by Adam Smith in his "Theory of Moral Sentiments." It is the aim of that work to show that the proper regulation of our conduct to one another, is secured by means of a faculty whose function it is to excite in each being the emotions displayed by surrounding ones – a faculty which awakens a like state of sentiment, or, as he terms it, "a fellow feeling with the passions of others" – the faculty, in short, which we commonly call Sympathy. As illustrations of the mode in which this agent acts, he quotes cases like these: –

"Persons of delicate fibres, and weak constitution of body, complain that in looking on the sores and ulcers which are exposed by beggars in the streets, they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in the corresponding part of their own bodies." "Men of most robust make observe, that in looking upon sore eyes they often feel a very sensible soreness in their own." "Our joy for the deliverance of those heroes of tragedy or romance who interest us, is as sincere as our grief for their distress, and our fellow-feeling for their misery, is not more real than that for their happiness." "We blush for the impudence and rudeness of another, though he himself appears to have no sense of the impropriety of his behaviour."

To these facts cited by Adam Smith, may be added many others of like import; such as that people – women especially – start or shriek on seeing an accident occur to others; that unpractised assistants at surgical operations often faint; that out of the soldiers drawn up to witness a flogging, usually several drop down in the ranks; that a boy has been known to die on witnessing an execution. We have all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of shame produced in us by the blunders and confusion of a nervous speaker; and most likely every one has some time or other been put into a horrible tremor on seeing another at the edge of a precipice. The converse action of the faculty is equally observable. Thus, we find ourselves unable to avoid joining in the merriment of our friends, whilst unaware of its cause; and children, much to their annoyance, are often forced to laugh in the midst of their tears, by witnessing the laughter of those around them. These and many like evidences prove that, as Burke says, "sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected."

In tracing our benevolent actions to the influence of such a faculty – in concluding that we are led to relieve the miseries of others from a desire to rid ourselves of the pain given by the sight of misery, and to make others happy, because we participate in their happiness, Adam Smith puts forth what seems to be a quite satisfactory theory. But he has overlooked one of its most important applications. Not recognising any such impulse as that which urges men to maintain their claims, he did not see that their respect for the claims of others, may be explained in the same way. He did not perceive that the sentiment of justice is nothing but a sympathetic affection of the instinct of personal rights – a sort of reflex function of it. Such, however, must be the case, if that instinct exists, and if this hypothesis of Adam Smith's be true. Here lies the explanation of those qualms of conscience, as we call them, felt by men who have committed dishonest actions. It is through this instrumentality that we receive satisfaction on paying another what is due to him. And with these two faculties also, originate that indignation which narratives of political oppression excite in us, and that gnashing of the teeth with which we read of the slave-dealer's barbarities.

It was elsewhere hinted ..., that though we must keep up the distinction between them, it is nevertheless true that justice and beneficence have a common root, and the reader will now at once perceive that the common root is – Sympathy. All the actions properly classified under the one, and which we describe as fair, equitable, upright, spring from the sympathetic excitement of the instinct of personal rights; whilst those usually grouped under the other, as mercy, charity, good-nature, generosity, amiability, considerateness, are due to the action of Sympathy upon one or more of the other feelings.

Chapter 6: First Principle

Thus are we brought by several routes to the same conclusion. Whether we reason our way from those fixed conditions under which only the Divine Idea – greatest happiness, can be realized – whether we draw our inferences from man's constitution, considering him as a congeries of faculties – or whether we listen to the monitions of a certain mental agency, which seems to have the function of guiding us in this matter, we are alike taught as the law of right social relationships, that – Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man. Though further qualifications of the liberty of action thus asserted may be necessary, yet we have seen ... that in the just regulation of a community no further qualifications of it can be recognised. Such further qualifications must ever remain for private and individual application. We must therefore adopt this law of equal freedom in its entirety, as the law on which a correct system of equity is to be based. ...

To the direct evidence that has been accumulated in proof of our first principle, may now, however, be added abundant indirect evidence furnished by the absurdities into which a denial of it betrays us. He who asserts that the law of equal freedom is not true, that is, he who asserts that men have not equal rights, has two alternatives. He may either say that men have no rights at all, or that they have unequal rights. Let us examine these positions.

Foremost of those who deny rights altogether, stands that same Sir Robert Filmer already named, with his dogma, that "men are not naturally free." Starting thus, he readily finds his way to the conclusion, that the only proper form of government is an absolute monarchy. For, if men are not naturally free, that is, if men have naturally no rights, then, he only has rights to whom they are specially given by God. From which inference to "the divine right of kings" is an easy step. It has become very manifest in later times, however, that this divine right of kings, means the divine right of any one who can get uppermost. For since, according to its assertors, no man can be supposed to occupy the position of supreme ruler in opposition to the will of the Deity, it follows that whoever attains to that position, whether by fair means or by foul, be he legitimate or be he usurper, has Divine authority on his side. So that to say "men are not naturally free," is to say that though men have no rights, yet whoever can get power to coerce the rest has a right to do so! ...

But this doctrine betrays its supporters into a still more serious dilemma. On referring back to Chapter IV., we shall find that the denial of rights amounts to a libel on the Deity. For, as we there saw, that which a man has a right to, is that which God intended for him. And to say that man has no right to freedom of action, is to say that God did not mean him to have it. Without freedom of action, however, man cannot fulfil his desires. Then God willed that he should not fulfil them. But the non-fulfilment of the desires produces misery. Therefore, God intended that he should be miserable. By which absurdity we may safely consider the position disproved. ...

The self-importance of a Malvolio is sufficiently ludicrous; but we must go far beyond it to parallel the presumption of legislatures. Some steward who, deluded by an intense craving after dominion, and an impudence equal to his craving, should construe his stewardship into proprietorship, would more fitly illustrate it. Were such an one to argue that the estate he was appointed to manage had been virtually resigned into his possession – that to secure the advantages of his administration its owner had given up all title to it – that he now lived on it only by his (the steward's) sufferance – and that he was in future to receive no emoluments from it, except at his (the steward's) good pleasure – then should we have an appropriate travesty upon the behaviour of governments to nations; then should we have a doctrine perfectly analogous to this fashionable one, which teaches how men on becoming members of a community, give up, for the sake of certain social advantages, their natural rights. Adherents of this fashionable doctrine will doubtless protest against such an interpretation of it. They have no reasonable cause for doing so, however, as will appear on submitting them to a cross-examination. Suppose we begin it thus: –

"Your hypothesis that men, when they entered into the social state, surrendered their original freedom, implies that they entered into such state voluntarily, does it not?"

"It does."

"Then they must have considered the social state preferable to that under which they had previously lived?"


"Why did it appear preferable?"

"Because it offered greater security."

"Greater security for what?"

"Greater security for life, for property, for the things that minister to happiness."

"Exactly. To get more happiness: that must have been the object. If they had expected to get more unhappiness, they would not have willingly made the change, would they?"


"Does not happiness consist in the due satisfaction of all the desires? in the due exercise of all the faculties?"


"And this exercise of the faculties is impossible without freedom of action. The desires cannot be satisfied without liberty to pursue and use the objects of them."


"Now it is this freedom to exercise the faculties within specific limits, which we signify by the term 'rights,' is it not?" ...

"It is."

"Well, then, summing up your answers, it seems that, by your hypothesis, man entered the social state voluntarily; which means that he entered it for the sake of obtaining greater happiness; which means that he entered it to obtain fuller exercise of his faculties; which means that he entered it to obtain security for such exercise; which means that he entered it for the guaranteeing of his 'rights.'"

"Put your proposition in a more tangible form."

"Very good. If this is too abstract a statement for you, let us attempt a simpler one. You say that a state of political combination was preferred mainly because it afforded greater security for life and property than the isolated state, do you not?"


"Are not a man's claims to his life and his property amongst what we term his rights; and moreover, the most important of them?"

"They are."

"Then to say that men formed themselves into communities to prevent the constant violation of their claims to life and property, is to say that they did it for the preservation of their rights?"

"It is."

"Wherefore, either way we find that the preservation of rights was the object sought."

"So it would seem."

"But your hypothesis is that men give up their rights on entering the social state?"


"See now how you contradict yourself. You assert that on becoming members of a society, men give up, what by your own showing they joined it the better to obtain!"

"Well, perhaps I ought not to have said that they 'give up' their rights, but that they place them in trust."

"In whose trust?"

"In that of a government."

"A government, then, is a kind of agent employed by the members of a community, to take care of, and administer for their benefit, something given into its charge?"


"And of course, like all other agents, exercises authority only at the will of those who appoint it – performs all that it is commissioned to do subject to their approval?"

"Just so."

"And the things committed to its charge still belong to the original owners. The title of the people to the rights they have placed in trust continues valid: the people may demand from this agent the full benefit accruing from these rights; and may, if they please, resume possession of them?"

"Not so."

"Not so! What, can they not reclaim their own?"

"No. Having once consigned their rights into the keeping of a legislature, they must be content with such use of them as that legislature permits."

And thus we arrive at the curious doctrine above referred to, that the members of a community having entrusted an estate (their rights) to the care of a steward (their government), thereby lose all proprietorship in such estate, and can have no benefit from it, except what their steward pleases to vouchsafe!

Chapter 9: The Right to the Use of the Earth

Given a race of beings having like claims to pursue the objects of their desires – given a world adapted to the gratification of those desires – a world into which such beings are similarly born, and it unavoidably follows that they have equal rights to the use of this world. For if each of them “has freedom to do all that he wills provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other,” then each of them is free to use the earth for the satisfaction of his wants, provided he allows all others the same liberty. And conversely, it is manifest that no one, or part of them, may use the earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from similarly using it; seeing that to do this is to assume greater freedom than the rest, and consequently to break the law. ...

Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the possession of an individual, and may be held by him for his sole 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; and eventually the whole of the earth’s surface may be so held; and our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit 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 exercise their faculties – can then exist even – only by consent of the landowners; it is manifest, that an exclusive possession of the soil 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 those others. ...

Passing from the consideration of the possible, to that of the actual, we find yet further reason to deny the rectitude of property in land. It can never be pretended that the existing titles to such property are legitimate. Should any one think so, let him look in the chronicles. Violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, the claims of superior cunning – these are the sources to which those titles may be traced. The original deeds were written with the sword, rather than with the pen: not lawyers, but soldiers, were the conveyancers: blows were the current coin given in payment; and for seals, blood was used in preference to wax. Could valid claims be thus constituted? Hardly. And if not; what becomes of the pretensions of all subsequent holders of estates so obtained? Does sale or bequest generate a right where it did not previously exist? Would the original claimants be nonsuited at the bar of reason, because the thing stolen from them had changed hands? Certainly not. And if one act of transfer can give no title, can many? No: though nothing be multiplied for ever, it will not produce one. Even the law recognises this principle. An existing holder must, if called upon, substantiate the claims of those from whom he purchased or inherited his property; and any flaw in the original parchment, even though the property should have had a score intermediate owners, quashes his right.

“But Time,” say some, “is a great legaliser. Immemorial possession must be taken to constitute a legitimate claim. That which has been held from age to age as private property, and has been bought and sold as such, must now be considered as irrevocably belonging to individuals.” To which proposition a willing assent shall be given when its propounders can assign it a definite meaning. To do this, however, they must find satisfactory answers to such questions as – How long does it take for what was originally a wrong to grow into a right? At what rate per annum do invalid claims become valid? If a title gets perfect in a thousand years, how much more than perfect will it be in two thousand years? – and so forth. For the solution of which they will require a new calculus.

Whether it may be expedient to admit claims of a certain standing, is not the point. We have here nothing to do with considerations of conventional privilege or legislative convenience. We have simply to inquire what is the verdict given by pure equity in the matter. And this verdict enjoins a protest against every existing pretension to the individual possession of the soil; and dictates the assertion, that the right of mankind at large to the earth’s surface is still valid; all deeds, customs, and laws, notwithstanding. ...

Not only have present land tenures an indefensible origin, but it is impossible to discover any mode in which land can become private property. Cultivation is commonly considered to give a legitimate title. He who has reclaimed a tract of ground from its primitive wildness, is supposed to have thereby made it his own. But if his right is disputed, by what system of logic can he vindicate it? Let us listen a moment to his pleadings.

“Hallo, you Sir,” cries the cosmopolite to some backwoodsman, smoking at the door of his shanty, “by what authority do you take possession of these acres that you have cleared; round which you have put up a snake-fence, and on which you have built this log-house?”

“By what authority? I squatted here because there was no one to say nay – because I was as much at liberty to do so as any other man. Besides, now that I have cut down the wood, and ploughed and cropped the ground, this farm is more mine than yours, or anybody’s; and I mean to keep it.”

“Ay, so you all say. But I do not yet see how you have substantiated your claim. When you came here you found the land producing trees – sugar-maples, perhaps; or may be it was covered with prairie-grass and wild strawberries. Well, instead of these, you made it yield wheat, or maize, or tobacco. Now I want to understand how, by exterminating one set of plants, and making the soil bear another set in their place, you have constituted yourself lord of this soil for all succeeding time.”

“Oh, those natural products which I destroyed were of little or no use; whereas I caused the earth to bring forth things good for food – things that help to give life and happiness.”

“Still you have not shown why such a process makes the portion of earth you have so modified yours. What is it that you have done? You have turned over the soil to a few inches in depth with a spade or a plough; you have scattered over this prepared surface a few seeds; and you have gathered the fruits which the sun, rain, and air, helped the soil to produce. Just tell me, if you please, by what magic have these acts made you sole owner of that vast mass of matter, having for its base the surface of your estate, and for its apex the centre of the globe? all of which it appears you would monopolise to yourself and your descendants for ever.”

“Well, if it isn’t mine, whose is it? I have dispossessed nobody. When I crossed the Mississippi yonder, I found nothing but the silent woods. If some one else had settled here, and made this clearing, he would have had as good a right to the location as I have. I have done nothing but what any other person was at liberty to do had he come before me. Whilst they were unreclaimed, these lands belonged to all men – as much to one as to another – and they are now mine simply because I was the first to discover and improve them.”

“You say truly, when you say that ‘whilst they were unreclaimed these lands belonged to all men.’ And it is my duty to tell you that they belong to all men still; and that your ‘improvements’ as you call them, cannot vitiate the claim of all men. You may plough and harrow, and sow and reap; you may turn over the soil as often as you like; but all your manipulations will fail to make that soil yours, which was not yours to begin with. Let me put a case. Suppose now that in the course of your wanderings you come upon an empty house, which in spite of its dilapidated state takes your fancy; suppose that with the intention of making it your abode you expend much time and trouble in repairing it – that you paint and paper, and whitewash, and at considerable cost bring it into a habitable state. Suppose further, that on some fatal day a stranger is announced, who turns out to be the heir to whom this house has been bequeathed; and that this professed heir is prepared with all the necessary proofs of his identity: what becomes of your improvements? Do they give you a valid title to the house? Do they quash the title of the original claimant?”


“Neither then do your pioneering operations give you a valid title to this land. Neither do they quash the title of its original claimants – the human race. The world is God’s bequest to mankind. All men are joint heirs to it; you amongst the number. And because you have taken up your residence on a certain part of it, and have subdued, cultivated, beautified that part – improved it as you say, you are not therefore warranted in appropriating it as entirely private property. At least if you do so, you may at any moment be justly expelled by the lawful owner – Society.”

“Well, but surely you would not eject me without making some recompense for the great additional value I have given to this tract, by reducing what was a wilderness into fertile fields. You would not turn me adrift and deprive me of all the benefit of those years of toil it has cost me to bring this spot into its present state.”

“Of course not: just as in the case of the house, you would have an equitable title to compensation from the proprietor for repairs and new fittings, so the community cannot justly take possession of this estate, without paying for all that you have done to it. This extra worth which your labour has imparted to it is fairly yours; and although you have, without leave, busied yourself in bettering what belongs to the community, yet no doubt the community will duly discharge your claim. But admitting this, is quite a different thing from recognising your right to the land itself. It may be true that you are entitled to compensation for the improvements this enclosure has received at your hands; and at the same time it may be equally true that no act, form, proceeding, or ceremony, can make this enclosure your private property.” ...

It does indeed at first sight seem possible for the earth to become the exclusive possession of individuals by some process of equitable distribution. “Why,” it may be asked, “should not men agree to a fair subdivision? If all are co-heirs, why may not the estate be equally apportioned, and each be afterwards perfect master of his own share?”

To this question it may in the first place be replied, that such a division is vetoed by the difficulty of fixing the values of respective tracts of land. Variations in productiveness, different degrees of accessibility, advantages of climate, proximity to the centres of civilization – these, and other such considerations, remove the problem out of the sphere of mere mensuration into the region of impossibility.

But, waiving this, let us inquire who are to be the allottees. Shall adult males, and all who have reached twenty-one on a specified day, be the fortunate individuals? If so, what is to be done with those who come of age on the morrow? Is it proposed that each man, woman, and child, shall have a section? If so, what becomes of all who are to be born next year? And what will be the fate of those whose fathers sell their estates and squander the proceeds? These portionless ones must constitute a class already described as having no right to a resting-place on earth – as living by the sufferance of their fellow men – as being practically serfs. And the existence of such a class is wholly at variance with the law of equal freedom.

Until therefore, we can produce a valid commission authorizing us to make this distribution – until it can be proved that God has given one charter of privileges to one generation, and another to the next – until we can demonstrate that men born after a certain date are doomed to slavery, we must consider that no such allotment is permissible. ...

Either men have a right to make the soil private property, or they have not. There is no medium. We must choose one of the two positions. There can be no half-and-half opinion. In the nature of things the fact must be either one way or the other.

If men have not such a right, we are at once delivered from the several predicaments already pointed out. If they have such a right, then is that right absolute, sacred, not on any pretence to be violated. If they have such a right, then is his Grace of Leeds justified in warning-off tourists from Ben Mac Dhui, the Duke of Atholl in closing Glen Tilt, the Duke of Buccleugh in denying sites to the Free Church, and the Duke of Sutherland in banishing the Highlanders to make room for sheep-walks. If they have such a right, then it would be proper for the sole proprietor of any kingdom – a Jersey or Guernsey, for example – to impose just what regulations he might choose on its inhabitants – to tell them that they should not live on his property, unless they professed a certain religion, spoke a particular language, paid him a specified reverence, adopted an authorized dress, and conformed to all other conditions he might see fit to make. If they have such a right, then is there truth in that tenet of the ultra-Tory school, that the landowners are the only legitimate rulers of a country – that the people at large remain in it only by the landowners’ permission, and ought consequently to submit to the landowners’ rule, and respect whatever institutions the landowners set up. There is no escape from these inferences. They are necessary corollaries to the theory that the earth can become individual property. And they can only be repudiated by denying that theory. …

Such a doctrine is consistent with the highest state of civilization; may be carried out without involving a community of goods; and need cause no very serious revolution in existing arrangements. The change required would simply be a change of landlords. Separate ownerships would merge into the joint-stock ownership of the public. Instead of being in the possession of individuals, the country would be he held by the great corporate body – Society. Instead of leasing his acres from an isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the nation. Instead of paying his rent to the agent of Sir John or his Grace, he would pay it to an agent or deputy-agent of the community. Stewards would be public officials instead of private ones; and tenancy the only land tenure.

A state of things so ordered would be in perfect harmony with the moral law. Under it all men would be equally landlords; all men would be alike free to become tenants. A, B, C, and the rest, might compete for a vacant farm as now, and one of them might take that farm, without in any way violating the principles of pure equity. All would be equally free to bid; all would be equally free to refrain. And when the farm had been let to A, B, or C, all parties would have done that which they willed – the one in choosing to pay a given sum to his fellow-men for the use of certain lands – the others in refusing to pay that sum. Clearly, therefore, on such a system, the earth might be inclosed, occupied, and cultivated, in entire subordination to the law of equal freedom. ...

No doubt great difficulties must attend the resumption, by mankind at large, of their rights to the soil. The question of compensation to existing proprietors is a complicated one – one that perhaps cannot be settled in a strictly-equitable manner. Had we to deal with the parties who originally robbed the human race of its heritage, we might make short work of the matter. But, unfortunately, most of our present landowners are men who have, either mediately or immediately – either by their own acts, or by the acts of their ancestors – given for their estates, equivalents of honestly-earned wealth, believing that they were investing their savings in a legitimate manner. To justly estimate and liquidate the claims of such, is one of the most intricate problems society will one day have to solve. But with this perplexity and our extrication from it, abstract morality has no concern. Men having got themselves into the dilemma by disobedience to the law, must get out of it as well as they can; and with as little injury to the landed class as may be.

Meanwhile, we shall do well to recollect, that there are others besides the landed class to be considered. In our tender regard for the vested interests of the few, let us not forget that the rights of the many are in abeyance; and must remain so, as long as the earth is monopolised by individuals. Let us remember, too, that the injustice thus inflicted on the mass of mankind, is an injustice of the gravest nature. The fact that it is not so regarded, proves nothing. In early phases of civilization even homicide is thought lightly of. The suttees of India, together with the practice elsewhere followed of sacrificing a hecatomb of human victims at the burial of a chief, show this: and probably cannibals consider the slaughter of those whom "the fortune of war" has made their prisoners, perfectly justifiable. It was once also universally supposed that slavery was a natural and quite legitimate institution – a condition into which some were born, and to which they ought to submit as to a Divine ordination; nay, indeed, a great proportion of mankind hold this opinion still. A higher social development, however, has generated in us a better faith, and we now to a considerable extent recognise the claims of humanity. But our civilization is only partial. It may by-and-by be perceived, that Equity utters dictates to which we have not yet listened; and men may then learn, that to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth, is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or personal liberties.

Chapter 10: The Right of Property

The moral law, being the law of the social state, is obliged wholly to ignore the ante-social state. Constituting, as the principles of pure morality do, a code of conduct for the perfect man, they cannot be made to adapt themselves to the actions of the uncivilized man, even under the most ingenious hypothetical conditions—cannot be made even to recognise those actions so as to pass any definite sentence upon them. Over-looking this fact, thinkers, in their attempts to prove some of the first theorems of ethics, have commonly fallen into the error of referring back to an imaginary state of savage wildness, instead of referring forward to an ideal civilization, as they should have done; and have, in consequence, entangled themselves in difficulties arising out of the discordance between ethical principles and the assumed premises. To this circumstance is attributable that vagueness by which the arguments used to establish the right of property in a logical manner, are characterized. Whilst possessed of a certain plausibility, they yet cannot be considered conclusive; inasmuch as they suggest questions and objections that admit of no satisfactory answers. Let us take a sample of these arguments, and examine its defects.

“Though the earth and all inferior creatures,” says Locke, “be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has a right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it that excludes the common right of other men. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least when there is enough and as good left in common for others.”

If inclined to cavil, one might in reply to this observe, that as, according to the premises, “the earth and all inferior creatures” – all things, in fact, that the earth produces – are “common to all men,” the consent of all men must be obtained before any article can be equitably “removed from the common state nature hath placed it in.” It might be argued that the real question is overlooked, when it is said, that, by gathering any natural product, a man “hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby made it his property;” for that the point to be debated is, whether he had any right to gather, or mix his labour with that, which, by the hypothesis, previously belonged to mankind at large. The reasoning used in the last chapter to prove that no amount of labour, bestowed by an individual upon a part of the earth’s surface, can nullify the title of society to that part, might be similarly employed to show that no one can, by the mere act of appropriating to himself any wild unclaimed animal or fruit, supersede the joint claims of other men to it. It may be quite true that the labour a man expends in catching or gathering, gives him a better right to the thing caught or gathered, than any one other man; but the question at issue is, whether by labour so expended, he has made his right to the thing caught or gathered, greater than the pre-existing rights of all other men put together. And unless he can prove that he has done this, his title to possession cannot be admitted as a matter of right, but can be conceded only on the ground of convenience.

Further difficulties are suggested by the qualification, that the claim to any article of property thus obtained, is valid only “when there is enough and as good left in common for others.” A condition like this gives birth to such a host of queries, doubts, and limitations, as practically to neutralize the general proposition entirely. It may be asked, for example – How is it to be known that enough is “left in common for others?” Who can determine whether what remains is “as good” as what is taken? How if the remnant is less accessible? If there is not enough “left in common for others,” how must the right of appropriation be exercised? Why, in such case, does the mixing of labour with the acquired object, cease to “exclude the common right of other men?” Supposing enough to be attainable, but not all equally good, by what rule must each man choose? Out of which inquisition it seems impossible to liberate the alleged right, without such mutilations as to render it, in an ethical point of view, entirely valueless. ...

But, under the system of land tenure pointed out in the last chapter, as the only one that is consistent with the equal claims of all men to the use of the earth, these difficulties disappear; and the right of property obtains a legitimate foundation. We have seen that, without any infraction of the law of equal freedom, an individual may lease from society a given surface of soil, by agreeing to pay in return a stated amount of the produce he obtains from that soil. We found that, in doing this, he does no more than what every other man is equally free with himself to do – that each has the same power with himself to become the tenant – and that the rent he pays accrues alike to all. Having thus hired a tract of land from his fellow-men, for a given period, for understood purposes, and on specified terms – having thus obtained, for a time, the exclusive use of that land by a definite agreement with its owners, it is manifest that an individual may, without any infringement of the rights of others, appropriate to himself that portion of produce which remains after he has paid to mankind the promised rent. He has now, to use Locke’s expression, “mixed his labour with” certain products of the earth; and his claim to them is in this case valid, because he obtained the consent of society before so expending his labour; and having fulfilled the condition which society, imposed in giving that consent – the payment of rent,– society, to fulfil its part of the agreement, must acknowledge his title to that surplus which remains after the rent has been paid. “Provided you deliver to us a stated share of the produce which by cultivation you can obtain from this piece of land, we give you the exclusive use of the remainder of that produce:” these are the words of the contract; and in virtue of this contract, the tenant may equitably claim the supplementary share as his private property: may so claim it without any disobedience to the law of equal freedom; and has therefore a right so to claim it. ...

The doctrine that all men have equal rights to the use of the earth, does indeed at first sight, seem to countenance a species of social organization, at variance with that from which the right of property has just been deduced; an organization, namely, in which the public, instead of letting out the land to individual members of their body, shall retain it in their own hands; cultivate it by joint-stock agency; and share the produce: in fact, what is usually termed Socialism or Communism.

Plausible though it may be, such a scheme is not capable of realization in strict conformity with the moral law. Of the two forms under which it may be presented, the one is ethically imperfect; and the other, although correct in theory, is impracticable.

Thus, if an equal portion of the earth’s produce is awarded to every man, irrespective of the amount or quality of the labour he has contributed towards the obtainment of that produce, a breach of equity is committed. Our first principle requires, not that all shall have like shares of the things which minister to the gratification of the faculties, but that all shall have like freedom to pursue those things – shall have like scope. It is one thing to give to each an opportunity of acquiring the objects he desires; it is another, and quite a different thing, to give the objects themselves, no matter whether due endeavour has or has not been made to obtain them. The one we have seen to be the primary law of the Divine scheme; the other, by interfering with the ordained connection between desire and gratification, shows its disagreement with that scheme. Nay more, it necessitates an absolute violation of the principle of equal freedom. For when we assert the entire liberty of each, bounded only by the like liberty of all, we assert that each is free to do whatever his desires dictate, within the prescribed limits – that each is free, therefore, to claim for himself all those gratifications, and sources of gratification, attainable by him within those limits – all those gratifications, and sources of gratification which he can procure without trespassing upon the spheres of action of his neighbours. If, therefore, out of many starting with like fields of activity, one obtains, by his greater strength, greater ingenuity, or greater application, more gratifications and sources of gratification than the rest, and does this without in any way trenching upon the equal freedom of the rest, the moral law assigns him an exclusive right to all those extra gratifications and sources of gratification; nor can the rest take them from him without claiming for themselves greater liberty of action than he claims, and thereby violating that law. Whence it follows, that an equal apportionment of the fruits of the earth amongst all, is not consistent with pure justice.

If, on the other hand, each is to have allotted to him a share of produce proportionate to the degree in which he has aided production, the proposal, whilst it is abstractedly just, is no longer practicable. Were all men cultivators of the soil, it would perhaps be possible to form an approximate estimate of their several claims. But to ascertain the respective amounts of help given by different kinds of mental and bodily labourers, towards procuring the general stock of the necessaries of life, is an utter impossibility. We have no means of making such a division save that afforded by the law of supply and demand, and this means, the hypothesis excludes. [These inferences do not at all militate against joint-stock systems of production and living, which are in all probability what Socialism prophesies.]

Chapter 19: The Right to Ignore the State

As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state – to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying towards its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. It is equally self-evident that he cannot be compelled to continue one of a political corporation, without a breach of the moral law, seeing that citizenship involves payment of taxes; and the taking away of a man's property against his will, is an infringement of his rights .... Government being simply an agent employed in common by a number of individuals to secure to them certain advantages, the very nature of the connection implies that it is for each to say whether he will employ such an agent or not. If any one of them determines to ignore this mutual-safety confederation, nothing can be said except that he loses all claim to its good offices, and exposes himself to the danger of maltreatment—a thing he is quite at liberty to do if he likes. He cannot be coerced into political combination without a breach of the law of equal freedom; he can withdraw from it without committing any such breach; and he has therefore a right so to withdraw. ...

"No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the law of nature; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority mediately or immediately from this original." Thus writes Blackstone, to whom let all honour be given for having so far outseen the ideas of his time; and, indeed, we may say of our time. A good antidote, this, for those political superstitions which so widely prevail. A good check upon that sentiment of power-worship which still misleads us by magnifying the prerogatives of constitutional governments as it once did those of monarchs. Let men learn that a legislature is not "our God upon earth," though, by the authority they ascribe to it, and the things they expect from it, they would seem to think it is. Let them learn rather that it is an institution serving a purely temporary purpose, whose power, when not stolen, is at the best borrowed.

Nay, indeed, have we not seen ... that government is essentially immoral? Is it not the offspring of evil, bearing about it all the marks of its parentage? Does it not exist because crime exists? Is it not strong, or, as we say, despotic, when crime is great? Is there not more liberty, that is, less government, as crime diminishes? And must not government cease when crime ceases, for very lack of objects on which to perform its function? Not only does magisterial power exist because of evil, but it exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it; and all violence involves criminality. Soldiers, policemen, and gaolers; swords, batons, and fetters, are instruments for inflicting pain; and all infliction of pain is in the abstract wrong. The state employs evil weapons to subjugate evil, and is alike contaminated by the objects with which it deals, and the means by which it works. Morality cannot recognise it; for morality, being simply a statement of the perfect law, can give no countenance to anything growing out of, and living by, breaches of that law (Chap. I.). Wherefore, legislative authority can never be ethical – must always be conventional merely.

Hence, there is a certain inconsistency in the attempt to determine the right position, structure, and conduct of a government by appeal to the first principles of rectitude. For, as just pointed out, the acts of an institution which is in both nature and origin imperfect, cannot be made to square with the perfect law. All that we can do is to ascertain, firstly, in what attitude a legislature must stand to the community to avoid being by its mere existence an embodied wrong; – secondly, in what manner it must be constituted so as to exhibit the least incongruity with the moral law; – and thirdly, to what sphere its actions must be limited to prevent it from multiplying those breaches of equity it is set up to prevent.

The first condition to be conformed to before a legislature can be established without violating the law of equal freedom, is the acknowledgment of the right now under discussion – the right to ignore the state. ...

Upholders of pure despotism may fitly believe state-control to be unlimited and unconditional. They who assert that men are made for governments and not governments for men, may consistently hold that no one can remove himself beyond the pale of political organization. But they who maintain that the people are the only legitimate source of power – that legislative authority is not original, but deputed – cannot deny the right to ignore the state without entangling themselves in an absurdity.

For, if legislative authority is deputed, it follows that those from whom it proceeds are the masters of those on whom it is conferred: it follows further, that as masters they confer the said authority voluntarily: and this implies that they may give or withhold it as they please. To call that deputed which is wrenched from men whether they will or not, is nonsense. But what is here true of all collectively is equally true of each separately. As a government can rightly act for the people, only when empowered by them, so also can it rightly act for the individual, only when empowered by him. If A,B, and C, debate whether they shall employ an agent to perform for them a certain service, and if whilst A and B agree to do so, C dissents, C cannot equitably be made a party to the agreement in spite of himself. And this must be equally true of thirty as of three: and if of thirty, why not of three hundred, or three thousand, or three millions? ...

Of the political superstitions lately alluded to, none is so universally diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent. Under the impression that the preservation of order will ever require power to be wielded by some party, the moral sense of our time feels that such power cannot rightly be conferred on any but the largest moiety of society. It interprets literally the saying that "the voice of the people is the voice of God," and transferring to the one the sacredness attached to the other, it concludes that from the will of the people, that is, of the majority, there can be no appeal. Yet is this belief entirely erroneous.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next ten years should be drowned. Does any one think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. Suppose, again, that of two races living together – Celts and Saxons, for example – the most numerous determined to make the others their slaves. Would the authority of the greatest number be in such case valid? If not there is something to which its authority must be subordinate. Suppose, once more, that all men having incomes under £50 a year were to resolve upon reducing every income above that amount to their own standard, and appropriating the excess for public purposes. Could their resolution be justified? If not it must be a third time confessed that there is a law to which the popular voice must defer. What, then, is that law, if not the law of pure equity – the law of equal freedom? These restraints, which all would put to the will of the majority, are exactly the restraints set up by that law. We deny the right of a majority to murder, to enslave, or to rob, simply because murder, enslaving, and robbery are violations of that law – violations too gross to be overlooked. But if great violations of it are wrong, so also are smaller ones. If the will of the many cannot supersede the first principle of morality in these cases, neither can it in any. So that, however insignificant the minority, and however trifling the proposed trespass against their rights, no such trespass is permissible.

When we have made our constitution purely democratic, thinks to himself the earnest reformer, we shall have brought government into harmony with absolute justice. Such a faith, though perhaps needful for the age, is a very erroneous one. By no process can coercion be made equitable. The freest form of government is only the least objectionable form. The rule of the many by the few we call tyranny: the rule of the few by the many is tyranny also; only of a less intense kind. "You shall do as we will, and not as you will," is in either case the declaration; and if the hundred make it to the ninety-nine, instead of the ninety-nine to the hundred, it is only a fraction less immoral. Of two such parties, whichever fulfils this declaration necessarily breaks the law of equal freedom: the only difference being that by the one it is broken in the persons of ninety-nine, whilst by the other it is broken in the persons of a hundred. And the merit of the democratic form of government consists solely in this, that it trespasses against the smallest number.

The very existence of majorities and minorities is indicative of an immoral state. The man whose character harmonizes with the moral law, we found to be one who can obtain complete happiness without diminishing the happiness of his fellows (Chap. III.). But the enactment of public arrangements by vote implies a society consisting of men otherwise constituted—implies that the desires of some cannot be satisfied without sacrificing the desires of others—implies that in the pursuit of their happiness the majority inflict a certain amount of unhappiness on the minority – implies, therefore, organic immorality. Thus, from another point of view, we again perceive that even in its most equitable form it is impossible for government to dissociate itself from evil; and further, that unless the right to ignore the state is recognised, its acts must be essentially criminal. ...

That a man is free to abandon the benefits and throw off the burdens of citizenship, may indeed be inferred from the admissions of existing authorities and of current opinion. Unprepared as they probably are for so extreme a doctrine as the one here maintained, the radicals of our day yet unwittingly profess their belief in a maxim which obviously embodies this doctrine. Do we not continually hear them quote Blackstone's assertion that "no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes even for the defence of the realm or the support of government, but such as are imposed by his own consent, or that of his representative in parliament?" And what does this mean? It means, say they, that every man should have a vote. True: but it means much more. If there is any sense in words it is a distinct enunciation of the very right now contended for. In affirming that a man may not be taxed unless he has directly or indirectly given his consent, it affirms that he may refuse to be so taxed; and to refuse to be taxed, is to cut all connection with the state. Perhaps it will be said that this consent is not a specific, but a general one, and that the citizen is understood to have assented to everything his representative may do, when he voted for him. But suppose he did not vote for him; and on the contrary did all in his power to get elected some one holding opposite views – what then? The reply will probably be that, by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And how if he did not vote at all? Why then he cannot justly complain of any tax, seeing that he made no protest against its imposition. So, curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted – whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter! A rather awkward doctrine this. Here stands an unfortunate citizen who is asked if he will pay money for a certain proffered advantage; and whether he employs the only means of expressing his refusal or does not employ it, we are told that he practically agrees; if only the number of others who agree is greater than the number of those who dissent. And thus we are introduced to the novel principle that A's consent to a thing is not determined by what A says, but by what B may happen to say! It is for those who quote Blackstone to choose between this absurdity and the doctrine above set forth. Either his maxim implies the right to ignore the state, or it is sheer nonsense.

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