Your use, in so many passages of your Encyclical, of the inclusive term “property” or “private” property,
of which in morals nothing can be either affirmed or denied, makes your meaning,
if we take isolated sentences, in many places ambiguous. But reading it as
a whole, there can be no doubt of your intention that private property in
land shall be understood when you speak merely of private property. With
this interpretation, I find that the reasons you urge for private property
in land are eight. Let us consider them in order of presentation. You urge:
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (RN,
paragraph 5) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of reason.
(RN, paragraphs 6-7.) ...
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (RN,
paragraph 8.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (RN,
paragraphs 9-10.) ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion of
mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is sanctioned
by Divine Law. (RN, paragraph 11.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property
in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (RN, paragraphs 14-17.) ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases wealth,
and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature, not
from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take the
value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the private
owner. (RN, paragraph 51.)
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (5.)
Clearly, purchase and sale cannot give, but can only transfer ownership.
Property that in itself has no moral sanction does not obtain moral sanction
by passing from seller to buyer.
If right reason does not make the slave the property of the slave-hunter
it does not make him the property of the slave-buyer. Yet your reasoning
as to private property in land would as well justify property in slaves.
To show this it is only needful to change in your argument the word land
to the word slave. It would then read:
It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor,
the very reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and to hold
it as his own private possession.
If one man hires out to another his strength or his industry, he does this
for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for food and living;
he thereby expressly proposes to acquire a full and legal right, not only
to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of that remuneration as he
Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and invests his savings, for greater
security, in a slave, the slave in such a case is only his wages in another
form; and consequently, a working-man’s slave thus purchased should
be as completely at his own disposal as the wages he receives for his labor.
Nor in turning your argument for private property in land into an argument
for private property in men am I doing a new thing. In my own country, in
my own time, this very argument, that purchase gave ownership, was the common
defense of slavery. It was made by statesmen, by jurists, by clergymen, by
bishops; it was accepted over the whole country by the great mass of the
people. By it was justified the separation of wives from husbands, of children
from parents, the compelling of labor, the appropriation of its fruits, the
buying and selling of Christians by Christians. In language almost identical
with yours it was asked, “Here is a poor man who has worked hard, lived
sparingly, and invested his savings in a few slaves. Would you rob him of
his earnings by liberating those slaves?” Or it was said: “Here
is a poor widow; all her husband has been able to leave her is a few negroes,
the earnings of his hard toil. Would you rob the widow and the orphan by
freeing these negroes?” And because of this perversion of reason, this
confounding of unjust property rights with just property rights, this acceptance
of man’s law as though it were God’s law, there came on our nation
a judgment of fire and blood.
The error of our people in thinking that what in itself was not rightfully
property could become rightful property by purchase and sale is the same
error into which your Holiness falls. It is not merely formally the same;
it is essentially the same. Private property in land, no less than private
property in slaves, is a violation of the true rights of property. They are
different forms of the same robbery; twin devices by which the perverted
ingenuity of man has sought to enable the strong and the cunning to escape
God’s requirement of labor by forcing it on others.
What difference does it make whether I merely own the land on which another
man must live or own the man himself? Am I not in the one case as much his
master as in the other? Can I not compel him to work for me? Can I not take
to myself as much of the fruits of his labor; as fully dictate his actions?
Have I not over him the power of life and death?
For to deprive a man of land is as certainly to kill him as to deprive him
of blood by opening his veins, or of air by tightening a halter around his
The essence of slavery is in empowering one man to obtain the labor of another
without recompense. Private property in land does this as fully as chattel
slavery. The slave-owner must leave to the slave enough of his earnings to
enable him to live. Are there not in so-called free countries great bodies
of working-men who get no more? How much more of the fruits of their toil
do the agricultural laborers of Italy and England get than did the slaves
of our Southern States? Did not private property in land permit the landowner
of Europe in ruder times to demand the jus primae noctis? Does not the same
last outrage exist today in diffused form in the immorality born of monstrous
wealth on the one hand and ghastly poverty on the other?
In what did the slavery of Russia consist but in giving to the master land
on which the serf was forced to live? When an Ivan or a Catherine enriched
their favorites with the labor of others they did not give men, they gave
land. And when the appropriation of land has gone so far that no
free land remains to which the landless man may turn, then without further
the more insidious form of labor robbery involved in private property in
land takes the place of chattel slavery, because more economical and convenient.
For under it the slave does not have to be caught or held, or to be fed when
not needed. He comes of himself, begging the privilege of serving, and when
no longer wanted can be discharged. The lash is unnecessary; hunger is as
efficacious. This is why the Norman conquerors of England and the English
conquerors of Ireland did not divide up the people, but divided the land.
This is why European slave-ships took their cargoes to the New World, not
Slavery is not yet abolished. Though in all Christian countries its ruder
form has now gone, it still exists in the heart of our civilization in more
insidious form, and is increasing. There is work to be done for the glory
of God and the liberty of man by other soldiers of the cross than those warrior
monks whom, with the blessing of your Holiness, Cardinal Lavigerie is sending
into the Sahara. Yet, your Encyclical employs in defense of one form of slavery
the same fallacies that the apologists for chattel slavery used in defense
of the other!
The Arabs are not wanting in acumen. Your Encyclical reaches far. What shall
your warrior monks say, if when at the muzzle of their rifles they demand
of some Arab slave-merchant his miserable caravan, he shall declare that
he bought them with his savings, and producing a copy of your Encyclical,
shall prove by your reasoning that his slaves are consequently “only
his wages in another form,” and ask if they who bear your blessing
and own your authority propose to “deprive him of the liberty of disposing
of his wages and thus of all hope and possibility of increasing his stock
and bettering his condition in life”?
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