We hold: That—
This world is the creation of God.
The men brought into it for the brief period of their earthly lives are
the equal creatures of his bounty, the equal subjects of his provident care.
By his constitution man is beset by physical wants, on the satisfaction
of which depend not only the maintenance of his physical life but also the
development of his intellectual and spiritual life.
God has made the satisfaction of these wants dependent on man’s own
exertions, giving him the power and laying on him the injunction to labor — a
power that of itself raises him far above the brute, since we may reverently
say that it enables him to become as it were a helper in the creative work.
God has not put on man the task of making bricks without straw. With the
need for labor and the power to labor he has also given to man the material
for labor. This material is land — man physically being a land animal,
who can live only on and from land, and can use other elements, such as air,
sunshine and water, only by the use of land.
Being the equal creatures of the Creator, equally entitled under his providence
to live their lives and satisfy their needs, men are equally entitled to
the use of land, and any adjustment that denies this equal use of land is
morally wrong. ...
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.) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of
In the second place your Holiness argues that man possessing reason and
forethought may not only acquire ownership of the fruits of the earth, but
also of the earth itself, so that out of its products he may make provision
for the future.
Reason, with its attendant forethought, is indeed the distinguishing attribute
of man; that which raises him above the brute, and shows, as the Scriptures
declare, that he is created in the likeness of God. And this gift of reason
does, as your Holiness points out, involve the need and right of private
property in whatever is produced by the exertion of reason and its attendant
forethought, as well as in what is produced by physical labor. In truth,
these elements of man’s production are inseparable, and labor involves
the use of reason. It is by his reason that man differs from the animals
in being a producer, and in this sense a maker. Of themselves his physical
powers are slight, forming as it were but the connection by which the mind
takes hold of material things, so as to utilize to its will the matter and
forces of nature. It is mind, the intelligent reason, that is the prime mover
in labor, the essential agent in production.
The right of private ownership does therefore indisputably attach to things
provided by man’s reason and forethought. But it cannot attach to things
provided by the reason and forethought of God!
To illustrate: Let us suppose a company traveling through the desert as
the Israelites traveled from Egypt. Such of them as had the forethought to
provide themselves with vessels of water would acquire a just right of property
in the water so carried, and in the thirst of the waterless desert those
who had neglected to provide themselves, though they might ask water from
the provident in charity, could not demand it in right. For while water itself
is of the providence of God, the presence of this water in such vessels,
at such place, results from the providence of the men who carried it. Thus
they have to it an exclusive right.
But suppose others use their forethought in pushing ahead and appropriating
the springs, refusing when their fellows come up to let them drink of the
water save as they buy it of them. Would such forethought give any right?
Your Holiness, it is not the forethought of carrying water where it is needed,
but the forethought of seizing springs, that you seek to defend in defending
the private ownership of land!
Let me show this more fully, since it may be worth while to meet those who
say that if private property in land be not just, then private property in
the products of labor is not just, as the material of these products is taken
from land. It will be seen on consideration that all of man’s production
is analogous to such transportation of water as we have supposed. In growing
grain, or smelting metals, or building houses, or weaving cloth, or doing
any of the things that constitute producing, all that man does is to change
in place or form preexisting matter. As a producer man is merely a changer,
not a creator; God alone creates. And since the changes in which man’s
production consists inhere in matter so long as they persist, the right of
private ownership attaches the accident to the essence, and gives the right
of ownership in that natural material in which the labor of production is
embodied. Thus water, which in its original form and place is the common
gift of God to all men, when drawn from its natural reservoir and brought
into the desert, passes rightfully into the ownership of the individual who
by changing its place has produced it there.
But such right of ownership is in reality a mere right of temporary possession.
For though man may take material from the storehouse of nature and change
it in place or form to suit his desires, yet from the moment he takes it,
it tends back to that storehouse again. Wood decays, iron rusts, stone disintegrates
and is displaced, while of more perishable products, some will last for only
a few months, others for only a few days, and some disappear immediately
on use. Though, so far as we can see, matter is eternal and force forever
persists; though we can neither annihilate nor create the tiniest mote that
floats in a sunbeam or the faintest impulse that stirs a leaf, yet in the
ceaseless flux of nature, man’s work of moving and combining constantly
passes away. Thus the recognition of the ownership of what natural material
is embodied in the products of man never constitutes more than temporary
possession — never interferes with the reservoir provided for all.
As taking water from one place and carrying it to another place by no means
lessens the store of water, since whether it is drunk or spilled or left
to evaporate, it must return again to the natural reservoirs — so is
it with all things on which man in production can lay the impress of his
Hence, when you say that man’s reason puts it within his right to
have in stable and permanent possession not only things that perish in the
using, but also those that remain for use in the future, you are right in
so far as you may include such things as buildings, which with repair will
last for generations, with such things as food or fire-wood, which are destroyed
in the use. But when you infer that man can have private ownership in those
permanent things of nature that are the reservoirs from which all must draw,
you are clearly wrong. Man may indeed hold in private ownership the fruits
of the earth produced by his labor, since they lose in time the impress of
that labor, and pass again into the natural reservoirs from which they were
taken, and thus the ownership of them by one works no injury to others. But
he cannot so own the earth itself, for that is the reservoir from which must
constantly be drawn not only the material with which alone men can produce,
but even their very bodies.
The conclusive reason why man cannot claim ownership in the earth itself
as he can in the fruits that he by labor brings forth from it, is in the
facts stated by you in the very next paragraph (7), when you truly say:
Man’s needs do not die out, but recur; satisfied today, they demand
new supplies tomorrow. Nature, therefore, owes to man a storehouse that shall
never fail, the daily supply of his daily wants. And this he finds only in
the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.
By man you mean all men. Can what nature owes to all men be made the private
property of some men, from which they may debar all other men?
Let me dwell on the words of your Holiness, “Nature, therefore, owes
to man a storehouse that shall never fail.” By Nature you mean God.
Thus your thought, that in creating us, God himself has incurred an obligation
to provide us with a storehouse that shall never fail, is the same as is
thus expressed and carried to its irresistible conclusion by the Bishop
God was perfectly free in the act by which He created us; but having created
us he bound himself by that act to provide us with the means necessary
for our subsistence. The land is the only source of this kind now known
The land, therefore, of every country is the common property of the people
of that country, because its real owner, the Creator who made it, has
transferred it as a voluntary gift to them. “Terram autem dedit
filiis hominum.” Now,
as every individual in that country is a creature and child of God, and
as all his creatures are equal in his sight, any settlement of the land
country that would exclude the humblest man in that country from his
share of the common inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong
man, but, moreover, be AN IMPIOUS RESISTANCE TO THE BENEVOLENT INTENTIONS
OF HIS CREATOR. ...
Your Holiness seems to assume that there is some just rate of wages that
employers ought to be willing to pay and that laborers should be content
to receive, and to imagine that if this were secured there would be an end
of strife. This rate you evidently think of as that which will give working-men
a frugal living, and perhaps enable them by hard work and strict economy
to lay by a little something.
But how can a just rate of wages be fixed without the “higgling of
the market” any more than the just price of corn or pigs or ships or
paintings can be so fixed? And would not arbitrary regulation in the one
case as in the other check that interplay that most effectively promotes
the economical adjustment of productive forces? Why should buyers of labor,
any more than buyers of commodities, be called on to pay higher prices than
in a free market they are compelled to pay? Why should the sellers of labor
be content with anything less than in a free market they can obtain? Why
should working-men be content with frugal fare when the world is so rich?
Why should they be satisfied with a lifetime of toil and stinting, when the
world is so beautiful? Why should not they also desire to gratify the higher
instincts, the finer tastes? Why should they be forever content to travel
in the steerage when others find the cabin more enjoyable?
Nor will they. The ferment of our time does not arise merely from the fact
that working-men find it harder to live on the same scale of comfort. It
is also and perhaps still more largely due to the increase of their desires
with an improved scale of comfort. This increase of desire must continue.
For working-men are men. And man is the unsatisfied animal.
He is not an ox, of whom it may be said, so much grass, so much grain, so
much water, and a little salt, and he will be content. On the contrary, the
more he gets the more he craves. When he has enough food then he wants better
food. When he gets a shelter then he wants a more commodious and tasty one.
When his animal needs are satisfied then mental and spiritual desires arise.
This restless discontent is of the nature of man — of that
nobler nature that raises him above the animals by so immeasurable a gulf,
him to be indeed created in the likeness of God. It is not to be
quarreled with, for it is the motor of all progress. It is this that has
Peter’s dome and on dull, dead canvas made the angelic face of the
Madonna to glow; it is this that has weighed suns and analyzed stars, and
opened page after page of the wonderful works of creative intelligence; it
is this that has narrowed the Atlantic to an ocean ferry and trained the
lightning to carry our messages to the remotest lands; it is this that is
opening to us possibilities beside which all that our modern civilization
has as yet accomplished seem small. Nor can it be repressed save by degrading
and embruting men; by reducing Europe to Asia. ... read the whole letter
DOES not the fact that all of the things which furnish man's subsistence
have the power to multiply many fold — some of them many thousand
fold, and some of them many million or even billion fold — while
he is only doubling his numbers, show that, let human beings increase to
the full extent of their reproductive power, the increase of population
can never exceed subsistence? This is clear when it is remembered that
though in the vegetable and animal kingdoms each species, by virtue of
its reproductive power, naturally and necessarily presses against the conditions
which limit its further increase, yet these conditions are nowhere fixed
and final. No species reaches the ultimate limit of soil, water, air, and
sunshine; but the actual limit of each is in the existence of other species,
its rivals, its enemies, or its food. Thus the conditions which limit the
existence of such of these species as afford him subsistence man can extend
(in some cases his mere appearance will extend them), and thus the reproductive
forces of the species which supply his wants, instead of wasting themselves
against their former limit, start forward in his service at a pace which
his powers of increase cannot rival. If he but shoot hawks, food-birds
will increase: if he but trap foxes the wild rabbits will multiply; the
bumble bee moves with the pioneer, and on the organic matter with which
man's presence fills the rivers, fishes feed. — Progress & Poverty — Book
II, Chapter 3: Population and Subsistence: Inferences from Analogy
IF bears instead of men had been shipped from Europe to the North American
continent, there would now be no more bears than in the time of Columbus,
and possibly fewer, for bear food would not have been increased nor the conditions
of bear life extended, by the bear immigration, but probably the reverse.
But within the limits of the United States alone, there are now forty-five
millions of men where then there were only a few hundred thousand, and yet
there is now within that territory much more food per capita for the forty-five
millions than there was then for the few hundred thousand. It is not the
increase of food that has caused this increase of men; but the increase of
men that has brought about the increase of food. There is more food, simply
because there are more Man. — Progress & Poverty — Book II,
Chapter 3: Population and Subsistence: Inferences from Analogy
TWENTY men working together will, where nature is niggardly, produce more
than twenty times the wealth that one man can produce where nature is most
bountiful. The denser the population the more minute becomes the subdivision
of labor, the greater the economies of production and distribution, and,
hence, the very reverse of the Malthusian doctrine is true; and, within the
limits in which we have any reason to suppose increase would still go on,
in any given state of civilization a greater number of people can produce
a larger proportionate amount of wealth and more fully supply their wants,
than can a smaller number. — Progress & Poverty — Book II,
Chapter 4: Population and Subsistence: Disproof of the Malthusian Theory
OUT upon nature, in upon him himself, back through the mists that shroud
the past, forward into the darkness that overhangs the future, turns the
restless desire that arises when the animal wants slumber in satisfaction.
Beneath things he seeks the law; he would know how the globe was forged,
and the stars were hung, and trace to their sources the springs of life.
And then, as the man develops his nobler nature, there arises the desire
higher yet — the passion of passions, the hope of hopes — the
desire that he, even he, may somehow aid in making life better and brighter,
in destroying want and sin, sorrow and shame. He masters and curbs the animal;
he turns his back upon the feast and renounces the place of power; he leaves
it to others to accumulate wealth, to gratify pleasant tastes, to bask themselves
in the warm sunshine of the brief day. He works for those he never saw and
never can see; for a fame, or it may be but for a scant justice, that can
only come long after the clods have rattled upon his coffin lid. He toils
in the advance, where it is cold, and there is little cheer from men, and
the stones are sharp and the brambles thick.
Amid the scoffs of the present and the sneers that stab like knives, he
builds for the future; he cuts the trail that progressive humanity may hereafter
broaden into a highroad. Into higher, grander spheres desire mounts and beckons,
and a star that rises in the east leads him on. Lo! the pulses of the man
throb with the yearnings of the god — he would aid in the process of
the suns! — Progress & Poverty — Book II, Chapter 3, Population
and Subsistence: Inferences from Analogy ... go
to "Gems from George"