Can Time Transform a Wrong into a Right?
There are those who say that Henry George's ideas would be fine, if America
had enacted them 225 years ago, but that since millions of people have
made their arrangements based on how we have historically done things, it
now, unjust somehow, and that we must not reform these wrongs, and even
must pretend that things we know to be wrong are right. Slavery was justified
in this way, too.
Henry George: The Condition
of Labor — An
Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
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.
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.) ... read the whole letter
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection
of excerpts from the writings of Henry
George (with links to sources)
PROPERTY in land, like property in slaves, is essentially different
from property in things that are the result of labor. Rob a man or a
people of money, or goods, or cattle, and the robbery is finished there
and then. The lapse of time does not, indeed, change wrong into right,
but it obliterates the effects of the deed. That is done; it is over;
and, unless it be very soon righted, it glides away into the past, with
the men who were parties to it, so swiftly that nothing save omniscience
can trace its effects; and in attempting to right it we would be in danger
of doing fresh wrong. The past is forever beyond us. We can neither punish
nor recompense the dead. But rob a people of the land on which they must
live, and the robbery is continuous. It is a fresh robbery of every succeeding
generation — a new robbery every year and every day; it is like
the robbery which condemns to slavery the children of the slave. To apply
to it the statute of limitations, to acknowledge for it the title of
prescription, is not to condone the past; it is to legalese robbery in
the present, to justify it in the future. — The (Irish) Land Question
JUSTICE in men's mouths is cringingly humble when she first begins
a protest against a time-honored wrong, and we of the English-speaking
nations still wear the collar of the Saxon thrall, and have been educated
to look upon the "vested rights" of landowners with all the
superstitious reverence that ancient Egyptians looked upon the crocodile.
But when the times are ripe for them, ideas grow, even though insignificant
in their first appearance. One day, the Third Estate covered their heads
when the king put on his hat. A little while thereafter, and the head
of a son of St. Louis rolled from the scaffold. The anti-slavery movement
in the United States commenced with talk of compensating owners, but
when four millions of slaves were emancipated, the owners got no compensation,
nor did they clamor for any. And by the time the people of any such country
as England or the United States are sufficiently aroused to the injustice
and disadvantages of individual ownership of land to induce them to attempt
its nationalization, they will be sufficiently aroused to nationalize
it in a much more direct and easy way than by purchase. They will not
trouble themselves about compensating the proprietors of land. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 3, Justice of the Remedy: Claim of Landowners to Compensation
... go to "Gems from George"