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Alvin Victor Sellers.

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I : " This : That the community has no right to
dispose of it ; and that if at any time the community
did take upon itself to say how or by whom the
land shall be owned in the future, such an act would
have no greater validity than if I now tried to
dispose, without your authority, of your watch,
or your own person."

L. : "Oh ! Hm ! But suppose I gave you that



SOME MORE LEGAL LEGERDEMAIN 81

authority, would you have the right or the power
to dispose ? "

I : " Then neither would be required. Then practi-
cally it would be yourself who disposed of yourself."

L. : " And cannot a whole nation do the same ? "

I : " Each for himself yes ! But not one for
another. You could become my servant or my
slave, if you liked. But you could not barter away
the liberties of your descendants. Of course you
might sign me a paper promising that your descend-
ants shall be the slaves of my descendants for ever
and ever. Whether your descendants will be fools
enough to obey such instructions, or whether they
will simply laugh at the idiocy or villainy of their
grandsire, is another matter."

L. : "To whom does the land belong then ? "

I : "To nobody. I have already told you that the
people can do one of two things. Either fight and
devour each other, or agree to live peaceably together
on equal terms. From this we derive our principle
of equalness or ' Equity ' ; perfect Equity meaning
that no one should enjoy an advantage over his
fellows at their cost or to their detriment. The land
belonging to no one, they must agree to use it in such
a manner only as is consistent with this principle.
This at once precludes the possibility of disposing
of the land for ever. For, even if all the people were
agreed at any time on a division of the land among
themselves, they could not decide for as yet unborn
generations. Hence we contend that the land can
never become the exclusive property of any number
of individuals, but can only be held in usufruct."

L. : "So that you deny the right to private
property altogether ? "

I : " No ; on the contrary, I contend for the sacred-
6



82 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

ness of that right. Since every individual has a right
to himself, he has a right to the things which are
due to his own exertions. To deny him this right,
or to deprive him of the results of his labour, is to
deprive him to that extent of his personal liberty."

L. : "I quite understand that. But if you deny
private ownership in land, you must also deny
private ownership in everything else. For have
you not yourself admitted that all things consist
chiefly of the raw material of Nature that is, land ?
You deny us the right to land because, you say, we
have not made it. On the other hand you claim
a right to your watch because you say you have
made it. Have you made the silver also ? And if
not, have not we all an equal claim to the silver of
that watch, especially since the quantity of silver
is, like that of land, limited ? "

I : " You had an equal right to it, and that is
the reason I had to compensate you that is the
community for it before I could have the exclusive
use of it. That is just why we claim that all rents
and royalties must go to the community."

L. : " That does not help us over the difficulty.
I will state to you the objection in the precise words
of our Liberty Annual : ' If in any real sense, as
distinguished from a rhetorical sense, the land
belongs of right to everybody, then everybody,
without exception, must at all times and at all places
be able to have the use of it. We must have a
communistic anarchy in the most thorough sense.
There must be no plot of land used by A which is
not equally open to B or G to use also ; for if there
were such a plot of land reserved to A, then every-
body who is not A would be defrauded of his rights.'
What answer can you give to this ? "



SOME MORE LEGAL LEGERDEMAIN 83

I : "A Scotch answer, by asking you another
question. Did his lordship, in the days of his
supremacy, have the use the actual use of what
he then called his lands ? "

L. : " Well, his tenants used them."

I : " And did then his lordship consider himself
defrauded of his rights ? "

L. : " No ; because he reserved to himself the
revenue from it."

I : " Then, if A has the exclusive use of a par-
ticular plot of land, and for this privilege pays what-
ever advantages accrue to him therefrom to all
those who are not A, how can you make out that
they would be defrauded of their rights ? "

L. : " Who is to decide ? For to again quote
from our Liberty Annual ' If the land belong to
everybody, then it is everybody (minus nobody) who
must decide how it shall be disposed of. In such
case no majority and no Government can dispose
of it, just because neither a majority nor a Govern-
ment is everybody.' '

I : " That is very well reasoned. It is precisely
the view we all take of the matter, and hence the
Government does not interfere. It does not say
this block of land is to be occupied by A, and this by
B or C, but lets the people decide that for themselves
and among themselves. All the Government does
is to collect from each occupier the surplus value,
the ' unearned increment,' or the ' economic rent.'
So long as this is paid, the occupier is left in undis-
turbed possession, since what he produces over and
above that is his own. Without such security of
tenure it were not possible to ensure that those who
sow shall reap. All we need do is to take from the
harvest on behalf of the community that part which



84 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

is due to some natural advantage, and therefore
belongs equally to all."

L. : " But who is to decide what shall be the rent ? "
I : " We all have a word in that, and decide it
mostly unconsciously as the rent has always been
decided, namely, by supply and demand. Sites differ
both in position and fertility, so do the tastes and
occupations of the people. Some sites are more
desirable than others, and it often happens that
several people wish to occupy some particular plot ;
the result is that the rent of such plots goes up.
Suppose you wanted to live in Belgravia, and you
found the Square already occupied ; the Government
could do nothing for you, but you yourself could.
You could offer to buy someone out, offer a high
price. The owner does not move. Others do the
same thing ; he still remains. Will not that send
rents up at once ? So that although the possessor
of that plot would enjoy an enviable position, he
would have to pay for it to the community a little
more than the latter think it worth. That is, he
would be in possession of that plot because of all
the applicants for it he deems it worth the most."
L. : " How will you set that machinery to work ? "
I : " That machinery is already at work, and has
been for centuries. For if rent in Belgravia is
higher than in Homerton, it is because there are more
applicants for it. And if some prefer living else-
where notwithstanding, it is because they do not
set the same value on the privilege of living there
as do those who consent to pay the high rent. The
whole principle is a very simple one, and I will
illustrate it to you. A man left to his five sons
five cottages, one to each, without stipulating which
should belong to this or that man. But inasmuch



SOME MORE LEGAL LEGERDEMAIN 85

as the cottages differed in size and quality, he pro-
vided that whoever should choose one of the better
cottages should make adequate compensation to
the others, the sons to decide among themselves
both how the cottages were to be divided, and what
compensation should be paid, and to whom."

L. : " And each of the sons, of course, wanted the
best cottage, and tried to make out it was the worst."

I : "It came to that, and not being able to come
to an understanding "

L. " They went to law."

I. " They would have done so had they been fools.
But not having a taste for lawyer's justice, and,
without being necessarily bad or unduly selfish,
desiring to possess what was willed to them by their
father, they put up the cottages to auction among
themselves. You perceive what followed. There
was bidding against each other, until one or two of
the brothers thought that they preferred the price
offered to the privilege of living in that particular
cottage, and so dropped out of the competition.
Then the three continued bidding against each other,
and so on, until the last bid was higher than either
of the others thought it was worth."

L. (grumbling) : " Such practices, were they to
become common, would be the ruin of the legal
profession."

I : " This is the principle by which rents are
determined. You see, it was ' everybody minus
nobody ' of those concerned who determined who
should possess each of the cottages, and also fixed
the amount of compensation. For I need hardly
tell you that the money the five brothers paid for
the cottages was equally divided amongst them."



86 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

xn

LEGAL ETHICS

TRUTH compels me to record that the lawyer
made me lose my patience, a circumstance
which will surprise nobody acquainted with legal
methods. His object was clearly to confuse rather
than to argue. Instead of endeavouring to show
that the people behind him had a right to the soil,
he insisted on raising side-issues. He argued either
that others had no better right to the land a point
on which I heartily concurred with him or that
the administration would not be perfect, and so
forth ; matters which, however important, have
nothing whatever to do with the right claimed by
a few individuals to own the sources of Nature.

" What you have to show," I said rather im-
patiently, " is that your clients have a right to own
the land, and not that others have not. On this
point we are agreed, of course. It is not our inten-
tion to take the land from Lord Rigmarole and then
give it to Patrick O'Mahony, as some semi-idiots
used to propose. If private ownership in land is
wrong, as we contend, then it is wrong in all classes,
no matter who may be the owner. If, on the other
hand, it is right, then I grant you not only that we have
no right to tax away all its value, as we now are
doing, but that the State has no right whatever to
interfere with landowners in the disposal of their
land if theirs it is nor to dictate to them on what
terms they are to let it or to whom. The question is
not one of expediency or arbitrary force, but of right.
Either the land is yours by right, or it is not."



LEGAL ETHICS 87

L. : " That is the question."

I : " But this question cannot be decided in the
way you argue. Your contention is that the pro-
posed administration is faulty is, in short, not
absolutely perfect. Granted it is not, does it follow
from that that you have an exclusive right to the
soil ? If you intend to suggest better methods of
administration, with the object of more thoroughly
securing to every individual his jointure, we shall
be glad to listen to you. But surely you cannot
fail to see that in doing so you practically abandon
all your claims to exclusive ownership."

L. : " How so ? "

I : " Because when you argue that under the new
system everybody would not get his full rights to the
land, the inference is that more thorough nationalisa-
tion is required ; but it does not establish your claim."

L. : " Our contention is this : You object to
private ownership in land, because some people are
thereby deprived of what you call their natural
rights. We now prove to you that even under
State ownership for your Single Tax amounts to
State ownership of the land everybody will not
get a full equivalent of his share in it."

I : " From which you argue that inasmuch as
our system is not the best conceivable, therefore
we should continue the worst possible. This con-
clusion does not follow from the premises, and
certainly does not make good your claim. At best
you might submit such a proposal as an alternative
method of disposing of the land, which the com-
munity may accept or refuse. But then again you
would practically abandon your claims."

L. : " But that we have not done yet."

I : " Then it is no business of yours to discusa



88 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

how the land should be dealt with by those whom
you contend have no right to it. The raising of
such side-issues can then have one meaning only,
namely, to avert attention from the main point by
throwing dust into people's eyes. Confine your-
self to proving that you have a valid title to the
land, and not that you have been good landlords
or the community bad administrators. If you cannot
do this the land belongs to the community to use."

L. : " And if we can ? "

I : " Then we must abide by the consequences.
The people stand up for their rights and not for
law. If the land is yours, then you have a good
legal right, if you choose, to give notice to all your
tenants to quit, and turn the land into deer parks
or sheep walks. // the land is yours, then you are
legally entitled to say that you will not let your
land to Baptists or to Methodists, nor allow people
who vote Radical or Liberal to settle on your land.
You may then decree when, where, whom, and how
people should marry "

*' That would be an interference with the rights of
liberty," suggested someone behind me sarcastically.

I : "So it would ; and these gentlemen are all
members of the Liberty and Property Defence
League. But could they not say, ' I don't let my
land to Baptists or Radicals or to carrotty people,'
nevertheless ? Thus, for instance, * you are free to
be this and that, and I am free to do with my land
as I please.' Have not such things been done ?
Nay, is not the very object of this sophistical League
to secure to a comparatively few individuals the
power to do with the rest of the community as they
please ? Is not that the kind of liberty for which
they are fighting ? "



LEGAL ETHICS 89

L. : " Is not that remark beside the question ? "

I : " I fear it is. Well, let us come to the point.
Have you anything to support your claims ? "

L. : " Yes, I am coming to the point as you desire
it. You have yourself admitted that there are no
natural rights. Hence, the only existing right is
that which the law gives. Here then are our titles "
(throwing a bundle of parchments at me), " where
are yours ? Can you show a better title than we
do?"

I: "Oh, oh! That is your little game. To
that end then have you employed philosophers to
show there are no natural rights ! But, good sir, your
philosophy falls somewhat short of common sense ;
for if there are no natural rights, then the ' rights'
on which you rely might be suspected as being
unnatural. Can I not make you understand that
this is a great question of equity, of right or ivrong,
and that such questions cannot be decided by cunning
word conjurings ? You want a better title than
your parchments. In yonder field a man is digging
up potatoes. He tilled the field and planted the
potatoes, and now thinks he has a right to the result.
We both say to the man that he has not a right to
the whole crop. Honest man that he is, he declares
himself willing to give up part or the whole of his
crop, but before doing so would fain know that
if he, the tiller, has no right to those potatoes, who
has ? Is it not right and natural that the man who
claims part of the crop should be required to show a
better right to it than the man who raised it ? This
is the real issue. Show what better right you have
to the produce than the man who produced it ! "

L. : " Nay, I put that question to you. Our
right is here, secured to us by these deeds."



90 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

I : " Signed by whom ? By the original owner
the producer of the soil ? "

L. : " Signed by kings, in the name of the nation,
and ratified by the common consent of the people."

I : "If that were true, it would not establish
the validity of these deeds, since no generation has
the right to dictate to future generations how they
shall live on this globe. But it is not even true.
When has this common consent been given, or even
asked for ? When the Romans butchered the
ancient Britons ? When the Danish hordes devas-
tated the country ? Or when the Norman bastard
and his fellow-robbers invaded these islands ? Or
when some king handed over whole tracts of country
to his paramours or his bastard sons ? "

L. : " The kings have acted in the name of the
people, and these have not protested, which is equal
to common consent."

I : " Another of your legal fictions, and one of
which you ought to be heartily ashamed. Is it not
true rather that the people have continually pro-
tested against the tyranny of arbitrary rule, but
have been answered by dungeon or the gallows ?
Look down the list of your statutes, the penalties
that were imposed on free speech, on ' sedition,'
as every kind of protest against tyranny has been
called, and you will find in the laws that have
been passed to suppress these protests ample evidence
of their reality. What were all the popular risings
but protests ? What, even in more recent times,
were the meetings of the people in parks and squares
but loud protests against tyranny and arbitrary
rule, which, whenever you could you have suppressed
by main force ? "

L. : " You refer to illegal assemblies."



LEGAL ETHICS 91

I : " Because, after having robbed the people
of their birthrights, their protests have been declared
illegal. So that even granted that the people, either
from inability or from ignorance it is immaterial
which have not protested sooner, they are pro-
testing now. Let it be granted that the validity
of these deeds is now questioned for the first time.
Is it a good answer to say that you have exacted
tribute by false deeds for so long, therefore you have
a right to continue the practice ? "

L. : " You do not put the case fairly. We say that
our legal claims have always been held to be good."

I : " Never ! All you can say is that they have
not before been scrutinised too closely. Let me
read to you what Blackstone, your legal authority,
has written on the subject :

' There is nothing which so generally strikes the
imaginations, and engages the affections of mankind,
as the right of property ; or that sole and despotic
dominion which one man claims and exercises over
the external things of the world, in total exclusion
of the right of any other individual in the universe.
And yet there are very few that will give themselves the
trouble to consider the original and foundation of this
right. Pleased as we are with the possession, we
seem afraid to look back to the means by which it
was acquired, as if fearful of some defect in our title ; or
at best we rest satisfied with the decision of the laws
in our favour, without examining the reason or authority
upon which those laws have been built. We think
it enough that our title is derived by the grant of the
former proprietor, by descent from our ancestor, or
by the last will and testament of the dying owner ;
not caring to reflect that (accurately and strictly
speaking) there is no foundation in nature or in natural
law why a set of words upon parchment should convey
the dominion of land; why the son should have a
right to exclude his fellow-creatures from a determinate



92 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

spot of ground because his father has done so before
him ; or why the occupier of a particular field, when
lying on his deathbed, and no longer able to maintain
possession, should be entitled to tell the rest of the
world which of them shall enjoy it after him. These
inquiries, it must be owned, would be useless and even
troublesome in common life. It is well if the mass of
mankind will obey the laws when made, without
scrutinising too nicely into the reasons for making
them. ..."

The lawyer coughed and wiped his spectacles, but
made no reply. I continued

" Nor has the land ever been regarded as absolute
property, even by the law, bad as it was. What
did the fixation of judicial rents and compulsory
expropriation mean but a denial of that exclusive
right which you claim ? If the land had been held
to be yours in the same sense as you may claim
ownership of a watch or a table, why this interference ?
And why did you submit to it so meekly ? I will
answer this last question for you. Because your title
was bad, and you were afraid to urge your claims to
extremities lest the fraud might be discovered."

L. : " The law "

I : " The law, as it stood, right up to now, imposed
a tax on ground rents of four shillings in the pound.
But though this was law, the tax had nevertheless
not been paid."

L. : " But it has been paid, according to assess-
ment."

I : " That is, in Latin, a suppressio veri, or, in
English, a lie, and you know it well. The four
shillings were on an assessment made about 200
years ago, but the rent was collected on present
values ; so that in parts of London, instead of four
shillings in the pound, as required by the said law,



LEGAL ETHICS 93

the tax did not amount to more than a fraction of
a penny. Time and again a return has been moved
for in the Commons, with a view of showing this
fraudulent evasion of the tax, but has been arbitrarily
refused by the House of Landlords. These four
shillings meant only one-fifth of what the people
were defrauded annually, and should, according to
law, have been paid, and was yet withheld withheld
contrary to statute law. Was this, too, by common
consent ? "

L. : " We cannot enter into that ; nor can we
re-open things of the past. It is a novel thing to
come down on people to-day for acts committed,
or supposed to have been committed, centuries ago."

I : " Now it is you who state the case unfairly.
We claim no restitution for acts committed in the
past ; but, on the other hand, we do not allow that
a wrong may be continued to-day because it originated
long ago. Let me illustrate the case. His lordship
there told us that his family has been in possession
of certain estates since the Norman invasion. A
goodly long time indeed. Supposing, now, he dis-
covered that the steward of his estate had defrauded
him of so much of his revenue annually, would it be
a good defence if the steward pleaded that these
frauds have been in vogue by his predecessors ever
since the Conquest, and therefore claimed to be
allowed to continue to abstract a certain sum annually
for ever ? This is precisely your case. You can
show no valid title to the land ; indeed, you have
hardly attempted it. All you say is that this tribute
has been collected by your predecessors for centuries."

L. : " And that we are not responsible for past
actions."

I : " True. Nor was the steward responsible for



94 THE STORY OF MY DICTATORSHIP

what his predecessors have stolen. That is not the
point. The question is, whether his lordship, on
hearing his steward's singular defence, will say to
him, ' Ah, that is all right then. Had you been
thieving from me for a few years only, I would have
sent you to the tread-mill. But since you say this
thieving has been going on for centuries, and that
you actually paid my former steward a large sum
for the privilege of stealing from me, as he and others
have done before, I recognise your right to continue
the theft for ever and ever ; ' or whether his lordship
would not rather put a summary stop to the practice
as soon as he discovered the fraud."



XIII
PBIEST AND PEASANT

MY last utterance provoked the Bishops. Not
that they needed much provocation ; for all
through the interview I could plainly see their eager-
ness to interfere, and that they were only waiting
for some plausible excuse that would enable them to
veil their partisanship under the cloak of spiritual
duty. My simile of the dishonest steward afforded
them a splendid opportunity, and they did not miss
it. About half a dozen of them nudged the one
who had the broadest phylactery, and whom I there-
fore regarded as their chief. With a solemn, but
not angry face, he said

" I protest against your likening landlords to
thieves. Such language should not be used of
honest men, however humble their station, still
less of gentlemen who occupy the foremost places in



PRIEST AND PEASANT 95

Church and State, and who on every occasion where
Christian work is to be done "

" Your indignation, sir," I interrupted, " would
be perfectly justified had I done so. I did not
liken landowners to thieves, but only wished to
illustrate that land monopoly is not a single wrong
act, which might be forgiven and forgotten, but is
a perpetual wrong, and that the monopolist is in a


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Online LibraryAlvin Victor SellersThe story of my dictatorship .. → online text (page 6 of 9)