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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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Notes on Professor Fawcett's Article. State Socialism and the Nationalisation of the Land. (S362b: 1883)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Commentary on the Irish Land Question appearing on page four of the 30 July 1883 issue of the London newspaper The Echo. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S362B.htm

     Professor Fawcett's article in the last number of Macmillan's Magazine would have required no notice on my part had he not first referred to me by name, and given the title of my book as one of the two which have attracted special attention to Land Nationalisation, and then proceeded to argue the question in such a way as to give his readers a totally false and misleading idea of my work. Under these circumstances I think it necessary to show, briefly, that none of Professor Fawcett's arguments have any, even the remotest, bearing on the proposals I have made, nor do they affect in the slightest degree the weight of the facts and arguments I have adduced to justify my proposals.

     Throughout Professor Fawcett's article he refers to two modes of effecting Nationalisation as the only ones which have ever been put forward or which deserve any consideration. These are--either for the State to take the land from its present owners without compensation, or to purchase it from them by a cash payment of its full market value. The first method he declares to be unjust, and the second he shows to be injurious and impracticable; and he then passes on to other matters connected with what he terms "State Socialism." Now, surely, any reader of Professor Fawcett's article would imagine that I had proposed one of these modes of bringing about Nationalisation; and he would be much surprised to find that I reject them both as decisively as does the Professor himself, and propose a method of compensation, by means of terminable annuities, which, while not diminishing the income of any living person, would yet give the State possession of the land without the need of borrowing a single pound or effecting any financial operation whatever. That a writer, after naming my book as one of those which obliges him to treat the question of Nationalisation, should silently and absolutely ignore the whole of my practical proposals, and the whole body of fact and argument on which those proposals are founded, is certainly one of the strangest literary phenomena I have met with; while I ought, perhaps, to accept it as a high compliment and great encouragement, since it assures me that my acts are correct, my arguments sound, and my proposals unassailable, even by so great an authority as Professor Fawcett.

     Again, in discussing the purpose and practical working of Nationalisation, Professor Fawcett asks questions and starts difficulties all of which are answered or fully met in my book. Thus he says:--"And when the State had become the possessor of all the land, what is going to be done with it? What principles are to regulate the rents to be charged? Who is to decide the particular plots of land that should be allotted to those who apply for them?" &c., &c. Now I have fully answered all these questions, but in fact some of them hardly need asking. What is going to be done with the land? Does Professor Fawcett imagine the whole nation going off the land and leaving it empty and bare, and the Government hopelessly asking, "What are we to do with it?" He seems to have been so habituated to look on the land as a commodity, that he has lost all conception of its true nature as the great essential of life and of labour, and the fountain of all wealth, without which existence is impossible, and the possession of which by one set of individuals gives them the most absolute and despotic power over the rest of their fellow countrymen, who do not possess it, but who nevertheless must have the use of it or die.

     Again, an essential feature of my treatment of the question is the separation of the value of all landed property into its two constituent parts, that of the land itself in its natural qualities and its relation to the needs of Society, and that of the temporary additions or improvements made to it by the owners or occupiers--the former only to become the property of the State, the latter to remain private property. Now this separation is a new feature of any scheme of Land Nationalisation in this country, and it furnishes a complete reply to all the difficulties and objections of Professor Fawcett as to State patronage, favouritism, and consequent demoralising corruption. On this account it has commended itself to many thinkers, and has led to the formation of a Land Nationalisation Society, which is doing active work. Yet all this is ignored; and the question is discussed as if State patronage were an essential concomitant of Nationalisation, and as if no method of entirely obviating it had ever been put forward. A little further on we have a discussion of the proposal to take for the State the "unearned increment" of the value of land; and it is argued that the same unearned increment attaches to funds, stocks, shares, and many other kinds of property, and then the question is considered to be settled. But suppose we accept Professor Fawcett's reasoning, and maintain that all unearned increment which gives to one set of men the results of the labour of another set is alike bad and immoral, but that in the case of land it can be shown to be exceptionally bad, and to be bound up with a vast mass of evil, injustice, and waste. Are we to refuse to discuss a remedy which removes the evil in the one case because the time is not yet come to remove it in the other?

     In concluding his remarks on this part of the subject, Professor Fawcett proposes, as his sole remedy for the admitted evil results of our present system, the abolition of all restrictions on the sale and transfer of land, again ignoring all the facts and arguments I have adduced showing that, so far from the change leading to an "association of the ownership with the cultivation of the soil," which association he declares "would not only offer the best security for efficient agriculture, but would in various other ways be highly advantageous to the entire community"--it would inevitably place a further bar to such association, and lead to the still further increase of great estates, which Professor Fawcett has himself so much deplored. On the other hand, the proposals set forth by the Land Nationalisation Society and by myself would render this association universal, and obtain for us all the benefits which are, by common consent, to be derived from it. While giving the actual ownership of the soil to the State, the virtual ownership would remain with every tenant, and this would be effected without pecuniary injury to any living person. We advocate this on grounds of liberty, of justice, and of expediency, believing that it alone will surely abolish the curse and disgrace of pauperism under which we--the wealthiest people on the Globe--continually groan, while it will enormously increase the production of food, check the excessive growth of great cities, and add to the health, the security, and the happiness of the whole community.

     On reading over Professor Fawcett's article I find that he adopts the method of silently ignoring the arguments of those who differ from him in another branch of the subject. In treating the question of national insurance or compulsory thrift, he never once refers to Mr. Blackley's remarkable proposals, but puts forth objections and difficulties which have been again and again completely answered by that gentleman. It is right, therefore, that the public should be informed that Professor Fawcett’s statements on these important questions are absolutely and (apparently) purposely one-sided.

Alfred R. Wallace. Frith Hill, Godalming, July 26.

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