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him by the State or by any other agency. Spontaneity is better than government, whenever there is a choice.
The third claim also (the claim for leisure) so far as it is justifiable is involved in the first. There is to be secured by the State to each citizen opportunity for the development of his faculties; and this development may be impossible if the inequalities of wealth are so great that the rich hold the poor at their mercy and compel them to work for bare living so long or so hard that no powers but the muscular are exerted, and these overexerted. But before we allow this to be a claim on the State we must be sure that it is possible for the State to fulfil it. " What cannot be accomplished ought not to be accomplished.” Without the action of the persons concerned the State's action will not be successful; and the claim need go no farther than such a regulation on the State's part as will give the individual action the possibility of success. It is every man's duty to seek leisure enough to develop his whole man and his special gifts. It is therefore his right to do so. But his claim upon the State is simply that he shall find no hindrance not overcomeable by his own efforts, whether by vigorous personal action or action in combination with his fellows at his own discretion.
It will have appeared that the “natural rights” of man are not capable of being applied like a code of commandments to be learned by memory and carried out in a uniform way everywhere. They are founded on the necessity that certain external conditions be fulfilled before a rational or moral life can be lived, and these conditions may mean more or less according to the men and the circumstances. The term “natural rights,” or even “rights” pure and simple, has often been used with a covert understanding of the legal meanings of rights, claims enforceable in a court of law and defined by statute. It is impossible to give them any such definiteness, and almost impossible to avoid risk of this confusion. When our forefathers talked of natural rights there was a truth in the conception conveyed by their words, but it is a truth perhaps more safely and clearly expressed now-a-days in some other way.
It may seem otherwise with the word “law," which
in Economics at least has become too familiar to be easily dropped, and in Social Philosophy seems to be rather gaining than losing ground.
But there are reasons for seriously restricting if not abandoning the use of this term also, whether accompanied or not by the adjective “natural.”
There are two senses in which “law” is constantly used outside of economics and social philosophy. The first and oldest is that of a prescribed rule of conduct, issuing from the command of a legislator. The second (which was possibly derived from the first, Deity being taken as the legislator)' is that of a sequence of physical events from physical causes. Under certain conditions a certain phenomenon is expected to occur ; and the uniformity of its occurrence is stated as a “law.'
There is now a general agreement among modern economists than an “economic law” cannot mean a precept ; but among ordinary men now (as among economists of past generations) the associations of “law” in the sense of precept have had an influence when “economic laws" have been mentioned ; there has been a vague idea that Political Economy had prescribed courses of action which men were expected to follow. The “law of laissez-faire” is an expression which itself reveals the dangers of the ambiguity.
Apart from this objection there is another, that when mention is made of economic laws" the hearer most readily thinks of something like the physical laws, with which science has tried to make him familiar. It may no doubt be contended that the laws of economics are on the same footing as physical laws; they are statements that, when certain conditions are given, certain phenomena will tend to present themselves. But there is this difference, that the economic conditions are more subject to change than the conditions contemplated in physical laws. Even physical science is not in haste to apply the term to all cases where under certain conditions certain phenomena occur, but confines it very
1 Compare Eucken (Prof. R.) Grundbegriffe der Gegenwart, 2nd ed., 1892, pp. 173 seq.
There is a full discussion of “ Economic Laws "in Prof. Menger's Methode der Socialwissenschaften (1883).
largely to the primary uniformities from which large groups of others are derived.
The law of gravitation is the most hackneyed instance, but none the less valid. It would be possible to confine the term law in political economy to such wide generalities as are likely to be exemplified in every community, civilized or uncivilized. It might be an economic law that under the conditions of human life on this planet human wants tend to multiply indefinitely: it might be an economic law that men tend to prefer the greater to the less gain, or to prefer the greater to the less quantity of the means of satisfying their wants. When we descend from such primary laws to laws of production and distribution, such as are described by J. S. Mill, in his Political Economy, we come to principles, no doubt as rigorously true under the conditions assumed for them, but far less frequently exemplified, because far less often finding their conditions fulfilled.
It seems by no means necessary to use the term at all. Adam Smith speaks of "principles” (which may be taken to mean simply general truths), not of laws. The Physiocrats used the term freely, but there was in their reasonings a covert personification of the “order of nature,” and law in their writings suggests legislative precept rather than the law of physical science. Still they are not far from the modern use; and Turgot, who was very closely in contact with them, seems to use the term in the later sense. "To recognise the primary and unique laws founded on nature itself, by which all values in commerce are balanced with each other, and fixed at a definite value, to perceive the reciprocal dependence of trade and agriculture,
their close connection with laws and morals and all the operations of the government, etc. this is to look at the matter with the eye of a philosopher and a statesman." (Éloge de Gournay, 1759, near beginning). Malthus, when he speaks of the “law" of population, might be considered to use the word in the physical sense ; and the rhetoric of Burke,
1 Though in Moral Sent., ist ed., page 283, 6th ed., vol. i., 412, he says,
“All general rules are commonly denominated laws,” yet the examples he gives are the laws of motion and the laws of morality
who speaks of the “laws of commerce” as “the laws of nature and therefore the laws of God” (Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, 1795) is hardly to be regarded as the language of an economist. Perhaps the earliest use of the term by an economist in the sense of what is now called “economic law” occurs in Ricardo's tract (1810) on the High Price of Bullion. Gold and Silver, he says, obey “the same laws as every other commodity.” After this date the use became common ;-we hear of laws of rent, profits, interest, etc.
Since Jones, Cliffe Leslie, and the later Historical Economists, the term has perhaps been used more sparingly. It has been felt to be awkward to speak of general principles as “laws” when they are only exemplified in one or two countries, and inoperative in the greater number. This awkwardness has lent an apparent justification to the assertion that every land has its own economic laws as well as its own laws of
governWhether or not there are permanently true principles, sequences of which the conditions are always realized, is a position which must not at this stage be discussed.”
NOTE. Mr. Herbert Spencer defends the use of the terms natural rights” against Bentham, and later writers (including Jevons and Matthew Arnold) in The Man versus the State, pp. 87 seq. In substance his conclusion is that of T. H. Green. “To recognise and enforce the rights of individuals is at the same time to recognise and enforce the conditions to a normal social life. There is one vital requirement for both" (102). This is not the place to discuss Individualism versus Socialism; and it may only be remarked that Mr. Spencer furnishes another instance of the affinity of a doctrine of “natural rights” with laissez-faire. The affinity appears less strongly in Lorimer, Institutes of Law, Blackwood, 1880), who makes a powerful defence, on the principles of Krause, Trendelenburg, and Ahrens, which are closely akin to the view of T. H. Green (as will be shown in a later chapter) and Mr. H. Spencer.
1 E.g. Malthus, on Rent (1815), p. 22, Pol. Ec. (1820), p. 13. Ricardo, Princ. of Pol. Ec. and Tax. (1817). Pref.
2 See below [J. S. Mill, and Marx].