A Treatise on Political Economy, Or, the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth

By Jean-Baptiste Say; Clement C. Biddle et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV.
OF THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY.

IT is the province of speculative philosophy to trace the origin of the right of property; of legislation to regulate its transfer; and of political science to devise the surest means of protecting that right. Political economy views the right of property solely as the most powerful of all encouragements to the multiplication of wealth, and is satisfied with its actual stability, without inquiring about its origin or its safeguards. In fact, the legal inviolability of property is obviously a meet mockery, where the sovereign power is unable to make the laws respected, where it either practises robbery itself,* or is impotent to repress it in others; or where possession is rendered perpetually insecure, by the intricacy of legislative enactments, and the subtleties of technical nicety. Nor can property be said to exist, where it is not matter of reality as well as of right. Then, and then only can the sources of production, land, capital, and industry, attain their utmost degree of fecundity.

There are some truths so completely self-evident, that demonstration is quite superfluous. This is one of that number. Who will attempt to deny, that the certainty of enjoying the fruits of one's land, capital and labour, is the most powerful inducement to render them productive? Or who is dull enough to doubt, that no one knows so well as the proprietor how to make the best use of his property? Yet how often in practice is that inviolability of property disregarded, which, in theory, is allowed by all to be so immensely advantageous? How often is it broken in upon for the most insignificant purposes; and its violation, that should naturally excite indignation, justified upon the most flimsy pretexts? so few persons are there who have a lively sense of any but a direct injury, or, with the most lively feelings, have firmness enough to act up to their sentiments. There is no security of property, where a despotic authority can possess itself of the property of the subject against his consent. Neither is there such security, where the consent is merely nominal and delusive. In England, the taxes are imposed by the national representation; if, then, the minister be in the possession of an absolute majority, whether by means of electioneering influence, or by the

____________________
*
The strength of aa individual is so little, when opposed to that of the government he lives under, that the subject can have no security against the exactions and abuses of authority, except in those countries, where the guardianship of the laws is entrusted to the all-searching vigilance of a free press, and their violation checked by an efficient national representation.

-72-

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