Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/198

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172
EARTH HUNGER AND OTHER ESSAYS

that freedom is a thing which every man should seek to win and acquire, that it is not possible to acquire it without property, and that, therefore, every sober, industrious, and socially ambitious man should properly seek to get property. Which of these two does the proposition mean? By its terms it is impossible to decide. It is a proposition which two persons might understand and employ at the same time in the two opposite senses with perfect good faith, and thereby lay the foundation for a "social discussion" of great magnitude, the only fruit of which would be to find out at last how they had misunderstood each other from the beginning. We have seen numerous instances of this kind and it can hardly be disputed that the propositions which admit of such differences of interpretation are extremely mischievous.

If the proposition is taken in the former sense, the notion of a "free man" is taken to be something simple and definite, which can be made the basis of deductions, and upon which obligations of social duty can be constructed, aimed especially at the state, which guarantees liberty as a political right. Property then becomes a right of the individual, in his relation with society or the state. He would not forfeit this right to have property unless he should get some property by his own effort—if he did that he would fall under the "duties of wealth," the first of which, as we learn from current discussion, is to subscribe to or contribute the fund by which the state makes others free.

If the proposition is taken in the latter sense, the notion of a free man cannot be set up a priori. A free man is such a man as results under the limitation of earthly life, when he has individual and social power sufficient to bear up against the difficulties which harass us here. The proposition would then say that no man