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THEORY OF INDIGENCE.
History has been styled Philosophy teaching by example. Philosophy may with equal propriety be denominated History condensed into precept. The general course of human actions, directed into a particular channel, and regulated by legislation, has never had a tendency contrary to the general course of human feeling. From the practice of individuals and states, moralists and jurists have deduced their theories ; and it is the intention of this part of the present Essay to review the Theory of Indigence in the works of the most eminent writers on morality and jurisprudence. These writers have found in nature, and in the history of civil society, the existence of two separate, and as they seem to have considered them, opposite interests ;
The Right of Property; and
The right of property implies uninterrupted possession, subject to the unlimited intrusion of no other right. The right of self-preservation implies, that all other rights whatsoever must give way to it.
Property is the creature of civil society ; it assumes, and exists only under the protection of, a sovereign power. Self-preservation is an unalienable right, existing independent of civil society, and consequently independent of all sovereign power.
To reconcile these co-existent rights, Grotius saw, or thought he saw, another law, which he called the law of necessity. “This law of necessity (says he) was foreseen in the first division of property; and therefore a right of revoking this division was tacitly reseryed, and a power of again throwing all things into common, if the claims of self-preservation should ever have a stronger right to be attended to than the claims of property*.” This explanation seems rather cutting the knot than untying it. The successor of Grotius in this branch of science, Puffendorf, doubted the justness of the conclusion as to the implied original condition, and therefore adopted a refinement of another nature to reconcile the two opposite in
“ To assist the indigent in ordinary cases is a duty of imperfect obligation, but in case of extreme necessity it becomes a duty of perfect obligation.”—Puffendorf, b. ii. c. 6. sect. 6.
Paley has adopted Puffendorf's definition of perfect and imperfect obligation, for which he is
* De Jure Belli et Pacis, lib. ii. c. 3. s. 6.
.censured by Gisborne*, who considers the ordinary case of indigence only as a ground of reasonable expectation on the part of the indigent from the possessor of property. On the extraordinary case of indigence, which Puffendorf and Paley have elevated into a right, he is silent : and, last of all, Mr. Malthus applies the principle of population to solve the riddle ; and comes to the conclusion in general terms, that “the poor have no right to relief.”—Essay on the Principles of Population, 5th edit. vol. iii. p. 342.
Convinced as I am of the justness of the principle of population, and of the light it throws on the benevolence of the Deity, especially as enlarged upon and applied by Mr. Sumner ; yet with full conviction on this point, I have the authority of Mr. Malthus himself for not admitting all the conclusions he draws from it; for I think he has fallen into the same error with the other writers on the subject, of which I shall presently speak; and further, that he abandons his own principles : for it appears to me, that there is not a part of the general reasoning which he makes use of to exclude the right of the indigent in general on the possessors of property, which does not equally exclude the right of children on their own parents. Self-love is a stronger principle
* Remarks on Paley, 3d edition, p. 227, 228, 229.
of action than benevolence; but they are placed by the Author of our being so near to each other, and the latter principle is so exalted by the great. Christian precept into a virtue, that in well-regulated minds the distinction is very difficult to define. Mr. Malthus, with the other wise and good men above cited, strives to overwhelm this moral feeling with subtle and scholastic refinement ; and perhaps, on their principles, the earliest moralist who has written on the subject has come to the most natural conclusion, when he confines our sacrifices and exertions for the support and preservation of another within the limits of the necessary attention to our own support and
preservation : “ Dabo egenti, sed non ut ipse egeam; succurram perituro, sed ut ipse non peream." Seneca de Beneficiis, lib. ii. c. 15.
It is with great diffidence that I offer a solution which places the right, claim, obligation perfect or imperfect, reasonable expectation, or whatever name may be adopted to designate it by, upon a surer ground, consistent with the right of property, the duties of natural, and the precepts of revealed, religion. And I think this solution deducible from the historical view with which I commenced, and the consideration of which, indeed, led me to it; and from the moral feeling, no less a part of the history of the human mind, which breaks forth in the writings of the theore
tical writers, who, while they acknowledge the co-existence of the rights of property, and of self-preservation, seem to have always felt the difficulty of reconciling them. The term property is well understood, and requires no particular explanation. But that condition in civil society, wherein a human being, having exerted all honest endeavours to procure subsistence; or wherein, by age, sickness, or unavoidable calamity, he is rendered incapable of exerting them; would, in obedience to the great law of self-preservation, be justified in invading the right of property, I have hitherto, with a view of limiting the meaning of terms, denominated indigence ; and this word, which, adopted from the Latin, has a similar or rather more intense meaning than the word egestas, admits with that a perfect distinction from poverty on one hand, and mendicity on the other*.
Poverty is compatible with honesty and respectability; indigence with the former ; but mendicity with neither, and is, indeed, the first step to dishonesty.
The view which moralists seem hitherto to have taken of the subject, implies the existence
*.“ Itaque istam paupertatem vel potius egestatem et mendicitatem tuam nunquam obscure tulisti.”—Cicero in Paradoxis, 6.
“ Charity consists in relieving the indigent."-Addison, quoted in Johnson's Dictionary in verbo.