This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
In a note, which stands at the beginning of this volume, we ventured the following remark: "There are two sorts of men who can have no possible interest in our theme, nor in its treatment—the atheist and the criminal; but neither of these is an average man, and our message is not for them. To all other men who acknowledge one God, to men of intelligence, honor, and fidelity we address ourselves with entire confidence." In this confidence we reverently name the corner stone of our thesis; if it sounds familiar, so ever must it be with primal truth.
God is the Giver and is the absolute Owner of all things. These words, the solemn utterance of a great Christian Church, and the age-long teaching of Christianity itself, are fundamental to all that we shall say. Every statement that we shall make and every conclusion that we shall reach must rest upon this basal doctrine of the Christian faith.
In the preceding chapter we were considering briefly the philosophy of ownership. We there noted that human ownership, when thus considered, is applicable only to value and not to things. But there is a legal sense in which human ownership is applied to things also. A man is said legally to "own" property, that is, to exercise absolute dominion over it. When used in this sense ownership does not, of course, refer to property itself, but to the rights of people in relation to property. The root idea of legal ownership is not "control" but "hindrance." A man "owns" an automobile, or a farm, because he has legal power to hinder all other persons from possessing it or using it. The broad legal argument is this: Uninterrupted and unchallenged possession of property culminates in, and is identical with, the absolute ownership of that property. Now, this legal doctrine of ownership, as applied to material things, is pagan both in meaning and origin. It can never have an inch of standing room in Christian thinking, and any defense of it must be an appeal to pagan and not to Christian ethics. We deem it unnecessary here to discuss this fundamental statement, which has been elsewhere developed,1 but prefer to rest upon the accepted Christian teaching, "God is the absolute Owner of all things." God therefore owns property although men possess it.
But even the right of possession (which is commonly though erroneously regarded as equivalent to the right of ownership) is not a primary human right. A man may say that he "owns" property (meaning, of course, that he holds or possesses property), but, even so, he recognizes that he holds this possession subject to the will of some higher authority. For instance, he knows he must pay taxes; if he does not, his property will be sold over his own head to satisfy the demands of government. As population increases and society becomes more complex a man is reminded that his right to the possession of property rests more and more upon outside authority. In all civilized governments there is the written or unwritten law of eminent domain, meaning that the state has paramount claim to all land; the state "may buy any man's property to any extent at an appraised valuation, and without his consent." In time of war the government may seize supplies of every sort and make what payment it sees fit. If a conflagration is threatening a city, the fire department may dynamite a man's house, in order to protect adjacent buildings. If he builds a new house, the city must approve his plans; his plumbing must suit the Board of Health whether it suits him or not; his house may go without doors and windows, but he must pay his street-paving assessments. It is less than humorous when a man announces that he cannot afford to "own" property; he simply means that outside compulsions and restraints have become burdensome to him. The new income tax in the United States is reconciling some men to the advantages of a modest salary. Not a man's own rights of possession but the rights of society are supreme.
It is very evident, therefore, that men will differ in their theories of human ownership, accepting the word in its popular usage. There are those who affirm that ownership should be vested only in the state; that all public utilities such as the railways and the telegraph should be owned by government, and that private ownership of property, particularly of land, should be made impossible. Allied to this is the doctrine of social ownership, which nevertheless differs materially from the above monarchial doctrine of ownership by the state. Socialism is a subject far too complex to be compassed by a single definition, but, viewed only from the standpoint of economics, Socialism means the appropriation by society of the means of production. We shall not discuss it here. Opposed to both of these is the doctrine of private ownership. Men hold that the individual is supreme. The rights, both of the state and of the social body, are derived only from the consent of the individual, therefore the final ownership of property must rest in him.
Now, as bearing upon the human rights of possession, all of these theories are germane, and much may be said for each of them. It is the promise of unmeasured good that multitudes of intelligent men are considering the rights of property tenure. But such a study lies entirely outside the scope of our subject. We are not discussing the various modes of holding property, but the final authority for holding it at all.
"We are writing of those finer spiritual elements which make for permanent human values. Not by any forcing of the argument can we touch, even remotely, the economic organization of society. . . . We are not at all concerned in a man's title to property; the court records are sufficient for that. But we are very much concerned in a man's attitude to property, and that is a very different thing."1 Each of the theories that we have named breaks down at the same point, each fails to emphasize the fundamental Christian truth—God is the Giver and is the absolute Owner of all things.
One cannot argue this basal doctrine of Christianity. Nor is there any need. Our book is addressed to men "who acknowledge one God." Such men would be mystified and annoyed by any attempt to prove the divine ownership. The very fact of Deity compels them to recognize in him Supreme Being; the very fact of creation proclaims him Owner and Lord of all that he has made. With the sincere reader we can but bow our head, and say with one of old time, "Behold, unto Jehovah thy God belongeth the heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein." Thus, if our argument were concerned only with the material substance of property itself, we recognize that God is the all-powerful Maker and Owner of all things. Even in the legal sense of ownership, whose root meaning is "hindrance," we must nevertheless exalt God as the final and absolute Owner of property, the supreme Hinderer of all who would lay hands upon the material world. For "who shall stand when he appeareth?"
But God's ownership of the world is not mere legal dominion; it is vital control. Such ownership is not attested by superhuman power to "hinder" all others from possessing and enjoying the earth. We have more than once written, and write it yet once more, that this legal doctrine of ownership, as recognized in our common jurisprudence, is pagan both in meaning and origin. It roots in human selfishness and its sanction is negative and preventive force. But God's ownership of the world is constructive; it is attested by his Presence in the midst of his creation, and its sanction is his own transmitted power, whereby men are able to possess the earth and subdue it. The root of the divine ownership is help and not hindrance. It is not heralded by the legal and caste-bound prohibition, "Keep off!" but by this loving and royal commission, "Have dominion!" Therefore the primary concern of the divine ownership is not the crude and material substance of property, but its fine and immaterial essence. It deals with value, and herein is its appeal to men. That men themselves demand value, and are not content with things, shows, indeed, that they are made in the very image of God.
Men do not care for buildings but for the utility or beauty that is in them; they do not care for wheat but bread; they have no desire for railways; what they demand is quick, safe, and comfortable transportation. Everywhere, everywhere, men are seeking it—value—and when they have found it they seek further, that they may find more of it. Not work, but efficiency; not things, but fitness—this is the constant quest of all intelligent business. It is value, and not things, that God himself hath ordained. In the beginning, "God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." Why was it "good"? Because it was beautiful? Because the soft breezes stirred the growing corn, and the black loam of the fields was rich with verdure, and the dew was sweet, and the sun was pleasant ? Is this the reason God beheld his world and called it "good"?
For years I looked out over the Gangetic plain, and marveled how, every year, it was scorched with heat. Weary months would pass, without a cooling cloud, until the dead and driven soil would stretch beneath the sun like gray ashes in a furnace. And then again I marveled, for, every year, the monsoon rains would break, and, as by magic, there stretched vast miles of shimmering green. But my marveling ceased and changed to living wonder; for, one day, a government agricultural expert told me it was the actinic rays of the sun, piercing and parching the surface of the earth during those same weary months of every year, that supplied the soil of India with its wonderful fertility, and gave it power to produce, within a few short weeks, a year's supply of food for one fifth the human race. It was indeed beauty which God saw when he called creation "good," but it was that inward and satisfying beauty which makes the material world answer the purpose for which it was formed. It was the beauty of efficiency. Whether soft and alluring, or bleak and forbidding, it was always fit and right; therefore it was "good." In a word, it was value.
Were we always as wise as we hope we shall become, we would understand clearly that nature contains no contradictions; her values are always good. During these later years I have never been distressed on hearing of "drought in Kansas" or "a dry spell in South Dakota," but I have wondered how soon my fellow countrymen would learn that it is always "fine weather for corn." Soil must have athletic tone as well as richness. Rotation of crops is good, as variety in food is good, but abstinence and hard training are sometimes better. Nature's values never depreciate. Every morning is "fitted" to the larger life of the world, and every evening "just suits" a completed day. Fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind fulfilling his word, they all return at their wonted season, or in unexpected ways, but they are always "right."
The maintenance of value is the daily miracle of the Almighty. It is renewed, because it must be renewed, every hour. More wonderful than the creation of worlds is the constant upholding of all things. It is this that proclaims him God, a present God, and it is this that proclaims him "Owner." How it cometh down evermore from the Father of lights—value—that hidden quality which proceeds from material things and from untoward circumstances, that quality which makes them always "suitable"! This is the continuous giving of the Giver of all; this is the daily wonder of the world, and certainly its chiefest joy. Not the sun that blazed in space a million years ago—this is not the wonder of God's ownership, but the sun that smiled this morning when the blushing east awoke.
The spacious firmament on high, With all the blue ethereal sky, And spangled heavens, a shining frame, Their great Original proclaim—
but a thousand constellations proclaim God's ownership less insistently than a thousand robins chirping cheerily over a breakfast that did not fail. It is this upholding presence of God in the midst of the universe that intelligent men must recognize. The thrill of it reaches every man who will lift his eyes.