The right to establish private enterprises is another fundamental one which is nevertheless changing and changeable. It is only within the last century that the right has come to have its present wide scope, especially in the case of corporations. Many restrictions still exist, as in the case of the liquor traffic. It is even open to serious question whether society has not gone too far in our own country in the direction of granting freedom to establish private business.

V. Personal Liberty

Personal liberty or freedom, including (1) the right to move from place to place at pleasure, and (2) the right of acquisition, is an institution which we are perhaps most likely to regard as necessary and natural under all circumstances. Yet here again we have the case of a right which has been very slowly acquired by society. Moreover, it never has been, is not to-day, and probably never can be, an unlimited right. It is the endeavor of the State to equalize human liberty, not to make such liberty absolute, for that would be impossible. The question, then, is not whether we shall limit liberty, but how we can so limit it that we may secure a maximum of liberty for all.

The student must think this out fairly and deliberately, casting out from his mind every argument based upon "natural rights." Only when he has substituted therefor the rule of human welfare will he be prepared to study economic questions rationally and scientifically.

For the maintenance of these fundamental conditions of the existing social order which we have described, we are dependent upon the State. No other instrument of society is adequate to the task. The maintenance of these foundations, if they are to be maintained at all, can be accomplished in no other way. When the State attempts this and little more, its policy is said to be passive. When the State goes far beyond this in endeavors to promote the general welfare, its policy is said to be active.

Conclusion. Let us remember, then, that the most fundamental institutions are not unchangeable, but that we can discover their beginnings in history, and can trace their development through manifold and unceasing changes to their present form. Let us remember, too, that as change has marked the past, so it must mark the future; and that the institutions which we have described, fundamental as they are, are not " natural," but derive their rational justification from their power to promote human well-being. Bearing these facts in mind, we may free ourselves from two opposing errors, from which many false views of our future take their rise. On the one hand, we may hope to escape the pessimism that springs from looking at the existing order of things as unalterably determined; and on the other hand, we may escape that unreasoning and unreasonable optimism which be--littles the importance of our fundamental ideas and institutions, and which inconsiderately hopes to change these in the twinkling of an eye, by the simple expedient of a majority vote.


1. There are certain ideas and institutions in our social order which are so fundamental that we come to regard them as " natural" and necessary.
2.Among these fundamentals are private property, guaranteed privileges, contract, the right to establish business enterprises, and personal freedom.
3.Far from being natural or necessary to every state of society, these rights have always been limited, have always been changing, and have their origin and justification in social expediency.
4.History warns us neither to overestimate nor to underestimate the importance of these institutions. They may be changed, but they cannot be changed easily or quickly.


1.What is private property? Why is it often held to be a right which is not open to question or discussion?

2.What is the basis of human rights ? Are any of them exempt from the need of examination or justification?

3.What is the historical origin of private property ?

4.What limitations does the State set to private property? Is the present tendency toward an increase or a decrease of these limitations ?

5.Ought private property to be retained ? If so, why and how far ?

6.What is a trade-mark? A copyright? A patent? Discuss their purpose and results.

7.What limitations are properly set to the right of personal freedom ? Of what does the right to personal freedom consist ?

8.Discuss the idea of " natural rights.

9.From what two opposed errors ought a true idea of fundamental institutions to guard us? 0


Mill, John Stuart: Principles of Political Economy, Bk. II, Ch. I, § 2, and Ch. II, §§ 1, 5, 6, and 7. Report of the United States Commissioner of Patents for 1888.

(See also others of the Patent Commissioners' Annual Reports.)