Page images
PDF
EPUB

even be practicable if man were in the state of innocence in which he was originally constituted. But absolute individualism is directly contrary to the principles of natural justice and equity. It would not be possible in any plan of human society. To answer the tenets of absolute communism by the assertion of absolute individualism, is to pass from the denial of one extreme error to the affirmation of another even more untrue and fallacious.

The theory of “Occupancy" does not recognize any authority in civil society to regulate the appropriation of land by an individual. If occupation solely and primitively creates exclusive ownership, then a single individual could legitimately appropriate, and claim as his own, an entire district or country. He could, consequently, make all later comers to the same region his dependents, impose upon them at his arbitrary discretion what terms he listed, however onerous. For his title, ex hypothesi, came not through human law. It was conveyed to him by nature herself. Jus est primi occupantis.

It is easily perceived that this reasoning runs counter to the principle that nature originally donated the land of the earth to men in common. She gave it to all, not to each. Antecedently to human law, and the division thereby made, each person had a right to an equitable share in the same land. It is not consistent with equity, and it would be intolerable in practice, that an individual should be the last judge in his own case concerning that which equally involves the rights of others. The theory of occupancy constitutes the individual the sole arbiter of his own cause, with the right to decide against all others equally interested with himself.

The same theory falsely applies the maxim of human law, “res nullius est primi occupantis.For land is not “res nulius,an ownerless thing. Neither has nature clothed any one with the right to appropriate it at his absolute discretion. Were such the case, land would be, by its very nature, positively common property, whereas, in truth, it is by gift of the Creator common only negatively.

It is a principle of demonstrative reasoning that, primitively, the soil of the earth is owned by mankind collectively, not singly or individually. It, therefore, requires their tacit or express consent, in the natural sequence of things, before it may be legitimately divided, or reduced to the exclusive possession of any.

The individual is not, and cannot be, the entirely adequate cause which originates private or particular ownership of the things which nature gave to men collectively. The requisite power for this must ultimately be lodged in all to whom the gifts were made. And they were made to all. Mankind, by common consent, express or tacit, have authorized a division. Exclusive ownership is not prescribed immediately by the natural law. To affirm that it is, is to attribute to the individual a fictitious all-sufficiency for an act which can legitimately proceed only from a public representative body. For a regular assemblage of all, or of the representatives of all, alone can exercise the authority to legislate for the entire collection respecting things related equally to each person of the multitude. Were the individual thus self-sufficient, then must he also have a congenital right anterior to all the laws of men, an inherent moral power to seize to his own use at will the goods which, previously to human legislation, are the exclusive property of none, though the common store of all.

Such is individualism. Mankind have never conceded, and it is clearly impossible for them ever to concede, that the individual is vested with any such prerogative of self-sufficiency, any such imaginary congenital right. Nor will mankind ever admit that nature's endowments to the race may be divided and reduced to the separate possession of individuals by a method so dangerous, so arbitrary and so inequitable. The admission of the principle and its practical operation would result in endless dissensions, sanguinary tumults and universal discord, presaging the total annihilation of civil society.

The same theory bases the origin of exclusive ownership of land upon an indeterminate condition, or an accidental circumstance; that is, upon mere “occupancy.” It does not define what land may be “occupied,” nor where, nor how much. And it denies all power in the public authority to determine these things. For the individual is rendered simply autonomous.

The defenders of individualism falsely identify “ The Common Law of Nations" (Jus Gentium) with the natural law. Yet these two great fundamental laws, on which together rests the fabric of human rights and institutions, are, in reality, distinct and different from each other. But, even if they were identical, it would still be false to say that the particular rule by which a division of the goods of the earth was everywhere actually made, was not a human law. “Rerum divisio facta est jure humano."

To maintain that civil government sprang from individuals ceding their personal liberty and rights for the general good, is to assume that man is a social being, not by the law of his nature, but by voluntary choice. That human society validly possesses the authority and the power to rule by righteous laws, does not spring from, nor is it dependent upon, the volitions of men.

The fanciful "social contract" of Rousseau has no legitimate matter save in this, that particular polities and special forms of government are devised by human wisdom for the general good,

and are imposed upon, or rather deliberately chosen by, the people comprising such and such portions of mankind.

Man is, by a principle of his being, gregarious. He is naturally a "Roletexùy wov." To conceive him as in “a state of nature which is extra social, is to conceive him as he is not: as inferior, or else superior, to man, “7 Orpiov in Deos.” His real state of nature is a condition of political companionship with others of his kind. In the absence of other beings like himself he would, for extrinsic reasons, be unable to exercise his functions as a member of society. But the principles of his nature would be the same. He is intrinsically social. In organized society under a definite form of civil rulership individuals rather acquire rights than give up any.

Thus was it, relatively, as to dominion over the goods of the earth. Individuals rather got possession of than abdicated rights, when they were invested with legitimate authority to become exclusive owners of particular things.

It may be concluded, then, that the theory which claims to found exclusive ownership of land on “occupancy,” or, in other words, the theory of "absolute individualism," leads to inconsistency and absurdity. It is a species of radicalism which attacks the root or first principles of human society by denying an essential prerogative of social authority, namely, its power to determine and protect individual rights of property.

Communism is, indeed, a false theory. But its valid refutation cannot be founded upon the tenets of individualism.

The nations of the earth were made "for health"; they have never yielded assent to the principles of communism, nor have they ever accepted as true that the purely fortuitous fact of“ occupancy" is, of itself, sufficient to invest the individual with any true proprietorship of land.

It is the universal teaching of the highest theological authorities in the Catholic Church that the true, safe, and expedient rule for mankind to follow as regards the possession of property is that of exclusive dominion. It is the rule which is the most efficacious and conservative of the general weal. Its known subserviency to the ends of public utility is not a discovery peculiar to Christian times; it is a valuable inheritance of most venerable antiquity. Passing by more ancient testimony, the following is the deliberate judgment of Aristotle:

" Community in the ownership and management of property is beset with inconveniences. But the manner of life which is now established (i.l., the personal and exclusive ownership of things), more especially when accompanied and embellished by good morals and a system of just laws, is a condition far superior and greatly to be preferred. Indeed, the latter mode with its ameliorations embraces also whatever advantages would attach to the plan of common or undivided possession. Property in some respects ought to be common, but in the main separate, private, and personal. For, when each man's time and attention are given to his own particular concerns, there will scarcely ever be room or occasion for mutual complaints. Furthermore, prosperity will flourish and increase for the reason that each individual applies himself more assiduously to amplifying and improving his own possessions.” (“Polit. Lib.," 2 c. 5.)

THE APOSTLE OF ALASKA.

“A

RE not the Indians the least of the brethren of Christ ? The

least-yes, the poorest, the most ignored, and the most despised. Blessed those who contribute to the work of their edification and sanctification.” Thus, from the heart, spoke the saintly Archbishop Seghers, in the Cathedral of Baltimore during the Third Plenary Council. Far more blessed, then, is he who lavished his labors and laid down his life for these least ones of Christ. The text of this same discourse brings us comfort in the irreparable loss the mission of Alaska has sustained : " Wisdom reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly." (Wisdom viii., v. I.) We can but bow our heads before that wisdom which first inspired Charles John Seghers to devote his life to the salvation of the Alaskan Indians, and then, in the very outset of their evangelization, allows him to be stricken down by the hand of a friend. Had the murderer been a savage, there would be no doubt that the Archbishop had won a martyr's crown. Not even this consolation is ours, yet “wisdom ordereth all things sweetly,' even though no martyr's aureole adorn his brow.

The lamented Archbishop was born in the quaint old Belgian city of Ghent, on December 26, 1839. Was it a presage of his fate that his birthday fell on the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr? Two days later, in St. Martin's church, he was given the names of Charles John Baptist in holy baptism. On May 30, 1850, when eleven years old, he received his first communion and confirmation from the hands of the Rt. Rev. L. J. Delebecque, Bishop of Ghent. His parents, Charles Francis and Pauline Seghers, died when he was quite young; but, as they were in easy circumstances, their son had the advantage of an excellent education in the famous College of Ste. Barbe, in his native city. Having finished his course of preparatory studies with success, his gentle and pious nature led him to choose the sacred ministry for his profession, and on October ist, 1858, he entered the diocesan seminary. On the 18th of June, 1859, he was tonsured, and in the three following years received respectively the minor orders, subdeaconship, and deaconship, in the Cathedral of St. Bavon, in Ghent, from the same bishop who had given him his first communion and confirmation. Feeling himself called to an apostolic life, he left the seminary on August 9, 1862, the day on which he was ordained deacon, to finish his studies in the American College at Louvain, where he could better prepare himself for missionary labors in America. Finally, at Mechlin, on Saturday of Whitsun-week, May 31, 1863, he was raised to the priesthood by his Eminence Cardinal Engelbert Stercke, Archbishop of Mechlin, and on Trinity Sunday offered for the first time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In a totum breviary given him by the Rev. J. de Neve, V. G., and Rector of the American College, we find the inscription, “ Argue, obsecra, increpa in omni patientia et doctrina.” (II. Ep. S. Paul to Tim., iv., 2.) Words of counsel which he strove to fulfil to the letter, and with what success all who knew him can testify. The diocese of Vancouver Island, B. C., which he selected for his field of labor, was, humanly speaking, one of the least attractive and, at the same time, one of the most laborious missions. Vancouver Island is nearly three hundred miles in length, with an average width of thirty miles. The population consists of whites, who dwell chiefly in the towns of Victoria, Kanaimo, and Esquimalt, and in the settlements of Saanich, Cowichan, and Comox, and of Indians, who number about eleven thousand. Here there was a field, ample, indeed, and awaiting the harvester, whose devotion, self-sacrifice, and zeal led him far from his native Belgium to preach Christ crucified to those who had never heard of His saving cross. He knew of their spiritual destitution from their saintly bishop, Modeste Demers, and offered himself for work, hard work, with no alluring prospect of a martyr's crown. His studies completed, nothing now detained him, and so he set sail on the 14th of September, 1863, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross—a fitting birthday for his apostolic career. In these days of rapid passage and inter-ocean railroad connections, it is hard to conceive the difficulties of travel twenty-five years ago. Now, one might make the journey in wellnigh two weeks; then, it took as many months. So the young missionary started for his far-off island of the Pacific, by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He reached Victoria, V. I., his destination, on the 17th of November

« PreviousContinue »