Quotes on the Land Ethic
Chief Seattle, (ca. 1854) Led the Pacific Northwest Indian tribe, the Dwamish, to adapt peacefully to the loss of their land to white settlers. In his 1855 concession speech to his tribe and recently arrived representatives of the US Government, he said:
How can you buy or sell the sky – the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us... Every part of this earth is sacred to us.
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every clearing and wood, is holy in the memory and experience of my people. Even those unspeaking stones along the shore are loud with events and memories in the life of my people. The ground beneath your feet responds more lovingly to our steps than yours, because it is the ashes of our grandfathers. Our bare feet know the kindred touch. The earth is rich with the lives of our kin.
This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.
None ought to be lords or landlords over another, but the earth is free for every son and daughter of mankind to live free upon.
If you would realize what land is, think of what men would be without land. If there were no land, where would be the people? Land is not merely a place to graze cows or sheep upon, to raise corn or raise cabbage. It is the indispensable element necessary to the life of every human being. We are all land animals; our very bodies come from the land, and to the land they return again.
When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man.
Around the world the demand for land rights becomes ever more strident. The possibility of eventual confrontation between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' on the land question awaits only an awakening by the landless masses to the enormity of the crime involved in the denial of what must be surely the most basic of human rights to share equitably in the bounty of the earth."
We want to do something to bring the land within the grasp of the people. We want to put an end to the system whereby the land of this country is retailed by the ounce, so that there should not be an extra grain of breathing spaces. . . .The resources of the land are frozen by the old feudal system. I am looking forward to the spring-time, when the thaw will set in, and when the people and the children of the people shall enter into the inheritance that has been given them from on high.
You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to no one.
Jean Jacques Rousseau in A Discourse on the Origins of Inequality:
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself as saying ‘this is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.’
Thomas Carlyle, (1795-1881), Scottish historian who christened economics the dismal science:,
Who can or who could sell us the earth? Actually the earth belongs to these two: the almighty God and all his children who have ever worked on it or who will ever have worked on it or who will ever have to work on it. No generation of men can or could with even the highest solemnity and exertion sell the earth according to any other principle.
The fruits of the earth are a common heritage of all, to which each man has equal right.
The Irish Famine of 1846 is example and proof. The corn crops were sufficient to feed the island. But the landlords would have their rents in spite of famine and in defiance of fever. They took the whole harvest and left hunger to those who raised it. Had the people of Ireland been the landlords of Ireland, not a human creature would have died of hunger, nor the failure of the potato been considered a matter of any consequence.
The land is common to all; all have the same right to it.
Whilst another man has no land, my title to mine, and your title to yours, is at once vitiated.
(1889 - 1978), prime minister of Kenya:
When the white man came we had the land and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed and when we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.
There never was a time when the need was greater than it is today for the application of the philosophy and principles of Henry George to the economic and political conditions which are scourging the world … Permanent peace can only be established when men and nations have realised that natural resources should be a common heritage.
The whole of the people have the right of the ownership of land and the right to share in the value of land itself, though not to share in the fruits of land which properly belong to the individuals by whose labour they are produced.
Those who make private property of the gift of God pretend in vain to be innocent. For, in thus retaining the subsistence of the poor, they are the murderers of those who die every day for the want of it.
The world's problems can all be reduced to difficulties arising from injustice, from disregard of the dignity and of the inherent natural rights of the individual. The law of human progress is the moral law. In no country do we find real freedom for the individual. The greatest inroad on that freedom is made by our present land system. It places the landless at the mercy of the landlords who, because of that system, have the power to determine the conditions on which the former may obtain permission to live and work.
There is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that 'goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them. The land is held in stewardship for humanity.
The earth can no longer be owned; it must be shared. Its fruits, including those produced by technology and labor, can no longer be expropriated by the few; they must be rendered available to all on the basis of need.
"The earth … belongs of right to all its people and not to a minority, insignificant in numbers but tremendous in wealth and power… The people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all… with equal opportunity for all and special privileges for none."
The whole soil should be public property.
The earth, therefore, and all things therein, are the general property of all mankind, from the immediate gift of the Creator.
Controlling land was the key to civilization... It is a striking example of our economic illiteracy that we have more or less quietly acquiesced in the private appropriation of socially created gains, letting fortunate owners and their heirs levy tribute or claim a share of the national income to which they have contributed nothing… The rise in land values….that results from growth in numbers and income of a community is a reflection of pure scarcity. It arises from the community and should belong to the community.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
An intelligent approach to the problems of poverty and racism will cause us to see the words of the Psalmist – ‘The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.’ - are still a judgment upon our use and abuse of the wealth and resources with which we have been endowed.
How the earth should be owned is the major economic question of this time; as it is the oldest.
In another essay, Self and World he declared:
The world should be owned by the people living in it. Every person should be seen as living in a world truly his.
Humans in their totality are born of the earth. We are earthlings. The earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide... Thus the whole burden of modern earth studies is to narrate the story of the birth of humans from our Mother Earth.
The more we grow in awareness of our own sacred source, the more we discover that our own sacred source is the sacred source of each person and all that is in the universe.
Many of the international community's widely shared goals-the elimination of malnutrition, the provision of jobs for all, the slowing of runaway rural-urban migration, the protection of productive soils and ecologically vital forests -- are not likely to be achieved without radical changes in the ownership and control of the land. It is a delusion to think that the basic needs of the world's poorest people will be met without renewed attention to the politically sensitive land tenure question. It is even a greater delusion to think that the dispossed of the earth will watch their numbers grow and their plight worsen without protesting. The issue of land reform will not go away."
In the U.S., where only one in every twenty-eight people live on a farm, changes in the size and the ownership of farms today are generating questions about the implications for employment, resource use and community welfare. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, where three-fourths of the world's people, the control of farmland remains the principal key to wealth, status and power. Hundreds of millions of families are struggling to improve their lives through agriculture without secure access to the basis of agricultural life-farmland.
The patterns of land ownership shape patterns of human relationships. They help determine the possibility and pace of economic change. To ignore the land tenure question, and in fact, not to give it the primary focus of our energy will guarantee that our efforts will fail. Man has a continuous relationship to land, in agrarian as well as industrial societies, in poor as well as rich nations. Changing the relationship of the people to the land is the stuff of revolution -- political, economic and ethical. For even the most economically advanced countries, landownership remains a significant source of wealth and influence.
Without fair compensation, all talk of the 'global commons' or the 'common heritage of mankind' will be seen by the poor as another attempt to expropriate their resources.
This common right of each human being to benefit from the Earth's natural capital should be protected and respected by legitimate governments at the appropriate level.
There is only us; there never has been any other.
One day, we are going to ask ourselves, did anyone make the oil and minerals and then put them in the ground? We will then realize that they belong to all of us.
Thaddeus Stevens, (1792-1868) Powerful Civil War congressman from south central Pennsylvania, USA. He was Speaker of the House for many years, a radical advocate of the abolition of slavery and the major proponent of land reform during Reconstruction. Stevens wanted the fertile plantation lands of the South to be allocated to the freed slaves and poor whites. In his view this plan would also help to solve the race problem by uniting freed slaves and poor whites on an economic basis. He said:
No people will ever be republican in spirit and practice where a few own immense manors and the masses are landless. Small independent landholders are the support and guardians of republican liberty.
Stevens wanted the large landholdings seized, with forty acres and a mule to farm them allotted to each former slave. This would do justice to those whose uncompensated labor had cleared and cultivated the southern land, he reasoned. He envisioned a land of productive and independent small farms. After this allocation there would still remain millions of acres - 90 percent of the land in fact - which could be sold to help pay the national debt, reduce taxes, and provide pensions for Union soldiers and reimbursement for citizens whose property had been destroyed during the war. - Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, Thaddeus Stevens: Confiscation and Reconstruction, The Hofstadter Aegis: A Memorial (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974).
Our system of property taxes punishes anyone who puts up a decent building made of durable materials. It rewards those who let existing buildings go to hell. It favors speculators who sit on vacant or underutilized land in the hearts of our cities and towns. In doing so it creates an artificial scarcity of land on the free market, which drives up the price of land in general and encourages even more scattered development, i.e., suburban sprawl..." - from his book, The Geography of Nowhere