THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Poor Man's Friend

Nearly two centuries ago William Cobbett ran for parliament. He failed to get elected, but the series of pamphlets he wrote was collected and published as The Poor Man's Friend. In the pamphlets he carefully explained why he was running for office:
How there came to be so much poverty and misery in England? This is a very interesting question; for, though it is the doom of man, that he shall never be certain of any thing, and that he shall never be beyond the reach of calamity; though there always has been, and always will be, poor people in every nation; though this circumstance of poverty is inseparable from the means which uphold communities of men; though, without poverty, there could be no charity, and none of those feelings, those offices, those acts, and those relationships, which are connected with charity, and which form a considerable portion of the cement of civil society: yet, notwithstanding these things, there are bounds, beyond which, the poverty of a people cannot go, without becoming a thing to complain of, and to trace to the Government as a fault. Those bounds have been passed, in England, long and long ago. (The Poor Man's Friend, 1829, § 90)
His answer? Lack of widespread direct ownership of the means of production. As he made clear in another book he published the next year in a tome purporting to give advice to young people starting out in life,
What is a slave? For, let us not be amused by a name; but look well into the matter. A slave is, in the first place, a man who has no property; and property means something that he has, and that nobody can take from him without his leave, or consent. (Advice to Young Men, and (Incidentally) to Young Women, 1830, § 344)
This is not empty rhetoric, but a simple statement of fact:
Freedom is not an empty sound; it is not an abstract idea; it is not a thing that nobody can feel. It means, — and it means nothing else, — the full and quiet enjoyment of your own property. If you have not this, if this be not well secured to you, you may call yourself what you will, but you are a slave. (A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, 1829, §456)
It might be something to think about.