The Science of Justice
The science of mine and thine---the science of justice---is the science of all
human rights; of all a man's rights of person and property; of all his rights
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is the science which alone can tell any man what he can, and cannot, do;
what he can, and cannot, have; what he can, and cannot, say, without infringing
the rights of any other person.
It is the science of peace; and the only science of peace; since it is the
science which alone can tell us on what conditions mankind can live in peace,
or ought to live in peace, with each other.
These conditions are simply these: viz., first, that each man shall do, towards
every other, all that justice requires him to do; as, for example, that he
shall pay his debts, that he shall return borrowed or stolen property to its
owner, and that he shall make reparation for any injury he may have done to the
person or property of another.
The second condition is, that each man shall abstain from doing so another,
anything which justice forbids him to do; as, for example, that he shall abstain
from committing theft, robbery, arson, murder, or any other crime against
the person or property of another.
So long as these conditions are fulfilled, men are at peace, and ought to remain
at peace, with each other. But when either of these conditions is
violated, men are at war. And they must necessarily remain at war until justice is
Through all time, so far as history informs us, wherever mankind have attempted
to live in peace with each other, both the natural instincts, and the
collective wisdom of the human race, have acknowledged and prescribed, as an
indispensable condition, obedience to this one only universal obligation: viz.,
that each should live honestly towards every other.
The ancient maxim makes the sum of a man's legal duty to his fellow men to be
simply this: "to live honestly, to hurt no one, to give to every one his due".
This entire maxim is really expressed in the single words, to live honestly;
since to live honestly is to hurt no one, and give to every one his due.
Man, no doubt, owes many other moral
duties to his fellow men; such as to feed
the hungry, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, protect
the defenseless, assist the weak, and enlighten the ignorant. But these are
duties, of which each man must be his own judge, in each
particular case, as to whether, and how, and how far, he can, or will, perform them.
But of his legal
duty---that is, of his duty to live honestly towards his
fellow men---his fellow men not only may
judge, but, for their own protection,
judge. And, if need be, they may rightfully compel
him to perform it.
They may do this, acting singly, or in concert. They may do it on the instant,
as the necessity arises, or deliberately and systematically, if they prefer to
do so, and the exigency will admit of it.
Although it is the right of anybody and everybody---of any one man, or set of
men, no less than another---to repel injustice, and compel justice, for
themselves, and for all who may be wronged, yet to avoid the errors that are liable
to result from haste and passion, and that everybody, who desires it, may rest
secure in the assurance of protection, without a resort to force, it is
evidently desirable that men should associate, so far as they freely and voluntarily
can do so, for the maintenance of justice among themselves, and for mutual
protection against other wrong-doers. It is also in the highest degree
desirable that they should agree upon some plan or system of judicial proceedings,
which, in the trial of causes, should secure caution, deliberation, thorough
investigation, and, as far as possible, freedom from every influence but the
simple desire to do justice.
Yet such associations can be rightful and desirable only in so far as they are
purely voluntary. No man can rightfully be coerced into joining one, or
supporting one, against his will. His own interest, his own judgement, and his
own conscience alone must determine whether he will join this association, or
that; or whether he will join any. If he chooses to depend, for the protection
of his own rights, solely upon himself, and upon such voluntary assistance as
other persons may freely offer to him when the necessity for it arises, he has
a perfect right to do so. And this course would be a reasonably safe one for
him to follow, so long as he himself should manifest the ordinary readiness of
mankind, in like cases, to go to the assistance and defence of injured persons;
and should also himself "live honestly, hurt no one, and give to every one his
due." For such a man is reasonably sure of always giving friends and defenders
enough in case of need, whether he shall have joined any association, or not.
Certainly no man can rightfully be required to join, or support, an association
whose protection he does not desire. Nor can any man be reasonably or
rightfully expected to join, or support, any association whose plans, or method of
proceeding, he does not approve, as likely to accomplish its professed purpose
of maintaining justice, and at the same time itself avoid doing injustice. To
join, or support, one that would, in his opinion, be inefficient, would be
absurd. To join or support one that, in his opinion, would itself do injustice,
would be criminal. He must, therefore, be left at the same liberty to join, or
not to join, an association for this purpose, as for any other, according as
his own interest, discretion, or conscience shall dictate.
An association for mutual protection against injustice is like an association
for mutual protection against fire or shipwreck. And there is no more right or
reason in compelling any man to join or support one of these associations,
against his will, his judgement, or his conscience, than there is in compelling
him to join or support any other, whose benefits (if it offer any) he does not
want, or whose purposes or methods he does not approve.
No objection can be made to these voluntary associations upon the ground that
they would lack that knowledge of justice, as a science, which would be
necessary to enable them to maintain justice, and themselves avoid doing injustice.
Honesty, justice, natural law, is usually a very plain and simple matter,
easily understood by common minds. Those who desire to know what it is, in any
particular case, seldom have to go far to find it. It is true, it must be
learned, like any other science. But it is also true that it is very easily
learned. Although as illimitable in its applications as the infinite relations
and dealings of men with each other, it is, nevertheless, made up of a few
simple elementary principles, of the truth and justice of which every ordinary
mind has an almost intuitive perception. And almost all men have the same
perceptions of what constitutes justice, or of what justice requires, when they
understand alike the facts from which their inferences are to be drawn.
Men living in contact with each other, and having intercours together, cannot
avoid learning natural law, to a very great extent, even if they would. The
dealings of men with men, their separate possessions and their individual
wants, and the disposition of every man to demand, and insist upon, whatever
he believes to be his due, and to resent and resist all invasions of what he
believes to be his rights, are continually forcing upon their minds the
questions, Is this act just? or is it unjust? Is this thing mine? or is it his?
And these are questions of natural law; questions which, in regard to the great
mass of cases, are answered alike by the human mind everywhere.(1)
Children learn the fundamental principles of natural law at a very early age.
Thus they very early understand that one child must not, without just cause,
strike or otherwise hurt, another; that one child must not assume any arbitrary
control or domination over another; that one child must not, either by force,
deceit, or stealth, obtain possession of anything that belongs to another; that
if one child commits any of these wrongs against another, it is not only the
right of the injured child to resist, and, if need be, punish the wrongdoer,
and compel him to make reparation, but that it is also the right, and the moral
duty, of all other children, and all other persons, to assist the injured party
in defending his rights, and redressing his wrongs. These are fundamental
principles of natural law, which govern the most important transactions of man
with man. Yet children learn them earlier than they learn that three and three
are six, or five and five ten. Their childish plays, even, could not be
carried on without a constant regard to them; and it is equally impossible for
persons of any age to live together in peace on any other conditions.
It would be no extravagance to say that, in most cases, if not in all, mankind
at large, young and old, learn this natural law long before they have learned
the meanings of the words by which we describe it. In truth, it would be
impossible to make them understand the real meanings of the words, if they did
not understand the nature of the thing itself. To make them understand the
meanings of the words justice and injustice before knowing the nature of the
things themselves, would be as impossible as it would be to make them
understand the meanings of the words heat and cold, wet and dry, light and darkness,
white and black, one and two, before knowing the nature of the things
themselves. Men necessarily must know sentiments and ideas, no less than material
things, before they can know the meanings of the words by which we describe
The Science of Justice (Continued)
If justice be not a natural principle, it is no principle at all. If it be not
a natural principle, there is no such thing as justice. If it be not a natural
principle, all that men have ever said or written about it, from time
immemorial, has been said and written about that which had no existence. If it be not a
natural principle, all the appeals for justice that have ever been heard, and
all the struggles for justice that have ever been witnessed, have been appeals
and struggles for a mere fantasy, a vagary of the imagination, and not for a
If justice be not a natural principle, then there is no such thing as
injustice; and all the crimes of which the world has been the scene, have been no
crimes at all; but only simple events, like the falling of the rain, or the
setting of the sun; events of which the victims had no more reason to complain
than they had to complain of the running of the streams, or the growth of
If justice be not a natural principle, governments (so-called) have no more
right or reason to take cognizance of it, or to pretend or profess to take
cognizance of it, than they have to take cognizance, or to pretend or profess
to take cognizance, of any other nonentity; and all their professions of
establishing justice, or of maintaining justice, or of rewarding justice, are
simply the mere gibberish of fools, or the frauds of imposters.
But if justice be a natural principle, then it is necessarily an immutable one;
and can no more be changed---by any power inferior to that which established
it---than can the law of gravitation, the laws of light, the principles of
mathematics, or any other natural law or principle whatever; and all attempts
or assumptions, on the part of any man or body of men---whether calling
themselves governments, or by any other name---to set up their own commands, wills,
pleasure, or discretion, in the place of justice, as a rule of conduct for any
human being, are as much an absurdity, an usurpation, and a tyranny, as would
be their attempts to set up their own commands, wills, pleasure, or discretion
in the place of any and all the physical, mental, and moral laws of the
If there be any such principle as justice, it is, of necessity, a natural
principle; and, as such, it is a matter of science, to be learned and applied like
any other science. And to talk of either adding to, or taking from, it, by
legislation, is just as false, absurd, and ridiculous as it would be to talk of
adding to, or taking from, mathematics, chemistry, or any other science, by
If there be in nature such a principle as justice, nothing can be added to, or
taken from, its supreme authority by all the legislation of which the entire
human race united are capable. And all the attempts of the human race, or of
any portion of it, to add to, or take from, the supreme authority of justice,
in any case whatever, is of no more obligation upon any single human being than
is the idle wind.
If there be such a principle as justice, or natural law, it is the principle,
or law, that tells us what rights were given to every human being at his birth;
what rights are, therefore, inherent in him as a human being, necessarily
remain with him during life; and, however capable of being trampled upon, are
incapable of being blotted out, extinguished, annihilated, or separated or
eliminated from his nature as a human being, or deprived of their inherent
authority or obligation.
On the other hand, if there be no such principle as justice, or natural law,
then every human being came into the world utterly destitute of rights; and
coming into the world destitute of rights, he must necessarily forever remain
so. For if no one brings any rights with him into the world, clearly no one
can ever have any rights of his own, or give any to another. And the
consequence would be that mankind could never have any rights; and for them to talk
of any such things as their rights, would be to talk of things that never had,
never will have, and never can have any existence.
If there be such a natural principle as justice, it is necessarily the highest,
and consequently the only and universal, law for all those matters to which it
is naturally applicable. And, consequently, all human legislation is simply
and always an assumption of authority and dominion, where no right of authority
or dominion exists. It is, therefore, simply and always an intrusion, an
absurdity, an usurpation, and a crime.
On the other hand, if there be no such natural principle as justice, there can
be no such thing as dishonesty; and no possible act of either force or fraud,
committed by one man against the person or property of another, can be said to
be unjust or dishonest; or be complained of, or prohibited, or punished as
such. In short, if there be no such principle as justice, there can be no such
acts as crimes; and all the professions of governments, so called, that they
exist, either in whole or in part, for the punishment or prevention of crimes,
are professions that they exist for the punishment or prevention of what never
existed, nor ever can exist. Such professions are therefore confessions that,
so far as crimes are concerned, governments have no occasion to exist; that
there is nothing for them to do, and that there is nothing that they can do.
They are confessions that the governments exist for the punishment and
prevention of acts that are, in their nature, simple impossibilities.
If there be in nature such a principle as justice, such a principle as honesty,
such principles as we describe by the words mine and thine, such principles as
men's natural rights of person and property, then we have an immutable and
universal law; a law that we can learn, as we learn any other science; a law
that tells us what is just and what is unjust, what is honest and what is
dishonest, what things are mine and what things are thine, what are my rights of
person and property and what are your rights of person and property, and where
is the boundary between each and all of my rights of person and property and
each and all of your rights of person and property. And this law is the
paramount law, and the same law, over all the world, at all times, and for all
peoples; and will be the same paramount and only law, at all times, and for
all peoples, so long as man shall live upon the earth.
But if, on the other hand, there be in nature no such principle as justice, no
such principle as honesty, no such principle as men's natural rights of person
or property, then all such words as justice and injustice, honesty and
dishonesty, all such words as mine and thine, all words that signify that one thing
is one man's property and that another thing is another man's property, all
words that are used to describe men's natural rights of person or property, all
such words as are used to describe injuries and crimes, should be struck out of
all human languages as having no meanings; and it should be declared, at once
and forever, that the greatest force and the greatest frauds, for the time
being, are the supreme and only laws for governing the relations of men with
each other; and that, from henceforth, all persons and combinations of persons---those
that call themselves governments, as well as all others---are to be
left free to practice upon each other all the force, and all the fraud, of
which they are capable.
If there be no such science as justice, there can be no science of government;
and all the rapacity and violence, by which, in all ages and nations, a few
confederated villains have obtained the mastery over the rest of mankind,
reduced them to poverty and slavery, and established what they called governments
to keep them in subjection, have been as legitimate examples of government as
any that the world is ever to see.
If there be in nature such a principle as justice, it is necessarily the only
principle there ever was, or ever will be. All the other so-called
political principles, which men are in the habit of inventing, are not
principles at all. They are either the mere conceits of simpletons, who imagine they
have discovered something better than truth, and justice, and universal law; or
they are mere devices and pretences, to which selfish and knavish men resort as
means to get fame, and power, and money.
Natural Law Contrasted With Legislation
Natural law, natural justice, being a principle that is naturally applicable
and adequate to the rightful settlement of every possible controversy that can
arise among men; being too, the only standard by which any controversy
whatever, between man and man, can be rightfully settled; being a principle whose
protection every man demands for himself, whether he is willing to accord it to
others, or not; being also an immutable principle, one that is always and
everywhere the same, in all ages and nations; being self-evidently necessary in
all times and places; being so entirely impartial and equitable towards all; so
indispensable to the peace of mankind everywhere; so vital to the safety and
welfare of every human being; being, too, so easily learned, so generally
known, and so easily maintained by such voluntary associations as all honest
men can readily and rightully form for that purpose---being such a principle as
this, these questions arise, viz.: Why is it that it does not universally, or
well nigh universally, prevail? Why is it that it has not, ages ago, been
established throughout the world as the one only law that any man, or all men,
could rightfully be compelled to obey? Why is it that any human being ever
conceived that anything so self-evidently superfluous, false, absurd, and
atrocious as all legislation necessarily must be, could be of any use to
mankind, or have any place in human affairs?
The answer is, that through all historic times, wherever any people have
advanced beyond the savage state, and have learned to increase their means of
sub-sistence by the cultivation of soil, a greater or less number of them have
associated and organized themselves as robbers, to plunder and enslave all
others, who had either accumulated any property that could be seized, or had
shown, by their labor, that they could be made to contribute to the support or
pleasure of those who should enslave them.
These bands of robbers, small in number at fist, have increased their power by
uniting with each other, inventing warlike weapons, disciplining themselves,
and perfecting their organizations as military forces, and dividing their plunder
(including their captives) among themselves, either in such proportions as
have been previously agreed on, or in such as their leaders (always desirous to
increase the number of their followers) should prescribe.
The success of these bands of robbers was an easy thing, for the reason that
those whom they plundered and ensalved were comparatively defenceless; being
scattered thinly over the country; engaged wholly in trying, by rude implements
and heavy labor, to extort a subsistence from the soil; having no weapons of
war, other than sticks and stones; having no military discipline or
organization, and no means of concentrating their forces, or acting in concert, when
suddenly attacked. Under these circumstances, the only alternative left them
for saving even their lives, or the lives of their families, was to yield up
not only the crops they had gathered, and the lands they had cultivated, but
themselves and their families also as slaves.
Thenceforth their fate was, as slaves, to cultivate for others the lands they
had before cultivated for themselves. Being driven constantly to their labor,
wealth slowly increased; but all went into the hands of their tyrants.
These tyrants, living solely on plunder, and on the labor of their slaves, and
applying all their energies to the seizure of still more plunder, and the
enslavement of still other defenceless persons; increasing, too, their numbers,
perfecting their organizations, and multiplying their weapons of war, they
extend their conquests until, in order to hold what they have already got, it
becomes necessary for them to act systematically, and cooperate with each other
in holding their slaves in subjection.
But all this they can do only by establishing what they call a government, and
making what they call laws.
All the great governments of the world---those now existing, as well as those
that have passed away---have been of this character. They have been mere bands
of robbers, who have associated for purposes of plunder, conquest, and the
enslavement of their fellow men. And their laws, as they have called them, have
been only such agreements as they have found it necessary to enter into, in
order to maintain their organizations, and act together in plundering and
enslaving others, and in securing to each his agreed share of the spoils.
All these laws have had no more real obligation than have the agreements which
brigands, bandits, and pirates find it necessary to enter into with each other,
for the more successful accomplishment of their crimes, and the more peaceable
division of their spoils.
Thus substantially all the legislation of the world has had its origin in the
desires of one class---of persons to plunder and enslave others, and hold them
In process of time, the robber, or slaveholding, class---who had seized all the
lands, and held all the means of creating wealth---began to discover that the
easiest mode of managing their slaves, and making them profitable, was not
each slaveholder to hold his specified number of slaves, as he had done before,
and as he would hold so many cattle, but to give them so much liberty as would
throw upon themselves (the slaves) the responsibility of their own subsistence,
and yet compel them to sell their labor to the land-hodling class---their former
owners---for just what the latter might choose to give them.
Of course, these liberated slaves, as some have erroneously called them, having
no lands, or other property, and no means of obtaining an independent
subsistence, had no alternative---to save themselves from starvation---but to sell
their labor to the landholders, in exchange only for the coarsest necessaries
of life; not always for so much even as that.
These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less slaves than
they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even more precarious
than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to preserve his life.
They were liable, at the caprice or interest of the landholders, to be thrown
out of home, employment, and the opportunity of even earning a subsistence by
their labor. They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to the necessity
of begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerous to the
property and quiet of their late masters.
The consequence was, that these late owners found it necessary, for their own
safety and the safety of their property, to organize themselves more perfectly
as a government and make laws for keeping these dangerous people in subjection;
that is, laws fixing the prices at which they should be compelled to labor, and
also prescribing fearful punishments, even death itself, for such thefts and
tresspasses as they were driven to commit, as their only means of saving
them-selves from starvation.
These laws have continued in force for hundreds, and, in some countries, for
thousands of years; and are in force to-day, in greater or less everity, in
nearly all the countries on the globe.
The purpose and effect of these laws have been to maintain, in the hands of the
robber, or slave holding class, a monopoly of all lands, and, as far as
possible, of all other means of creating wealth; and thus to keep the great body of
laborers in such a state of poverty and dependence, as would compel them to
sell their labor to their tyrants for the lowest prices at which life could be
The result of all this is, that the little wealth there is in the world is all
in the hands of a few---that is, in the hands of the law-making, slave-holding
class; who are now as much slaveholders in spirit as they ever were, but who
accomplish their purposes by means of the laws they make for keeping the
laborers in subjection and dependence, instead of each one's owning his individual
slaves as so many chattels.
Thus the whole business of legislation, which has now grown to such gigantic
proportions, had its origin in the conspiracies, which have always existed
among the few, for the purpose of holding the many in subjection, and extorting
from them their labor, and all the profits of their labor.
And the real motives and spirit which lie at the foundation of all
legislation---notwithstanding all the pretences and disguises by which they attempt to hide
themselves---are the same to-day as they always have been. They whole purpose
of this legislation is simply to keep one class of men in subordination and
servitude to another.
What, then, is legislation? It is an assumption by one man, or body of men, of
absolute, irresponsible dominion over all other men whom they call subject to
their power. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to
subject all other men to their will and their service. It is the assumption by
one man, or body of men, of a right to abolish outright all the natural rights,
all the natural liberty of all other men; to make all other men their slaves;
to arbitrarily dictate to all other men what they may, and may not, do; what
they may, and may not, have; what they may, and may not, be. It is, in short,
the assumption of a right to banish the principle of human rights, the principle
of justice itself, from off the earth, and set up their own personal will,
pleasure, and interest in its place. All this, and nothing less, is involved
in the very idea that there can be any such thing as human legislation that is
obligatory upon those upon whom it is imposed.
1. Sir William Jones, an English judge in India, and one of the most learned
judges that ever lived, learned in Asiatic as well as European law, says: "It
is pleasing to remark the similarity, or, rather, the idenity, of those conclusions
which pure, unbiased reason, to all ages and nations
, seldom fails to
draw, in such juridical inquiries as are not fettered and manacled by positive
institutions."---jones on bailments
He means here to say that, when no law has been made in violation of justice,
judicial tribunals, "in all ages and nations,
" have "seldom" failed to agree as
to what justice is.