We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that the will of a mere majority is absolute in the state. The law is a reality only when the outlawed interests represent an insignificant minority. Arbitrarily to increase the outlawed interests is to undermine the very foundations of society.
The trend of the foregoing discussion, it will be said, is reactionary in the extreme. There are, as all must admit, private interests that are prejudicial to the public interest. Are they to be left in possession of the privilege of trading upon the public disaster—entrenching themselves, rendering still more difficult the future task of the reformer? By no means. The writer opposes no criticism to the extinction of anti-social private interests; on the contrary, he would have the state proceed against them with far greater vigor than it has hitherto displayed. It is important, however, to be sure first that a private interest is anti-social. Then the question is merely one of method. It is the author’s contention that the method of excommunication and outlawry is the very worst conceivable.
We are wont to hold up to scorn the British method of compensating liquor sellers for licenses revoked. It is an expensive method. But let us weigh its corresponding advantages. The licensee does not find himself in a position in which he must choose between personal destitution and the public interest. He dares not employ methods of resistance that would subject him to the risk of forfeiting the right to compensation. He may resist by fair means, but if he is intelligent, he will keep his skirts clear of foul. If his establishment is closed, he is not left, a ruined and desperate man, to project methods for carrying on his trade illicitly. On the contrary, the act of compensation has placed in his hands funds in which he might be mulcted if convicted of violation of the law. And if natural perversity should drive him to illegal practices, he would not find himself an object of sympathy on the part of that considerable minority that resent injustice even to those whom they regard as evil-doers.
There can be little doubt that by the adoption of the principle of adequate compensation, an American commonwealth could extinguish any property interest that majority opinion pronounces anti-social. We may have industries that menace the public health. Under existing conditions the interests involved exert themselves to the utmost to suppress information relative to the dangers of such industries. With the principle of compensation in operation, these very interests would be the foremost in exposing the evils in question. It is no hardship to sell your interest to the public. Does any one feel aggrieved when the public decides to appropriate his land to a public use? On the contrary, every possessor of a site at all suited for a public building or playground does everything in his power to display its advantages in the most favorable light.