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Subordination was the philosophical basis for the grim fact that the vast majority of crimes, even those punishable by death, were crimes against property. Johnson thought that the laws were much too harsh, but most intellectuals didn’t. In the Decline and Fall Gibbon states as a truism: “Most of the crimes which disturb the internal peace of society are produced by the restraints which the necessary, but unequal, laws of property have imposed on the appetites of mankind, by confining to a few the possession of those objects that are coveted by many.”40 Adam Smith, with whom Gibbon developed a friendship, said exactly the same thing in a series of lectures on jurisprudence. “Laws and government may be considered as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence.”41 Rousseau and Marx could not have put it better—except that in Smith’s opinion this was a very good thing. Rousseau’s great 1749 Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, which Smith studied closely and reacted against, describes the development of society and its legal systems as a catastrophe “which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, established for all time the law of property and inequality, transformed adroit usurpation into irrevocable right, and for the benefit of a few ambitious men subjected the human race thenceforth to labor, servitude and misery.”42 Damrosch, Leo. The Club (Kindle Locations 3005-3012). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. Damrosch, Leo. The Club (Kindle Locations 2999-3005). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

— Property Laws in Victorian England  

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