Pope Gregory VII, Singur and morality

Issue 18 - Sep 2008
Vipin Veetil

With Ratan Tata threatening to leave, and Mamata Banerjee holding ground, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in the mood to buy peace. A couple weeks back Sabyasachi Sen, principal secretary of West Bengal’s commerce and industries department, said the government is willing to pay some more compensation to the evicted farmers of Singur but “We will not make an offer on our own. Let them propose….we’ll see what we could do.” He might as well have said “fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

The government of West Bengal seized farmers’ lands in December 2006 on the pretext of eminent domain—the right of the government to take away private property of citizens (with compensation) for public purposes. The provision exists in most civil law and common law countries, known as ‘eminent domain’ in the United States, ‘compulsory purchase’ in Britain, ‘resumption’ in Australia, and ‘expropriation’ in South Africa.

So when policemen armed with guns and lathis came to exercise the government’s rights, naturally the farmers of Singur cried “What about my rights”. Pope Gregory VII would have certainly sided with the farmers. Before the 11th century flagrant expropriation of private property by monarchs was a common and accepted practice in Europe, but it was all to change with the anointment of Pope Gregory VII on April 22, 1073. Till then monarchs derived legitimacy from ‘tradition’, the claim that their fathers and forefathers were rulers; and their powers were unlimited. Pope Gregory VII told the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in unambiguous words that “the legitimacy to throne lies in the rulers ability to administer natural law, not in tradition.”

Natural law was thought to be a part of the Divine Order in which all men are equal in the eyes of God, and should live free of coercion. In other words, all men have the right to own themselves, and the right to own the produce of their labour, in other words, private property. Moreover, if the ruler disobeyed natural law then a revolt was legitimate.

One Reply to “Pope Gregory VII, Singur and morality”

  1. ghana shyam


    the law of ’eminent domain’ that is right to take away private land for public use should be understood in the context of a governments’ right to use the acquired land for the good of the public and not for private enterprise as it is in our case,not just in singur but everywhere from maharashtra to chattisgarh in the name of SEZs.that the elected representatives in the governments(present day rulers)and outside of it advance the cause of private enterprise forsaking the rights of powerless private owners of landed property that is most of them are poor farmers or tribals is just unfortunate.it is not about a revolt if the ruler disobeyed natural law but about the inability to discern the weakness to succumb to greed of private enterprise (the neo mughols) and thereby commit injustice.that is when you see the enemy knocking at your doors.medieval italy has seen similar conditions.

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