I am reading a text in which I have came across a few sentences that I cannot understand. As a matter of fact, I think I cannot understand the text because I am unfamiliar with the subject of discussion. I have been forced to read this short text. I will quote the text.

The fact that God has given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race can in no way be a bar to the owning of private property. For God has granted the earth to mankind in general, not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they like, but rather that no part of it was assigned to any one in particular, and that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man's own industry, and by the laws of individual races. Moreover, the earth, even though apportioned among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all, inasmuch as there is not one who does not sustain life from what the land produces. Those who do not possess the soil contribute their labor; hence, it may truly be said that all human subsistence is derived either from labor on one's own land, or from some toil, some calling, which is paid for either in the produce of the land itself, or in that which is exchanged for what the land brings forth.
(The text is from Rerum novarum by Pope Leo XIII)

  1. I can not grasp with the expression by the laws of individual races. What on earth is laws of individual races? is it a religious expression? can you please write these expression anew and with other words?
  2. This compound is less problematic than the first. I can guess the meaning of it. But I am not sure. As you know subsistence has a number of meanings, that are sometimes related. Does it means here what people need to live, including food and clothes?

definitions of subsistence according to MERRIAM WEBSTER

  1. {a} (1) : real being : existence (2) : the condition of remaining in existence : continuation, persistence {b} : an essential characteristic quality of something that exists {c} : the character possessed by whatever is logically conceivable {c} : the character possessed by whatever is logically conceivable

  2. : : means of subsisting: such as {a} : the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life {b} : a source or means of obtaining the necessities of life

1 Answer 1


Despite its title, this was written over a 120 years ago, when people still thought that the human race was divided into separate races. Those separate races were seen as naturally different, forming different cultures and basically, being different cultures, ans thus, having different customs and laws.

A more modern way of putting it would simply be the laws of different countries or the laws of different cultures.

Leo is referring to the different ways that different societies handle the concept of private property; some nations tend to follow the idea that all property should be in the hands of private individuals, some tend to favour the idea that all property belongs to the "state". Most societies find themselves somewhere in the middle, allowing for both state-owned and individual property.

As Leo was speaking as the leader of the Catholic church, he tried to appeal to Catholics all over the world, so he tried to include different ways to think about property without favouring one over another.

As for your second question, it simply means whatever is needed for humanity and individual humans to survive; primarily food.

  • At a comparable time, I've seen race used to mean ‘lineage’. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 3:19

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