How Long, O Lord, How Long?

Stephen Bell

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, July-August 1927]

NOT long ago I attended a dinner at which were a score or more of the pioneers in the movement to collect the economic rent of land for public purposes and use and abolish all taxation. I doubt if any there present were less than thirty years old in the movement, and most of them dated back to or before Henry George's campaign for the office of Mayor of New York in 1886, when I cast my first vote for George and could not for my life have given an intelligent reason for doing so.

The after dinner talk developed into a free for all inquest into the whys and wherefores of the movement's slow progress, progress that seemed to some to be actually retrograde. The fact that no young recruits were present was commented on, though there was an obvious reason for this the dinner was given on short notice to one of the pioneers who had been abroad for many years, whom the young recruits do not know.

The enthusiasm of the crusades of the 80's and 90's was recalled where was it now? The dispersion of the movement after strange gods Clevelandism, Bryanism, Watsonism, etc., was dilated on regretfully as having led us nowhither. Matters of policy were touched on is it a great moral movement or merely a fiscal reform, Is it wise to try to run a political party, or must we still confine our efforts to the economic education of the people? Did our "howling dervish" enthusiasm, the spiritual exaltation of which has been felt by us all, get us anywhere, and would its revival, if this were possible, do any good? Ways and methods of propaganda, form of argument to be addressed to men of varying degrees of perception, letters to the press, soapbox and other public speaking, private argument and appeal, all were canvassed and no new method was discovered, yet the fact of our small progress proved too stubborn to move.

Is it in ourselves, or in our stars, or in the public, that in nearly half a century we have failed to "put across" the gospel of Henry George which we know will set the world in the right direction for the millenium of which prophets and seers have been telling us for thousands of years?

Well, men are but children of a larger growth, after all. I can recall the days when I simply could not stand being "called names" or ridiculed. I'd "lick him" if I could and weep tears of bitter mortification if I couldn't, and all the wise counsels of my elders couldn't make me see the foolishness of it all. I had to outgrow it.

So with humanity. It hasn't grown up to mental maturity. Psychologists assure us the average mentality is that of a normal boy or girl of 14, and the extent to which mankind puts its happiness in superficial and unimportant things the course of which they cannot control seems proof that the psychologists are right. How many things men want that aren't good for them! How many things they need that they do not want! What ambitions they cherish which, when realized, are mere apples of Sodom, vanity and vexation of spirit!

That they are immature children may be seen in the fact that they do not even know how to go about the realization of their ambition for wealth and ease, but insist on the erection of all manner of barriers to their economic endeavors, from tariffs to prevent trade to private "vested rights" in the table which God has spread for them. They have invented money for the facilitation of bartering with one another, trading the things they mutually desire, a means of cooperation in economic endeavor that no Socialist has ever improved, and proceeded to invest these poker chips with all the attributes of wealth itself, reckoning and thinking of wealth only in terms of the chips. What wonder that "economics" is a maze of irreconcilable contradictions?

It was suggested that we concentrate our propaganda work on the education of the young. There lies the way of hope. You may write on a white sheet of paper what you will. To write a palimpsest you must erase the old writing. The minds of the old are too filled with things which are not so to make erasure and rewriting a success.