The Philosophy of Henry George
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty,
The philosophy of Henry George remains intact and is being confirmed
as every year passes.
Many of the descriptive passages in the book match anything to be
found in English literature, particularly the illustration of the
unbounded savannah. Often in the midst of his exposition of a point
Ge0rge slips into an eloquent style which, though perhaps not to
everyone's taste, shows the power and breadth of his imagination and
die great moral force that motivated him. On the faulty Malthusian
analogy between man and all other animals:
"He braves the scorching heat of the desert and the icy blasts
of the polar sea, but not for food; he watches all night but it is to
trace the circling of the eternal stars. He adds toil to toil, to
gratify a hunger' no animal, has felt, to assuage a thirst no beast
"Out upon nature, in upon himself, back through the mists that
shroud the past, forward into the darkness that overhangs the future,
turns the restless desire that arises when the animal wants slumber in
satisfaction. Beneath things, he seeks the law; he would know how the
globe was forged and the stars were hung, and trace trace to their
origins the springs of life
On selfishness: "Short-sighted is the philosophy which counts on
selfishness as the master motive of human action. ...Call it religion,
patriotism, sympathy, the enthusiasm for humanity, or the. love of God
- give it what name you will; there is yet a force which overcomes and
drives out selfishness; a force which is the electricity of the moral
universe; a force beside which all others are weak.
To be pitied
is the man who has never seen and never felt it."
On man's dependence upon land: "
the products of the sea
cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of
nature utilised, without the use of land and its products. On the land
we are born, from it we live, to it we return again - children of the
soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field."
George was not always hi eloquent mood. In exasperation at the faulty
logic of John Stuart Mill (though he acknowledged his greatness and
'warm heart and noble mind') George resorts to a four-letter word. He
quotes Mill as follows: "The land of Ireland, the land of every
country, belongs to the people of that Country. The individuals called
land owners have no right in morality and justice to anything but the
rent, or compensation for its saleable value." To which George
retorts: "In the name of the Prophet - figs!" If the land of
any country belongs to the people of that country, what right in
morality and justice, have land owners to the rent?"
As well as a writer, philosopher, economist, lecturer and reformer,
George was also a politician. He stood twice as a candidate for the
Mayoralty of New York. On the second occasion (1897) during the latter
days of his campaign he was introduced to an audience of working men
as "the great friend of labour." However, unlike a typical
politician he denied it and responded:
"I have never claimed to be a special friend of labour. Let us
have done with this call for special privileges for labour.
have never advocated nor asked for special rights or special sympathy
for working men! What I stand for is the equal rights of all men!"
Those who have read Progress and Poverty years ago should
read it again. They will be reminded of its relevance to the world's
problems since it was first published right through to the present
today - and it will provide fresh inspiration to work for "the
first great reform."
: To those who have never read this classic I can do no better than
quote John Dewey, the famous American educator and professor of
philosophy at Columbia University:
"It would require less than the fingers of the two
hands to enumerate those who, from Plato down, rank with Henry
George among the world's social philosophers.
No man, no
graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard
himself as an educated man in social thought unless he has some
firsthand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this
great American thinker."
1. Progress and Poverty, 1971
edition.. Robert Schalkenbach, New York, pp. 135-6.
2. Ibid., p. 463.
3. Ibid., p. 296.
4. Ibid., p. 363.
5. Life of Henry George, Henry George Jr., p. 605, Robert
Schalkenbach Foundation edition. New York