The Freeman and We [Georgists]

Robert Clancy

[Reprinted from the Henry George News, May-June, 1957]

There is quite a bit of interest among Georgists in a little monthly magazine called The Freeman, published at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. This interest springs from the mutual concern of Georgists and the editors of The Freeman over problems of freedom. The Freeman comes so close to and yet remains so discrete from, the Georgist point of view that the fascination is irresistible.

This fascination may be unconsciously enhanced by the fact that there is an involved family relationship between The Freeman and us. This is not widely known, and the story may be worth the telling.

Not to delve into the remote past, the first magazine called The Freeman made its weekly appearance in 1920. The founders and editors were Francis Neilson and Albert Jay Nock. Mrs. Neilson gave her financial support to the project. B.W. Huebsch, who was also a book publisher, was its publisher. All these and others on the staff were deeply interested in Henry George, and so the first Freeman had a strong Georgist flavor.

Mr. Neilson, who selected the name for the paper, explained that "it was to be a Radical paper (in the old English sense of the term) opposed to all the nostrums of socialism and bureaucratic paternalism." The Spectator of London was to serve as a model. The editors wanted The Freeman to be not only a journal of social comment, but also one of literary quality. This weekly magazine did indeed maintain a high standard, and to this day the literary world looks back upon that first Freeman magazine with fondness. Van Wyck Brooks was on its staff, and in his latest book, Days of the Phoenix, he maintains that The Freeman was the best of the lot of literary magazines that came and went in the 1920's.

The Freeman went, too, in 1924. Francis Neilson tells its story in detail in a supplement to the October 1946 issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. (Mr. Neilson's version may be read as a corrective to Mr. Brooks' version.)

In 1930. six years after the demise of The Freeman, there appeared a revival under the name of The New Freeman. It was also a weekly, with Suzanne La Follette as editor. (She had been on the staff of the first Freeman). Albert Jay Nock later joined as contributing editor, and a host of literary figures wrote for The New Freeman including John Chamberlain, George Jean Nathan, Clifton Fadiman, Mark Van Doren and Eugene Lyons. There wasn't quite the Georgist touch that the first Freeman had, but there were articles by Whidden Graham and other Georgists, and "The Great Land Racket," by Paul Blanshard appeared in its pages. A new feature was art work -- high-class cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson, John Sloan and others.

The New Freeman was a depression baby and it did not survive beyond 1931. The problem was understandably, financial.

The following year, 1932, the Henry George School of Social Science was founded, and five years later it seemed to be ready to have a periodical of its own (An irregularly published paper, The New Standard, appeared during 1936.)

The then director, Frank Chodorov, and Will Lissner (who later became and still is, the editor of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology), worked out a plan to again publish a Freeman magazine. Suzanne La Follette was consulted and she gave the project her approval; Mr. and Mrs Neilson consented to the use of the name. And so another Freeman was born, this time as a monthly, beginning November 1937. Albert Jay Nock joined the editorial council and Francis Neilson wrote articles for the paper; Will Lissner was the editor, with Frank Chodorov as the publisher. It was not, strictly speaking the organ of the school, as a separate Freeman Corporation was formed using the same address. But it was of course intimately associated with the school and was regarded by most people as its paper. Practically all articles were Georgist in character, and Henry George School news was reported thoroughly in its pages.

In July 1938, Frank Chodorov became editor, while remaining director. He continued in both capacities until January 1942, when C. O. Steele (later editor of The Individualist) became editor, and Margaret Bateman became director of the school. A few months later an editorial board was formed, in place of an editor, and carried the paper on until August 1943 which marked the end of this particular Freeman's life-span.

In that final issue it was explained that The Freeman was intended to be a unit apart from the school but had been generally looked upon as its organ; and it therefore seemed more fitting to have a paper that would serve that purpose. There was also a financial problem, and a school paper had to be more modestly produced.

And so in September 1943, appeared the first issue of the monthly Henry George News "continuing The Freeman." Rights to this latter name were transferred to the school. The News was at first edited by a committee, headed by Lancaster M. Greene. In April 1946 Alice Elizabeth Davis was appointed editor, and so remains to this day. The committee continues in an advisory capacity.

The Henry George News appeared first as a four-page paper, about the size of a tabloid newspaper. In 1946 the size was halved and the pages doubled; and this copy that you are reading represents another halving of size and doubling of pages (It is hoped that more pages will be added without any further reduction in size!)

Meanwhile, elsewhere the phoenix was again getting ready to rise from the ashes. In October 1954 there appeared on newsstands the first issue of a fortnightly bearing the name of The Freeman, "with which is combined the magazine Plain Talk." This latter publication had been primarily aimed against communism. The resusitated Freeman broadened its scope, as noted in its credo, "The Fairth of the Freeman": "For at least two decades there has been an urgent need in America for a journal of opinion devoted to the cause of liberalism and individual freedom. The Freeman is designed to fill that need."

The "two decades" harked back, no doubt, to The New Freeman -- and indeed, Suzanne La Follette's name appeared on the masthead of this newer Freeman, as managing editor. The editors were John Chamberlain and Henry Hazlitt. The by-passing of the 1937-1943 Freeman could be excused on the grounds that it was not really a newsstand paper for general circulation. There was the question of using the name The Freeman, however, to which the Henry George School had reserved the rights. The school was not consulted but it did not press the matter. Thereafter, The Freeman Corporation was allowed to lapse and The Henry George News dropped the line "continuing The Freeman."


(In the first installment of this article. the story of the various Freeman magazines was told -- The Freeman of 1920-24; The New Freeman of 1937-1943; and the installment ended citing the appearance of another Freeman of 1950.)

There were interesting Georgist involvements with The Freeman of the l950's. Many Georgists subscribed to it. Writers whose names are not without interest to Georgists wrote for it, such as Raymond Moley and Louis Bromfield.

In 19S1, The Freeman sponsored a seminar on "essential problems of the social sciences," conducted by Ludwig Von Mises, held from June 25th to July 6th at New York University. Of the 32 students who enrolled, seven were either Georgists or near-Georgists. They were Helen Cartier, John J. Devoe, H. B. Goldstein, O. B. Johannsen, Mildred J. Loomis, John T. Tetley and Leland B. Yeager.

At the end of the seminar, Mr. Tetley asked Professor Von Mises what he thought of Henry George. Von Mises said he would agree to discuss the subject with a group, and a meeting was arranged at the Henry George School. The group, though sympathetic in general with his free market theory, was unimpressed by his attempts to demolish the Georgist doctrine (See Feb., Mar. and Apr. 1952 issues of The Henry George News for details of this controversy.)

The Freeman started to take general advertising in 1952. In the November 3rd issue there appeared a quarter page ad headlined -- "Henry George -- Social Thinker vs. Land Communist." It advertised a pamphlet by Spencer Heath, "Progress and Poverty Reviewed and its Fallacies Exposed." The reader was invited to send $1.50 to The Freeman and receive a copy of Progress and Poverty, plus Heath's pamphlet. The pamphlet contained a laudatory preface by John Chamberlain. Heath, long known to Georgists, was arguing that the landowner should receive all the rent and disburse it himself in social services.

Coincidentally, Henry Hazlitt's name disappeared from the masthead with the November 3rd issue.

There was a storm of protest over this ad from Georgist readers, and The Freeman probably got more of a reaction than it expected (Suzanne La Follette herself did not like the ad). The main objection, of course, was the loaded label "land communist" and The Freeman's sponsorship. None of the letters sent in was printed. The ad continued to appear, the one concession to the protests being that it invited readers to write for the pamphlet "c/o The Freeman," instead of to The Freeman directly.

In the issue of February 9th, 1953, no names appeared on The Freeman's masthead -- a forthcoming change of staff was announced -- and no Spencer Heath ad appeared either in that issue or any issue thereafter.

In the following issue, February 23rd, Henry Hazlitt's name reappeared, this time as no less than the editor, with Florence Norton as managing editor. In that issue, "The Faith of The Freeman" which had appeared in the first issue was reprinted, word for word.

Whatever the causes for this internal brouhaha the Spencer Heath ads were certainly involved.

Under Hazlitt's editorship, The Freeman went along on a fairly even keel, but its old ghost, finances haunted it again. Hazlitt gave up the editorship in January 1954. The Freeman continued a few more months, and then the Foundation for Economic Education took it over.

This Foundation -- FEE, as it calls itself -- was formed in 1946 with Leonard E. Read as president, to promote the ideas of a free market, restricted government and a natural economic order. Its chief activity was the printing and free distribution of literature, its support coming from voluntary donations. From the start, Georgists were attracted to FEE and wrote them volumes of letters, sent scads of literature, contributed funds, and even called on them personally to discuss Georgism. The FEE staff members were always cordial, always answered letters and received callers but remained impervious to Georgism.

FEE's adoption of The Freeman brought even more Georgist clientele to them. The Freeman was converted into "a monthly for libertarians," beginning July 1954. The editor was none other than Frank Chodorov. (Between Freeman magazines, Chodorov had edited his own paper, Analysis, then was associate editor of a Washington right-wing newsletter; called Human Events.)

Simultaneously with The Freeman, FEE published a pocket-size magazine titled Ideas on Liberty.*

Late in 1955 an advertisement appeared in The Freeman announcing a new weekly, The National Review, edited by William P. Buckley, Jr., a young man much admired in conservative or libertarian circles, depending on your semantics. The Review made no bones about calling itself conservative and opposed to liberalism, or what you will. Suzanne La Follette's name appeared as one of the editors.

It may be that many Freeman subscribers went over to The National Review and that The Freeman's nemesis, finances, was again dogging its footsteps. For shortly after The Review appeared FEE gave up The Freeman. Or rather, gave up the larger subscription magazine, retaining the pocket-size magazine, which it now called The Freeman, beginning January 1956. This is The Freeman which still appears monthly. There is no editor's name on the masthead. Anyone may receive The Freeman on request; a donation of $5 is suggested, but that is not a condition for subscribing.

Whereas The National Review concerns itself primarily with the current political and social scene (with a dash of the arts), The Freeman deals mostly with more general matters, and offers to expound basic principles in connection with a free market economy and limited government. Articles appear by Leonard Read, F.A. Harper, John Chamberlai, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and others. The realm of libertarian literature is also explored and there are quotations from James Madison, Samuel Smiles, Frederic Bastiat, the late Albert lay Nock -- but no Henry George. Nevertheless, The Freeman can, if it wants to, boast of numerous Georgist readers. Of course, there are many Georgists who have no use either for The Freeman or The National Review; but I think it may be said that a substantial minority of Georgists form a substantial minority of the readership of both those magazines.

Which magazine has truly inherited the mantle of The Freeman: The National Review, FEE's Freeman, or The Henry George News?

If you reckon from the point of view of a subscription and newestand weekly magazine of social comment, it appears to be The National Review, especially as the one person whose name runs like a thread through all the Freemans is on The Review's staff -Suzanne La Follette.

If you reckon from the point of view of the magazine bearing the name, it is FEE's Freeman -- but this only continues The Freeman begun in 1950 which broke the line of succession.

The Henry George News continues The Freeman begun in 1937, which can be said to have been in the line of succession, not only in point of time but also in spirit, since the first Freeman was Georgist in character.

Take your pick -- and we have no serious objection if you take all three. *FEE has recently put out a paper, "The Single Tax: Economic and Moral implications, by Murray N. Rotbbard, very critical of Georgist ideas. The subject of FEE and Georgism deserves an article by itself.