Can Georgism Bless War?
[Reprinted from The Freeman, September, 1942]
In considering the question posed in the title of this article, I
should like to distinguish between Georgism and the individuals who
make up the Georgist movement in much the same sense as one
differentiates between Christianity and Christians. In this way I
believe that it should be possible to arrive at a definite policy for
Georgism in regard to war, while at the same time allowing for a
diversity of belief and opinion among individual Georgists. With this
in mind, let me amplify the question as follows: "Can Georgism
give its blessing and support to the nation's war effort without doing
violence to its principles?" If the answer is no, then it is
clear that to do so would be hurtful, if not fatal, to the movement.
It is natural to turn to Henry George, himself, for light on this
important and difficult question, but, inasmuch as he did not have to
face the problem in its present form, it is dangerous to form a
judgment on what his reaction would be. Anna George de Mille writing
in the January Freeman says, "I am convinced his (George's)
opinion would be that the physical aggression of totalitarian nations
must be physically stopped." The quotations which she gives from
A Perplexed Philosopher certainly seem to support this view.
On the other hand, we find from a study of George's other books three
general principles that point to an opposite view: 1. He believed war
to spring from a violation of economic laws. 2. He distrusted
armaments as a means of defense against attack and seemed to put his
trust in a long-range program for peace with free trade as the
keystone. 3. While an intensely patriotic .American he did not believe
the people of any other nation inherently vicious.
We must remember, however, that while the personal views of George
would have undoubted weight they are not necessarily conclusive.
George did not originate the philosophy of moral progress through
democratic freedom. He discovered economic laws already in existence
and set them forth with great clarity. Great as George was and great
as his work, the laws are greater.
I would not attempt to minimize the potency of the appeal to abandon
the broad principles of peace in the face of the exigencies of the
present moment. The appeal to patriotism, the appeal to freedom, the
appeal to humanity, strike responsive chords in the socially sensitive
soul of the Georgist. Then there is the practical appeal which a
recent writer in The Freeman brought out, namely, that
Georgism should go "all out" in order to get a seat at the
peace table following the war.
But, deeper than all these urges to take up the sword, there comes a
disquieting intuition affirming that war can never 'be an implement of
the philosophy of ethical democracy; that the genius of Georgism is
Viewed In this light, the last thing Georgists should desire is a
seat at the peace table. Georgism will never flower out of the hate,
fear, and desire for revenge engendered by a military victory. No, it
is only in time of peace that the seeds of the philosophy of freedom
can germinate and take root.
We should especially scorn a seat at the peace table when the price
of admission means a sacrifice of fundamental principles. War is a
violation of personality. In spite of the fine phrases of the
war-makers, in the last analysis the guns are turned against people
not against ideas.
"To thine own self be true" is as good an axiom for
maintaining the integrity of a cause or a movement as it is for an
individual. The Nazis know how to make war. There is no conflict in
their minds. It is easy for them to accept war as a solution.
Believing as they do that other nations are responsible for their
misery, their object is to destroy the offending nations.
The Communists know the art of moving the masses in political
upheavals or violent revolt. It is easy for them to accept violence
and bloodshed. Believing that a certain privileged class is
responsible for their misery their object is to destroy it.
By the same token, it is impossible for Georgists to accept war as a
means to an end because they know it is not a nation, not a class, but
an institution that is responsible for human misery. And you can't
fight an institution with bullets.
Many will say that this is all right for the long view but what about
now. Our answer can only be that the long view is the only true view.
This, I will grant, requires an act of faith. We must believe that "truth
crushed to earth will rise again." As long as we believe that
there are inexorable economic laws which are built Into the structure
of the universe, we need not fear that they will lose their potency or
that those who persist in violating the laws will escape eventual
destruction. What we do need to fear is that those who have these laws
in their keeping will distort or pervert them for the sake of
I offer this as a war credo for Georgists: Georgism is dedicated to
the principle that poverty is the root of war. Our answer to the
problem of war, which is merely part of the larger problem of poverty,
is the same In peace or war: education in true economic principles. If
we resort to the use of force or violence in the course of our
movement for a free society we would violate and therefore weaken an
essential principle. Our battlefield is the human mind.
I recognize the right of Georgists to defend their country with arms,
but they can never defend or propagate Georgism with any other weapon
but education. If the philosophy of ethical democracy cannot live by
education then it must die. But we know that because it is geared to
eternal, inexorable, universal laws it will not die.