'Liberalism' -- Hope for a Troubled World
[Johan Hanssenwas founder and head of the Bokfortaget
Natur Och Kultur, an important publishing house in Sweden specializing
in books about nature and cultural subjects. He was long interested in
the ideas of Henry George and was an arden free trader. This article
is reprinted from the Henry George News, October, 1957]
WHEN we survey the revolutions and civil wars, the major and minor
wars, and the shifts from parliamentarianism to dictatorship which
occur in rapid succession, we may ask - what is the trouble behind the
Points of view are forces. Convictions have always, everywhere,
influenced human action. They continue to do so as long as the brain
forms and absorbs opinions. The misfortunes which have befallen
mankind for several decades have been due, not to natural
catastrophes, but to the harmful opinions which gained ascendancy over
its emotional and intellectual life.
Were anyone to ask me what had been humanity's greatest misfortune
during the last five or six decades, I would not point to the first
World War or to Versailles. Still say that the greatest misfortune of
our time is, on the one hand, the suppression of liberalism, before it
was fully developed or realized in accordance with its true spirit,
and, on the other hand, the sweeping assault of Marxism, like an
almost world-wide epidemic, and a highly contagious epidemic at that.
Is this too great a simplification? I do not think so. I may possibly
be reminded that the more conservative trends of thought, represented
by such men as Bismarck, Disraeli and others, have been left out of
account. True, but they are not forgotten. Liberalism would probably
have reformed them, if Marxism - and in this conception I include all
the materialistically based socialistic tendencies - had not added
fuel to the flame.
The liberal way of thought in the middle of the last century arose
from a state of emergency characterized by commercialism, guild
systems, dictatorship, revolutions and wars. With its doctrine of
personal liberty, free trade, democratic government, freedom of
thought and speech, liberalism swept aside the mercantile barbed wire
fence, in some degree at least, as well as the guild systems and some
of the dictatorships. But the policy was never properly developed.
Freedom in itself is not an infallible guide. Only when freedom is
governed by fair play and by (moral) right, is it certain to succeed.
In America, liberal development was interrupted by the 'Civil War.
That war which had itself resulted from the denial of liberal ideas
brought a series of misfortunes in its train - steadily rising
tariffs, trusts which exploited the public and poisoned political
life, veritable speculation orgies, and all the ills that at times
shake the structure of the state to its foundations. In Europe,
Bismarck, in particular, successfully endeavored to destroy the
liberal emancipation activity. Only England and a few minor states
withstood to the last the all too restricted liberal attitudes that
were adopted. With the growing trade restriction in a world that was
mainly bent upon universal technical and economic expansion under free
forms, the tension increased until it culminated in war. In this
holocaust was buried the remnant of the liberal society that had so
courageously grown up.
From the ashes flew a red phoenix. I wonder if any single individual
since the eighteen forties has done as much harm to the West, and most
of the rest of the world, as the Oriental Karl Marx. This
revolutionary was an intensely reactionary type.
The Communist manifesto - the proletarian catechism - ends in
fanfares which, in spirit, seem to be directly borrowed from Napoleon
and other great demagogues: "The people have nothing to lose but
their chains, but they have a world to win." Marx's supporters
vied with Bismarck and his following in their misuse of the Darwinian
principle of the fight for existence. At the turn of the century,
Krapotkin, in his brilliantly written Mutual Aid endeavored to
separate truth from falsehood in this respect, but it was too late.
The infection had already gained so strong a hold that the disease had
to take its course.
One of the most dangerous failings of the Marxist philosophy is that
it is- unable to distinguish between productive and unproductive "capitalism."
The former is as beneficial - even to the workers - as the latter is
useless and harmful. This is an exhaustive subject however.
There is, as far as I can see, only one truth to be found in the
socialist philosophy in its various gradations. It is that large
sections of all civilized nations are the victims of impoverishment
and "exploitation." One does not have to be a socialist,
still less a Marxist, to acknowledge this fact. Nor is it necessary to
rely on socialism' to right wrongs - any more than it is necessary to
set fire to a house in order to roast a pig.
What is needed is a monopoly-free liberal society, guaranteed by
legislation and cooperation. We need a new mentality, even though it
be grounded on old foundations. We can acknowledge the importance of
economic .realities without succumbing to the fatal generalizations of
the materialistic conception of history. "We demand the, return
of human dignity" rings false in every Marxist throat. The demand
is just, but it cannot be realized through semi-liberalism-only
through total liberalism.
As the observant reader will notice, the principles outlined here do
not entirely coincide with any particular party program. Party
politics are alien to me. "Total liberalism" is the new
jurisdiction, which is briefly illustrated in the final chapter of
Political Opinions (De politiska askadningarna), second
edition, in the publication Natur och Kultur, No. III.
Unfortunately this genuinely humanitarian doctrine is less attractive
than Marxism to a humanity that is still sadly near the savage state.
However, let us not lose hope. There is no physical disease, or mental
infection either, to which humanity - albeit through great
sacrifice-has not become immune. Even the Marxist mentality - the
greatest reactionary phenomenon of the century - must in time be
overcome, particularly as disintegration has already set in.