'Liberalism' -- Hope for a Troubled World

Johan Hanssen

[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 world's troubles?

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.