A Future for the Georgist Cause?

Fred Harrison and Ed Dodson

[Reprinted from the Land-Theory online discussion group, 23 November 2004]

Fred Harrison: The neo-cons came to the surface for the same reason that Islamic fundamentalists are enjoying a resurgence in the Middle East. With the eclipse of Soviet communism, a gigantic doctrinal void was created. Nature abhors voids; so do people with minds to fill ...

So if communisms was obsolete, what would replace it? Not, evidently, Georgism: we had failed to prepare it as a coherent philosophy waiting in the wings, ready to slot into place when the historic opportunity arose.

That opportunity did arise, in our lifetime, with Gorbachev. We were found wanting. We still are.

Ed Dodson: We need to remember that Marx was but one of the intellectual leaders of mid-19th century communism. Socialism and communism were already THE growing response to agrarian and industrial landlordism. Neither socialism nor communism offered a coherent philosophy that the masses of people understood in any real sense. Lenin brought the rhetoric of revolution and the discontented and oppressed became "true believers." Fascism, Islamic Fundamentalism and Neo-Conservativism (supported by Christian Fundamentalism) in the U.S. all depend upon a high level of mass fear and a willingness to trust in messianic leaders.

Our reality is that we are too few in number of act as a catalyst to establish a global political movement. Even during George's lifetime, the growth of the "Single Tax" movement was based as much on his personal leadership as on a full understanding by followers of George's philosophical principles. Libertarians have been far more successful at building a movement based on a rational (if, as we try to tell them, tragically flawed) philosophy. Yet, even with enough adherents to fund think tanks and an ongoing effort to gain political office, Libertarianism has stagnated.

I, too, share the fear that we are running out of time. The people in the U.S. have failed to grasp the seriousness of the world situation even after experiencing the attacks of 2001. Ours is an economy totally addicted to cheap energy, and our leaders have consistently demonstrated a willingness to use military force and support despotic regimes to ensure the supply of oil keeps flowing.

As for those of us who have been actively working for change, the only significant inroad I have seen is the effort to convince Greens that solving the land question is at the center of their cause. The Greens are the only politically-origanized activists still open to a philosophical direction. With just a few "Georgists" working within the Green movement, the achievements have been significant. The Greens represent potentially the conscience of the thoughtful in the world community. We cannot rely on being consultants using data and logic to nudge entrenched political leaders in the right way.

Fred Harrison: I concur in your conclusions.

Fear, and the resort to messianic solutions, stems from the lack of a vision of the future that is both inspirational and practical. The philosophical void exists, post-Soviet communism; and Georgists never did prepare the alternative....which is why Washington had no problem selling mass privatisation of natural resources to Yeltsin's clique.

We tried the reasoned appeals to politicians/ consultancy route, both in the West and in the terrain where we could have expected the best results (Russia). It did not work.

Russia was waiting for the message, then; and the world is waiting for that message, now. ...but ours was not packaged in a form capable of mobilising a critical mass of support.

The Bishop of Liverpool will expound the virtues of LVT from the pulpit in St Paul's Cathedral tonight; for an edited version, see today's The Guardian (presumably available on-line). But the Christian church is not ready to throw its weight behind resource taxation...that particular piece of the message IS not appropriately packaged, in the form of the analyses by Kenneth Jupp (see back numbers of Geophilos) ... but it needs to be sold within the church by more than one bishop, in more than one pulpit (albeit a prestigious pulpit).

The odds appear overwhelmingly against us ... and yet, we CAN put together the vision and the practical prescriptions in a form that might achieve our aims; and we CAN do it in double-quick time ... if we mobilise the resources that are at our disposal ... history will judge us.

The nice thing about ideas is that, once abroad, it doesn't take many people for it to infect millions ... and that's the opportunity that now exists. In truth, governments and NGOs around the world are LOOKING for ideas to solve problems ... there are constraints, of course, such as the blinkers that exist ... but it's up to the few of us to formulate the words in such a way that the idea sneaks in under the defences.

Those defences are awesome. So I am not belittling the challenge.

As for the other socialists of the 19th century ... who remembers anyone other than Marx? The difference is that he took the trouble to do his homework. That is why, when conditions were propitious, Lenin and a handful of supporters were able to mobilise the masses ... the key thing was that Marx had written the inspirational words. His vision of the future was extremely limited; but his critique of the status quo was so compelling that the rest became history, in the name of Marx.

Our critique of the status quo (judged by the accessible literature) is largely pathetic; by which I mean, woefully inadequate. This has to be remedied, if we are to fill the communications gap.

Which brings me back to my point: a lot of hard and solitary work is necessary, a la Marx, if we are to inspire and mobilise the masses. Otherwise: well, the world is set on the Conflict of Civilisations; and methinks the West's is going down, for reasons that need to be spelt out if we are to cause governments to adopt the new course.