The Trojan Horse of Land Reform

Spencer Heath

[A Critique of Land Communism or "Single Tax" as advocated in the Doctrinal Statement prepared by The Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn (New York City: The Science of Society Foundation, 1954]


Our world, the earth, grows greener, more organic and alive, more habitable for man, with its every turning in the celestial radiance of its vitalizing sun.

When we turn our minds to the order and the beauty evolving and discoverable in the prevailing processes of this material and of this living world (thereby turning away from chaos and disorder) and learn the mind of God as manifested in the enduring works of God, we may ourselves employ these processes in the further building of the world about us in the image of our needs, desires and dreams. This power to create (or even to destroy) the environment of man has in recent times been notably achieved.

As part of the whole organic process, there is a growing order in the inter-relationships among large numbers and populations of men. These inter-relationships are of two kinds: those by which men better and thereby longer live, and those in which they poorer live and sooner die. The one is social, contractual, and thereby creative. The other is political, coercive, and thereby destructive.

When at last we turn our eyes to the order and the beauty evolving in the contractual processes---the Golden Rule relationships--prevailing in our midst and far and wide (and thereby away from the chaos and disorder of the anti-contractual, the coercive and destructive), and learn the mind of God as manifested in the orderly and creative processes that prevail among freely inter-functioning men, we may in like manner understand and thereby recognize and honor and extend their creative operation in the distribution of the gifts of God to men.

As with the gifts of men to men, so also with those from God to men, all good things that are limited must in some manner be allocated to and distributed among men. So far as these processes are contractual--services or goods for equal services or goods, under the balanced equities of the Market and the Golden Rule---the lives of men are truly served. So far as they are of ""the world", political and thereby arbitrary and coercive, the lives of men are shortened and destroyed--whoever wields the worldly power of war. What is vital to the freedom, to the very life and peace, of men, is not how things come into existence; it is how they are distributed, whether by contract and consent, or by coercion and the potential force of war.

The Golden Rule of contract can be practiced only as men first evolve into a common recognition of property right--the right of separate title and possession first in themselves, then to whatever else, without respect to its origin or creation, they hold title and right of possession by the general consent. Only so can they begin to make and perform contracts and thus effect reciprocal exchanges of their limited but ever increasing services, goods and possessions to the enlargement of their lives.

The creative purpose of this Critique of land communism, in whatever guise, is to draw attention to and aid understanding of the dependence of freedom upon property, and of Society upon the contractual functioning of its institution of private property in land---that beautiful providence of a Golden Rule, founded on the nature of things and the nature of man, for the creative distribution of the gifts of God to man, no less than in its likewise fruitful serving of the gifts of men to men.


The avowed and obvious aim of the communist world conspiracy is seizure of the political power of taxation and the compulsory regulation of human affairs by a political and coercive government.

Since land is the sole source and subsistence of human life, preemption by the state of a people's lands is all that is necessary to control absolutely their lives. Short of this expropriation no communism can be effective or complete. Hence land communism, above all else, is fundamental to every form of absolute or totalitarian control. And land communism gains enormous ideological support from the almost universal belief that the rents and increments that Society automatically awards to its land owners for their contractual, instead of political and arbitrary, distribution of its sites and resources is ""unearned"", and the consequent popular fallacy of the "unearned increment", so called.

There are degrees of communism in many lands. All property, to the extent that it is obtained by taxation, or otherwise seized, for public or common use is communized property. This is partial communism. But when the land is totally taken or taxed, that is not partial communism. That is total communism. For the authority of government to allocate access to land is the authority to prescribe its every occupancy, or use, and thus to dictate the lives of those who must subsist upon or from it. The communist conspirators shrewdly proceed, first of all, to win or seize the taxing power, then to enforce it one hundred percent by enslaving or casting out the owners and installing commissars instead--for whom the honeyed snare of "land reform"" has so well prepared the way.

In his Wealth of Nations Adam Smith declares that in the ownership of land the private interest and the public interest are not opposed but are preeminently the same. Karl Marx however, asserts the contrary; and in the later portions of his Das Kapital he strongly emphasizes the supposed necessity of communist expropriation.

To this Henry George added a far more ingenious dialectic in his highly rhetorical Progress and Poverty of some seventy years ago. In thought and ideals, this book is all for freedom and free enterprise, but in practice it is a fervid appeal for the ultimate of "land reform". Its author profoundly believed and taught that to ""make land common property" would not only be compatible with but was absolutely necessary to the preservation of free institutions and "the democratic way of life." His influence has reached far and wide and men and minds of highest attainments have been swayed and shaken by his moral fervor and intellectual naivete. That great Roman Catholic churchman of his day, the Reverend Dr. Edward McGlynn, suffered excommunication for his faith; yet, after six years, so persuasively did he set out his land communist creed that his "comprehensive statement" was accepted by the Papal Authority without reservation as containing nothing that was "contrary to the Christian faith or to Catholic doctrine" and he was reinstated in full. This ""Doctrinal Statement" prepared by Dr McGlynn and accepted by the Church is doubtless the most powerful and persuasive short exposition of the land communist theory in its religious guise that was ever made. Yet it is in no manner conclusive or sound.

First, he lays it down that all men have a God-given right to pursue happiness and therefore to use and live upon the earth. In this, he implies, as later on he asserts, that without intervention by the State such a right is denied. The question is not whether men have that right, but how that right can be justly practiced and enjoyed. Shall it be practiced socially, as it is now, in accordance with the moral law and the common custom of free contractual engagements, or should it be brought under the compulsory regulations and decrees of the political authority? Shall the ""particular"[1]1 assignments be made under the Golden Rule of Society, the Rule divinely enjoined, or under the shifty rules of monarchs or of majorities, construed and enforced by the appointees of "free"" governments ""democratically" elected and having supposedly limited powers? The most solemn constitutions cannot limit for long the powers of the selfsame governments that interpret them. And even if governments could be thus self limiting freedom resides in the practice of God's Golden Alternative in coercion of man by man; not in the mere restraint or limitation of it.

Dr. McGlynn credits God with giving the earth to no man ""in particular"" but, as he says, "to mankind in general"". He grants the necessity of ""undisturbed, permanent, exclusive private possession of portions"" of it. But he holds that since God made, as he thinks, no other provision for it. He deloved this "particular" distribution upon the political State, as a "chief function of civil government". He thus ascribes a divine authority and "dominion over those natural bounties" to "the organized community, or State",--to the sole agency of taxation, tyranny and war. In the same paragraph, he tells us also that "God is the author of society"",--meaning "the organized community, or State""--thus treating Society and the State as though one and the same. By this confusion of opposites, more common in his day than in ours, the good Doctor was blinded to the truth that God did ordain and has established in our midst a far diviner agency of His will than the State, to distribute peaceably and profitably among men His bounty of the earth, not by the corrupt and ruthless power of taxation or other coercion of men by fellow men, but by the Golden Rule of contract and consent, with recompense and profit for all concerned.

Being unfamiliar, as he must have been, with the standard concepts of ancient and international law, Dr. McGlynn could give no heed to the long established juridical distinction between proprium or dominion and the imperium; between property right and the political prerogative; the right of ownership, resting on title and consent and exercised by contract; and the right of ex-propriation, springing from discovery and conquest or from supine surrender, and exercised by force. The just distribution of land he asserts must rest not on ownership but on ex-propriation by the State. Hence he is firm for an exclusively political dominion over the gifts of God to mankind, holding that,

The maintenance of this dominion over the natural bounties is a primary function and duty of the organized community, in order to maintain the equal rights of all men to labor for their living and for the pursuit of happiness, and therefore their equal right of access directly or indirectly to the natural bounties.

And he further holds that,

The assertion of this dominion by civil government is especially necessary, because, with the very beginning of civil government and with the growth of civilization, there comes to the natural bounties of the land, a peculiar and increasing value distinct from and irrespective of the products of private industry existing therein.[2]2 This value is not produced by the industry of the private possessor or proprietor, but is produced by the existence of the community. It is, therefore, called the unearned increment.

He should rather have said that this increasing land value is not distinct from and irrespective of, but by reason of and in proportion to the value of the products of private industry; for where little of other value is produced there is little or no land value, and where the greatest of other values are produced, there are the greatest of land values. In his assertion that land value is produced by the existence of the community and is ""therefore called the unearned increment" he fails to observe that this very rent or ""unearned"" increment is itself necessarily a part of "the products of private industry"" and so cannot be, as he says, "distinct from and irrespective of" those products. If in this oversight, he regards the ""unearned increment" or rent as being produced by "the existence of the community" or the ""growth of society"" he must be trying to think of some part of "the products of private industry" as not being any part of ""the products of private industry".

Being quite certain that this portion of production is not exchanged for any services by the proprietor for which he receives it as increment or rent, Dr. McGlynn is likewise certain that the State is ordained to take it away from him by force. Better had he known that the rent is the owner's social recompense for the vitally necessary services to Society that he and his fellow owners perform in their practice of an alternative, as against either anarchy or tyranny, in the allocation of God's gifts to men. For without this social alternative there could be but little, if any, free production at all out of which to pay rent, and none would arise.

In the very day when Dr. McGlynn was, in effect, deifying the state, Society itself was conducting its own proprietary and contractual allocations (contracting first parties are always owners) of sites and resources through owners designated or accepted by Society as its agents for performing that distributive function. All this without force or opposition, and for none but an automatic and voluntary social revenue or recompense for performing it. Even Henry George learned at last that distribution by exchange is productive---that it is, in fact, the very highest mode of production---hence worth of its high reward.[3]3

And this recompense called ground rent or increment, being the maximum that anyone would pay, by a further beneficence and of necessity, came not from the least productive but from those who could put the land to its most productive use. Not only was this most essential of all public services being autonomously funded and carried on but, by a yet further beneficence, the selfish diligence of the distributors to obtain the highest rent or price was being turned into a social blessing to all. For it best served the public and common interest that so much of the land as, in face of the political deterrents, could be profitably employed should be used or occupied by the most productive users, since only they,--those who would most enrich the common markets, could gain therefrom the wherewithal to pay the highest rent or price.

All this--to borrow Dr. McGlynn's own words--all this ""beautiful providence, that may be truly called divine, since it is founded on the nature of things and the nature of man""--was wholly unknown to Dr. McGlynn, or, rather, despised by him; for he was victim of a senseless slogan, namely, that "the land owner performs no service to Society"". So, not the autonomous Society, with its ways of peace and of profit to all, but the State, with its rule of force and ways of war, became in his eyes the divinely ordained power to ""maintain dominion over the natural bounties"" of the earth and thus, without his realizing it, over the lives of the inhabitants thereof.

This Doctrinal Statement of Dr. McGlynn reflects all too well the customary delusion of those who, all unwittingly yet in effect, are for total communism in the land, the delusion, namely,--that the high price of land is what keeps it idle and unused, and that to tax its value away would force it into use. Yet it is notorious that in times of low price land cannot be sold or leased--except forced sales--and only where highest in price is it most intensely used. The truth is that nothing but the prospect and hope of profit or recompense can bring land under either private ownership and distribution by the free process of contract---as opposed to political administration--or into any use for physical production and a similar contractual distribution of its products. When that prospect rises, so also rises the owning, the distributing the use, the rent and the price of land. When such hope declines, so does the distribution, use and value of the land decline -by whomsoever it may be owned.

In the wise words, even of Henry George, among those last written by him, we must seek "the laws which are part of that system or arrangement which constitutes the social organism or body economic, as distinguished from the body politic or state", which, "though they may be crossed by human enactment, can never be annulled"".[4]4 There should be more seeking to understand--and less attempt to set aside by force---the beneficent laws that await and divinely prevail in the free and peaceful engagements, the non-political, the contractual, relationships among men.

He who rests his hope and faith in the coercive State but worships Mars, and his ways, however high intended, are the ways of force and war. The Living Free Society, this emerging quiet Kingdom of the Golden Rule, as it becomes better understood and known and thereby better grows and serves, this alone can lead men in the ways of life and peace and thereby save them from that total rule whose terrors but the nearer creep when the natural laws working in the free relationships of men are ignored or scorned---and Freedom's Light obscured.


  1. Quotations from the Doctrinal Statement emphasized by italics.
  2. Emphasis supplied.
  3. Henry George, The Science of Political Economy, Ch. XI, pp. 316, 340.
  4. Ibid., p. 428.