The Viking Root to Justice
J. P. Skou
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty,
DURING MY recent participation in the United Nations General Assembly
as a member of the Danish delegation, 1 was repeatedly questioned
about the ideological basis of the Danish Justice Party (DJP).
The English name is a direct translation, but the party is often
called the Single-tax Party. We prefer the use of DJP because the
party participates actively in all political aspects of the country on
the basis of equal rights for all individuals.
Many people in and out of Denmark ask for the reason why a political
party - which is based in large part on the theories of the 19th
century American economic philosopher Henry George -- has taken root
in Denmark. It has shown a remarkable capacity for survival, and no
such party exists anywhere else in the world.
The answer has something to do with the old Danish cultural
behaviour, based as it was on the custom rights exhibited in small
local societies of the country -- some say that it may be traced back
to the Viking-time -- which kept Denmark largely free of the influence
of the Roman Law. This behaviour was most clearly expressed in Bishop
Gunner's preface to Jydske Lov (Law for Jutland, 1241) where
". . , the law shall not be made or written for
anybody's special favour, but in the interest of all those who live
in the country,"
In the last part of the 18th and the first part of the 19th centuries
the opinion of the people was greatly influenced by Count C. D. F.
Reventlow (1748-1827), who was influenced by the Physiocrats and Adam
Smith's liberalism. He was Prime Minister for not less than 30 years.
He inspired and promoted the farmers' Liberation Act in 1788, which
laid Denmark's liberal foundation.
During the 19th century the poet, writer and clergyman N. F. S.
Grundtvig was spokesman for a continuation of the land reforms
initiated in 1788. In 1849 he wrote about people's ethical right to
the land, and as member of the constituent assembly he claimed freedom
for the individual. Thus, Grundtvig became forerunner for Henry
George's ideas in Denmark. He influenced many people through his
writings and the "Folkeheljskoler" (folk high schools) which
he inspired. These provided a fertile ground for the ideas of Henry
George when they first appeared.
HENRY GEORGE'S theories were brought to Denmark at the beginning of
this century. They attracted considerable attention among intellectual
people preoccupied with the thoughts of the Danish philosophers
Severin Christensen, C. N. Starcke, Axel Dam, and C. Lambek, and among
smallholders whose leaders had contact with the folk high schools.
As early as 1902 the smallholders association adopted the "Koge
Resolution" which required farmers to pay rent to the Government
for the land they occupied instead of paying income tax and duty. All
these very small farmers were so sure of the value and importance of
Henry George's ideas that they demanded freedom to help themselves;
they did not want protection.
In the following years four different associations sprang up, based
on the philosophy of Henry George, and Severin Christensen published
his main work The Constitutional State (Retsstaten) -- a state
based on George's economic ideas, the concept of freedom for the
individual that should not only be limited by the equal right to
freedom for other individuals, and on the limitation of state
The Justice Association (Retsdemokratisk Forbund) and the Henry
George Association attempted to stay out of party politics, preferring
to "infiltrate" their ideas into the programme of existing
parties. After some discussion between the associations it became
clear that this strategy would not prove effective. In 1919 three of
the associations fused to found "Danmarks Retsforbund" (The
Danish Justice Party). The Henry George Association still exists as a
cross-party organisation. This development partly explains the
capacity for survival.
THE DANISH Justice Party has always been small, though quite a few
Danes basically believe in the correctness of the ideas. In 1926 DJP
won its first two seats in the Folketing (Parliament), and until 1947
never went beyond four. In 1950 it jumped from six to 12 seats. One of
the reasons was that the DJP demanded swifter dismantling of postwar
restrictions than the other political parties were willing to endorse.
The political success of DJP increased the general interest in land
taxation. In 1954 -- after six years' work -- the land taxation
commission, set up by the Government and including members of all
political parties and larger organisations, submitted its report. The
majority declared that they would support a gradual change from income
tax to land tax. This result had an interesting effect on the fortunes
of the DJP, which got nine seats at the election in 1957. It entered
into government responsibility by forming a coalition with the Social
Democrats and the Radical Liberals, the so-called "Triangle
It was commonly believed that this Cabinet of land tax
supporters would initiate effective legislation in this field. The
result was that land speculation practically stopped. Instead,
capital was invested in increased productive capacity. As a result
of DJP's participation in this Cabinet during three-and-a-half
years, several of its basic ideas were implemented, such as trade
liberalisation by tariff reductions, and legislation to tax unearned
increment on land values.
Everybody agrees that the Triangle Cabinet was a good government, but
at the following election the Social Democrats received nearly all the
credit. There had been strong opposition within the DJP against
participation in a government with socialists. Anyway, the result was
that the party lost all its seats and went into the political
wilderness that lasted for 13 years. Shortly after the DJP was
excluded altogether from Parliament the law on land taxation was
The experience of government and defeat forced some hard lessons on
the party which ever since have affected its conduct. As time passed,
people became less orthodox in their beliefs. Leaders of the party
realised the need for a clear profile and for coherent policies on all
current issues. A new, updated and more pragmatic Statement of
Principles was adopted in 1966 when the fortunes of the DJP were at
then- lowest point. This gave a somewhat new image to the party and
contributed in the long run to its return to Parliament, but a number
of odd, unpleasant issues came up and contributed to this. For
example, the EEC became important from 1970 and helped the DJP, which
was the only non-socialist party against it.
The many political failures during the '60s and early '70s planted a
time-bomb in the Danish political system. It exploded with the
election in 1973 which brought five new parties into parliament
including the DJP with five seats. For no clear reason the party was
eliminated again at the election in 1975, but its very absence from
Parliament in the 1975-1977 period gave it a clean image and brought
it back with six seats. Now, after the election in 1979, the party has
TODAY, we pay income tax, and JL interest and compensation to the
former land owner for use of the land, even though he has not done any
work for the money. This effectively means that we pay tax twice. The
DJP proposes that state revenue should be raised primarily from a tax
on annual land values.
The DJP advocates the development of a broad collaboration between
nations in mutual trust and respect, gradually as the people are ready
for it, such as is the case between the Nordic countries and to some
degree hi EFTA. For these reasons the party is against the Common
Market, which is being forced on the people, and because it takes away
our sovereignty piece by piece. Furthermore, the DJP is of the opinion
that the Common Market acts monopolistically, and protects members
against world trading competition. The economy should be free of
restrictions, and state subsidies and controls should be abolished.
The party opposes socialisation, state intervention, and incomes
policy, but a modern, rich society should have a good security system
for everybody. Therefore, all those falling into distress shall have
the help they need.
The country should be governed by a "magistrate" consisting
of the political parties in proportion to their size. Members of the
government should leave their chairs as members of the Parliament in
order to keep the tripartition of the power -- legislative, judicial,
and executive -- as required by the Constitution. This will imply
Parliamentary co-operation on a case-by-case basis in varying
groupings and reduce elections to four-year terms. The DJP favours
more frequent referenda.
The party supports international co-operation but prefers solutions
on. a world basis; it is against regional blocs. Foreign policy shall
promote free trade, and the party supports an active development
policy on the basis of free trade.
The party is not against NATO; though our military force cannot help
much in a war it is seen as a will of existence for the country.
Defence, however, shall be based on volunteers and not on forced
These clear and liberal statements partly explain the capacity for
survival, but the DJP has always had and will always have one
drawback: it cannot and will not speak in favour of any special group
in Danish society.