The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]


That the existing state of society is unsatisfactory; that the world as fashioned by man is at best a bad one, and that its evils are in great part self-created and unnecessary -- all this is a truism, and, like most truisms, is so frequently uttered as to be half forgotten, and requires to be continually discovered afresh.
But this book is not written to show up social evils in any new light, nor to join in denouncing them. It starts with assuming them ; and therefore to those who are contented with the world as it is -- who think the failure in human relationships accidental, not structural - the following pages have nothing to say. They can only have any interest for those who also are tossed on dubious seas and steering uncertainly for unknown ports.
Nor is this an attempt to portray a new Utopia. There is more than enough already of these, framed each upon its author's own tastes and ideals, and limited by the moral development and scientific knowledge of the particular date. For this very reason, though they contain many dreams that are perennially beautiful, they are in detail antipathetic to people of a different character or period, and valuable chiefly as a record of the highest social ideals of their age.
Nor are they any real guide as to the tendencies of society. Human progress is not a regular curve of which the future can be calculated by the formula of the past, and there is no reason to suppose that humanity is being conducted - or conducting itself - towards the social conception of any individual, however enlightened he may be. It would indeed be truly astonishing if it were so.
Such fancy remodellings of the world are downright mischievous when they become a guide to legislation or action, and when the many possibilities of human development are regulated within the limits of a present-day imagination. Most reformers carry about with them a mental picture of the world- as-it-should-be, and aim at making every creature take the proper size and shape for it, as the parts of a puzzle dovetail. And the puzzle grows ever more complicated, until each fragment of it requires a special study.
The New Priesthood.
No small evil of modern civilisation is that its intricacies breed a class of sociological experts who have the same kind of interest in "social problems" that an attorney has in the criminal code. They become yearly more indispensable to the present system, as each loose thread gets more tightly interwoven with the universal web, and as the public grows more aware that only special knowledge can prescribe the means to any given end, or foretell the general results of any local disturbance. So it happens that at the moment when so-called democratic government has reached its apotheosis, it has become a mere masque for bureaucrats and wire-pullers. First we have the elected representatives of the people, men of the common sort, with the honest desire to "govern justly" according to a conflicting set of opinions about the "general welfare," "morality," "justice," "patriotism" and so forth; and because these vague maxims afford no certain clue among the intricacies of laws and workings, they fall back for instruction on the permanent officials of departments - men of few general notions but great experience of administrative detail -- and these again are inspired as to the aims and objects of their administrative efforts by experts, who, having made a hobby of some special part of the machine, cannot conceive a world without it. Any attempt to combat their demands on general grounds, or to introduce a first principle into the argument, is treated by such specialists with contempt as "doctrinaire." Such people think that when they have shown by statistics that 90 per cent, of the children of drunkards inherit a tendency to drink, they have proved the necessity of legislation for the sterilisation of drunkards; that the proved connection between consumption and slums is an argument for compulsory farm colonies ; or that if the chest measurement of soldiers increases on an average two inches for every year of drill, that is an argument for universal conscription.
The ordinary citizen accepts unquestioningly all such decisions based on " the unanimous consensus of expert opinion," which enlarges and diversifies its statistics every year; and so we find an ever- increasing tendency to hand over important questions for decision to some "recognised authority" -- a favourite politician, a royal commission, an "impartial" board of arbitrators -- to be decided, not according to some simple principle of honesty or justice, such as the man-in-the-street recognises, but with the one idea of keeping in existence such a state of society as such commissioners, arbitrators and politicians think desirable -- i.e. one in which arbitrators, commissioners and politicians are necessary and respected, and in which the other people are docilely willing to be arbitrated and legislated for.
These experts are like the guides to the Catacombs. They have a vested interest in the inricacies of the place ; for having once got the traveller well lost in the labyrinth, with no light but their torches, they have him at their mercy, and can dictate exactly what he is to see and where he is to walk, and can thoroughly frighten him with images of death and famine if he attempts to rebel and find his way back to daylight unaided.
Of course these superior persons are not consciously moved by similar considerations ; but simply, being part and parcel of a certain state of things, they cannot conceive of any other as possible or desirable; and with the natural tendency to idealise one's motives, they preach some hazy creed about the General Good, or Social Morality, or Equal Distribution of Wealth, or anything that will justify them in arranging other people's lives for them.
And the more such legislation is extended, the more complicated its administration becomes, and the larger the class of official experts who live by and on it; so that these professional reformers promise to become as heavy a saddle on the human beast of burden as ever was the mediaeval priesthood. But while the old priesthood mapped out their heaven and drove men along the road to it in the name of Mumbo Jumbo, the new priesthood does it all in the name of Science, Humanitarianism and Progress.
The Social Machine.
One thing this new religion, with its creed of toleration, will not tolerate, and that is a disbelief in the social machine. Alterations of detail and structural improvement it welcomes, as necessary stages on the road to complete development.
You may quarrel with its form and tinker with its parts -- only, in the machine itself you shall believe. You may overthrow kings, lords, even democracies; but you must not shake Government. You may attack religions and philosophies (true or false), but you must not attack Social Ethics. You may rearrange society (theoretically) in any way you like, so long as you do not deny that society should be arranged.
Everything done under this creed is not done for the sake of any intrinsic right or wrong, truth or falsehood, but solely to preserve the machine, and to make it work more easily. What chance would there be for our popular social reforms if it were shown that a fair wage, an eight -hours day, higher education, and so forth, instead of "soothing industrial unrest" and making the population more contented, luxurious and manageable, would lessen the total wealth of the country, or make the working classes impossible to control?
If we assume that the present social system is the necessary outcome of the world's development, and that civilisation, as we know it, is the culmination of human history, then, obviously, when any part sticks or breaks down, it is for want of proper attention and management, and we must call in the army of social mechanicians who deafen and override us to-day. Their business is not to speculate on ultimate principles, but to keep the present thing going at all costs and by any means.
But in the midst of the social reformer's ceaseless activity, of the endless league for the propagation of this and that, and enactments for the regulation of one thing and another, one pauses to wonder whether the common-sense of men will not at last revolt against all this meddlesomeness?
The plainest thinker can see that opinions as to the ultimate good are conflicting, and that, even if everyone be agreed as to the aim, it is folly to attempt to legislate for the intricacies of modern life, because calculations of the necessary accuracy are impossible. And one is led to reflect whether there is not, after all, some simpler solution to the great problem of social duty, plain enough to guide the man-in-the- street, and not involving a solution of statistics to the nth decimal and a dictatorship over the living and the yet unborn.
The question, as it presents itself to us, is not, how by careful adjustment we may improve the condition of those who oil the wheels of the car of civilisation, as well as gratify the amiable feelings of those whose principal function is to ride inside it; nor yet, how, by increasing the solidarity of labour and fomenting class warfare, we may continue the present benefits of civilisation but secure them to the class that produces them; but -- much simpler and still more vital question - whether the present civilisation is not altogether a spurious one, based on a primary wrong-doing that vitiates it throughout; and whether, if one fundamental injustice were removed, civilisation, as we know it, could continue at all.
Suppose the monopoly ownership of land, the source of all industry and life, done away with; and with it the coercion under which men suffer, and, suffering, labour in artificial combinations: would not many kinds of labour, those especially on which the finer details of the structure depend, cease altogether, and the whole elaborate edifice tumble down?
This Book's Purpose.
The purpose of this book is, then, to suggest, as it appears true to us (1) that this present form of civilisation is built up by slave labour; (2) that this slave labour is necessitated by the monopoly of land alone; (3) that it must cease, and with it so-called civilisation, when land is freed. Further, that, owing to this fundamental injustice, human progress may have taken a wrong turn, and that what we are accustomed to look on as the necessary conditions of a superior life may be, in reality, a bar to true development.
In the first point many sorts of reformers will agree ; in the second all "single taxers" will agree; comparatively few people will agree with the conclusion. The politicians and social reformers cannot be expected to approve of such ideas, for an overthrow of existing conditions would destroy the raison d'etre of their activities. The intellectual man mistrusts such forms of thought as childishly crude and simple, and if he believed that the civilisation, of which he is the hothouse flower, would really be overthrown by any such fundamental reform, he would see in this fact an excellent argument against introducing ethics into practical politics. The ordinary private gentleman or business man cannot like it, for it would turn his world topsy-turvy (just as his religion would, if he practised it).
Indeed, to most persons the disintegration of the modern world seems a catastrophe hardly to be discussed seriously, much less advocated, by any sane person. As a rule, only war or death or birth can shake our stolid imaginations sufficiently to give us a glimpse into such possibilities.
It seems to them that such a revolution, involving the waste of so many centuries of human effort, the repudiation of so many fine flowers of intellect, a slur on the aspirations of so many noble lives, would be a cruel and a wicked folly ; moreover, that it would be a deathblow to progress, a negation of all natural forces and tendencies, a sort of scientific blasphemy -- in short, an inconceivable thing.
To this many things might be replied, as: that our boasted progress does not seem to involve any great advance in essentials, and that in so far as we are more humane, cleaner and more artistic, there is no convincing proof that such improvement is due to the railways or the daily press, or the cinematograph, or the marconigram -- nor even to the aeroplane; that the age which perfected the spinning-loom and the dynamo, perfected also the slum and the American Trust; that our fine feelings are more a matter of overstrung nerves than of altruism, and that religion is much where it was in the days before Jesus of Nazareth.
Also we might say that custom alone makes all these wonted surroundings seem necessary to us, and that men of adventure know well how independent the human mind and happiness are of those things which the civilised world regards as essentials; also that the least accident -- a derailed comet, or the spark of a new religion, or merely a great war -- might equally at any moment upset the status quo, and make our stable civilisation a bygone and a strange thing.
Finally, it must be remembered that this civilisation -- of which the upper classes, at present, enjoy most of the sweets, and the lower classes all the bitters - cannot in any case be carried on much longer except by an absolute despotism: a despotism which must finally embrace all classes alike, and which will be death to all advance.
Rotation or Progress?
People are becoming aware that any eccentricity whatever is a danger to the stability of the whole system, and that to preserve the system every orbit must be regulated. They began long ago with the obvious - courts, dungeons, scaffolds, and justiciars; a little cleverer, they went on with compulsory school -learning and the poor-law; becoming economically wise, they took up factory legislation and enforced thrift; now they are about to continue with laws about eugenics, etc., etc.; and, because you cannot control men's bodies with ease while their minds are in rebellion, they will -- very logically - begin to drill their minds in utilitarian religions and other suitable doctrines ; indeed, they have begun to do so already.
These despotic methods of preserving the machine are not yet fully developed, because science as applied to sociology is still in its infancy, and also because the popular imagination lags behind the popular reason. But once it has caught it up, then farewell to such anomalies as that which still allows the children of rich people to be educated off the beaten track, and lets freedom be at least purchasable.
When the system is logically perfected, then we shall all alike have learned to rotate, and civilisation will bloom securely -- but we shall have ceased to progress.
In such a system of social stability there will, it is true, be equality, for all will be in equal servitude to the machine, and there may, or may not, as the machine finds advisable, be external similarity as well in surroundings, pay, treatment. But if we drop equality from the triplet, and look to freedom and brotherhood -- in which lie the hopes of human development -- we shall find them incompatible with such a civilisation, and that the present manner of living, in food, lodging, dress, culture, pleasures -- of the poorest as well as of the richest -- is only procurable in a system of servitude.
The modern citizen finds himself between two terrifying alternatives: -- the glacier age of the old world, where all will be dead and only mechanical revolutions go on with regularity, towards which he is being protestingly but steadily dragged on by his own efforts to improve and regulate the existing order; or, on the other side, the rise of a quite new world, foreign to his conceptions and dreadful to him.
Both are alarming, with that shock of death and of birth from which we all physically shrink, through which we all nevertheless pass as we go on our inevitable journey.


Chapter I
Where The Road Leads
Chapter II
On Free and Forced Exchange
Chapter III
On Social Reform
Chapter IV
The Strengthening of Government
Chapter V
The Roots of Slavery
Chapter VI
On Land and Capital
Chapter VII
Various Theories About Land Reform
Chapter VIII
Marginal Land and Economic Rent
Chapter IX
The Single Tax as a Method of Destroying Land Monopoly
Chapter X
The Next Revolution
Chapter XI
The Steps of the Change
Chapter XII
What It Would Mean
Chapter XIII
What Lies Beyond
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