Georgism On The Threshold
Sidney J. Abelson
[Reprinted from The Freeman, September, 1939]
The one hundredth anniversary of Henry George's birth finds the
world at large in a more critical situation than it has ever before
been in all history.
There have been Great Wars before -- perhaps these might even be
called World Wars, taking into consideration the world as it was known
at the time -- but never before, not even during the Napoleonic
period, has there been the actuality or the prospect of an internecine
conflict involving directly and indirectly the entire planet on which
man lives. What if the Peloponnesian War checked the magnificent
achievements of the Periclean age? There were a dozen other societies
unknown to the Greeks, flourishing. in their own ways, or bearing the
nascent foetuses of new civilizations. Today there is only one
civilization -- the Twentieth Century Civilization -- and let but one
section of it go down and all the rest will go down with it.
Napoleon ravaged Europe for a decade and a half -- but his
depredations could not affect the Americas. Or, if we assume that the
Little Corporal could have extended his empire to the new world there
would still be China, India, Japan, Australia, Africa with which to
cope. Territorially the world then was as it is now, too large for any
single dictator to conquer and bold. But today, unlike any previous
time in history, the world is so small economically that the slightest
disturbance in one country propagates itself in short order in all
countries. For better or for worse the world has reached its final
phase of interdependence -- there is no new land to be discovered, no
place of refuge for the hounded torch of civilization. Material
progress has made the whole world one; United it stands; divided it
But the world at the moment is far from united. Every day brings
alarming news of fresh controversies, and even before this issue of
The Freeman reaches its readers (if any credence can foe given
to news reports) another Great War may be raging in Europe.
Must we stand by idly and watch civilization die a horrible death? I
have heard many express an affirmative answer to this question. I have
heard it said and I have seen it written that a final struggle to the
death between Communism and Fascism is the inevitable fate of mankind.
These opinions of despair are not entirely without foundation in
fact. The great powers of the world are lining up in two great camps
-- the Fascist Powers versus the so-called Democratic Powers. The
latter are falling increasingly under the sway of Communist philosophy
though in some cases the political sympathies of the ruling clique (as
in England) seem to be directed more toward Germany than to the
Russian motherland of Communism.
Now from the point of view of freedom it does not matter whether this
analysis of a Communist-Fascist struggle is accurate or not, for it is
obvious that freedom is doomed whenever and wherever either of these
philosophies triumphs. The struggle, therefore, is basically one of
freedom against anti-freedom. And our problem is to make the nature of
this struggle plain to the whole world.
Marx predicted that Socialism would arise first in that land which
first outlived its "capitalist" destiny. (To the
embarrassment of all concerned it arose first in a country notorious
for its lack of modern industrial development.) The Marxist creed,
even if sound, could apply only bit by bit to those nations which had
reached a minimum industrial stage, so that to achieve the world-wide
Socialist paradise might take hundreds of years. The Fascist and Nazi
doctrines are so strictly jingoistic, so narrowly, nationalistic in
scope that ipso facto they are disqualified from serious, scientific
The Roosevelt New Deal, though free from the obnoxious racial
doctrines of the Fascists-Nazis and also from Marxist scriptural
circumscription, is still a plan that can apply only to America or to
another nation with the same abundant resources and national
characteristics. There is, therefore, no hope that either Russian
Communism, German Nazism, Italian Fascism or American New Dealism can
save the world. And as for Britain and France it is patent, that the
most these nations can do is make heroic efforts to save their own
skins. There is nothing in the policies of Chamberlain or Daladier
which the world in general can use.
Of all the doctrines for social betterment now extant only that of
Henry George has world-wide and immediate applicability. Only George
offers complete economic and civil, freedom for all races, all
nationalities, all religions. I submit to the judgment of logic and
experience that the test of a theory in the field of applied science
is its capacity to be utilized universally and immediately -- and I
say that only George's social and economic doctrines so much as offer
the challenge to be utilized in this fashion.
The establishment of Communism in Russia required, in the words of
Lenin, that "the present generation plough itself under as
fertilizer for the generations to come." The New Deal must plough
under crops and destroy livestock to achieve its ends. Hitler finds it
necessary to exterminate the Jews and destroy the Catholic and
Protestant churches to achieve his ends. Mussolini can seek his goal
only by waging war or maintaining a state of war -- destruction's most
effective instrument. Only George says: Build! Only George says that
destroying can lead only to destruction; that the way to achieve a
better society is through construction -- here and now!
I have little sympathy with those Georgists who feel that many years
must pass before "the world is ready for Georgism." In plain
fact, the world is ready now -- no other doctrine can be applied to
the solution of social ills so readily and so universally, without
destroying a single generally accepted good thing in society, without
disturbing the normal conduct of life.
The other day a Communist acquaintance of mine expressed friendly
contempt for my activities in the Georgiat movement. His point was
simply this: that it does not matter whether Georgism is right or
wrong -- to him this point was not even worth debating -- for when the
time comes for change, when our present regime collapses, only the
Communist Party will be ready to take it over. And when the Communists
take over management of social and economic affairs there will be no
room in America for any opposing doctrines, or for that matter any
variants whatever of the Party Line.
Unfortunately, the cynicism of my acquaintance is wholly justified by
the facts as they stand now. In the event of a general debacle
Georgism, with its present limited strength, would not stand a chance
for survival. In short order, our literature, our educational
apparatus, our journalistic organs -- all our means of articulation
and in many cases our very selves to boot, would be destroyed. Perhaps
it is true that truth crushed to earth will rise again -- but the
Communist homicidal efficiency being what it is (and the Nazi-Fascist,
also) this rise may very well take something of the form of a
Phoenix-tan resurrection. As in the case of that mythological bird,
perhaps truth will be doomed to a 500-year-long figmentary life, and
finally, a trial by fire, to rise miraculously from its own ashes once
more to enjoy the uneasy blessings of life.
When it comes to sleeping out the Dance of Life, Rip Van Winkle was a
piker compared with some of the experiences of truth -- for example,
the anatomical mistakes of Galen, a second century physician, remained
rule-of-thumb for medical practitioners for about a thousand years.
Nature provides us with no guarantee that truth will prevail or that
error will be corrected. When the Communists or the Fascists take
power Georgism will be no more.
Now Georgism represents the highest truth man has discovered in his
search for an explanation of the social and economic laws that govern
human life. But what doth it profit a cause if it gain the whole truth
and lose the opportunity to spread that truth? What is the good, what
is the practical value of the knowledge we have? What can we do with
How can we keep the torch of truth burning? How can we convert that
torch into a beacon light for all mankind? These are the questions
which trouble me -- and which will continue to trouble me until I have
found their answers.
As I have already said above in a slightly different way, the
Georgist doctrine embodies both means and end. It is the only doctrine
which offers a direct and not a devious road to universal prosperity
and peace. George says, behold! here are the means, and within these
very means are the ends you seek. Freedom becomes literally its own
reward. Provide freedom and it will nourish itself on its own
substance. We Georgists need employ no trickery to explain our goal,
nor any ambiguity to set forth our means. We do not offer pie in the
sky after an indeterminate period of intensified human suffering -- we
say without reservation, let there be free land, free enterprise and
free men; and in the fullest sense you will have free men -- free
politically, free economically, free intellectually and spiritually.
We say freedom and we mean freedom.
What then, can be done to keep Georgism alive during the dangerous
days ahead; how can Georgism be made ready for use when, in the
inevitable hour, a faltering civilization will have, seemingly, but a
Hobson's choice between one form of inhuman dictatorship and another?
Many years of experience in expounding the doctrines of Henry George
have given the answer - an answer which current world experience
confirms: Avoid direct political action -- fire cannot extinguish
fire; educate mankind in the logic, the justice and the
humanitarianism of Georgism; make many millions of people conscious of
the fact that humanity is not doomed to be decimated by the crossfire
of extremists pledged to light each other to the death, that nature
herself has ordained laws for social conduct which are inherently
orderly, laws which, if observed, would make all mankind prosperous
and which would conduce to that state wherein "man to man the
whole world o'er will brothers be for a' that."
"Poets and philosophers are the true legislators of mankind."
Ultimately we conduct our affairs under the guidance of philosophers
-- though politicians do make capital of and take the credit for the
philosophical ideas of their betters. Today the collectivist ideas of
Karl Marx are being adopted in one way or another, in vain efforts to
solve the problem of poverty in almost every country on earth.
Tomorrow, the principles of freedom of Henry George will be applied.
Does this seem like an impossible hope? Let us see what are the
In this century, more than ever before, no nation can gain more than
a Pyrrhic victory in war. Victor and vanquished both are losers --
because modern war Is more destructive than war has been before. In
the next few years -- five or ten, perhaps fifteen at the most -- the
Communist and Fascist extremists will exhaust themselves in military
and economic wars of attrition. A large-scale political triumph of one
or the other will mean the doom of civilization.
The task of saving civilization, then, becomes a race -- between the
advancing forces of dictatorship and the progress of educating mankind
in the natural laws of society. Men will not accept dictatorship so
long as they have the hope of freedom. That hope will remain alive if
Georgism is kept alive. In the hour of fate that is sure to come
mankind will turn to Georgism -- IF. The race against chaos can be won
The "if" means that to succeed Georgists must intensify
their efforts a thousand -- or ten-thousand fold. The educational
process -- the instillation in the minds of mankind of this hope and
the expounding of this doctrine -- must be increased and multiplied to
a rate surpassing that of Nazi-Fascist-Communist activity. Just how
this can be done is a subject to be taken up later. In the meanwhile,
on this hundredth anniversary of Henry George's birth, it is
appropriate to bring out these facts: that the logic of Georgism has
never been shaken; that today, more than ever before, the Georgist
movement is alive and growing; that today the world is in critical
need of Georgism; and that tomorrow, if Georgists do their job well,
the world will accept Georgism.