From: Henry George versus Henry George


On page 410, where Mr. George assumes the role of prophet, and a bold one, too, and where he anticipates an obstacle to the fulfillment of his prophecies in “supposed selfishness of mankind, he tells us that ” we are apt to assume that greed is the strongest of human motives,” and “that selfish interests are always stronger than general interests.” But “nothing could be further from the truth.”

We are in some doubt as to the “always,” never having heard it put so strongly before; and, though it is impossible to see where he draws the line between “selfish interests and general interests,” we are inclined to think he means something that he will stick to, and agree with him; especially when he says, “nothing could be further from the truth”; that is, that the assumption that mankind are “always” ruled by selfish motives. We hope that is what he means, for we want to agree with him sometimes, and our best chance is when we are least sure of what he says.

But if he be right now, what becomes of the all-dominating social law of gravitation—the law of least exertion? What is this, but the law of “self-interest”? (P. 185.) Is not this the very law (p. 184) which Mr. George says is to the social world what gravitation is to the physical; is not this the source “whence springs this lust of gain, to gratify which men tread everything pure and noble under their feet,” etc.? (P. 411.)

Again, we find the law of least exertion overborne by the “love of approbation,” which not only “triumphs over the love of ease” (another name for “least exertion”) but also “over the sense of pain” and even “the dread of death.” (P. 412.) ” ‘All that a man hath will he give for his life’—that is self-interest. But in loyalty to higher impulses men will give even life.” (P. 415.)

“Call it religion, patriotism, sympathy, the enthusiasm for humanity, or the love of God—give it what name you will; there is yet a force which overcomes and drives out selfishness, a force which is the electricity of the normal universe; a force beside which all others are weak;” (p. 416;)

— even the “compelling law” of “least exertion!” (Pp. 184-186, 187-196—especially the latter.)

“Consider for a moment the vast changes that would be wrought in social life by a change which would assure to labor its full reward; which would banish want and the fear of want; and give to the humblest freedom to develop in natural symmetry.” (P. 4 10.)

Banish “want and the fear of want”; so provide for men that “they need have no more care about physical necessities than do the lilies of the field:”—(p. 415,) how long would it take, under the “law of least exertion” the love of ease, to reduce them to a herd of paupers, accepting their daily allowance of meat and drink at the hands of the Government distributors? But Mr. George thinks we can escape all this by “banishing want” and retaining “desire”—”want might be banished but desire would remain.” (P. 419.)

It would puzzle even so sharp a man as Mr. George to tell us what could be the object of desire where there is no want. With nothing lacking, there could not be much to be desired. A satisfied desire is the end—the banishment—of that particular want. An unsatisfied desire is the condition of want. Give the desire the thing it lacks and the desire ceases to be. “For what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for?” How want can be banished and desire remain, is conceivable only to those philosophers who believe a thing can be here and there—or be and not be, at the same time. To say, that the word is here used in the sense of poverty, penury, would be to exchange an absurdity for an ambiguity. Though poverty should be defined, “destitution of the necessaries of life” still, in a world where men do not live by bread alone, what are and what are not necessaries of life, would not be an easy question to answer. Even in this sense, banish want—poverty—to the entire acceptance of the victim of it, and the measure of desire that would remain as a “stimulus to exertion” would be too nearly identical with infinitesimality to serve as a foundation for a new system of Political Economy. Not half a dozen lines away from this proposition (“banish want and desire will remain”) Mr. George himself uses the word “want” as synonymous with “desire,” and in a sense exclusive of any reference to a physical necessity. (P. 419.) And on page 455 occur these remarkable words—remarkable when set beside the passages on pages 418, 419.—For example: Look on this picture:

“But it maybe said, to banish want and the fear of want, would be to destroy the stimulus to exertion; men would become simply idlers, and such a happy state of general comfort and content would be the death of progress. … “Nothing is more untrue.” (Pp. 418, 419.)

And now on this:

“The incentives to progress are the desires inherent in human nature—the desire to gratify the wants of the animal nature, the wants of the intellectual nature, and the wants of the sympathetic nature; the desire to be, to know, and to do—desires that short of infinity can never be satisfied, as they grow by what they feed on.” (P. 455.)

We are a philanthropic people, and we build asylums for men who talk that way consecutively. We call it incoherence—and even by worse names. But with an interval of thirty-six pages, and the time it takes to drive a pen so far, it would be courteous and charitable to set it down to bad memory.

Socrates thought himself unlike the mass of men because he “ate to live while most men lived to eat.” Banish want and the fear of want from the vast horde who live to eat, and would there not be just so many “devils workshops” set up in the land?

“Short-sighted is the philosophy which counts on selfishness as the master motive of human action” (P. 415.)

But is not this precisely what Mr. George s philosophy (?) does? Is not selfishness the very law of gravitation to his whole so-called system (?) of Political Economy? Is not the law of “least exertion” the “all-compelling law,” “without which it would be impossible to calculate upon any human action, the most trivial or important”? (P. 196.)

The all-compelling law was “least exertion”; but this, we have just seen, was overborne by the love of approbation; and now we find both superseded by the law of love—the “force of forces.” (P. 416.) And pretty soon we shall come to another “supreme law” in the shape of a sentiment of “justice.”

But the “force of forces” is not a force to be kept in abeyance by any other force, or combination of forces. Either Mr. George does not mean what he says here, (p. 416,) or what he says is not true. The force that triumphs over the law that is to “human action” what the law of gravitation is to physics, is not a force to “go to waste” or “assume perverted forms,” nor to wait upon us to “give it freedom and scope.” (P. 416.)

We come almost to the 300th page of Mr. George’s book with repeated assurance that the law of least exertion, which is the law of laziness and selfishness, is the fundamental law of political economy and social life. But now we are told (p. 299) that the “sentiment of justice is fundamental to the human mind,” and we are to look to the dominance of that sentiment for the sanction and adoption of his remedy for social evils. “Whatever dispute,” he says, (p. 299,) “arouses the passions of men, the conflict is sure to rage, not so much as to the question, ‘Is it wise?’ as to the question, ‘Is it right?’ ” And on page 490 he says, that “Justice is the supreme law of the universe.”

Does the history of crowns, courts, battlefields and fagot-heaps warrant that statement? Does it not fly in the face of the almost universal prevalence of injustice—the almost unexceptional triumph of iniquity?

But, again we let Mr. George reply to Mr. George:

“That amid our highest civilization men faint and die with want is not due to the niggardliness of nature, but to the injustice of man.” (P. 306.)

“Vice and misery, poverty and pauperism are the direct and necessary results of the violation of the supreme law of justice.” (P. 306.)

And how long and how widely have these things prevailed in the world?

If in any of these cases “we still have judgment here,” it is by the inexorableness of a law over which the will of man has no control.

“Released from this necessity [by the banishment of want and the fear of want] men would but work the harder or the better, for then they would work as their inclinations led them; [in spite of the law of least exertion?] then would they seem to be really doing something for themselves or for others. Was Humboldt’s life an idle one? Did Franklin find no occupation when he retired from the printing business with enough to live on? Is Herbert Spencer a laggard? Did Michael Angelo paint for board and clothes?” (P. 420.)

Did Franklin go in to business when he had enough to live on?

The force and fitness of these examples, are to be seen in the supposition that Mr. George is writing Political Economy for communities composed of Humboldts, Franklins, Spencers and Michael Angelos. Still, it is to be observed that neither of these men waited for the inauguration of the new system of social adjustments to become what they were. They did not wait for circumstances to make them—they were themselves circumstances. Such men are not the slaves of environs—they break through the shell of “social adjustments” and make way for themselves. Notwithstanding Mr. George’s attempt to argue away the inborn differences of men (p. 421)—attempts which aim to show that the main differences between a Shakspeare and a Digger Indian are due to their “environment”—”social adjustments”—we cannot forget that the eagle and the goose, the vulture and the dove, Michael Angelo and Slugger Sullivan are hatched into the same worlds and that the men who have made the greatest marks in it were not those who were ushered into it under the most apparently auspicious circumstances or “environment.”

That poverty is debasing, that it might in time, descending through generations, even “change the stamp of Nature,” transforming possible Milfoils, Platos and Homers, or Garrisons, Sumners, Emersons and Wilberforces, into pirates, sneak-thieves, cutthroats or Calibans, it is not impossible to believe; yet it would be as difficult to fix the number of those who have been kept down and crushed out by it, as it would to reckon the host who from the height of great achievement can look back down the path of their ascent and truly say, “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

After having it almost burned in upon us that men shun work with an impulse as irresistible as the law of gravitation, we are suddenly informed, (p. 420,) that, “labor in itself is not repugnant to man,”—that the “natural necessity for exertion” is not the curse, but “labor which produces nothing.” “The fact is,” he says, “that the work which improves the condition of mankind,” “extends knowledge,” “increases power,” enriches literature, and elevates thought, is riot done to secure a living.

“It is not the work of slaves driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for its own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want was abolished, work of this sort would be enormously increased.” (P. 420.)

For instance—? “The rest is silence.” If Miss Bacon be wrong and Shakspeare not a myth, his case is not an argument for Mr. George. If Shakspeare wrote and acted in the Globe Theatre for “work’s own sake,” why did he quit and retire as soon as he had laid up enough to make the bread of the future sure? Franklin began by working for his bread; very likely Spencer did, and Michael Angelo, too, for such bread as they needed; but whether they continued in it “for the work’s own sake,” or for wealth, or fame, or for the sake of their fellowmen, or for a “wreath of wild olive,” or a “bit of ribbon,” (p. 415,) may all be well known to Mr. George, for, if he can see as far into the past as he professes to see into the future, there is not much there that is hid from him; but it is not so clear to us. Still, if “the fact is ” as Mr. George puts it, he must “have been wrong in saying that it was the prize of the Olympian games that “called forth the most strenuous exertions of all Greece.”—The runners ran for the sake of the running, and not for “meat, drink or display.” (P. 420.)

How many of the great men of the world should we ever have heard of, had they not been started on their career by the needs of their animal natures? Says Mr. George:

“How few are the thinkers, the discoverers, the inventors, the organizers, as compared with the great mass of the people! Yet such men are born in plenty; it is the conditions that permit so few to develop.”

It is proverbial that great occasions call forth great men; that they rise to meet emergencies; that “necessity is the mother of invention” and the cause of inventors. But according to Mr. George, these emergencies and necessities are all hindrances, and that in their absence “discoverers, inventors and organizers” would be as plenty as blackberries.

But is it not in order, to ask, how the all-dominating law which compels men to gratify their wants with the least exertion, would operate in a world from which all want and even the fear of want were banished. With no wants, and their passions left, (if such a state be not an obvious absurdity,) would there not be plots and counterplots, with no end of back-biting and hair-pulling? And would not the proverb yet remain, that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do”?

But let us return to the pages where Mr. George lifts up his voice en prophète, and see how things “would be” with man transformed by “Land and Liberty,” and a banditti for depositaries of the confiscated rents.

He cannot

— “without too much elaboration … notice all the changes which would be wrought, or would become possible, by a change which would re-adjust the very foundations of society.”

That looks like a pretty large job; still Mr. George shrinks from it only because it would be “too much elaboration.” However, we are to have “some of the main features” of the “good time coming” upon the inauguration of the Georgian era, and the consequent “cessation of want.”

We epitomize:

  1. Great simplicity in government.—From three-fourths to seven-eighths of the public business would be “dispensed with.”
  2. A great strain would be taken off the administration of justice—there being no lawsuits on account of land.
  3. The “growth of morality” and especially the abolition of laws for the collection of debts, and enforcement of private contracts, would diminish civil business in the courts.
  4. The rise of wages would soon purge society of the thieves, swindlers and other classes of criminals who spring from the unequal distribution of wealth; on the supposition, we suppose, that when all have all they want no one will want to steal from his neighbor; that is to say, speaking phrenologically, the “propensity to steal” will go out when the millennium comes in.
  5. “Policemen, detectives, prisons and penitentiaries” “would cease to make such a drain upon the vital force and attention of society.”
  6. “We should get rid, not only of many judges, clerks, and prison-keepers, but of the great host of lawyers who are now maintained at the expense of producers” [and who “lade men with burdens grevious to be borne, but touch not themselves with one of their fingers.”]
  7. All the departments of government would “be vastly simplified;” no public debts; no standing armies; no tax on labor; “growth of intelligence and independence among the masses,” and realization of “the dream of socialism.”
  8. Government could take care of the telegraph as well as of the mails; build and run the railroads, and the common roads, too, “without danger or strain, under the supervision of public attention.”
  9. There would be great and increasing surplus revenue “for material progress “—[and the delectation of the banditti?]
  10. There would be “public baths, museums, libraries, gardens, lecture rooms, music and dancing-halls, theatres, universities, technical schools, shooting-galleries, [what for?] playgrounds, gymnasiums, etc. Heat, light and motive power, as well as water, [milk, honey and lager beer?] might be conducted through our streets at public expense; our roads be lined with fruit trees; discoverers and inventors rewarded, scientific investigations supported; and in a thousand ways the public revenues made to foster efforts for the public benefit.”
  11. “We should reach the ideal of the socialist, but not through governmental repression.”
  12. “Government would change its character, and would become the administration of a great cooperative society. It would become merely the agency by which common property was administered for the public benefit”

“Does this seem impracticable? Consider for a moment the vast changes that would be wrought by a change which would assure to labor its full reward; which would banish want and the fear of want; and give to the humblest freedom to develop in natural symmetry.”

As Mr. George nowhere propounds a theory or posits a “fundamental principle” which he does not himself retract, refute or contradict, so, in this instance, the whole drift and tenor of his book are proof of the utter impracticability and absolute fatuity of this school-girl dream which, with an inconceivable obtuseness to the flagrant inconsistency, he has sandwiched in between the law of least exertion (selfishness) and a people so hopelessly debased and corrupt, that it cannot be aroused to a sense of even the need of reform, and is waiting only “for the ploughshares of fate to bury it out of sight.”

After painting the devil about as black as printers’ ink can make him, Mr. George has the effrontery to ask us to appoint his sable majesty receiver of the confiscated real estate of this nation, and to expect him to set up Mr. George’s Utopia on the site of it.

Mr. George is leading some very unsophisticated people up into an exceeding high mountain, and when they get their eyes open and look well about them, as they are surely ordained to do, we much misjudge their temper—the temper of the rank and file of his following—if Mr. George be not one of the first to hear something drop.

Over against this fancy sketch of Mr. George’s let us set the following, from the writer, Mr. Bunce, already cited, in The Popular Science Monthly, (Feb., 1887,) who has both the nature of man and the history of all the past to attest the wisdom of his words. Evidently referring to the passages we have last quoted from Mr. George’s book, Mr. Bunce says:

“The good that is pictured is a dream, whereas the evil would be immeasurable; when we had finally settled down to the new conditions we should contemplate some such picture as this: All the farm-lands in the country in a condition of shameful neglect, and their productiveness seriously decreased; State tenants going from farm to farm, cultivating the fields solely for their immediate yield, neither planting orchards, nor fertilizing, nor keeping in repair fences or drains. The ambition to improve would be paralyzed, and the desire to keep up the productiveness of the acres to a standard would no longer exist. As soon as one piece of land would be exhausted, the tenant would move to another. Every motive for careful cultivation and preservation would be replaced by motives for immediate profit. These conditions would follow any form of national ownership; but if George’s tax of rental value were strictly enforced, there would be no inducement, as I have elsewhere shown in this article, to work the land at all. In towns or cities, or where land is used for commercial purposes, we should see rent paid just as it is now, but to the State instead of to individuals. The only difference would be, that all taxes would fall on land; houses, bonds, mortgages, stocks, personal effects would be untaxed; that is to say, the greater part of most rich men’s possessions would be unburdened, but rent would remain just as it is now, and enter into the price of commodities just as it does now. As the scheme is to tax up to the rental value, this rental value would be what competition and demand made it Favorable situations would be bid for and go to the highest bidder, and consequently the poor would be pressed to the wall as much then as now.[1]

“Nor is this all. Under such an enormous enlargement of the powers of Government, jobbery and corruption would have a field for its operation such as the most sanguine Tweed never dreamed of. Our politicians would have all the corner lots, all the choice situations. And then, if the rents should prove to be in magnitude what Mr. George supposes, think of the funds that would lie in the State treasuries as tempting reserves for schemes and devices of speculators and law-makers!”[2]

Mr. George delights in saying startling things. He seems to be struggling with a painful sense of the necessity of being original, impressive and striking—not to say sensational. It seems as if he sometimes thought that seeing things differently from other men—the “great thinkers,” for example—is the same as seeing farther than other men. At one time we are told that exertion goes so against the grain of human nature, that the most important, as well as the most trivial, calculations of human action must be based on the law that men will make everything bend to the saving of effort in the gratification of desire And then we are told that labor is not repugnant to man, that men even perform work for its own sake. (P. 420.) But “there is no such thing as the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure.” (P. 419.)

If work be performed for its own sake, because it is not a task, but a pleasure, it is hard to see why it is not done for the pleasure of it, a pleasure pursued for the sake of the pleasure, especially as it is not pursued to ” get more to eat, or drink, or wear, or for display.”

Mr. George thinks it no more than right that men should gather, have, hold and enjoy of this world’s goods in proportion to their industry and skill or intelligence; a concession fatal to his idea of equality of distribution, and indicative of individual differences in capacity; though he thinks it vulgar and absurd to suppose that differences in civilization are due to differences in race capacity. (Pp. 430 and 440.) On page 439, he says that it is

— “an obvious truth that the obstacles which finally bring progress to a halt are raised by the course of progress; that what has destroyed all previous civilizations has been the conditions produced by the growth of civilization itself.”

What does history indicate those conditions to have been, but “banished want” and the banished “fear of want” and the ensuing ease, luxury and relaxation which emasculate a people? They rose by the hardships which invigorate and develop. The wants and difficulties which challenge effort, compel exertion and make men stout, robust, hardy and brave, once removed, exertion flags, the law of least exertion asserts itself, effeminacy follows; and degeneration, decay and death of men and of nations ends the strange eventful history.

From which one might infer that the luxuries of life are the leeches of it; that the diffusion of wealth is the spread of death—slow but sure; that the longevity of a people is measured by the period during which it can recruit itself from the hardy elements below. When abundance “banishes want and the fear of want” from this source of recuperation, nothing remains but for luxury and the “law of least exertion” and the ploughshares of fate to finish their work.

Mr. George does not attach great importance to “the influence of heredity.” It is “as nothing compared with the influences which mould man after he comes into the world.”

“What is more ingrained in habit than language, which becomes not merely an automatic trick of the muscles, but the medium of thought? What persists longer, or will quicker show nationality? Yet we are not born with a predisposition to any language.” (P. 440.)

How does Mr. George know that? Why not be born with a predisposition ”to any language” as well as with a predisposition to lie or steal, or to scrofula or consumption? Is there any subject upon which Mr. George is too diffident to speak oracularly? Has he sounded the depths of metaphysics, too, and found “the law” of the relation of mind and matter? It would not surprise us. We may hope much from the sage who can trace the “law of interest” to an “everlasting flux.”

Have not habits, some of them, at least, their foundation in inherited tendencies? And do they not exhibit themselves before any post-natal mouldings can take effect?[3] If the articulation of one language require a different set of nerves and muscles, from another, it is plain that there might be a tendency to an inherited predominance of those special nerves and muscles. And the same would be the case where only a different mode of the same sets of nerves and muscles were required. We have the authority of a late professor in one of our Western colleges for the fact that an orphaned “cockney” infant, brought up by him, as soon as it began to speak, made the same havoc with the h’s that its parents did, though it had never heard a word so spoken by either of them—or any other person. We have read, too, that it is also a fact that the puppies of dogs which “point” and “set” from training only, point and set instinctively, showing, if it be true, that a faculty acquired from education, by the progenitor, is inherited, at least in tendency, by the offspring. The captured Indian baby, brought up in civilized society, grown up, takes to the woods as instinctively as a hen-hatched duck takes to the water, and

  • “like the fox;
    Who, ne’er so tame, so cherish’d and lock’d up,
    Will have a wild trick of his ancestors.”

Mr. George says: (p. 443:)

“I once knew a gentleman in whose veins ran the blood of Indian chiefs. He used to tell me traditions learned from his grandfather, which illustrated what is difficult for a white man to comprehend—the Indian habit of thought, the intense but patient blood-thirst of the trail, and the fortitude of the stake. From the way in which he dwelt on these, I have no doubt that under certain circumstances, highly educated, civilized man that he was, he would have shown traits which would have been looked upon as due to his Indian blood; but which in reality would have been sufficiently explained by the broodings of his imagination upon the deeds of his ancestors.”

But what prompted the “broodings of his imagination” and whence the “Indian habit of thought”? Were the “traditions of his ancestors” the cause of them or only the occasion of them? We should say that they simply ministered to a mind forecast for them, to an already hungering and blood-thirsty soul. The paleface who hears or reads the same traditions, is not infected with the Indian thirst for the trail and blood, any more than do all boys who read the “Pirates’ Own Book” want to be pirates. We think there are quite as many who shudder and abhor, as who admire and seek to emulate these blood-stained heroes. Mr. George “can cite Scripture for his purpose.” Why not recall to mind here the parable of the seed and the sower—the good and the stony ground? He refers to facts (p. 444) which are conclusive evidence of the doctrine he denies, and then evades their force by a denial of that which no one affirms, though as to the h’s one might safely do so. He says:

“But these differences are certainly not innate. No body is born a Methodist or a Catholic, to drop its h’s or to sound them.”

But he does not, and probably would not, deny the innateness of a tendency to be a Methodist or a Catholic. The courage that is equal to an attempt to hoodwink his readers by a trick of words, is not quite equal to so bold a denial as that. And yet he does not fall far short of it when he says:

“All these differences which distinguish different groups are derived from association in these circles.”

Mr. George might as well have said that all the differences in complexion; that black and blue eyes, white, black and copper-colored skins; the leanness of Cassius and the fatness of Daniel Lambert, are “all derived from association” in different circles; that the negro’s skull is twice as thick as the Caucasian’s, because he has kept twice as bad company. He says:

“You cannot fatten a man whose mind is on the strain by cooping him up and feeding him as you would a pig.” (P. 445)

Why not, if you “coop him up” in the right “circles,” and subject him to the proper “associations”?[4]

“All our physical parts we bring with us into the world; but the mind develops afterward.” (P. 446.)

Does Mr. George wish us to understand, that we bring with us into the world no mind because it develops afterward? Or does the mind even develop afterward any more than the hair, teeth and other “physical parts”? The plain implication is, that we do not bring our minds with us into the world, but only our physical parts. Only six lines away, however, we find the contrary implication, that we do bring our mind with us, but in a comatose state, to “awake to consciousness” afterward.

“There is a stage in the growth of every organism in which it cannot be told, except by the environment [environs?], whether the animal that is to be will be a fish or reptile, monkey or man.” (P. 446.)

Or whether, of these two eggs, one will be a goose and the other a crocodile—except “by the environment”! And the inference is (this or nothing) that by an opportune change of the environs of the undistinguishable “organisms,” the goose-egg may be developed into a crocodile, the tadpole into a turtle-dove, the fish into a boa-constrictor and the monkey into a man. For the innate tendency “is as nothing compared with the influences which mould the man after he comes into the world.” (P. 440.) As the boy-murderer, Pomeroy, for example.

“There is a stage in the growth of every organism in which it cannot be told, except by the environment, whether the animal that is to be will be fish or reptile, monkey or man. And so [mark this ‘and so’] with the new-born infant; whether the mind that is yet to awake to consciousness and power is to be English or German, American or Chinese—the mind of a civilized man or the mind of a savage—depends entirely upon the social environment in which he is placed.” (P. 446.)

“Entirely!”—This might be so in the case of a swap of environs (not “environment”) with an infant Bacon and an infant Aztec, or Australian or Fejee, but it does not work that way with the duck’s egg in the hen’s nest. Here environs do not count. Here lies the water; good: here stands the duck; good: Old mother hen flutters in vain; will she; nill she—the duck goes to the water; “mark you that” Yes, “upon instinct; I grant the instinct” against which environs protest in vain.

“Just as one social environment persists, so does it render it difficult or impossible for those subject to it to accept another.” (P. 448.) “That they [the Chinese in California] do not change in other respects is due to the Chinese environment that still persists and surrounds them.” (P. 448.)

But what, if not some inherent quality, causes the persistence? How came the “Chinese environment” there? They did not find it there when they came. Then they must have brought it with them and set it up for themselves.

But, perhaps, we have been too rash in taking our author at his word, and may yet find that right there where he appears the most express and most assured, he seems the least to mean what he says. There is, indeed, now and then, something of the abnormal energy of a spasm in his dogmatism, which, in the ensuing reaction, lies as limp and flaccid as a saturated dish-clout.

On page 440 he says:

“The differences between communities in different stages of civilization cannot be ascribed to innate differences in the individuals who compose those communities. That there are natural differences is true, and that there is such a thing as hereditary transmission of peculiarities is undoubtedly true; but the great differences between men in different states of society cannot be explained in this way. The influence of heredity, which it is now the fashion to rate so highly, is as nothing compared with the influences which mould the man after he comes into the world.”

And on page 445:

“Within certain limits (or, if you choose, without limits in itself), hereditary transmission may develop or alter qualities, but this is much more true of the physical than of the mental part of man, and much more true of animals than it is even of the physical part of man.”

And on page 446:

“And so with the new-born infant, whether the mind that is yet to awake to consciousness and power is to be English or German, American or Chinese—the mind of a civilized man or the mind of a savage—depends entirely on the social environment in which it is placed.”

And on page 447:

“The Jews have maintained the purity of their blood more scrupulously and for a longer time than any of the European races, yet I am inclined to think that the only characteristic that can be attributed to this is that of physiognomy.”

Now, all this is clear, precise, rather emphatic and somewhat sweeping; so much so that one feels not a little taken aback when he finds it all “flatting out” into meaning only that “human character is profoundly modified by its conditions and surroundings”; or that “there is a common standard and natural symmetry of mind, as there is of body, towards which all deviations tend to return.” Yet so it is; and the “turn back” is no less violent than the dash ahead. Witness the following:

“I do not mean to say that all men possess the same capacities or are mentally alike, any more than I mean to say that they are physically alike. Among all the countless millions who have come and gone on the earth, there were probably never two who either physically or mentally were exact counterparts. Nor yet do I mean to say that there are not as clearly marked race differences in mind as there are clearly marked race differences in body. I do not deny the influence of heredity in transmitting peculiarities of mind in the same way and to possibly the same degree, as bodily peculiarities are transmitted. But nevertheless, there is, it seems to me, a common standard and natural symmetry of mind, as there is of body, towards which all deviations tend to return.” (P. 452.)

As evidence and example of this tendency of all deviations to return to a common standard, he cites the case of the Flathead babies which, he says, “continue to be born with naturally shaped heads, and Chinese babies with naturally shaped feet;” but he does not show, that this reverting tendency to overcome a mere mechanical displacement, is ever strong enough to wipe out national characteristics, to convert the head of a Flathead Indian into a Caucasian type, or to erase any of all the grades of difference that stand between extreme idiocy and the most exalted genius. And when he says: (p. 453:) “A child does not anymore inherit his father’s knowledge than he inherits his father’s glass eye or artificial leg,” (or, he might have said, “any more than the Flathead Indian inherits the boards and thongs that flattened the heads of his progenitors;”) he does not furnish any argument against the doctrine of hereditary transmission of faculties and affectional tendencies, (“propensities”) and, hence, leaves us quite in the dark as to his object in making the statement at all. For, he is careful not to deny, that the child inherits a brain that is the better for his father’s knowledge and discipline. And again, when he says: “The child of the most ignorant parents may become a pioneer or a leader in thought,” (p. 453,) he deals a heavy blow at his doctrine, that innate qualities are as nothing compared with post-natal influences. (P. 440.) As a rule, the condition, environs, of “ignorant parents,” (p. 441,) is such as to tell rather heavily against the development of their offspring. And the multitude of the great men of the world who have overmastered their outward conditions of birth, goes to show that innate qualities make short work of environs when they once get at them.

Still, Mr. George does not make much account of these innate differences as qualifying agencies in the constitution of society. They have little or nothing to do with differences of civilization; (p. 453;) between the savage and civilized man, these differences are not the result of differences which inhere in the individuals, but of differences which inhere in society; not from differences in the units—-the elements—but from “differences in the conditions under which these units are brought in the society.” (P. 453.) As the first Chinese into California, for example!

But may we not ask, under what conditions these units could be brought into society such as they constitute for themselves? Is society a compound endowed with properties not supplied by its constituents? Since it is not such a compound, and since the woof and warp of the web it weaves” are the individual members who compose its texture—the entire fabric—Mr. George’s figurative language about it, however pert or poetic, is quite aside from the language and purpose of science.

This whole chapter upon the “Difference in Civilization” is puerile and trifling to the e of being nothing less than an insult to any reader of average intelligence and reasoning faculty. Of the many absurd and weak things in the book, this chapter is the weakest and most absurd. And yet Mr. George seems to think it essential to the validity and completeness  of his argument against the existing order of things— or rather to the vindication of his cure for the evils of it. That is to say, the keystone of his system is this George-inflated and George-punctured bag of wind. You have only to “confiscate rent” to transform the Caribs, Hottentots, Digger Indians, Fejees and Flatheads; the Robert Kids, Tweeds and Guiteaus of the world into Shakespeares, Miltons, Newtons, Howards, Wilberforces, Luthers, Humboldts, Franklins, &c, “world without end.”


[1] Mr. Bunce forgets that there are to be no “poor” in Mr. George’s kingdom—that poverty is to be abolished and “want and the fear of want” unknown.

[2] Again Mr. Bunce seems to forget, that the “thieves,” “swindlers,” “lawyers,” “and other classes of criminals,” are all eliminated from Mr. George’s land of milk and honey. And the hocus-pocus that is to transform this seething mass of corruption into an assembly of saints, or of just men made perfect, is “association in equality.”

[3] Would it be wholly without scientific warrant to presume pre-natal vocal adjustments adapted to the articulation of French, English or German syllables, according to the language of the progenitors? Would Mr. George say that it was the fault of the nurse or “schoolmarm” only, that the Ephraimites could not pronounce the shibboleth of the Gileadites?

[4] But, perhaps, Mr. George has a sly mental reservation as to the difficulty of “cooping up” a man whose “mind is on the strain.”

Continued: Equality and Progress