From: Henry George versus Henry George


Labor, capital and land are the economical factors of social life and progress. They are not antagonistic elements, but cooperative and interdependent We find nothing in Mr. George’s book to shake our conviction that, not to the abolition, but to the regulation of ownership, must we look for the cure of any evil that springs from poverty.[1] Yet precisely as human power is limited, so is honest ownership limited. And honest ownership means property honestly obtained. All true title-deeds are derived from labor. The sword confers no rights, though it may rightly maintain them. The laborer owns the produce of his toil. To withhold it is to withhold his right. But the product of his toil may be only a share of what he digs. That is his—to consume, or save, to sell or give away, as he lists. If saved, it becomes possible capital. If used to obtain more produce, is capital, and he a capitalist; and the capitalist owns his savings as truly as the laborer owns his hands. If he use his savings to purchase land of him who has a right to sell; or if he “stakes out” the land where there is no one to dispute his right, he becomes a landlord, and owns the land. That there can be no necessary antagonism between these three elements is seen in the fact that the laborer, the landlord and the capitalist, are often all united in one person, and that by their nature they are reciprocal helps; and that their nature must remain the same, whether united in one person or represented by a thousand. The man who digs his own roots on his own ground, with his own tools, owns them all. He will never cease to dig for himself and work for another, unless he expects to be the gainer by it. For this privilege of a possible gain, he pays a stipend, a fraction of what he produces, to the capitalist, not to the landlord. The remainder is his wages. To this he has a perfect right; this is, for him, the real product of his labor. The capitalist has a perfect right to his profit; the landlord has a perfect right to his rent; each td what lie can honestly get, and no more—not a stiver. And it is the first duty of the State to see to it, that he gets this. It is the second duty of the State to see to it that he gets no more; and it is the third duty of the State to take it from him if he does get more. It is the duty of every man in the state to see to it, that it be taken from him, and restored to whom it is due. There is wrong and injustice to all the rest, till that be done. To this end are laws, courts, governments instituted. When they neglect to do that they are a failure, a fraud, a crime, and a curse, and cannot be got rid of too soon—nor too roughly. To make such a government as that, requires an honest people. Till there be an honest people, no such government is to be had. Nor will an honest people let any other kind of government stand one single hour. If the laws are unjust, the people made them so; if rascals sit in the seats of justice, the people put them there; if the Government is corrupt, the people made it so. “When scoundrels go in procession, the devil carries the cross.” If liars, thieves, swindlers, embezzlers, peculators, bribe-takers, robbers, drunkards fill your magisterial chairs and legislative halls, the people put them there; if the people of this country to-day are gathering a harvest of fraud, falsehood, wrong, injustice, vice, crime, poverty and misery, they have nobody to thank but themselves, for they are reaping just as they have sown. Until the people can get its conscience back and make some just pretention to common honesty in its daily life, all its complaints and stopping-of-the-nose at the general rottenness, is but self-reproach. Let the people make itself honest, let it show that it can as soon touch its cap to the honest hodman as to the wealthy villain; that it hates wrong and loves right, and all the rest will follow as the night the day. It is vain to try to blink the fact that the general indifference to wrong and injustice—in a word, that the blunted moral sense—the torpid conscience—of the people is responsible for the demoralized condition and consequent miseries of the people, and is the root to which the axe must be laid.

So far as this nation is in the gall of bitterness so far is it in the sink of iniquity.

The only reason why scoundrels stride the world is, because there are not honest men enough to put them down. Men seek popular homage, well knowing that the successful rascal commands it. You, patient or impatient toiler, complain of the insolent airs and assumptions of the rich; yet, it is you, and you alone, who fill their chests with gold and their hearts with pride. He tramples on you because you fawn upon him and crawl at his feet. You give to his purse the homage due to worth alone. You have pusillanimously connived at the wrong to others, that comes to you in turn. Go, purge your own hearty wash, and come into court with clean hands, and you will get a righteous judgment. This is a hard thing to do? May be; but the way of the transgressor is harder. Hard or not, it is the thing above all others that most needs be done—that must be done. Until it be done, there is no hope. If the people cannot get itself purged and purified—if it cannot cease to be a thing for Heaven to stop the nose at; it must seethe on in its own foulness till a flood from heaven, or blasts from hell, shall sweep it from the face of the earth.

“Figs do not grow upon thistles; and if the devil be at the head of a people it is simply because the people are devilish.” (Henry Bergh, Scribner’s, April, 1879.)

[1] Should we say, the cure of poverty itself? May we ever hope for that? Is not that, in the very nature and constitution of things, inevitable? Are there no pre-natal deformities as well as post-natal adversities? And is not thrift, and diligence, and every natural gift, to have its just reward? And did not He, of whom Dr. McGlynn, by open profession, and Henry George, by witness of Dr. McGlynn, are “humble followers,” speak these words: “For the poor always ye have with you”? And is there not the clearest recognition of the law of heredity in the story of His nativity? And was not the pre-natal impress of divinity mightier than the “environment” of oxen and asses and the odor of a stable? And are not tramps, and paupers born as well as poets and princes? Who is the pauper? What is “poor”? Whether it be a myth or a fact, that John Jacob Astor, with his $70,000,000, said to his whilom friend of $10,000,000, that he “was as well off as a rich man,” he might have said it consistently with his fame for practical wisdom. Not to have an unsatisfied want, or a hopeless aspiration—is not that to be rich? Est pauperis numerare pecus. Is it the purpose of the “Anti-poverty Society” to revise the law of heredity, and “change the stamp of Nature”? Is it to invent, or contrive some kind of magical cupping-glass by which to draw out of the human body all the bad blood of predestinate “cussedness” and laziness, and the law of least exertion? To relieve the distresses of poverty is one thing; to abolish it is another. And the most insurmountable obstacles to either, are two of Mr. George’s fundamental principles—the law of least exertion and the reward of merit. Until this be done, these “humble followers” will have to accept, as the inspiration of a deeper insight and a higher wisdom than theirs, these possibly-not-wholly-unwelcome words: “For the poor shall not cease out of the land.”