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We talk a lot about freedom and liberty, but do we consider what it means, and the extent to which we have it in America, much less what we might be able to ask other nations to provide for their citizens? We established a nation dedicated to freedom, and yet it took us most of a century to end chattel slavery, and we haven't yet ended poverty — mostly because few of us understand the mechanism by which people are impoverished. Read on. Henry George sorted it out. See also: the remedy

Henry George: Moses, Apostle of Freedom  (1878 speech)

Egypt was the mould of the Hebrew nation – the matrix, so to speak, in which a single family, or, at most, a small tribe grew to a people as numerous as the American people at the time of the Declaration of Independence. ...

It is not remarkable, therefore, that the ancient Hebrew institutions show in so many points the influence of Egyptian ideas and customs. What is remarkable is the dissimilarity.  ...

For "institutions make men." And when amid a people used to institutions of one kind, we see suddenly arise institutions of an opposite kind, we know that behind them must be that active, that initiative force – the "men who in the beginnings make institutions."

This is what occurs in the Exodus. The striking differences between Egyptian and Hebrew polity are not of form, but of essence. The tendency of the one is to subordination and oppression; of the other to individual freedom. Strangest of recorded births! From out of the strongest and most splendid despotism of antiquity comes the freest republic. From between the paws of the rock-hewn Sphinx rises the genius of human liberty, and the trumpets of the Exodus throb with the defiant proclamation of the rights of humanity.

Consider what Egypt was. See the grandeur of her monuments; those very monuments – that after the lapse, not of centuries but of millenniums, seem to say to us, as the Egyptian priests said to the boastful Greeks: "Ye are children!" – testify to the enslavement of the people, and are the enduring witnesses of a social organisation that rested on the masses an immovable weight. That narrow Nile valley, the cradle of the arts and sciences, the scene, perhaps, of the greatest triumphs of the human mind, is also the scene of its most abject enslavement. In the long centuries of its splendour, its lord, secure in the possession of irresistible temporal power, and securer still in the awful sanctions of a mystical religion, was as a god on earth, to cover whose poor carcass with a tomb befitting his state hundreds of thousands toiled away their lives.

For the classes who came next to him were those who enjoyed all the sensuous delights of a most luxurious civilisation, and high intellectual pleasures which the mysteries of the temple hid from vulgar profanation. But for the millions who constituted the base of the social pyramid there was but the lash to stimulate their toil, and the worship of beasts to satisfy the yearnings of the soul. From time immemorial to the present day the lot of the Egyptian peasants has been to work and to starve so that those above them might live daintily. ...

The outlines that the record gives us of the character of Moses – the brief relations that wherever the Hebrew scriptures are read have hung the chambers of the imagination with vivid pictures – are in every way consistent with this idea. What we know of the life illustrates what we know of the work. What we know of the work illumines the life.

It was not an empire such as had reached full development in Egypt, or existed in rudimentary patriarchal form in the tribes around, that Moses aimed to found. Nor was it a republic where the freedom of the citizen rested on the servitude of the helot, and the individual was sacrificed to the state.

It was a commonwealth based upon the individual – a commonwealth whose ideal it was that every man should sit under his own vine and fig tree, with none to vex him or make him afraid. It was a commonwealth:
  • in which none should be condemned to ceaseless toil; in which, for even the bond slave, there should be hope; and
  • in which, for even the beast of burden, there should be rest.
  • A commonwealth in which, in the absence of deep poverty, the many virtues that spring from personal independence should harden into a national character–
  • a commonwealth in which the family affections might knit their tendrils around each member, binding with links stronger than steel the various parts into the living whole.

It is not the protection of property, but the protection of humanity, that is the aim of the Mosaic code. Its sanctions are not directed to securing the strong in heaping up wealth as much as to preventing the weak from being crowded to the wall. At every point it interposes its barriers to the selfish greed that, if left unchecked, will surely differentiate men into landlord and serf, capitalist and working person, millionaire and tramp, ruler and ruled.

  • Its Sabbath day and Sabbath year secure, even to the lowliest, rest and leisure.
  • With the blast of the Jubilee trumpets the slave goes free, the debt that cannot be paid is cancelled, and a re-division of the land secures again to the poorest their fair share in the bounty of the common Creator.
  • The reaper must leave something for the gleaner;
  • even the ox cannot be muzzled as he treadeth out the corn.
Everywhere, in everything, the dominant idea is that of our homely phrase: "Live and let live!"  ...  read the whole speech

Henry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
... WHAT I ask you here tonight is as far as you can to join in this general movement and push on the cause. It is not a local matter, it is a worldwide matter. It is not a matter than interests merely the people of Ireland, the people of England and Scotland or of any other country in particular, but it is a matter that interests the whole world. What we are battling for is the freedom of mankind; what we are struggling for is for the abolition of that industrial slavery which as mud enslaves men as did chattel slavery. It will not take the sword to win it. There is a power far stronger than the sword and that is the power of public opinion. When the masses of men know what hurts them and how it can be cured when they know what to demand, and to make their demand heard and felt, they will have it and no power on earth can prevent them What enslaves men everywhere is ignorance and prejudice.

If we were to go to that island that we imagined, and if you were fools enough to admit that the land belonged to me, I would be your master, and you would be my slaves just as thoroughly, just as completely, as if I owned your bodies, for all I would have to do to send you out of existence would be to say to you "get off my property." That is the cause of the industrial slavery that exists all over the world, that is the cause of the low wages, that is the cause of the unemployed labor. Read the whole speech

Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy  (1889)

The interests of the people are always in freedom. (Applause.) Let the people have their natural rights; let them stand on an equal plane with regard to the opportunities of nature, and then they will have a full, fair, and free field. (Cheers.) Then if one is more active, more industrious, more enterprising than another, then in God’s name let them go ahead.

The notion of reducing everyone to one level is a preposterous notion; it is the notion of ancient Egypt, not of the 19th century. This is the watchword: freedom, freedom, always freedom. To each the fullest opportunity to develop his own powers; to all that which belongs to all – that which God above has given to all equally – that which the community, as distinguished from the individual, produces. That is the doctrine of the Single Tax. (Great applause.) ...  Read the entire article

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ

Q1. Do you regard the single tax as a panacea for all social disease?
A. When William Lloyd Garrison announced his conversion to the single tax in a letter to Henry George, he took pains to state that he did not believe it to be a panacea, and Mr. George replied : "Neither do I; but I believe that freedom is." Your question may be answered in the same way. Freedom is the panacea for social wrongs and the ills they breed, and the single tax principle is the tap-root of freedom. ... read the book

Judge Samuel Seabury: An Address delivered upon the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry George

WE are met to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry George. We meet, therefore, in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving for the great life which he devoted to the service of humanity. To very few of the children of men is it given to act the part of a great teacher who makes an outstanding contribution toward revealing the basic principles to which human society must adhere if it is to walk in the way which leads to freedom. This Henry George did, and in so doing he expressed himself with a clarity of thought and diction which has rarely been surpassed.

... Henry George's teachings involved more than the prescription of specific remedies for particular evils. The specific remedies which he proposed were means to an end. The end was the philosophy of freedom as applied to human relations. I do not say that the majority of the people of the world have given acceptance to many of his most important teachings. Indeed, in view of the world tendency since his death to aggrandize the powers of the political state and limit and subordinate the power of the people, it is self-evident that in this environment the principles of Henry George could not have won general acceptance. Had they done so, the world would have made greater progress toward the attainment of the goal of human freedom and economic contentment which is still the unrealized aspiration of humanity. ...

We must not delude ourselves with the belief that the great battle now going on between the dictatorships and the so-called democracies is merely a matter of the nominal form of government. It is not. The difference is much more fundamental. Opposing and diametrically opposite philosophies confront one another. The contest is between the philosophy of dictatorship and the philosophy of freedom. Irrespective of the name we give our form of government, or the method by which we choose its administrators, the philosophy of freedom cannot be realized unless the world recognizes the common rights of men in the resources of nature, unless it recognizes the right of every people to trade with other peoples, unless it safeguards the individual rights of life, liberty and property and unless it insures tolerance of opinion. These principles are the essential life-giving attributes of freedom: without them there can be no civilization in the sense in which that term is used by a free people. ...

The modern world is so closely knit together by reason of the new inventions which have eliminated distance and made communication easy, that a world divided against itself cannot stand.

The issue is vital to the welfare of mankind. The conclusion of the coming struggle cannot be forecast with certainty. Often before in the world's history, opposing and mutually destructive philosophies of life have clashed. One of these ways of life must prevail over the other. If the rule of despotism shall triumph by the use of modern armaments — and if it triumphs it can only be by resort to these agencies of destruction, because the rule of reason and justice is necessarily outlawed in every despotism — then the light of our civilization may be extinguished and mankind may for a long night relapse into barbarism.

But if we shall be true to the philosophy of freedom; if we shall make our democracies in fact democratic, so that they shall express and recognize the principles of freedom, no dictatorship can prevail over us or destroy our civilization, and in this age of marvelous invention, with its capacity to produce wealth in abundance, force the people of the world to adopt a lower standard of economic social life.

The most serious threat to democracy which exists is that the democracies themselves have not as yet achieved social justice for their own people. If they would achieve it, they would have nothing to fear from the dictatorship states. In this country we have approximately eleven million unemployed and are now in the tenth year of an acute economic depression. We certainly cannot claim to have achieved social justice. True, we offer many advantages over what the despotisms offer, but in any country people will submit to regimentation and political and social despotism rather than go without food and shelter. In such circumstances, ignorant of the value of the liberty they surrender, they will sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. ... read the whole speech


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper