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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Land Nationalization. — To the Editor

Land Nationalization.

To the Editor.

Sir,—In your issue of April 5, Mr. Ewington briefly acknowledged my letter of the 4th, headed, as was his article it criticised, "National Progress;" and on the 28th he recurs to the subject, In this letter he does not criticise, as I had hoped he would have done, the ten propositions which I laid before him but pins me down to my expressed belief in Henry George's hook, and by a series of quotations there from seeks to impress your readers with the unjust and therefore dangerous nature of the proposals contained in them. There is a pleasure in answering Mr. Ewington, because he deals with principles instead of using personalities. Although he believes that it would be "robbery and spoliation" to carry out Henry George's remedy either suddenly or gradually, he does not therefore say that their author and his followers are "robbers" or "confiscatory" but generously concludes that they are "sincere" and "honourable," although sadly mistaken. All the same I submit that the use of such depreciatory epithets, although not personal, is inappropriate in a discussion of economic principles. They are calculated to catch the superficial rather than the profound thoughts of general readers; they are used in order to excite their prejudice, so that they may decline even to consider the question.

In referring to myself, Mr. Ewington says, "He believes he is right, just as Saul of Tarsus, when persecuting, believed he was right," I like the com- page 6 pany in which he places me—anyone is complimented by being likened to that eminent man; but I am afraid that the parallel, otherwise, hardly holds good. Saul, at the time alluded to, was one of the orthodox school, and he violently persecuted the followers of the great reformer who had propounded new and startling doctrines. I venture to think, therefore, that the true significance of the illustration points to Mr. Ewington as the persecuting (mildly, I admit,) Saul, and to myself as the follower of a modern reformer hailing from America, who assails the sacredness of property in tand. Taking then this view of the case, I look forward with hope, and beg to remind Mr. Ewington that in due time new light pervaded the mind of Saul, and that then, with the exceptional courage of the man, he did not hesitate to spread broadcast the views which he once denounced, But a natural suspicion was felt by his former victims, as to the genuineness of his change of opinion, until one of their number brought him forward, introduced him to them, and vouched for his sincerity, "History repeats itself;" and I cannot help believing that a further and more thorough study of Henry George's doctrines will convince Mr Ewington of their truth and justice, When that time comes, I promise to act as his sponsor in asking for him entry to, and setting him right with, the incredulous amongst the advanced wing of land reformers.

Now as to our fighting preliminaries. Mr. Ewington criticised me, and I sent him a challenge. He has accepted battle, but claims to choose his own ground; he declines to fight me on my own confession of faith, but elects to pin me to the words of the author whose writings I uphold. Very well; I don't complain, but will take up the gage as he throws it down, Just before doing so, however, let me make a remark about my ten propositions. To my thinking, of course, they are very difficult to answer; but from Mr. Ewington's point of view they should be easily refuted, He has only to dispose of the first and second, and the other eight, being consequential, would disappear with them. The first asserts, in effect, that land cannot be properly or justly classed with the products of man's labour; the second asserts that such productions should remain the property of the producer, If these propositions are not sound, our whole fabric falls.

But now to business, and on Mr. Ewington's own lines. He quotes a lot from Henry George's writings; and without comparing them with the originals, I will accept the whole, and say Amen, But let me ask, "Is this ail that Henry George writes?" "Of course not," say you; "what a preposterous question to ask!" "Well then," I ask again, "does it give an all round idia of what he wishes to teach?" I don't think Mr Ewington will say "Yes," because he must know otherwise. The fact is that the extracts quoted from "Progress and Poverty" give the baldest and the bluntest of the statements contained in only one half of that work. These extracts have, even in their own portion of the book, a context of well-arranged, clearly worded, and fairly argued matter. But don't begin to chuckle: I am not going to back down, to explain them away, or apologise for them; quite the contrary. Have patience while I explain what 1 am driving at.

Henry George is no fool, and Mr. Ewington acquits him of being a knave. Henry George knows as well as any doctor, that if there is no disease he need not prescribe a remedy; he knows also that if there are symptoms of disease, he must not only find out its nature before attempting any treatment, but that his chance of success will be greatly increased if, in addition to ascertaining its nature, he can also discover its predisposing cause or causes. Like a wise man, therefore, he acts upon this knowledge, and first of all devotes 210 pages, page 7 the larger hall of the work, to a consideration of the disease, its symptoms and its causes; in the remaining 190 pages he propounds the remedy, and explains its justice, its practicability, and its probable effects. "Just so," say you; "but he may be a mere dreamer—all astray in his facts, his observations, and his inferences." That is quite possible, and shows where criticism might be useful, But would it not be a strange thing for a physician, who might be called in for consultation by a doctor, to smell the physic, to fed the edge of the lance, or to look at the probe which had been used, and forthwith to denounce such remedies as uncalled-for, to turn on his heel, and go without enquiring the patient's symptoms, his habits of life, the conditions of his residence, or possibly what accident might have befallen him Yet this is Mr Ewington's mode of procedure, as I will now show. His earltest quotation is from page 233, while Henry George begins to profound the "remedy" at page an. Not one word is placed before your readers from the page, in which Henry George diagnoses the disease. Now I submit that we might fairly expect a fuller and more rational treatment of so important a subject from one who has written and said so much in public as Mr. Ewington has done, Why does he so entirely ignore the foundation upon which Henry George bases his remedy? This is not a candid way of dealing with any subject.

It appears to me that Mr. Ewington is impaled on one or other horn of a dilemma. Either he disbelieves in Henry George's diagnosis of the disease, or else he believes it to be correctly stated, If he disbelieves it, then I invite him to change his mode of attack, and try to discredit the whole basis of the book contained in the first 210 pages. If he can do that, the "remedy" must go by the board; and such attacks as he and others launch against it will be for the future entirely superfluous. But if he believes in it, or has even a suspicion that Henry George is right, I implore him to publish to the world the true "remedy," if he thinks he can suggest it He can hardly claim that anything contained in his articles so far goes more than skin deep.

I am deeply in earnest, and do not speak banteringly. It seems to me that it would be a cheap purchase on the part of the rich, did they surrender half their wealth, if it could only bring to them the knowledge that there were none of their fellows who wanted for necessaries, for leisure, for culture, or for a reasonable assurance that a willingness to work would secure for them and for their children a remunerative field for their industry.

Do not imagine that I have pointed out the unfairness of the partial character of Mr. Ewington's criticism for the mere sake of gaining a controversial advantage over him. Did I not go farther than I have here done, it might fairly be asked whether I believed there was anything really lost in this case by his method; whether there was actually any perceptible loss to the true appreciation of Henry George's views involved in ignoring the larger and precedent half of his argument, My answer would be that I do most decidedly think so.

I would point out that the second, third, and fourth chapters of book iv. deal with the effect upon the distribution of wealth caused by (1). increase pi population, (2) improvements in the arts, (3) the expectation raised by material progress. These chapters bristle with points and arguments which invite criticism. Chapter ii., especially from page 166 to the end, is a masterly exposition of the growth of land values, and the resulting effect upon the distribution of wealth caused by the growth of population upon what had been waste land.

Again, although Mr. Ewington has quoted from the second half of the work, he omits all notice of such a passage, occurring at the beginning of the page 8 Second chapter of book vii., as that which follows:—" If chattel slavery be unjust, then is private property in land unjust. . . . Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them, In the one case, as the other, the one will be the absolute master of the ninety-nine—his power extending even to life and death, for simply to refuse them permission to live upon the island would be to force them into the sea."

Again, chapter i. of book vii., page 236. forcibly contends for the right of a man—first, to himself; secondly, to the use of his own powers; and thirdly, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions. Who, I ask, will deny these claims?

Henry George then argues as follows on page 238:—"The right to the produce of labour cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free use of the opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of property in these is to deny the right of property in the produce of labour. When non-producers can claim as rent a portion of the wealth created by producers, the right of the producers to the fruits of their labour is to that extent denied."

I cannot but believe that this "right," and should like to see Mr Ewington's argument to the contrary, if he includes this in his condemnation of the proposed "remedy," which he considers to be "very wrong indeed."

But this letter, although it does not touch all the points, is already a long orne, and I would therefore ask your indulgence to give me space for another before Mr. Ewington replies.

I am, etc.,

Edward Withy.