Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Distributive Justice"?, XIX: Henry George and the Catholic Church

In 1886, agrarian socialist Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty (1879), ran for mayor of New York City on the socialist United Labor Party ticket.  Father Edward McGlynn, a priest of the New York Archdiocese, strongly supported George’s candidacy.

McGlynn’s endorsement was combined with George’s known sympathies with Catholicism — within limits.  George’s wife was Catholic, and he raised his children in that faith.  This made him very popular with many of the New York Irish.

This did not, however, stop George from making what have become the standard accusations against the Catholic Church when it suited his needs.  He declared, for example, that, “The Catholic Church has been used to bolster the power of tyrants and to keep the masses quiet under social injustice.”  (“Their Church Insulted: Prominent Catholics Express Their Opinion of Henry George,” letters to the editor from Eugene Kelly and P. M. Haverty, New York Times, January 11, 1887.)

McGlynn continued to campaign for George after Vatican authorities ordered him to desist.  (“A Summons from Rome: Dr. M’Glynn to Answer for Political Activity,” New York Times, December 10, 1886.)  Eventually McGlynn would be excommunicated (not, it is important to note, for heresy, but for disobedience), although reinstated after an equivocal recantation through third parties.  He then continued his activities in support of George as if he had never been censured . . . arguing that he had never really apologized for his outrageous behavior, and the lifting of the ban was, in reality, an acknowledgement that his views were not heretical. That McGlynn was thereby calling himself a liar doesn't seem to have occurred to him.

George’s thesis was that, while people can be permitted to “own” land and natural resources, title to land is, in his opinion, a meaningless concept.  This is because in George’s theory the State (the community or the collective) has the right to take to itself all income — the usufruct or fruits of ownership — resulting from land ownership, regardless who holds nominal title.

Thus, instead of taking over nominal ownership directly, the State would exercise effective ownership indirectly by means of the “single tax.”  The “single tax” consisted of all profits from land ownership.  As George explained his proposal,

“What I, therefore, propose, as the simple yet sovereign remedy, which will raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry civilization to yet nobler heights, is — to appropriate rent by taxation.

“In this way the State may become the universal landlord without calling herself so, and without assuming a single new function.  In form, the ownership of land would remain just as now.  No owner of land need be dispossessed, and no restriction need be placed upon the amount of land any one could hold.  For, rent being taken by the State in taxes, land, no matter in whose name it stood, or in what parcels it was held, would be really common property, and every member of the community would participate in the advantages of its ownership.”  (Henry George, Progress and Poverty, 406.)

As Louis Kelso would point out decades later, “Property in everyday life, is the right of control.” (Louis O. Kelso, “Karl Marx: The Almost Capitalist,” American Bar Association Journal, March 1956.)  By taking away control and enjoyment of the fruits of ownership through the tax system, George’s proposal would abolish private property in land by making title meaningless.

George’s theory transformed the meaning of the universal destination of all goods from universal individual exercise of the right to property, to collective title. It thereby changed the right to property, that is, the right inherent in every human being to own, from the right to acquire title, to the actual grant of title itself.

The meaning of “generic” in “generic right of dominion” was in this manner changed from “of, applicable to, or referring to all the members of a genus, class, group, or kind,” to “of, applicable to, or referring to the genus, class, group, or kind as a whole, i.e., the collective.”  The change in the definition of “generic” abolished private property as effectively as direct confiscation by the State.

Both populists and socialists flocked to George’s banner.  Clinching matters (at least as far as many New York Irish Catholics were concerned) was the fact that George received an endorsement from Michael Davitt of the Irish National Land League.  Charles Stewart Parnell opposed George’s program because he, Parnell, was against nationalization of land.  This caused a split in the League, weakening it at a critical time.

The defection of the Irish from the Democratic Party, on whose support the party had always been able to rely, naturally worried Tammany Hall.  Boss Tweed had been sent to prison, and the party leadership was working hard to clean house, especially in light of the challenge from the reforming Progressive Republican candidate, Theodore Roosevelt.  Tammany Hall asked the New York Archdiocese for the official Catholic Church opinion as to the orthodoxy of George’s proposal.

They got an earful.  Despite McGlynn’s activities and strong support from working class Catholics, as well as George’s own sympathies with the Catholic Church, his proposal was still socialism, and condemned.  Father Thomas Scott Preston, Vicar-General of New York and Protonotary Apostolic, was quite clear that (as Pius XI would remind Catholics less than half a century later) “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.)

As Preston explained, “The various theories embraced under the general name of communism or socialism are, in the opinion of the Catholic Church, not only contrary to the law of God, but destructive of the best interests of society.”  (Rev. Thomas S. Preston,  “Socialism and the Church,” The Forum, Vol. V, No. 2, April 1888.)  Preston analyzed George’s proposal at great length, giving reasons and supporting argument explaining the Catholic Church’s position.

Preston explained that the difference between socialism and communism is only a matter of degree, not of kind.  As private property in land or anything else is a natural right inhering in each person, the State is a thief when it takes over what belongs to private citizens, regardless of the justification, except for the highest good and on offering just compensation.  Preston then reminded Catholics that “we can never do wrong in order that good may come.” (Ibid.) He cited socialism as the example of wrongdoing with which he was concerned:

“The socialism which has been advanced in this country, of late, as a panacea for human ills, denies that there is, or can be, any private property in land.  We quote the exact words of Mr. Henry George: ‘We must make land common property. . . . If private property in land is just, then the remedy I propose is a false one; if, on the contrary, private property in land be unjust, then is the remedy the true one.’

“The whole theory advanced by this gentleman is contained in this proposition, and without it all he has written and argued goes for nothing.  On it he stands or falls. In his opinion land can never be appropriated by any individual, no matter what the State or the community may do to sanction it. According to him, property in land is robbery.  “Although the whole people of the earth were to unite, they could no more sell title to land against the next generation than they could sell that generation.” (Ibid.)

Thus, as Preston observed, George’s theory “is contrary to the constitution of all civilized nations, and would destroy the present order of society.  Secondly, it is contrary to the law of God and the teaching of the Catholic Church.”  (Ibid.)  Preston closed by reminding Catholics, “If the supreme tribunal of the Church has already condemned the main proposition of [George’s] theory, that condemnation alone is sufficient for sincere Catholics.”  (Ibid.)

While the explanation of the true Catholic position on George’s theories managed to salvage the election for the Democrats (for all the good it did them), George came in a close second to the reforming Democratic candidate, Abram Stevens Hewitt, while Roosevelt finished a distant third.  Unfortunately, Hewitt, while of unquestioned honesty and integrity, was not the right person to put the Democratic Party in New York back on the straight and narrow.  In the judgment of some authorities, the level of corruption soon exceeded anything seen under Boss Tweed.

Catholic support for George’s proposal, especially in light of the growing economic disenfranchisement of ordinary people through the loss of capital ownership, continued to grow.  This was helped not a little by the enthusiastic support of McGlynn, who directed all his efforts to support georgism.  This was in spite of unequivocal warnings from the New York Archdiocese and even the Vatican itself.

It was clear that something would have to be done.

That “something” was Rerum Novarum.



Dan Sullivan said...

Wow! What a lot of spin!

Labeling the United Labor Party as "socialist" is spin, and ignores the both the fact that the ULP ejected the socialists and that George himself was attacked by socialists and critical of socialism.

"To attempt to apply that kind of cooperation which requires direction from without to the work proper for that kind of cooperation which requires direction from within, is like asking the carpenter who can build a chicken-house to build a chicken also.

"This is the fatal defect of all forms of socialism - the reason of the fact, which all observation shows, that any attempt to carry conscious regulation and direction beyond the narrow sphere of social life in which it is necessary, inevitably works injury, hindering even what it is intended to help."

- Henry George, The Science of Political Economy, Book 3, Chapter 10, "The Production of Wealth"

Indeed, it is this reactionary red-baiting of George that got McGlynn defrocked in the first place. He was never excommunicated as the article wrongly states, nor was there "equivocal recantation." Rather, a hearing held by Archbiship Gibbons on behalf of the Council of American Bishops exhonerated him of false charges, and a well published open letter to Pope Leo XII by Henry George, called The Condition of Labor laid a lot of the nonsense in this article to rest. Indeed, there was no recantation from McGlynn nor his supporters, nor any strictures against McGlynn's right to continue preaching the Georgist message. That is, he was exonerated because that message was found to be not socialist.

George did not propose to take ownership of land, period. As the article correctly states, the essence of ownership is control, and George was roundly attacked by actual socialists for leaving control with the title holder.

In advocating land value tax as the only tax, George was saying the same thing as John Locke, Adam Smith, the French "laissez faire" phsiocrats Turgot and Quesney (who coined the term "single tax," and many others who were clearly not socialists.

Famed libertarian Albert Jay Nock wrote of him,

"The only reformer abroad in the world in my time who interested me in the least was Henry George, because his project did not contemplate prescription, but, on the contrary, would reduce it almost to zero. He was the only one of the lot who believed in freedom, or (as far as I could see) had any approximation to an intelligent idea of what freedom is, and of the economic prerequisites to attaining it.... One is immensely tickled to see how things are coming out nowadays with reference to his doctrine, for George was in fact the best friend the capitalist ever had. He built up the most complete and absolutely impregnable defense of the rights of capital that was ever constructed, and if the capitalists of his day had had sense enough to dig in behind it, their successors would not now be squirming under the merciless exactions which collectivism is laying on them, and which George would have no scruples whatever about describing as sheer highwaymanry."

- "Thoughts on Utopia"

Those who want a more balanced and much better informed Catholic perspective on this should look at the presentation by Maria Mazzenga, outreach librarian for Catholic University of America.

Michael D. Greaney said...

The ULP ejected the socialists and disavowed George AFTER George lost the election and George insulted William O'Brien of the Irish National Land League for refusing to tie the cause of Irish nationalism to George's cause. (“Mr. O’Brien Commended: All But the George People Say He Did Well,” The New York Times, June 7, 1887.)

This was when the ULP adopted the following resolution:

“Whereas, an attempt has been made by the Socialists of this city to force themselves and their theories upon the Hon. William O’Brien and the Irish Land League, regardless of the injury that would result to the cause advocated by the League;

“Resolved. That we, the Union Labor Party, representing the American law-abiding people, repudiate this attempt to drag Communism and atheism into American politics. We regret that good and honest men should be misled by such men into a movement that attacks all religions, all law, and all the habits, customs, and institutions of our people.” (Ibid.)

George was a socialist. Socialism is defined as the abolition of private property. Property in all codes of law is control and enjoyment of the fruits — the income. George's analysis made title irrelevant by allowing people to retain nominal title, but turning over all control to the State. Thus, whatever anyone may call him, George was a socialist, period. To call him anything else is to misunderstand private property, freedom, and the whole of the natural law completely.

George said exactly the opposite of what Smith and the others were saying; George was currency school, they were banking school. George's analysis makes the fundamental error of all socialists, shifting the source of rights from human nature, to the State. Taxation is NOT an exercise of property on the part of the State. That the State is the ultimate owner of everything was the contention of totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and through him to Walter Bagehot and John Maynard Keynes. Taxation is, rather, a grant from the citizens. As Leo XIII pointed out in direct refutation of George's proposal:

"If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life. These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man's means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair." (Rerum Novarum, § 47.)

Michael D. Greaney said...

To try and make the case that George was not a socialist because he would "only" turn over effective ownership of all land to the State (the "universal landlord") is to engage in mindless word games, and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the subject. As Leo XIII stated in refutation of George's separation of land from other owned possessions,

"it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels. Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life." (Rerum Novarum, § 5.)

Alexandra Wagner Lough said...

@Greanley, what exactly do you mean by this statement: "George's analysis makes the fundamental error of all socialists, shifting the source of rights from human nature, to the State."

Are you suggesting that private property in land is based in "human nature?"

If so, history would most certainly prove you mistaken.

Also, it should be noted that Marx, Laurence Gronlund, H.M.Hyndman, and most of the other prominent "socialists" of George's era all opposed his ideas. The British socialists split with George well before the 1887 election.

If you were to define a capitalist as someone who believes in competition, a free market exchange of goods and services, and free trade, then George was a capitalist.

"Socialism," like "capitalism" is a fluid term. History has not recognized one firm definition of either.

Alexandra Wagner Lough said...
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Alexandra Wagner Lough said...
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Michael D. Greaney said...

I'm not sure who "Greanley" is, or why you feel the need to repeat yourself, but I'll answer your questions, anyway.

1. The right to own land — or anything else — is part of human nature itself. The rights of life, liberty, and property are "inalienable," and cannot justly be taken away by any agency. The exercise of these rights is a different issue, and is socially determined, but the underlying right itself is built into human nature from the moment of creation. "History" does not prove me mistaken. The FACTS prove me right.

2. It is irrelevant whether or not the British socialists or any others split with George. It does not make him any less a socialist.

3. I do not define "capitalism" as anything other than concentrated private ownership of capital. Socialism is concentrated State ownership of capital. Socialism has been described as "State capitalism." It is the concentration of ownership/control that is the evil, not whether it is publicly or privately concentrated. By making the State effective owner of all land, even without title, George's proposal would give the State enormous power, making it the master rather than the servant.

4. It is irrelevant how "History" defines anything in this context. The definitions I am using were given earlier in this series (had you bothered to read them), and in many other postings, as well as the CESJ website. As Chesterton pointed out, you can always prove someone else wrong on your principles. The hard part is proving him wrong on his principles.

The presumed "fluidity" of definition is one of the deadliest traps of moral relativism. It violates the first principle of reason, as I made clear earlier in this series. By constantly changing definitions and making every presumed absolute "fluid," you commit was Aquinas called "mental suicide," and Chesterton called "the assassination of Thomism."

By abandoning the natural law based on human nature and discerned by reason, and replacing it with your faith in "History" or anything else, you ultimately deny reality itself, and, as Heinrich Rommen pointed out, descend into nihilism.

Alexandra Wagner Lough said...

@Greaney, I apologize for the mis-spelling of your name and for posting my comment 3 times. I am new to this posting on blogs thing and obviously did not mean to re-post my comment.

I have just one observation to make and then I will leave the forum to allow for the comments of others.

It's ironic that both you and Henry George share an absolute belief in the notion of natural rights.

Michael D. Greaney said...

On the contrary —

George's concept of natural rights is that they are a grant from God after creation. This makes them alienable by whoever has the power to do so, in his case, the State. They are not part of human nature.

George's view comes into direct conflict with my understanding of natural rights, which I share with the Founding Fathers as expressed in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, that they are part of human nature itself, not a grant after creation, and therefore inalienable — or (if you insist) "absolute."

George's belief may be "absolute," but what he believed ends up being moral relativism. He therefore believed absolutely that there were no absolutes — a contradiction in terms, just as the absolute statement that something cannot be defined absolutely contradicts itself.

Dan Sullivan said...

There are those whose views are so extremely right-wing or left-wing that anyone who disagrees with them is a socialist or a capitalist. Such polarized views lead to people asserting things that are unsupported by the evidence. [I will note in passing that you never corrected your false statement that McGlynn had been excommunicated, but I would rather move forward.]

Let us start with the most obvious:

"George said exactly the opposite of what [Adam] Smith and the others were saying."

As "the others" are not named, I assume you mean the others I had named, John Locke and the French (laissez faire) Physiocrats. I will start with Smith, whom you had named explicitly. Note that we are talking about the land question here, so the differences you note on money and banking are largely beside the point. Here, then is Smith on land:

"Rent, considered as the price paid for the use of land, is naturally the highest which the tenant can afford to pay in the actual circumstances of the land....

"The rent of land, therefore, considered as the price paid for the use of the land, is naturally a monopoly price. It is not at all proportioned to what the landlord may have laid out upon the improvement of the land, or to what he can afford to take; but to what the farmer can afford to give."

- Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter 11, "The Rent of Land," paragraphs 1, 5

"I shall conclude this very long chapter with observing that every improvement in the circumstances of the society tends either directly or indirectly to raise the real rent of land, to increase the real wealth of the landlord, his power of purchasing the labour, or the produce of the labour of other people.

- ibid, paragraph 255

"Both ground-rents and the ordinary rent of land are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Though a part of this revenue should be taken from him in order to defray the expences of the state, no discouragement will thereby be given to any sort of industry. The annual produce of the land and labour of the society, the real wealth and revenue of the great body of the people, might be the same after such a tax as before. Ground-rents and the ordinary rent of land are, therefore, perhaps, the species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.

"Ground-rents seem, in this respect, a more proper subject of peculiar taxation than even the ordinary rent of land. The ordinary rent of land is, in many cases, owing partly at least to the attention and good management of the landlord. A very heavy tax might discourage too, much this attention and good management. Ground-rents, so far as they exceed the ordinary rent of land, are altogether owing to the good government of the sovereign, which, by protecting the industry either of the whole people, or of the inhabitants of some particular place, enables them to pay so much more than its real value for the ground which they build their houses upon; or to make to its owner so much more than compensation for the loss which he might sustain by this use of it. Nothing can be more reasonable than that a fund which owes its existence to the good government of the state should be taxed peculiarly, or should contribute something more than the greater part of other funds, towards the support of that government."

- ibid, paragraph

Dan Sullivan said...

Moving on to Locke, the whole point of the Lockean Proviso was that land could be privately held without compensation by the landholder only as long as there is "enough and as good left to others," not just at the time of appropriation, but as long as the right of appropriation is to continue:

"Sec. 34. God gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniencies of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational, (and labour was to be his title to it;) not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious. He that had as good left for his improvement, as was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another's labour: if he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another's pains, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on, and whereof there was as good left, as that alreadypossessed, and more than he knew what to do with, or his industry could reach to." [emphasis added]

Locke notes that one could no longer to this in England without depriving others, and that government rightly interceded.

More to the point, Locke also advocated that all taxes be placed on the value of land:

"It is in vain, in a country whose great fund is land, to hope to lay the public charge of the government on any thing else; there at last it will terminate. The merchant (do what you can) will not bear it, the labourer cannot, and therefore the landholder must; and whether he were best to do it, by laying it directly where it will at last settle, or by letting it come to him by the sinking of his rents, which when they are once fallen, every one knows are not easily raised again, let him consider.

"Struggle and contrive as you will, lay your taxes as you please, the traders will shift it off from their own gain; the merchants will bear the least part of it, and grow poor last. In Holland itself, where trade is so loaded, who, I pray, grows richest, the landholder, or the trader?"

- John Locke, "Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest, and Raising the Value of Money

Finally, the term "Single Tax" was not coined by George, but by the French Physiocrats, particularly Quesney, who proposed that all taxes be placed on land, and Turgot, who sought to implement that policy, only to be rebuffed by the landed aristocracy.

However, what is more important than your factual errors is your logical error of assuming that anyone wanting to put the tax burden on land or otherwise limit the "sanctity of property" in land is a socialist. If that logic holds, then not only were Locke, Smith and the Physiocrats socialists, but so were Moses, Aristotle, William Penn, Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, William Blackstone, William Cobbett, William Godwin, Winston Churchill, William Lloyd Garrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Mark Twain, Robert G. Ingersoll, Theodore Hertzka, Freeman founder and author of Our Enemy, the State Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov, LP founder David Nolan, LP News founder Karl Hess, LP educational policy director John Taylor Gatto, and Nobel Laureates Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and Paul Samuelson.

Just as you declared the positions of Adam Smith to be "exactly opposite" of George's, you may make similar declarations about these people. I don't have time to cite every one of them for you, but if you would pick three whom you regard as not socialist, I will gather quotes for you as I have done with Smith and Locke.

Dan Sullivan said...

Getting back to the history, I think you are engaging in some circular reasoning. Rerum Novarum was indeed a denunciation of socialism, but it does not mention George, and does not accurately describe his proposal. More to the point, it occurred before McGlynn's defrocking. Another prominent Chestertonian, John Medaille, insists with equal fervor to yours that Rerum Novarum was not about George at all, because Medaille saw that George's proposal was not socialist.

I think the answer is in between: That Rerum was about George to the extent that Leo XIII had misapprehended George's proposals as socialistic. Yet, after the Papal See examined George's The Condition of Labor and heard the evidence of the American Catholic Tribunal, Pope Leo reinstated McGlynn to the priesthood with no sanctions against preaching Georgist doctrine. That is quite a turnaround, and does not square with the notion that he continued to regard George as a socialist.

I think your error comes from an overgeneralized definition of socialism:

"Socialism is defined as the abolition of private property. Property in all codes of law is control and enjoyment of the fruits — the income."

Socialism is the abolition of private property in capital. Many libertarians opposed property in land, in government-granted franchises, in slaves, etc., and abolitionists were subjected to the same rebukes, in the same language, as you are using to rebuke George.

Hence, you beg the question of whether land is property in the same sense as capital or in the same sense as slaves. We already see from the Adam Smith quote that the owner of land commands the fruits of other people's labor, which is the economic essence of slavery.

However, custom creates blind spots and prejudices, as Mark Twain illustrated in Huckleberry Finn.

"Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn't sell them, they'd get an Ab'litionist to go and steal them.

"It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn't ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, 'Give a nigger an inch and he'll take an ell.' Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children - children that belonged to a man I didn't even know; a man that hadn't ever done me no harm.

"I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him."

Dan Sullivan said...

Chapter 16

You also misapprehend George's proposal when you say, " Property in all codes of law is control and enjoyment of the fruits — the income. George's analysis made title irrelevant by allowing people to retain nominal title, but turning over all control to the State."

That is simply untrue, and George was bitterly attacked by socialists for insisting that control remain with the title holder. Also, "income" is different from "rent." Income is what one derives from applying his labors to the land, and the "fruits" that are so vital to libertarians are the fruits of one's labor. As Smith already noted above, it is the landlords who collect the fruits of the tenants' labor, violating the very principle upon which you are hanging your argument.

The right of access to land is not a collective right, as socialists assert, but a common right. It is violated when government decides who may have access to land and on what terms, but it is also violated when a subset of the population monopolize land they are not using.

I make this clear in my essay, "Common Rights vs. Collective Rights," which quotes George, Locke and Spencer on this critical distinction.

I hope you will examine this document.

Dan Sullivan said...

As to George's Moral Relativism vs. what the Founders believed, I wish you would quote George and give some evidence. Here is a quote to the contrary:

"DO what we may, we can accomplish nothing real and lasting until we secure to all the first of those equal and unalienable rights with which, as our Declaration of Independence has it, man is endowed by his Creator -- the equal and unalienable right to the use and benefit of natural opportunities.

"There are people who are always trying to find some mean between right and wrong - people who, if they were to see a man about to be unjustly beheaded, might insist that the proper thing to do would be to chop off his feet."

Social Problems, Chapter 19, "The First Great Reform"

I also don't know which founders you are referring to. Certainly not Penn, Franklin, Jefferson or Paine.

Michael D. Greaney said...

Mr. Sullivan:

George's position on "rent" was that the nominal owner had no right to receive it. Smith and Locke's position was that the owner has a natural right to the income from what he owns. These two positions are 180 degrees from one another.

You might want to review how George redefined the natural law to change the "common" right to property into a "common" grant of title — two different things.

As to McGlynn, you are mistaken. He was excommunicated in July of 1887. Rerum Novarum was issued in 1891.

You are simply playing word games with the definition of "socialism." Land is a form of capital; abolishing private property in land by whatever means is socialism.

Your understanding of property is also flawed. As Locke said, "What property have I in that which another may take when he pleases to himself?" When the State takes all profit from land ownership, regardless who owns nominal title, the State is exercising control, and is the real owner — as George himself clearly stated.

Your distinction between "common" and "collective" is another instance of word games at the expense of truth.

Your "Prominent Chestertonian," Mr. John Médaille, is not a credible source. He has made a series of statements that clearly contradict established fact, and accusations that he refuses either to prove or retract. You can find some of them in the "Response to Shakespeare" in the upper right of this blog.

The whole issue here turns on one's view of the natural law, just as I went to some pains to point out in the opening postings of this series. With Aristotle and Aquinas, I base my understanding of the natural law on God's Nature, self-realized in His Intellect, and therefore discernible by the force of natural reason alone.

Further, natural rights are not a grant AFTER creation, but are an inherent — inalienable — part of human nature itself from the moment of creation. You cannot take life, liberty, or property away, nor the enjoyment of them, without violating human dignity. By separating title from enjoyment of the fruits of ownership, George effectively destroyed private property in land. You can play all the word games you like, and heap all the abuse you like, but you cannot change what George clearly stated in his own words:

“What I, therefore, propose, as the simple yet sovereign remedy, which will raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry civilization to yet nobler heights, is — to appropriate rent by taxation.

“In this way the State may become the universal landlord without calling herself so, and without assuming a single new function. In form, the ownership of land would remain just as now. No owner of land need be dispossessed, and no restriction need be placed upon the amount of land any one could hold. For, rent being taken by the State in taxes, land, no matter in whose name it stood, or in what parcels it was held, would be really common property, and every member of the community would participate in the advantages of its ownership.” (Henry George, Progress and Poverty, 406.)

Dan Sullivan said...

"George's position on 'rent' was that the nominal owner had no right to receive it. Smith and Locke's position was that the owner has a natural right to the income from what he owns. These two positions are 180 degrees from one another."

Rent and income are two different things. Smith, Locke and George all proposed taxing the value of land, and they all opposed taxing income. You will never find Smith or Locke saying that the landlord has a natural right to land rent itself.

"You are simply playing word games with the definition of "socialism." Land is a form of capital; abolishing private property in land by whatever means is socialism."

Ironically, it was Marx who conflated land with capital. To Locke, Smith and the classical liberals, land, labor and capital were distinct factors of production. The quotes I included previously were unequivocal. Locke and Smith not only advocated taxing the value of land, but stressed the point.

Marx's convoluted definition of capital was extended to include all privileges as if they were capital, and thereby attack capital is if it were privilege. Reactionary opposition to Marx has lead people adopt his redefinition and to defend privilege as if it were capital. Thus, what capital means today is not what it meant when Smith wrote.

"Your understanding of property is also flawed. As Locke said, 'What property have I in that which another may take when he pleases to himself?""

Your understanding of the proposal (and of Locke) is flawed. Again, he explicitly advocated taxing the value of land and opposed taxing anything else. Taxing the value of land is not the state taking as it pleases, but is a quid pro quo for holding land out of the commons.

It is also you who bought into the Marxist conflation of common rights with collective rights. This was deliberate, because everyone at the time recognized common rights.

"They hang the man and flog the woman
Who steal the goose from off the Common
But let the greater robber loose,
Who stole the common from the goose."

- English folk rhyme

"Further, natural rights are not a grant AFTER creation, but are an inherent — inalienable — part of human nature itself from the moment of creation."

Right, and an inalienable right is common to all, not just to some. Jefferson and Paine were unequivocal about this. Jefferson:

"Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to the higher portions or [landed] property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right . The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not, the fundamental right to labor the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment, but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent . But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state. [Emphasis added]

- "Property and Natural Right," letter To James Madison, Fontainebleau, Oct. 28, 1785

Your quoting of George out of context, and your failure to apprehend that rent is *not* the fruits of the landholder's labor, but is a toll levied on the inalienable rights of others, leads you into all sorts of errors in reading Locke, Smith, Jefferson and Paine, and paints everyone I listed earlier as socialists.

Michael D. Greaney said...

Mr. Sullivan:

Bologna. You are making up your "facts" as you go along, and changing definitions and tailoring interpretations to suit yourself. You ignore clear statements of established fact and twist things the way you want them to go. All of this violates the first principle of reason, as was explained in the early postings in this series.

Dan Sullivan said...

I made up nothing, and I changed no definitions. I cited quotes for all of my assertions, directly from the people whose positions are in dispute. All of those quotes are available in context, and I gave the links.

It is you who told us what Jefferson meant in his Declaration of Independence, and I quoted Jefferson directly.

It is you who declared that George was a socialist, and I who cited the great icons of libertarianism saying that he was not. (I did not yet cite Marx calling George "Captialism's last ditch.)

Milton Friedman called land value tax "The ideal tax" in an interview given to the president of the conservative National Taxpayers' Union. That is not me twisting anything, but is a simple fact.

Dan Sullivan said...

"Leo XIII, who has just released Rerum Novarum, which is influenced both by the Knights of Labor and Henry George's work, says, 'I want you to go and reconcile McGlynn with the Church.

"He releases an emmisary; the emissary says to McGlynn, 'Okay, say that you're for Rerum Novarum, outline your theories, and let's see if we can fix all this."

"McGlynn writes out his theories. The delgate who came to see him says, 'You know what? THERE'S NOTHING SOCIALIST ABOUT THIS. YOU'RE REINSTATED." So McGlynn is reinstated in the church in 1892, and he embraces Rerum Novarum."

- Maria Mazzenga, educational outreach librarian, Catholic University of Ameria

Mazzenga also noted that before the reinstatement, McGlynn was simply ignoring the excommunication and continuing to preach the same message as before.

There is actually no conflict between Rerum Novarum and Georgism, as George Makes clear in The Condition of Labor, An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII."

George was always a very religious man, and the son of an Episcopal deacon. He made his argument from scriptural teaching all along, and did so in his "open letter" in a way that was persuasive to the Church itself.

As you have chosen to supplant your own opinions for the ultimate findings of the church and to distort these findings by alleging some kind of false recantation that McGlynn had no interest in making, you are in a poor position to accuse others of distortion.

George's own denunciation of socialism in his open letter to Pope Leo was not a departure in any way from his writings from the beginning. Perhaps you should read it. It is 167 pages, but the back third of the book is a reprint Rerum Novarum itself.

It is extremely rare for a Pope to reverse himself, but as he did so, you might consider doing the same.

Michael D. Greaney said...

Mr. Sullivan:

Congratulations. If you are right, the Catholic Church is wrong. This may be fine and dandy for non-Catholics, but it is an article of faith in the Catholic Church that a de fide statement cannot be changed by any agency whatsoever — even God . . . and Henry George is not a god.

You might find Franz H. Mueller's analysis of George and McGlynn in "The Church and the Social Question" absolutely fascinating.

The obvious conclusion a rational person draws from your comments is that you believe that substantial truth can change, and infallible teachings of the Catholic Church are not so infallible after all.

As for Henry George not being a socialist? Try reading "Progress and Poverty." He speaks explicitly of abolishing private property in land. Both Karl Marx and Leo XIII specified that the abolition of private property is the chief tenet of socialism. As for George's 30,000-word "open letter," all he did was restate his own position to "prove" (by mere assertion) that he was right, and the pope was wrong.

Dan Sullivan said...

I am only saying that you are wrong, not that the Church is wrong. It was the Church itself that reversed its sanctions against McGlynn, so there is no question of whether the Church had been wrong, but only of whether the imposition of sanctions or the repeal of sanctions had been wrong.

Also, you are wrong about Papal infalliblity, which only applies to rare edicts issued from the throne of St. Peter. Rarem Novarum was not such an edict. So, the question is not whether Pope Leo was infallible, but whether you are.

You are wrong in your understanding of socialism, of Locke, Smith, Jefferson, and of Papal infallibility, but most of all in your understanding of George, who had merely set up a system whereby land can be held on egalitarian terms. George did not contemplate collective ownership in any way, shape or form.

We can add your misunderstanding of the Bible to that, for scripture simply does not support absolute and unlimited property in land.

"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the country you possess, you shall grant a redemption of the land."

- Leviticus 25: 23-4

"Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land."

- Isaiah 5:8

"They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

"They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands."

- Isaiah 65:21-22

George was clear that his measure was opposed to collectivization of land.

"Now, the rights of men to the use of land are not joint rights: they are equal rights.

"Were there only one man on earth, he would have a right to the use of the whole earth or any part of the earth.

"When there is more than one man on earth, the right to the use of land that any one of them would have, were he alone, is not abrogated: it is only limited. The right of each to the use of land is still a direct, original right, which he holds of himself, and not by the gift or consent of the others; but it has become limited by the similar rights of the others, and is therefore an equal right. His right to use the earth still continues; but it has become, by reason of this limitation, not an absolute right to use any part of the earth, but (1) an absolute right to use any part of the earth as to which his use does not conflict with the equal rights of others (i.e., which no one else wants to use at the same time), and (2) a coequal right to the use of any part of the earth which he and others may want to use at the same time.

"It is, thus, only where two or more men want to use the same land at the same time that equal rights to the use of land come in conflict, and the adjustment of society becomes necessary.

"If we keep this idea of equal rights in mind - the idea, namely, that the rights are the first thing, and the equality merely their limitation - we shall have no difficulty."

- A Perplexed Philosopher, Chapter 4, "Mr. Spencer's Confusion as to Rights."

Michael D. Greaney said...

Mr. Sullivan:

Your case seems to be built on the assumption that ownership in common, and collective ownership are somehow different. With your creative re-editing of the dictionary, it is evident that you are never going to be at a loss for words; even facts do not deter your tsunami of verbiage.

As for the presumed compatibility of George's thought with Catholic social teaching, that seems to be a minority opinion even among supporters of George. I refer you to Mason Gaffney's paper, “Henry George, Dr. Edward McGlynn, and Pope Leo XIII,” A Paper Delivered to International Conference on Henry George, November 1, 1997, at Cooper-Union, New York, revised November 22, 1997, http://homepage.ntlworld.com/janusg/coe/Rerum.htm.

Since you are determined to have the last word in this, despite whatever verifiable facts have been presented for your enlightenment, I invite you to start your own blog where you can disassociate yourself completely from reality, and make up facts and definitions to your heart's content.

Dan Sullivan said...

This from G. K. Chesterton, "The Collapse of Socialism," which he wrote in the Georgist Publication, *Everyman*:


I said, and say again, the workmen cannot get justice from their employers, and therefore Individualism is dead. But I also said, and I say again, that they cannot get justice from the State, and therefore Socialism is dead.... That government intervention has not granted one jot of the Labour demands, but has strictly respected the monopolies of the capitalists. The holy state *has* stepped in, and the poor are rather poorer, the rich (if anyting) rather richer than before. It is quite true that until very lately the Railway Men's Union would probably have voted for an abstract resolution in favour of the nationalisation of railways. So should I, for that matter....

There is no State. there is a despotic, or a democratic, or a patriarchal State, as the case may be. Ours is a plutocratic State, and will always intervene on the plutocratic side. The ony way to make the State democratic is to make it cease to be plutocratic: till then, a politician will merely mean a plutocrat. Therefore we must get property better divided *before*, and not after, we give greater powers to Government. There are only two ways of doing this: one is civil war; the other is specializing everywhere in encouraging the sale of land, etc., from big men to small. My critic is quite right in saying that even before then there will be a margin of mercantile and urban people; there is in all Peasant States. But wherever the peasant is the primary thing, the others tend to independence also, and organize themselves into guilds. And a guild only means a Trades Union which has gained that "recognition" which the State stamped on, when our railway men asked for it last year.

Therefore I repeat my thesis with rather increased conviction. Democracy detests both the Social States-man and the Individual Capitalist - because they are both the same man.



Bryan Kavanagh said...

All I see here is an attempt to justify the Church flying in the face of "The land shall not be sold for ever, for you are merely passing strangers". Of course, title continues to confer exclusive possession if the rent of land is paid, but title can never deliver 'ownership' as applies to what is really private property: one's body and one's wages without deduction therefrom, as the worker is entitled to his hire. [Except, that is, in terms of the Middle English derivation of the word "owner"- owe(n)er: he who owes the rent.]

Michael D. Greaney said...

Actually, all you see here is an attempt to correct Henry George's fundamental error: that the collective, an abstraction, has rights that actual human beings do not have. George's analysis makes collective man greater than God, which — as might be expected — is unacceptable to traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thought. That is why, in my opinion, George and Father McGlynn claimed to be promoting a "New Christianity," just as the modernists, socialists, and New Agers do.