A Modern Economic Scientist's
Appraisal of Henry George
Edward C. Harwood
[Reprinted from the Henry George News,
In order to appraise any man justly, his life and work must be seen
against the background of his times and with the perspective gained
from an understanding of the broad and deep historical trends.
Several hundred years ago western civilization consisted of many vast
feudal estates, innumerable peasant holdings of small farms, uncounted
villages and towns, and a few cities, small by today's standards. For
the most part, men lived as their fathers and grandfathers before them
had lived; folk lore and superstition were generally considered the
intellectual keys to understanding, and scientific knowledge as we
think of it today was almost unheard of.
Intellectual freedom opened the doors to the new frontiers of
science. As a result, technological progress arose like a giant from
sleep to aid the wealth-producing activities of men. Here in America
circumstances were most propitious for a civilization based on the
idea of freedom. The results we are familiar with; but the magnitude
of them is sometimes overlooked, because to us they have become
Freedom found acceptance in parts of Europe also. Major social
changes marked its advent, and great material progress was one result.
However, in much of that area the great revolution never was so
successful as it was in the United States. Apparently in only two
countries of Europe, Denmark and Switzerland, has the great revolution
maintained its gains or progressed in recent decades. In fact, during
Henry George's maturer years, retrogression was becoming evident in
much of Europe.
Even here in the United States, complete freedom was not reached.
Conditions here differed greatly in many respects from those in the
Old World; but we now realize that various laws and customs carried
over from the Old World had the effect of denying freedom, at least in
some degree, to many of the people of our own nation.
So striking did the increasing maldistribution of wealth become that
many men abandoned the battle for freedom and turned back, thus the
counterrevolution within western civilization was born. For the past
hundred years the counterrevolution has been gaining strength. Its
basic ideas were developed earlier by the utopian Socialists and were
organized as counter-revolutionary doctrine by Karl Marx and his
followers in the three decades just prior to the first publication of
Henry George's book Progress and Poverty. Those ideas of the
early Socialists are the roots from which modern communism, socialism,
Fascism, the New Deal, and the Welfare State all have grown, but in
Henry George's day few men had the vision to see that socialism was
the counterrevolution within western civilization.
Such was the world as Henry George found it. The broad and deep
historical trend toward freedom for the individual man of our
civilization must have seemed like a great tidal wave that was
beginning to lose its strength and forward momentum. Confidently
expected benefits for the common man had not materialized or, where
they had materialized in part, were also accompanied by degrading
influences such as those in the slums of growing cities that seemed
destined to crush all the manliness from men.
Under such circumstances freedom itself seemed more a curse than a
boon to much of mankind. The counterrevolution with its roots in
utopian socialism was but a natural reaction for innumerable men of
good will and limited intellectual capacity.
Henry George, the Scholar
Realizing that the knowledge he could gain from observing what was
going on before his eyes was inadequate for the purposes of scientific
generalization, Henry George became a scholar determined to examine
all of the pertinent factual reports by contemporaries and
predecessors and all of the theories espoused in the textbooks of his
and earlier days. His success in this seemingly superhuman undertaking
is attested to by Francis Neilson in the comment.
"No matter how often I return
to the book Progress and Poverty, I am more and more
impressed with the fact that George reveals . . . a thoroughness of
review which covers all the known works of the chief economists who
wrote in English in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Moreover, Progress and Poverty shows a familiarity with
studies that lie on the fringe of the science of political economy
If there is a scholar familiar with the English language who is
better qualified than Francis Neilson thus to appraise Henry George, I
do not know of him. Nor have I ever seen a criticism of George's work
that could be considered even in a slight degree a refutation of this
Henry George, the Scientist
Only in recent decades have the methods of science been subject to
painstaking study by men seeking to understand what those methods have
in common and how they can be applied successfully in all fields where
knowledge is sought. Of the many who have inquired into this program
whose work we have studied, one seems to have stood head and shoulders
above his contemporaries and his predecessors. This man is John Dewey.
The small brochure entitled "An Appreciation of Henry George,"
published by Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, makes clear his views
Thus we see that the appraisal of Henry George as a social scientist
is fully as favorable as the appraisal of him as a scholar. Considered
separately, these are remarkable tributes to his genius; but
considered together, they are even more remarkable.
Francis Neilson is a scholar of the liberal arts and sciences in the
classical tradition. But like others educated in that school, certain
of his comments evidence something less than full appreciation of John
Dewey's work. Similarly, John Dewey seemed to find difficulty in both
understanding and being understood by even the most eminent scholars
such as Francis Neil-son. Surely for any one man to have gained the
unstinted admiration of both these men in their respective fields,
wherein their keen intellects spent fruitful lifetimes, is a most
remarkable achievement indeed.
Henry George's Great Contribution
Most of the scientific geniuses who have1 gained world renown have
made more than one important contribution and many lesser ones to the
accumulating fund of knowledge. Nevertheless, in nearly every
instance, the names of particular men are associated with particular
landmarks that trace the course of the scientific advance. Their other
contributions usually lead to or followed from their major
In Henry George's work we also find one major achievement that in the
centuries ahead seems destined to be accepted as his major
contribution to knowledge in the general field of economics. The
attention of Henry George's enthusiastic followers has been
concentrated on his proposed remedy for social ills and on his logical
exposition of the relations between rent, wages, and interest. With
reference to these particular aspects of his work, however, Henry
George must be credited not with discovery but with clarification.
In Book X of
Progress and Poverty we find what we at the Institute have
come to regard as his great discovery, his unique and original
contribution to knowledge of man in society. This section of his work
develops what he has called "The Law of Human Progress." It
is here that we find the most striking evidence of genius, of the
scholar and social scientist as Francis Neilson and John Dewey
To me it seems evident that both Francis Neilson and John Dewey were
correct in their appraisals. Henry George's work is both scholarly and
scientific. The importance of his principal "discovery,"
which he chose to call "the law of human progress," can
hardly be overestimated. I do not see how any society that fails to
understand and apply the principle of freedom can hope to flourish.
His work has stood the test of time and has demonstrated that it has
little to fear from its enemies. Thus far, even the cleverest who have
attacked it have but made themselves ridiculous. My personal belief is
that only the misguided efforts of his friends can much longer delay
the recognition for which his work is destined.
The land question once again is coming to the fore. All over the
world, the necessity for land reform is being recognized. Moreover,
there seems to be increasing appreciation of the fact that the
counterrevolution means retrogression, that communism and Fascism are
the logical and inevitable end results for those who follow that
one-way street. Surely the time is coming when, unless western
civilization is to perish, there will be a rebirth of freedom, an
increasing realization that progress toward the goals of the great
revolution must be resumed. When that day comes, we can rest assured
that Henry George will be accorded the recognition that is his due.
 From Francis Neilson's Henry
George the Scholar, reprinted in "Modern Man and the Liberal
Arts," Robert Shalkenbach Foundation, New York, 1947.