Permanent World Peace is a Long Distance Off

Charles O'Connor Hennessy

[An address delivered at the Henry George Congress, Chicago, 10 September 1928.
Reprinted from Land and Freedom, Vol. XXVIII, No.5; September-October 1928]

MR. HENNESSY said in part:

Philosophy has been defined as critical and reflective thinking, and I submit that the promulgation of this Treaty as "a great step towards universal peace" sufficiently demonstrates the absence of critical and reflective thinking.

To me the dawn of the era of permanent world peace seems to be a long distance off, and the impressive event that came off in Paris the other day I would rate at best only as a gesture. At best it may be cited as a significant evidence that the political leaders of the nations have been moved by a rising tide of world opinion to at least a qualified pledge to put an end to the horrors of war and to the burdens which the wars of the past and preparations for wars of the future have laid upon the backs of the workers of the world. We may even believe that even unaccompanied as it is by a single act that would give it the spirit of reality, the Briand-Kellogg Treaty is still to be commended for the good it may do in strengthening the popular psychology that is everywhere tending away from war.

Behind all the noise and rhetoric and self-deception in which the world may indulge itself over this Treaty, the fact remains that War and the preparations for War still remain the greatest industry of the largest of the so-called civilized nations. In Europe alone, nine years after the war to end war, the countries that signed this Pact are raising, by taxation, and spending about two and a quarter billion dollars annually to maintain the organization of wholesale human destruction.

To say or think that we can banish war from the world by mere denunciation or renunciation without an understanding of and a disposition to remove the fundamental causes of war, is foolishness and futility. While I do not say or believe that there was hypocrisy or insincerity fn the spirit moving those who signed the Anti-War Pact in Paris the other day, I find it hard to believe that some, at least, of the statesmen who negotiated this Treaty, are not aware of the fact that the causes of war are economic in their character, and that until nations are ready to face the realities and deal with the economic dislocations and iniquities which are at the bottom of the wars between nations, there will never be assurance of permanent world peace. Not even disarmament, which so many good people are striving for, will bring peace to the world, so long as we leave untouched the causes of poverty among peoples and those encouragements and rewards to greed and selfishness which breed the fears, the hatreds, and the jealousies between peoples, that keep alive the spirit of War.

Have we forgotten the great Economic Conference of the League of Nations at Geneva last year, at which the representatives of fifty-one countries were called together to find the causes of war and industrial depression? Reviewing the proceedings of the Conference, which lasted some weeks, the President, Mr. Theunis, of Belgium, declared, in effect, that they had uncovered the fundamental source of Europe's economic misfortunes. The main obstacles to economic revival were revealed in the hindrances set up by governments to oppose the free flow of labor, capital and goods.

Where, for example, there had been twenty-one tariff barriers before the Great War, there are now twenty-eight. So Mr. Theunis concluded:

"The main trouble now is neither in any material short- age of the resources of Nature nor any inadequacy in man's power to exploit them. It is all in one form or another a maladjustment; not an insufficient productive capacity, but a series of impediments to the full utilization of that capacity."

No statesman in the world has disputed the accuracy of this official diagnosis made by the International Economic Conference.

The followers of Henry George were not absent from that historic Economic Conference, for a committee was there representing the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade, who presented a classic memorial to the Conference dealing clearly and logically with the interdependence of the economic causes of war and industrial depression. That splendid statement of economic truth is now, I am happy to say, circulating in ten European languages. I read the concluding paragraph of it:

"But beneficial as would be the establishment of Free Trade across national frontiers, it would not suffice to effect any permanent elevation of the economic status of the ordinary citizen in any country so long as the evils of land monopoly and the destructive internal taxation that now restricts the employment both of capital and of labor remain untouched.

"Both of these evils would disappear if governments could be led, upon the recommendation of this Economic Conference, to adopt the policy here advocated. The levy of taxes upon the economic value of all land apart from improvements would on the one hand immensely stimulate industry by forcing land into use, and, on the other hand, would provide a constantly growing source of public revenue, leading ultimately to the abrogation of the taxes and imposts of various kinds that in every country so grievously oppress and hamper the free employment of capital and labor."

And it was the followers of Henry George speaking through their International Union at the great conference at Copenhagen two years ago who pointed unerringly to the course that nations must be led to adopt before world peace can be secured. This is what was said at that conference:

"We believe that free commerce between the peoples of the earth would be the greatest civilizing influence that the world could know. As it would mean the free exchange of goods for goods, of services for services, it would serve increasingly to promote those friendly human contacts and understandings that lead to an ultimate appreciation of the essential kinship of all mankind. Untaxed and unrestricted trade would put an end to the isolation or the self-sufficiency of any nation. It would in time bring into being a league of peoples more potent for peace than any league of political Governments could be. It would build the straight road to disarmament of nations by first disarming the minds of their peoples of the fears, suspicions and antipathies that now naturally grow out of the selfish national policies that seek to benefit one people by inflicting injury upon another.

"Finally we propose to end the curse of war, with all its barbarities and brutalities, and its grievous burdens upon the backs of the workers of the world by leading nations to recognize and remove the true causes of international contention and strife. These have their roots not alone in hostile tariffs and the struggle for markets, but in the economic imperialism which exploits the natural resources of distinct and undeveloped lands for the enrichment of favored groups of capitalists at home."

In closing let me remind you that the followers of Henry George, citizen of the world, lover of humanity, champion of economic freedom and social justice, are to gather again next year in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, in Scotland. The members from many lands of our International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade are then to assemble to fittingly celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Progress and Poverty, that wonderful book from which true statesmanship might today learn a way of life for the nations a way that leads to enduring peace and prosperity for all the world.