Public Education as a Course of Social Action
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
January-February and March-April 1939]
One of the surest signs of virility in the Georgeist movement is the
criticism which constantly appears of the strategy and tactics with
which Georgeists are engaged in working for the establishment of an
ethical, democratic social order. Throughout their history, Georgeists
have never taken strategic policies and tactical efforts for granted.
Even when embarked upon them they have continued to scrutinize, study
and weigh their efficacy. It is because of this that they may claim to
merit, at least in part, Professor Broadus Mitchell's generous tribute
to the intelligence of their efforts.
In the framework of this the Henry George School of Social Science
has a prominent place. As the most successful effort undertaken in
recent years by those who believe that the socio-ethical economics and
the progressive social philosophy of Henry George deserve a more
influential role in American thought, it is, of course, representative
of the most progressive tendencies in the movement. Even before the
permanency of the venture was as definitely established as it is
today, those who were contributing valuable time or were sacrificing
income or savings to support this institution constantly questioned
This deserves to be set down, if only for its historical interest.
This tendency of Georgeists is derived, of course, from the social
philosophy that animates them from the framework of ideas to which
they refer practical problems whose solution is not found in
measurements. It is only natural that the tendency should have been
especially marked among supporters of the Henry George School of
Social Science; Oscar H. Geiger was its founder.
I can still hear Oscar Geiger's voice ringing in my ears, expounding
the principle one of his most cherished convictions derived from the
Georgeist social philosophy of an inner unity between ends and means
that bars any divorcement of ends from the means with which they are
sought to be achieved, that demands, nay, even furnishes the same
criteria for the determination of practical methods (as. say, the
choice of economic devices) as are employed in the selection and
formulation of practicable aims (as social goals).
I can still see the look of justifiable pride which brightened his
face as he showed me, in his apartment one day, the exposition of this
principle by his son, Dr. George Raymond Geiger, in the galley proofs
The Philosophy of Henry George which the author's father was
then engaged in checking. The whole book itself bore testimony to the
principle. Oscar Geiger thought his son's work was a precise statement
of his own convictions in more modern language than that in which he
had arrived at them; I thought privately that the son had shown
himself worthy of his father, that the father had made himself worthy
of such a son.
The doctrine that the end justifies the means falsely ascribed to the
Jesuits who immediately proscribed the one Jesuit book in which it
appeared around the turn of the sixteenth century was one Oscar Geiger
never tired of refuting with weighty, reasoned argument.
No follower of Thomas a Kempis or Groot or whoever it was that really
laid down the injunctions in "The Imitation of Christ" ever
engaged in this type of soul-searching more earnestly than the
supporter of the Henry George School of Social Science, a fact which I
think deserves to be entered into the record.
I can speak of these matters with some assurance. Before the School
opened its doors I was a student. I think I may claim to be one of the
very first students on those grounds, because, since there was yet no
School then for him to refer me to, Oscar Geiger was kind enough to
have me visit his home weekly throughout the winter preceding the
School's establishment so that he could tutor me personally in the
subjects which later became its curriculum.
On the other hand, the claim would be a sentimentalism: Oscar Geiger
was a teacher all his life and hundreds must have preceded me. But at
any rate, when the School opened its doors at last, I was one of the
eighty-four students of the first year. Joseph Dana Miller was a
frequent visitor and a welcome one Oscar Geiger yielded the rostrum to
Stephen Bell when we took up international trade. Frank Chodorov used
to come in from Minnesota or some other outlandish place to discuss
the School's problems with its director.
Norman C. B. Fowles, who passed from among us the other day, sat next
to me in the only classroom. And I can still remember the light in
Oscar Geiger's eyes one day at the end of that year when, haggard with
overwork and worry, he fixed an evangelical look upon Fowles and me
and said: "Never mind about me. The work will go on. Your
consciences will never let you rest easily if it doesn't."
(At Oscar Geiger's funeral not many days later an outpouring of
student affection that jammed the school's limited quarters Norman
Fowles recalled this to me as one summoned on a mission; and later he
told me that it was this that determined him to accept the vacant
directorship over the urgent objections of his physician and family.)
Most of the debate of the School's supporters are about its charter
from the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York
(the State Education Department). Oscar Geiger went to great lengths
to get this and it was granted, I think, only as a tribute to his own
integrity and scholarship and to his extraordinary capacity as a
Actually, the School he visioned had only dubious prospects and
uncertain support. He himself was staking his small lifelong savings
and perhaps I ought not to speak of this lest it embarrass a friend;
his largest contributor was one who was sacrificing an unbelievable
percentage of an executive salary. The prospects of continued support
were more meagre than the prospects of students.
One of the things that helped hasten Oscar Geiger to his grave, I
think, was the diffidence with which most of the movement's veterans
greeted his effort. Call a roll of the trustees and incorporators, add
half a dozen to a dozen more names, and you have a complete roster of
the old-timers who were willing to gamble with the founder.
There has been a lot of band-wagon jumping in recent years, but all
of the remarks cast about "recent adherents to our movement"
(with an implied emphasis on the adjective) will not erase the speech
of Oscar Geiger at Town Hall in 1934, when he told how everyone he
tried to enthuse about the School had sought to dissuade and
discourage him except a handful of men and women he named and pointed
out. Even Charles O'Connor Hennessy, who turned out before his death
to be one of the School's most valuable supporters, had no faith in
Geiger's effort at the beginning. Hennessy used to admit it, with a
frankness and honesty one finds was not contagious.
The Board of Regents was willing to wait five years before it counted
the books in the School's library (Bolton Hall was forever at a dither
lest its size be inadequate) or examined more closely the need for the
School, the practicability of its methods, the adequacy of its
equipment and its financial support. It must take pride in faith in
intangibles now that the School is permanently established and its
advanced technique the admiration of experts in adult education.
Oscar Geiger considered, and rightly so, I think, that the granting
of the charter marked a turn in the history of the movement. Joseph
Dana Miller, who more than any other of Henry George's close
associates is qualified to speak upon this history, once wrote, it
should be recalled, that the movement wasn't in the business of making
history, its own or the country's, in the years just preceding the
Oscar Geiger would point out that Georgeists had tried the method of
political coalition with a third party, in George's time and in our
own. (Geiger was a ring- leader in the Committee of Forty-eight, the
abortive venture in 1920.) He would point out that Georgeists had
tried concentrating their forces on a single state, Delaware. They had
tried the method of setting up their own political party. They had
tried initiative petitions in several states, referenda in many,
independent legislative action in municipalities, states and even in
the Nation. They had made deals with the old parties, deals with the
new; they had been sold out more than once. The political results
justified R. G. Tugwell in writing in an encyclopedia that
comparatively little had come of George's far-reaching work by way of
Actually, at the time when he launched the School, Geiger looked upon
the movement's situation as a challenge to him and to all who cared.
Many seem to overlook that in the post-war years, when a delusion of
speculative prosperity gripped the country, the movement fell to such
a low estate it was a miracle Joseph Dana Miller, through the
movement's organ, LAND AND FREEDOM, was able to keep it alive.
Oscar Geiger understood that Mr. Miller's single-handed achievement
was no neat trick but an heroic effort which taxed his every energy.
He made this clear in a speech on his aims and hopes for the Henry
George School, read for him by Mr. Miller at the Seventh Henry George
Congress in Memphis in 1932. He said then:
"It is thirty-five years now since Henry George
left this sphere of life. Those who knew his philosophy while he
lived are all now on in years and few are left to carry on the work
that he began. Those who did not know his teachings while he lived,
likewise are on in years and burdened with cares, and comparatively
few of these have more than heard of him or of his books. Those who
have come upon the scene since he has gone, have had little chance
and very poor advantage to learn of the great truth which he made
clear and which alone can make men free."
John J. Murphy had been obliged to report to the Fourth International
Conference to Promote Land Value Taxation and Free Trade in Edinburgh
three years earlier:
"... In general it may be stated that, during the
World War and since its conclusion, there has been little effort to
affect taxation national, state or local by legislation."
Mentioning the brief list of Georgeist activities then, he concluded:
"The men engaged in the work include several of the
most devoted men in the movement, but they fail to obtain the
general support of Single Taxers, nor have they been able to attract
any considerable measure of public attention. ... I wish I could
present a more optimistic picture."
The School, as Oscar Geiger visioned it, was a break with all the
unsuccessful methods of political maneuvering. It was a new course. To
establish an ethical, democratic order, he believed, it was not enough
to write economic devices for its achievement into the statute books.
First, he thought, the masses of the people through their leaders must
be helped to discover what they really wanted and needed in this
respect and then they must be helped to discover how they can obtain
this. It was because he saw no royal road to the good society, no
short cut to economic democracy, that he tackled the herculean task of
founding the School.
Oscar Geiger recognized the job as one of education, one of adult
education. (It happens that my own higher education was largely in
this field, so that we had a common interest in educational techniques
and used to discuss them I had an academic interest in the field only,
for my profession is in quite another field than teaching.)
This educational job. as he saw it, was the basic one; above all, the
neglected one. Create an informed influential public opinion, he felt,
and the political side of the task would take care of itself. This
educational job, he thought, could only be done when the educators
went among the people in the role of educators. Not as propagandists.
Not as politicians. Not as agitators for a special interest. Not as
missionaries for scripture and calico. Not as paid evangelists, but as
leaders of groups of earnest, selfless men, seeking the truth wherever
it might be found. The charter, be believed, established that
character in the institution he founded.
We used to recall his position when we debated whether the School
would prosper best with the charter or without it. We used to recall
how we alumni (I among them) would say to him, with typical youthful
"We've got the vision of a free society, and we've
got an understanding of its concrete economic foundations. But now
that we've got it, what will we do with it?"
And we used to recall his bland reply, ever reiterated to alumni:
"Now that you've 'got' it, what will you do with
it? I don't care what you do with it; because I know what you'll do
He did know. I would have realized this even if, in the few months
before his death, he had not confided in me his intimate opinions
about current social tendencies and about what he thought the movement
ought to do in the event that it was confronted with certain
alternative situations, situations which then, as now, were likely to
He did know and we've been doing it, just as he had planned that we
should. The record of our activities and influence is there for anyone
to examine who wishes to ; it is neither a short nor an unimpressive
one. We have consciences and we sleep at night. That record is a
vindication of Oscar Geiger's belief that the charter would never
hamstring the School, would never bar effectual action.
We did recognize in our discussions that the charter did keep the
School within certain limitations.
For one thing, it assured that the minimum of educational standards,
which distinguish New York State Schools alone from all others, would
It assured that the director would be a man with some experience in
the conduct of a responsible enterprise and some culture, as Geiger,
Fowles, Dorn and Chodorov have been, rather than a glib wire-puller.
It assured that the teaching would be in the hands of competent
instructors rather than the windbags who always infest movements.
It assured that the endowment would not be dissipated in overhead in
providing jobs for professional executive secretaries, the "bureaucrats
It assured that every penny of financial contributions would be used
for educational purposes and not diverted to political adventuring.
It assured that those who came to seek guidance in the fulfillment of
their responsibilities as members of humanity and as citizens of their
country would get that guidance; and it assured that they would not be
letting themselves into the clutches of unscrupulous manipulators of
the popular will.
It assured that the corporation's board of directors the trustees, a
hand-picked, self-perpetuating body like the governing boards of all
Georgeist organizations but in this case, as in that of the Robert
Schalkenbach Foundation, no affront to the organization's democratic
philosophy since its status as a hand-picked self-perpetuating body is
one peculiarly suitable for endowed educational institutions and one
dictated for these alone by tradition and law would be held to their
responsibilities by a higher power, a written contract entered into
with the representatives of the people of the State.
And it assured, finally, that an adequate plant would be maintained,
with adequate equipment.
To be sure, we recognized these things as limitations, as others have
so recognized them. But the more we thought about it the more we
welcomed these limitations. They were not the least among the factors
responsible for the success of the School.
The mention of the maintenance of educational standards recalls an
amusing incident. The special techniques of the School use of the
discussion method, relation of theory to current events having living
reality in the student's own world, the active participation of the
student in the educational process, employment of the catechetical
method not to teach but to set off the discussion among students by
which they teach themselves when under competent leadership these
were, of course, laid down by Oscar Geiger. But when he passed on, his
teaching materials covered only part of the present curriculum and
were in the form of notes which required not only editing but
adaptation for less skilled teachers than he was.
This was done, but with Oscar Geiger gone we always suspected the
adequacy of the supplementary work. We once were worried because a
minority of registrants did not complete the course. Mrs. Anna George
deMille, daughter of Henry George and indefatigable president of the
School's board of trustees, and I were dispatched one time by Otto K.
Dorn, the trustee who was then the director, to pay several visits to
Professor John Dewey to see what could be done about this problem.
Professor Dewey, whose system of progressive education has remoulded
the practises of the teaching profession in many parts of the world,
studied our registration and attendance figures. He questioned us
about our teaching materials and we explained that we were always
uncertain about them and used to fashion them from experience in the
classroom, test them under varying conditions and constantly revise
them in the light of further experience. We thought we needed an
expert to change our system completely.
After he had looked over the materials and talked to one or two
friends, Professor Dewey entertained us again. He seemed quite amused
when he explained that the student loss we were worrying about
actually was one of the lowest in the whole field of adult education
and really was a remarkably successful record.
He told us, in the kind, gentle way that is characteristic of this
foremost scholar and educator, that he thought we really ought to
carry on as we had been doing, in the assurance that an expert, no
matter where we recruited him from, could not much improve the method
that seemed, on the basis of the results we related, to do our job so
Some time before, well-intentioned professors had sought to make
clear to me what distinguished the progressive methods of Dr. Dewey
and his collaborators from traditional ones. But it was only after I
pondered these remarks of Dr. Dewey that I realized that the basic
test of an educational technique was whether its procedures were drawn
from life and projected back into it, not whether its theoretical
basis followed fullsome expositions in forbidding textbooks; whether
it worked, not whether it squared with the traditional opinions of
And it was only then that I realized why Oscar Geiger would not even
open his School until he had experimented with his method, until he
had tested his techniques at Pythian Temple in Manhattan, until he had
tempered his ideas in the fires of practise. It was only then that I
came to understand that the veneration Geiger accorded Dewey was not
merely homage to a courageous social theorist, but acknowledgment of
intellectual debt to an educational practitioner.
We, of course, have become permeated with the School's theory of
action in the course of applying our energies actively along the lines
that it demands. We understand the theory because we have always seen
it in relation to the life around us in which it has its only meaning.
These things seem so simple and commonplace to us that sometimes we
cannot look sympathetically upon otherwise intelligent persons who
seem to misunderstand our method, to miscomprehend that our method is
a precise course of action distinguished by a zone, not a line, from
any other upon which the movement has embarked.
The evidence of this misunderstanding has always been small but it
may be growing. So perhaps it is well that someone should turn from
pursuit of that course of action and take the trouble to define it in
measured terms, to explain what it implies to set down in limiting
prose what has become known by conversation, debate and more direct
experience to the thousands identified with the School over the
The misunderstanding is grave enough to require plain-speaking. That
most of those who misunderstand are those who have not been active as
teachers, secretaries, administrators, financial contributors or in
other capacities in the School's crusade for economic literacy should
not deter us; it is to be expected that those who divorce theory from
the experience out of which it sprang, from the experience to which it
is to be applied, should be the first victims of confusion.
These persons demand: "Do you not abjure politics?" And we
say we do, not merely to the extent demanded by the charter, not
merely because the charter demands it (for we could give up the
charter with an infinitesimal amount of the trouble it took to get and
keep it) but because we, as members together of an institution, have
foresworn political maneuvering as a matter of principle.
"Then how," they declare triumphantly, "do you expect
to put our principles into practise?"
There is a naivete implied in this declaration that one who as I did
followed a state's politics for several years as a professional
observer can readily appreciate. Apparently these people think that
the statutes which now are the laws of the land were enacted primarily
as the result of pressures generated by political clubs, the offices
of legislators or the headquarters of legislative associations.
Students of society ought to know, nevertheless, that he wastes his
time who raises straws against the winds of legislation in these
halls. The laws, regardless of where the technicalities are whipped
into written form, arise from the offices or the drawing rooms of
private individuals for the most part. And particularly of the tax
laws it can be said that the last place to look for an intelligent
discussion of pending legislation in this field is in a political
But the answer to our triumphant friends has already been given. We
have abjured politics, but what we specifically have abjured is
politics as the predominant field of our collective activity. As
individuals, we have not abjured life, nor politics as a department of
life. (With Father Edward McGlynn we can say that when we took the
cross of service to humanity in this crusade we did not surrender our
temporal citizenship.) We follow our course of action not as a method
of expounding principles as principles apart from practise we have no
interest in them but we follow it as a method of putting the
principles into practise.
It is amusing to see these very persons raise the question and in the
next breath tell us frankly that we are doing an excellent job of
teaching Henry George's principles. For if our course of action were
not a method of putting Georgeist principles into practise it would be
a negation of the fundamental principle that distinguished George as
economist and social philosopher. John Dewey set this out very clearly
when he wrote (in the Foreword to G. R. Geiger's
Philosophy of Henry George, Macmillan, New York, 1933, pp.
"Henry George is typically American not only in his
career but in the practical bent of his mind, in his desire to do
something about the phenomena he studied and not to content himself
with a theoretic study. ...There is something distinctive in the
ardent crusade which George carried on. His ideas were always of the
nature of a challenge to action and a call to action. The 'science'
of political economy was to him a body of principles to provide the
basis of policies to be executed, measures to be carried out, not
just ideas to be intellectually entertained, plus a faint hope that
they might sometime affect action. His ideas were intrinsically
'plans of action'."
If the spirit of Dewey, father of a successful educational process,
is found 'n the School and I think I have indicated how large a debt
the School owes to the educator, its honorary president, a debt which
would have been incurred even if Dewey had never set foot within its
doors, if there had not been the slightest intimate contact between
the institution and the educational philosopher even if the educator
had never said a word about George's or anybody's social theory if the
spirit is found there then its course of action is truly a method of
putting principles into practise.
For if Dewey's idea, Dewey's process, mean anything at all they are
identified with the notion that democracy is the growth of popular
enlightenment, not a form of popular rule. Understanding, in this view
(I avail myself of the phrases of a recent commentator who happens to
be, and not by accident, a socio-ethical economist), is more important
than authority. Thus democracy can be identified with education in the
broad sense as a process for achieving this popular understanding.
"What makes the devices of suffrage and representation
important, and what makes them work in so far as they do work, is
general literacy, the growth of the informed interest of people
generally in their general as well as individual concerns," notes
Professor C. E. Ayres (in "Dewey: Master of the Commonplace,"
The New Re- public, New York, Jan. 18, 1939, pp. 303-6). "... The
keynote of modern education is its continuity with life. That is what
Dewey has stood for always the continuity of learning with doing and
living and not for any particular educational fad of the
'child-centered' schools. Its most important result for the country as
a whole ... is a phase of the larger process of the realization of
democracy and the emergence of the modern mind from immemorial
Dr. Dewey himself summed this up back in 1903 when he wrote (in "Studies
in Logical Theory"):
"Thinking is a kind of activity which we perform at
specific need just as at other need we engage in other sorts of
activity. ...The measure of its success, the standard of its
validity, is precisely the degree in which thinking actually
disposes of the difficulty and allows us to proceed with the more
direct modes of experiencing, that are forthwith possessed of more
assured and deepened value."
In this way, says Dewey's most recent expositor, "he closed the
abyss between thought and things on the brink of which generation
after generation of philosophers had mulled and stumbled." Dewey
said this in a word when he declared that the fundamental assumption
of his point of view "is continuity in and of experience."
It must not be overlooked that the democratic principle was explained
by Dewey in the same terms as those employed by Henry George.
"Social reform," George wrote in Social
Problems, "is not to be secured by noise and shouting; by
com- plaints and denunciation; by the formation of parties or the
making of revolutions; but by the awakening of thought and the
progress of ideas. Until there be correct thought, there cannot be
right action; and when there is correct thought, right action will
follow. ...The great work of the present ... is the work of
education the propagation of ideas. It is only as it aids this that
anything else can avail."
Dewey understood the democratic principle to be "precisely that
of solving problems not by 'decisive' authority but with understanding
and the slow but eventually sure seepage of ideas through the whole
community." (Parenthetically I might ask if it is not true if the
advocates of temperance, who obtained enactment of the Prohibition
Amendment by the most skillful political strategy, had understood what
these plain sentences imply, would the old-time saloon with all its
attendant evils be the curse it is today?)
The School has had two alternative courses before it. It could have
developed as the training school of a sect, training recruits for the
sectarian activities traditional with an isolated group. Or it could
make itself a positive force spurring the growth of enlightenment in
the whole community it could undertake the task of building the
ethical, democratic social order that the first school would only
dream about and its few adherents would never live to see. It has
chosen the second course and is in the thick of the struggle. It is
true to the principles of libertarian democracy to which George,
Dewey, and Geiger, devoted their careers.
Actually, the whole substance of any reply to the confused is set
forth above. But I can understand that, with no first-hand
acquaintance of the School method, those who fail to understand what
the School's course of action involves may be as badly off as ever,
for they have no experience to which to relate these ideas. I will
speak more plainly, much as I hesitate to do so lest the temperate
facts of the matter appear in a sensational guise.
What the supporters of the School are engaged in is, in the
novelist's useful expression, "an open conspiracy." On every
hand they see evidence of the accelerating growth of the principle of
meeting force with "decisive" force, of opposing authority
with "decisive" authority. And on every hand they see
evidence that the democratic way of life is meeting its greatest
challenge. Reaction is on the march, in America as well as in Europe
and Asia. George was no prophet when he warned of "the new
barbarians" he was a precise social analyst.
Whether a native communism or, as is more likely, a native fascism be
the outcome of America's situation today matters little. What does
matter is that for those who would preserve human values the time for
action is short; they must expend their energies with the greatest
efficiency. This means that one can no longer concentrate upon
attempts to achieve the ghosts of legislative devices here and there
in the hope that they will teach a lesson before the reactionaries get
around to nullifying them; reaction today is alert and hyper-sensitive
about the maintenance and extension of its privileges. It means one
must challenge the whole structure of reaction by mobilizing all the
progressive forces of society against it. This is precisely what the
active supporters of the School are doing.
I say this is aptly called an "open conspiracy." The policy
is best understood when it is contrasted with the Communists' and the
Fascists' "boring from within" policy. The obvious contrast,
that our policy is designed to promote an American doctrine, ethical
democracy and its corollaries of equality of opportunity, the
preservation of human individuality in the midst of societal
integration, the safeguarding of individual rights in the face of
social necessities, whereas theirs is designed to promote a foreign
one, is most superficial and hardly apropos. For our doctrine claims
to be, and we believe it is, one as capable of universal application
as theirs claims to be. The province of humanity knows no frontiers.
But unlike the Communists and the Fascists, the followers of the
School's course of action have from the outset publicly explained
precisely what they were doing and what they intended doing in the
simplest, clearest terms. At the Memphis Congress in 1932, with a
representative of the nation's press present, Oscar Geiger, speaking
through the lips of Joseph Dana Miller, said:
"... If we are to do our part in leading mankind
out of its economic and spiritual darkness ... it is for us to
supply the vision, the leadership and, above all, the teaching that
is lacking in our present day. . . .
"The farmer more than any man looks to some tomorrow for his
rewards, yet his work is done when, today, he has prepared his
ground and sown the seed destined to bear the desired fruit. Its
growth is in other hands. For him it is but to do his work well
today, assured that in the measure that he has done it well, its
results will be good.
"And so must we prepare the ground and sow the seed. The seed
we know is good; in the measure then that the ground we select is
fertile, and in the measure that we do our planting well, we, too,
can be assured that the results may be left in other hands. 'The
stars in their courses still fight against Sisera.' If we will but
understand Nature we will believe in her and trust her; and if we do
her bidding she will work with and for us. ...
"It is the aim and purpose of the Henry George School of
Social Science to teach fundamental economics and social philosophy
to those still learning; to those to whom study is still a habit. It
is its purpose to send these forth into the world of life and
living; into their chosen fields of labor, industry, politics and
education, so fortified that error cannot prevail against them: so
prepared that truth, our truth, will, through them, reflect itself
in every field of their endeavor."
One could not want plainer language. No more authoritative statement
could be desired these are the words of the founder of the School,
spoken for him by a collaborator in its board of trustees who was
then, as he is now, editor of the movement's organ. The point has been
iterated and reiterated countless times since and perhaps most
recently by Dr. George Raymond Geiger, pupil and disciple of the
founder as well as his son, author of two of the School's textbooks
and one of its manuals, editorial councilor of its official organ and
its benefactor in countless other ways.
Dr. Geiger set this forth as plainly as Oscar Geiger had done in an
article in "The Social Frontier: a Journal of Educational
Criticism and Reconstruction," organ of the John Dewey Society
and spokesman for some 5,000 school administrators throughout the
country, in 1938.
Here Dr. Geiger pointed out that there are two distinctly different
approaches taken by the follower of Henry George on the land question.
According to the first, a solution of the land question affords a
compromise between "individualism" and "socialism,"
and a refuge for democratic capitalism from "fascism" or "communism."
He goes on (italics are in the original):
"Since this 'compromise' between 'individualism'
and 'socialism' seems so crucial, the efforts of one group of
Georgeists are centered on forming an enlightened public opinion
which can recognize and effect such a compromise position.
"The more pessimistic of this group, convinced that some type
of right wing or left wing 'revolution' is inevitable, are
attempting to develop, say, a hundred thousand or more intelligent
and persuaded followers of Henry George, who can be relied upon as a
nucleus to salvage the economic system after it has been overturned
by political catastrophe.
"Already they feel that they might be able to point to Mexico,
and even to Spain and Russia (not to mention land reform movements
in democratic countries like Denmark) as examples of this historical
process, i.e., the gradual abandonment of various forms of
collectivism, with concentration upon the socialization of land."
Dr. Geiger continues by pointing out that the second approach of the
land reformer "is more limited and concentrated. Here, he
confines his efforts to tax reform. ...So, this follower of Henry
George works to increase the taxation of land values and to exempt
taxes on improvements, buildings, industry, and the results of labor."
Then he goes on:
"With both these national objectives, however, the
specific methods of appeal (propaganda, if you will) have chiefly in
the educational field. Active independent participation in politics
on the part of 'Single Taxers' has been diminishing ever since the
New York City mayoralty campaign of Henry George.
"For a number of years there was a national party which backed
local and national candidates and before the World War there were
hectic state campaigns, particularly on the Pacific coast, supported
by the Fels Fund.
"Also, at present, there are periodic political efforts,
especially through initiative and referendum measures, to introduce
some measure of Single Tax into state constitutions; recent
activities have centered in California.
"But this political emphasis is now definitely secondary to
the educational one. The educational center of the movement is the
Henry George School of Social Science, with national headquarters in
New York City. Although founded only five years ago, the School has
achieved a spectacular success. ...Georgeists look upon the School
as the brightest promise for any future success in the movement."
By the test of experience this course of action justifies itself. In
the clubs, societies and associations which organize the cultural life
of the community, in the trades, the businesses, the industries and
their associations which organize its economic life, in the churches
and the schools which organize its moral life, in the parties and the
committees and the associations which organize its civic life, in all
the instruments of popular enlightenment, alumni of the School, acting
as responsible individuals, are struggling as leaders of their
communities to achieve a democratic order. It would gladden Oscar
Geiger's heart to see how surely the things he had visioned had come
In New York, the city with which I am most familiar, alumni are
active as Georgeists in the Harvard, City, Rambam, Ho-Hum and a score
of other clubs. They are active in the Young Men's Board of Trade, the
Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, the Legal Aid Society, the Y.
M. C. A., the Big Brothers, the Little Businessmen's Council, in
Rotaries, Chambers of Commerce, Community Councils, trade unions as
variegated as the musicians' to the journalists' the list is long
enough to be boring.
To be complete the list would have to include men's and women's clubs
of churches, schools and colleges, fraternal, charitable and
philanthropic groups; in almost every field of community life their
wholesome influence is being felt. Nor are the alumni neglecting their
civic responsibilities as citizens, charged with certain political
tasks as citizens. In their political parties New York alumni are
active in all three of the New York parties, the Democratic,
Republican and American Labor, and were in the center of the
smoke-filled room struggle over the platform of one at the last
election they are applying the principles they have learned.
Because of experience and training, they gravitate not only to the
platform subcommittees of their parties but to the role of advisers
and councilors, and are active as constructive critics of the
country's and their party's economic policies and as advocates of
improvement of these policies on sound lines.
But this is also done by the Communist and Fascist "borers from
within." What distinguishes the activity of the Georgeist is that
he is acting as a free individual, under the discipline of nothing but
his ripened conscience. Naturally, he cooperates with
fellow-Georgeists when he finds them to be following identical
interests with him. But he does so of his own free will, because he
recognizes that they are best equipped to cooperate and collaborate
with him and most likely to give him unselfish support. The Georgeist,
when he chooses a group for his activity, promotes by his work the
best interest of his group, for it is to that group that his own
interest has attracted him, and it is the whole group that he wishes
to infuse with democratic principles. The Communist or the Fascist is
concerned primarily with promoting the fortunes of the party that has
him under discipline; high ideals frequently give way to party
log-rolling, to patronage considerations, to efforts to obtain
domination of the group by means of minority factionalism.
Since they act as individuals who owe no allegiance to an outside
organization which has its own machine to maintain, the Georgeists can
devote themselves to constructive activities which win them the
respect and the attention of their circles. The Communists and the
Fascists, whose activities are highly organized, coordinated to the
nth degree of efficiency by organization, eventually degenerate from
high ideals to destructive partisan activity which wins them the
condemnation of the very same circles.
The contributions of these alumni to the parties and the political
movements to which they ally themselves as individuals are recognized
and valued highly by the leaders and rank and file of those groups. If
only the selfless patriotism of these alumni, fulfilling their
responsibilities as citizens with such intelligence and clarity of
purpose, were general throughout the Nation, we would not need to
worry about the future of democracy in America.
In all discussion of organization one finds one or two persons who
say that a name should be taken, any old name, and an organization
gotten up, any old form will pass, and an office should be opened.
What this has always meant has been that in the office is placed an
executive secretary and a small executive committee, and the total of
group activity is performed by the secretary and this small group (but
chiefly by the secretary) simply because they cannot, for one reason
or another, get anyone else to engage in it.
This is what is known in the American language as a "letterhead
organization"; the phone books are full of them. But anyone who
comes into contact with these organizations daily, as I must, sees
clearly that the practical accomplishments of these organizations are
small; in most cases trivial. I say this in no criticism of our
Georgeist "letterhead organization." In most cases their
officers are men I regard highly and their secretaries devoted
workers. But the facts of any situation must be faced.
This type of organization, however useful it might be in proving
certain services of specific nature, could never replace the activity
and influence of these alumni and it could never be employed as an
integral unit of their course of action. For that course implies not a
small group in activity, but an ever-growing fraction of the leaders
of the whole community. The effectiveness of this course of action is
a function of the numbers of community leaders who engage in it and
the scope of their interests.
I do not mean to imply that these alumni will not find it useful to
get together as a group to take counsel together and to benefit from
the sharing of their experience. Far from it. But that is the function
of the Henry George Congress and of the World Conferences of the
International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade, as
organizations, and of Land and Freedom and Land and Liberty as
institutions. Those who believe that "it is later than you think"
see no purpose in duplicating the work of existing and functioning
Nor do I mean to imply that these alumni forswear cooperation with
and even active support of the effort of those whom Dr. Geiger labeled
"tax reformers." I can cite several cases in point. In the
recent Ralston campaign in California, when our California colleague
met with unequalled vituperation and misrepresentation from their home
press, I and other alumni in New York acting as individuals,
discovered that the campaign of misrepresentation was spreading to the
east. We were not engaged in the thick of the fight in pointing out
certain shortcomings of the Ralston campaigners, obvious though they
were to us. We jumped into the fight as individuals and launched a
counter-campaign which stopped the misrepresentation in the east as
quickly a it had begun. That was not the least of the expression of
our solidarity with our California colleagues as individuals.
Or another case. In New York, after years of research Walter
Fairchild, a noted attorney and authority of urban land problems,
launched the Graded Tax Committee to obtain the enactment of a graded
tax bill, a most progressive piece of legislation framed on the
soundest economic principles. I have never been solicited to
contribute a penny to the work of the committee or an hour's time;
neither has anyone else I know of. As a matter of fact, what I know
about the committee's work comes from newspapers I read and civic
workers with whom I come in contact. But the bill has obtained the
sponsorship of legislators representing the three New York parties and
it is thus a non-partisan measure. I have been interested to read of
the activities of alumni in behalf of the measure. I read that they
have been delivering speeches about it before various political and
social organizations and have obtained various endorsements of it.
This activity, I would like to emphasize, is one it which the School
as a collective entity has taken no part one which was, as far as I
know, unsolicited and was given voluntarily by each individual
The School, it is true, has certain routine tasks incidental to the
conduct of an educational enterprise for which numbers of alumni and
supporters are required as volunteers. These tasks include the
secretarial work in the classroom, writing of letters to editors and
others who control instruments of public opinion, arranging addresses
to introduce the School to various groups; addressing mailings,
carrying on research work, etc. It is quite true this voluntary
activity needs to be organized.
But it is equally true that this voluntary activity is and always has
been organized. At first it was organized as a council. This form
proved incapable of expansion to encompass new tasks and a new one was
adopted, complete formal organization. This form was found to be
ill-adapted to the situation; there was a pronounced tendency for the
nominal members to leave the work which was the organization's sole
purpose to the officers, land for the officers to shirk it because the
members would not undertake it. So a new form was adopted by which
specific tasks are given compact, cohesive groups, each group being
responsible for the discharge of a set task, and now the work is being
I can speak intimately of this also, for I have been in at the
founding of these groups under each of these forms from the beginning.
We are no worshippers of form; it is the substance we seek. The
faculty has been organized as a faculty from the beginning and meets
regularly in New York and no doubt this is also true of faculties
elsewhere to discuss its work. The age-old faculty form of
organization, which has its roots in the medieval universities, has
been found to be ideally suited for this group, so its members have no
disposition to change it. When these forms no longer serve the
purposes of the groups concerned, they may be depended upon to modify
or scrap them.
Thus, if those who suggest organization of the alumni are concerned
about the discharge of these tasks writing, addressing, researching,
teaching- one can only reply that the work is being done efficiently
and it is highly organized and thoroughly coordinated.
If, however, what they really wish is to see the alumni organized
into a national or local association to achieve certain tax reforms in
one place or another, the supporters of the School have no objection.
What the supporters will not do, however, is to bring pressure on the
individual alumnus or alumna to join one organization as against
another, to make financial contributions to one as against another, or
to join any particular organization of this type.
Nor will they make it possible for others to bring this pressure by
permitting the records of the School to be thrown open. The importance
of the assurance given at the opening of the classes, that the School
has nothing to sell, is attested at every registration by the
understandable suspicion of the registrants that there must be the
taint of commercialization lurking somewhere, that there must be a "catch"
in the offer of free courses. This assurance is meant literally by
each instructor who gives it. To turn it into hypocritical statement
is to sacrifice some registrants, and they cannot be spared, and to
change the attitudes of the others, which militate against the success
of the educational process.
But this should be no bar to those organizations whose officers,
constitutions, purposes and achievements are intrinsically attractive
to those who are infused with Georgeist principles. The alumini are,
as part of their training, introduced to the periodical literature of
the Georgeist movement. These periodicals for the most part sell
advertising space freely. Through advertisements in these periodicals
such associations can reach the alumni with whatever message they have
to give them. (Advertising, incidentally, is cheaper than direct mail
when reader coverage is highly concentrated.) Only their own
limitations will hamstring these organizations if they should be
hamstrung. If the type of activity offered is such as to appeal to the
individual alumnus or alumna, he or she will respond But he or she
will do it of his or her own free will. And if, in these respects, the
organizations are such as to attract alumni, the supporters of the
School will not only have no objection but will be exceedingly glad.
If those who suggest organization for the alumni wish to see a group
effected to bring the alumni together regularly for renewed
inspiration in their work, the supporters of the School point to the
prior existence of the Henry George Congress for this very purpose. It
may be that the Congress ought to be held regionally as well as
nationally, since most alumni cannot afford the time or the expense
involved in travel. That is a matter for considerable discussion;
regional congresses may detract from the service now rendered by the
Possibly such Congresses ought to be held oftener than once a year,
but I doubt it a little oratorical inspiration goes a long way; the
movement's literature is also an agency which provides inspiration;
and the alumni are busy both in their business or professional careers
and in their activity as supporters of the School or and often it is
as community leaders.
However, there is one point to which I should like to give the
strongest emphasis. If those who suggest organization of the alumni
have any thought that such an organization would be, or might develop
to be, an organization to discipline or to influence the difference is
one of degree only these alumni in their work of building an ethical,
democratic social order as community leaders, the answer of the
supporters of the School is an emphatic, unyielding no.
They will tolerate no subversive factionalism. They will countenance
no efforts to hamstring these devoted citizens in the discharge of
their responsibilities to humanity and their country.
The work of the alumni is going on with the highest efficiency,
thanks to the course of action they follow. It shall go on, for the
salvation of democracy, for the salvation of western civilization if
need be, until its goals are achieved.
All this is what Oscar Geiger knew; these concrete actions were those
he expected from his work. He knew that a variety of interests
integrated his students into the life of the nation. He knew that they
would infuse the principles of an ethical, democratic social order
into the life of the nation through those interests, the avenues they
were best shod to tread their way upon. His notion, like his ideas
about educational technique, has stood the best test, the test of
experience, the test of practise under widely varying conditions.
From the first, those who have been identified with the school have
looked upon its reason for being as that of democracy's best and
possibly last bulwark. The bulwark has held so far against the tide of
barbarism; the task of every lover of liberty and every friend of
humanity is to throw his shoulder against it so that the bulwark will