Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/569

This page has been validated.




THE interesting volume of Mr. Henry George, on "Progress and Poverty," was discussed in the "Monthly" upon its first appearance, though rather for the purpose of making it known than of criticising it. But, as it has now become a success, and passed to a fourth and cheaper edition, it becomes desirable to look more closely into some of its positions. It is not, however, the author's doctrine of the great and growing evils of land monopoly, nor the remedy which he proposes for these evils, nor the economic views he has put forth, that now concern us. The first nine books of his treatise are devoted to these topics, but in the tenth and concluding book he takes up another and a larger subject. He here discusses "the law of human progress," and opens the weighty question of the philosophy of all social and political reform; and with the views here advocated we can not at all agree.

The argument of Book X, though not strictly a part of the main thesis of the volume, grows naturally out of it. Having traced certain great social evils to their root, and shown, as he believes, how they may be escaped, he was of course urgent that his measure should be forthwith adopted, and the good it promises secured. Impelled to write his book by realizing the squalid misery of a great city, which appalled and tormented him, he was driven by the whole force of his sympathies to find some plan of removing it, and when found he was naturally eager that it should be applied. But he was here confronted by the school of thinkers which now teaches that genuine and permanent social ameliorations must be far more gradual in their operation than has formerly been supposed; that the progress of human society is but part of a larger and very deliberate progress in the course of nature, and which takes place through the agency of natural laws to a great extent independent of the volitions or intentions of men. They teach that man himself is a product of progress, and has been so developed and transformed by nature that he at last begins to be capable of understanding nature's method, and of consciously taking part in the progressive work.

Mr. George takes issue with this whole theory, and coolly rules nature out of the entire business. He denies "that human progress is by a slow race development." He says, "We have seen that human progress is not by altering the nature of men," and again, "Human progress is not the improvement of human nature."

He further denies "that progress is by hereditary transmission," and affirms "that human will is the great factor." The view to which he holds is thus briefly intimated: "Mental power is, therefore, the motor of progress, and men tend to advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression the mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions. Now, mental power is a fixed quantity—that is to say, there is a limit to the work a man can do with his mind, as there is to the work he can do with his body; therefore, the mental power which can be devoted to progress is only what is left after what is required for non-progressive purposes. . . .

"These non-progressive purposes in which mental power is consumed may be classified as maintenance and conflict. By maintenance, I mean not only