Friday, September 9, 2011

Henry George and the birth of Fabian Socialism

In "The history of the Fabian Society", by Edward Pease, this is written:

Emile de Lavelaye was quite correct in attributing significance to the publication of "Progress and Poverty," though the seed sown by Henry George took root, not in the slums and alleys of our cities—no intellectual seed of any sort can germinate in the sickly, sunless atmosphere of slums—but in the minds of people who had sufficient leisure and education to think of other things than breadwinning. Henry George proposed to abolish poverty by political action: that was the new gospel which came from San Francisco in the early eighties. "Progress and Poverty" was published in America in 1879, and its author visited England at the end of 1881. Socialism hardly existed at that time in English-speaking countries, but the early advocates of land taxation were not then, as they usually are now, uncompromising individualists.

Edward Pease was a founding member of the Fabian society. Henry George was also influential with another future Fabian socialist. in 1911, Archibald Henderson wrote a biography of George Bernard Shaw:(page 96)

At that time, Bernard Shaw eagerly haunted public meetings of all kinds. By a strange chance, he wandered that night into the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street. The speaker of the evening was Henry George: his speech wrought a miracle in Shaw's whole life. It "kindled the fire" in his soul. "It flashed on me then for the first time," Shaw once wrote, that " the conflict between Religion and Science" ... the over throw of the Bible, the higher education of women, Mill on Liberty, and all the rest of the storm that raged round Darwin, Tyndall, Huxley, Spencer, and the rest, on which I had brought myself up intellectually, was a mere middle-class business. Suppose it could have produced a nation of Matthew Arnolds and George Eliots! — you may well shudder. The importance of the economic basis dawned on me." Shaw now read Progress and Poverty; and many of the observations which the fifteen-year-old Shaw had unconsciously made now took on a significance little suspected in the early Dublin days of his indifference to land agency .

Shaw was so profoundly impressed by the logic of Henry George's conclusions and suggested remedial measures that, shortly after reading Progress and Poverty he went to a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation, and there arose to protest against their drawing a red herring across the track opened by George. The only satisfaction he had was to be told that he was a novice: "Read Marx's Capital, young man" was the condescending retort of the Social Democrats.

Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Many of the early 20th century progressives were themselves Fabians. So understanding the Fabian society has relevance to understanding progressivism.

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