New Zealand Monthly Review, Vol. II. May 1890


Ragnar Redbeard Archive & Publisher proudly presents Arthur Desmonds article on Professor Huxley's criticism of Henry George. It was first published in the Monthly Review, New Zealand, 1890.

“All ye are brethren,” says Christ.

“Let the most strong and relentless trample down the weak,” says Huxley.

A Thousand Books of Fame

THE dogmatic thunders of scientific hierarchs often prove equally as fallible as the rescripts of ecclesiastical pontiffs. Never was this truism better exemplified than in the latest numbers of the Nineteenth Century, wherein Professor Huxley descends from his scientific Pedestal, to break a lance in the political arena with Henry George. Henry George is one of those men possessed of an idea who arise once in centuries, amid the crumbling of Worn-out institutions. Now it is well known that an idea is unconquerable by ought than a better idea. Therefore, until a better idea is formulated, society must reckon with Henry George. Since “Progress and Poverty” was written (some ten years ago) many panoplied champions of “things as they are,” have essayed to storm George's impregnable position; but they have, one and all, been driven back with broken spears and torn banners. Now we have Professor Huxley, charging ungainly as the forlorn hope of privilege and power. Yet “Progress and Poverty” calmly remains entrenched behind the masterly Torres Vedras lines of irrefutable logic.

For over half a century, Professor Huxley’s intellect has been steeped in the study of mechanical laws, microscopic materialism, and philosophic Darwinism. His writings are almost wholly confined to this one groove. It is only lately that he seems to have devoted any attention whatever to the philosophy of natural law as applied to social regeneration. It is not, therefore, to be expected that his views upon the origin and development of agrarian laws should be as logical as his former teachings upon subjects that he unquestionably understood. If J. L. Sullivan, the American gladiator, lectured us upon the ethics of brute force, as illustrated in the prize ring, his views no doubt would deserve consideration. But if he chose as his theme the mystic phenomena of the astral light, who would consider him an authority? So it is with such as Professor Huxley, who enter the domain of political controversy after giving the strength of their prime to purely scientific research. As a biologist and geologist, he is famous wherever our race have founded homes. As an expounder of Malthusianism (reasoned savagery), he is equally celebrated; and as an exponent of civilized cannibalism, “the survival of the fittest,” his name has become even as a household word.  If therefore, he desires to preserve the prestige that surrounds his personality, he should persevere in that line which a lifetime of intellectual gymnastics has so well fitted him. Science requires all the mental force that ten thousand such as he are capable of sacrificing at her shrines. Force and matter, protoplasm and protozoa, universal law, and all that primordial cosmic dust-cloud, are still waiting for another Henry George to interpret and formulate their mighty secrets.

In the days of long ago, Professor Huxley was, in his own line, an enthusiastic reformer, a breaker down of idols, a raiser up of the True. But the same fate has evidently overtaken him that in still earlier times overtook other successful reforming champions. The truths that his voice declared, he has hardened into a creed; and the spirit that inspired him he has transformed into dogma. Dogma, whether religious, scientific, or political, is always intolerant of new thought, except the new can pronounce the conventional shibboleth. In the days of the Caesars, Christianity was an aggressive teacher of “equality before God and man;” but when it triumphed, cast-iron ecclesiasticism was the only result. Political equality was also at one time denounced as a most dangerous theory; but when it conquered, in 1790, Imperialistic despotism usurped the throne. Even the right of scientific investigation was, not so long ago, prohibited by racks and by thumbscrews; but now that it is tolerated and encouraged, some of its leaders would dare to freeze its spirit into the icicles of formula. This is the great danger that all reformers have to beware of. They should be very cautious and careful never to condemn a new school of thought, simply because it chooses to reach the common destination by a different route. Leaders of men ought to keep their minds open, prepared to receive every new truth, remembering that wisdom is never the exclusive property of any one man, one party, or school. The march of thought goes on forever; but it often occurs that those who lead its battalions in one generation are left hopelessly floundering in the rear by the next. There are men who, as they wax old, keep their intellect abreast, if not ahead of their times. Again, there are others possessed of immense mental power, who, when they reach the first line of life, become totally incapable of grasping or developing any new train of thought. A splendid specimen of the first is Gladstone; of the latter, Huxley. In one, the fire and aspirations of youth burns bright and vigorously amid the snows of eighty winters. In the other—an impartial judge must admit—the divine flame flickers low; the intellectual energy that once illuminated our desert march is slowly though surely vanishing in the midnight gloom.

When once the democracies of the world are aroused to perceive the cruelty and injustice of their environment—when they see that it is not by Nature, but by man-made laws, that their equal rights are denied—no power on earth, no siren music, can again rivet their chains. Their hunger and their hopes can no more be satisfied, either by the sirocco-blasts of dogma, or the dicta of materialistic savants.

He who denies the equal rights of men is inferentially a defender of privilege—of caste rule—and an upholder of despotic power. There is no half-way house. Men either have equal rights or they have not. If they have not, then landlordism is sanctified, Christianity becomes a delusion, and civilisation a huge mistake. This is well worked out in the following passage from Herbert Spencer:—

“Given a race of beings having like claims to pursue the objects of their desires—given a world adapted to the gratification of those desires—a world into which such beings are similarly born, and it unavoidably follows they have equal rights to the use of this world. For if each of them has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other, then each of them is free to use the earth for the satisfaction of his wants, provided he allows all others the same liberty. And, conversely, it is manifest that no one, or part of them, may use the earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from similarly using it; seeing that to do this is to assume greater rights than the rest, and consequently to break the law. Equity, therefore, does not permit private property in land. . . . It is manifest that an exclusive possession of the soil (by individuals) necessitates an infringement of the law of equal freedom. . . . And we find, lastly, that the theory of the co-heirship of all men to the soil is consistent with the highest civilisation, and however difficult it may be to embody the theory in fact, equity sternly demands it to be done.”

M. Laboulaye, in his “Histoire de la Properiété en Occident,” says: “Detention of the soil is a fact for which force alone can compel respect. . . . The laws not only protect property in land, they give birth to it. . . . The right of private property is not natural but social.”

In fact, fully nine-tenths of our leading political and social philosophers directly controvert Prof. Huxley's contentions, and many of them have given a lifetime to the study of Sociology.

Professor Huxley takes the trouble to prove—what no one has ever denied—viz., the “Natural Inequality of Man,” but deduces from that axiom the astounding conclusion, “therefore, they have not equal rights to land, air, or water.” It is only necessary to thus condense his true premise, and his false conclusion, to expose the manifest absurdity of his argument.

Because the elder brother is stronger than the younger, does that give him any natural right to turn the younger into a slave, or prevent the younger from sharing the food freely provided on the parental table. It is the food storehouse of human family; but our irrational law of private property in land permits the unscrupulous and the strong among the brethren to possess the key and levy blackmail upon the others. It is because men foolishly permit this blackmailing process to continue that so many millions of our blood-brothers are driven to sell themselves into servitude in exchange for the necessaries of life. Henry George teaches that the storehouse is common property—that in it is the sustenance freely provided by a Great Father for the equal use of all his children, He asserts again and again the chief doctrine of Christ, that all men are brothers, and that therefore they have an inalienable right to share as inheritors the paternal bounty. Now, to deny one individual any right to share in the land is to refuse him the right of life, otherwise than as a hireling or slave. Prof. Huxley would say to such a man; “Although, in accordance with the laws of Nature, you came into this world, yet I assert you have no natural right to be here whatever, because in brain and body you are not an exact counterpart of us who were here before you. But now that you are here, we are willing to graciously allow you to work for us, and in return for what your labour produces we will give you coarse food, coarse clothing, and a den to sleep in. That is to say, we will permit you to work upon our land; and when you produce on hundred bushels of wheat we will magnanimously take only seventy-five, and call it rent.”

Of course, if the man had not sufficient brains to pierce the fallacies of such pagan reasoning, he would submit, and pay the seventy-five bushel; but if he could think, this would probably be his reply: “By the law of Nature I came into this world, and by the law of Nature I intend to exist in it, without purchasing your consent. I may be formed in a different physical mould from you; yet when I produce by my labour one hundred bushels of wheat, I will not permit you to take seventy-five of them, under the shallow pretence that you own the land. You do not own the land, but you have the same right as I have to live by the produce of your own labour, and not on the produce of mine.”

Professor Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) and Henry George (1839–1897)

Professor Huxley further illustrates his cannibal contention of unequal rights by comparing tiger communities inhabiting and Indian jungle to communities of men. In many respects the illustration is very appropriate, because men often act unto each other more like wild beasts than brethren; but, on the whole, the comparison is very misleading. For instance, tigers do not prey upon each other, while men do; tigers do not invest one of their number with absolute ownership of the jungle, while men do. What would be thought of a colony of tigers who permitted one of their number to usurp possession of the jungle in fee-simple, and whenever they went out on a foraging expedition craved his gracious permission; bringing back to his lordly lair a portion of their prey in payment for the jungle-lord’s permission? Would we not smile at such a “wild-beast custom” as being foolish, one-sided, and ridiculous? Would we not think that the obese “owner" of the jungle had no just right to feast on that which he had not caught? And what would be our opinion of tigers’ common-sense if they continued acknowledging the “jungle-owner’s” unnatural claim?

Now this is an exact parallel of our own social, industrial, and agrarian institutions. The people hunt,—that is to say, they labour,—and the “owner" of the land banquets upon the spoil.

The inhabitants of an island called England (away somewhere in the North Atlantic) toil in factory, field, and mine. For the gracious permission of that island’s owners to do so, they pay thirty-five millions sterling every twelve months. The inhabitants of New Zealand (islands in the South Pacific) pay the paltry sum of thirteen millions per annum for a similar glorious privilege. It will thus be seen how much the common-sense of men exceeds that of tigers.

The following is a real gem of Jesuitical reasoning. It is quoted from the second article. First the Professor asserts that tigers “have a natural right to eat men.” “If, then,” he says, “we deny that tigers have a natural right to torment and devour men, we really impeach not the conduct of the tigers but the order of Nature.”

Let us ask, Do men impeach or assert the laws of Nature, when they object to become food for tigers? It seems certainly to be the law of Nature for tigers to prey upon weaker animals; but it must never be forgotten that the weaker animals have also an undoubted right to live. In the case of “man v. tigers,” the weaker animals defend their rights with rifle-bullets. Tigers are & species of monopolists, holding possession of the jungle. When the jungle is wanted by man for the production of food, the tigers are requested to prove their exclusive title, or depart. Like the monopolists of ancient Rome and modern France, brute-force is the only argument they are capable of comprehending. Under these circumstances, men are driven to assert their rights by force of arms; and if they are unable to do so successfully, then they have no other alternative but to die of starvation, or become food for tigers. Men with magazine rifles in their hands, and explosive bullets in their pouches, can hardly be classed as the weaker animals. When men deny “the tiger’s natural right to devour them,” they are not impeaching the order of Nature but asserting it.

Professor Huxley’s proposition is therefore seen to be radically unsound; and it necessarily follows that his conclusions are at once vitiated, because by no honest logical method can a true conclusion be derived from a fallacious proposition. When Henry George’s followers deny the right of one class of human beings to live, without labour, upon the produce of the labour of other human beings, they are clearly not impeaching, but asserting, the order of Nature. The law of Nature is that men should live by their own labour, not by the labour of others. As men have already successfully resisted the tiger, so in the near future will they as successfully resist his man-shaped representative.

In another section of the second article, (too long to quote,) the argument is that because cats, dogs, tigers, bears, and lions are by nature given to growl, fight, and devour that which is of weaker organism than themselves, therefore it is quite right for one class of men to appropriate to their own use the labour-products of another class of men. But surely it must occur to the most superficial understanding that, when the preyed-upon class perceive that this is their actual position in the economic system, they will at once transform themselves into “the man with the rifle,” i.e., the people with ballots.

It is a well-known fact that, as civilisation advances, beasts of prey are exterminated or “cleared off” the soil required by men for their own sustenance. In a parallel way, as the people of the future advance in intellectuality, they will dispossess all that extensive class of monopolists who, in our present economic system, play the role of beasts of prey. Natural rights require to be upheld and defended, on the same principle that laws made in a legislative assembly require an executive force. But to quote again: “Thus the natural rights of tigers, and the natural rights of men, though indisputable and alike solely founded on the law of Nature, are diametrically opposed to each other.” Just so. Nothing could be clearer than this. The interests and the rights of the landed and the landless, the beasts of burden and the beasts of prey, “are diametrically opposed to each other.” This point is so clear, that it is wonderful how anyone of Prof. Huxley’s reputation could have missed seeing it. Men have a clear natural right to not be eaten by tigers, certainly, but if they fail to assert that right, then the tigers have an equal natural right to eat them.

When man roamed the primeval forest in a state of semi-gorillaism, he trampled unceremoniously upon those who were weaker than himself. This was the reign of undiluted Huxleyism, undisguised brute-force.

After a time they saw and felt the evils resultant from this anarchic system; so they organised themselves into societies, and made a tacit mutual compact to respect and defend each other’s “equal rights,” and not allow one to prey upon another. In course time, after terrible fermentations, extending over long evolutionary centuries, parliaments and civil governments were established. In the grey dawn of history, the elements of land, air, and water were considered the common property of every individual. The researches of Sir Henry Maine and M. de Lavelaye prove conclusively that the ownership of land is wholly a modern invention, and that originally the soil was used in common by communities of kinsmen. Even according to the Common Law of England, the State cannot grant an exclusive title, but, through the apathy of the people, their rights in the land have not been asserted for more than two hundred years. The consequence is that the ruling classes have possessed themselves of the common rights, and disinherited the great mass of the people. This is the perennial fountain from which flows most, if not all kinds of oppression and wrong. “Man was born free,” cried Rousseau, “but now he is everywhere enchained.”

Without property, a man is practically less than a slave: for property is the very foundation of freedom. Every man should be so placed that by the sweat of his brow he may live without the favour or consent of any other man whatsoever. He who has no property, though personally he may glory in the name of “Free,” can only continue to exist by the permission of his fellow-men, and is therefore, for all practical purposes, an economic thrall. If he has access to land, he can apply directly to Nature for the supply of his wants; but when he is landless, then he is compelled to sell his mental and physical strength to others in exchange for his own and his family’s subsistence. It cannot be too often re-iterated that property rights in the land is the first and principal condition of true liberty. “Liberty, I am told, is a divine thing,” says Thomas Carlyle; “but liberty to choose between servitude or starvation, between the axe or the gibbet, is surely not divine.” “Inequality of conditions,” writes Aristotle, “is the origin of every political convulsion, for no compensation can make amends for inequality.” The only way in which it is possible to guarantee the rights of every man to the elements of life and liberty is by again returning to first principles, making the land of a nation—the land of the world—the common property of all its inhabitants—that is to say, by nationalizing it. Before the advent of Man Friday, Robinson Crusoe's right and might were absolute. There was no reason why he should abstain from doing anything it pleased him to do, and which lay within the scope of his natural faculties. No one would deny, that he had a right to take possession of his cave, to cut down the trees that suited his purpose, to gather fruits, to kill any of the wild goats for his subsistence. Crusoe’s natural right, therefore, extended over the whole island, and everything in it. Suppose, however, that another wreck had cast Will Atkins upon the opposite shore, and that Atkins had established himself there in Crusoe's fashion.

Then, it is plain, the laws of Nature would confer upon him rights no less extensive. Crusoe and Atkins, stalking the same goat from opposite sides, would have been in the position of two tigers slinking after a Hindoo in the jungle, as far as the law of Nature is concerned; and if each insisted upon exerting the whole of his natural rights, it is clear there would be nothing for it but to fight for the goat.

Tigers, no doubt, would fight for the goat, while the goat ran away, but the average man would have more common-sense. Amongst the most uncultivated savages, he whose arrow or spear brings down the game is acknowledged as having an absolute and indisputable title to it. If two hunters shot their arrows at the same moment—a very unlikely occurrence—and both inflict a mortal wound, then, according to the ethics of savagedom, the goat would be equally divided, and each would go his way rejoicing. (Crusoe and Atkins would certainly act thus.) Such is the unwritten law among the most savage tribes to the present day; and if Professor Huxley doubt it, let him come out here and—say, go pig hunting with an untutored Maori in the wilds of the Uriwera Country; or let him visit South Africa, and go out shooting “jumbuks” with, as companion, a Zulu warrior. He whose skill kills the boar, the “jumbuk,” or the goat has the best claim to possess it. But we must not forget that the boar, the “jumbuk,” and the goat, have an equal “natural right” not to be eaten; and if by fleetness or cleverness they get outside the range of the hunter’s rifle, they conclusively assert that right. Just as the goat is the property of the man who shoots it, so under a just political system the produce of the soil would be the property of the actual producer alone. It must also be remembered that the hunter’s right to what he shoots becomes obsolete as soon as the land on which the game runs is “owned.” If Crusoe asserted that he owned the island of Juan Fernandez, and Atkins stupidly assented, then Atkins would have to choose between swimming out to sea and drowning, or becoming Crusoe’s hireling or slave. Under such circumstances, Atkins would have no right to either shoot the goat, or eat of its flesh, without Crusoe’s consent. In fact, his natural right becomes extinct as soon as he acknowledges Crusoe’s assumption, then Crusoe and himself would jointly have equal rights to the produce of the chase and the fruits of the soil. Civil war would be the only alternative. How Professor Huxley can make his illustration of Crusoe and his island fit in with the negative contention he sets out to prove passeth understanding.

Thus it is clearly seen that his (Huxley’s) conclusions are fundamentally fallacious—that they are based, indeed, on the most transparent sophistry. The only logical conclusions that an impartial reader can possibly admit are:—

  1. That men have an absolute natural right to the full produce of their own exertions;
  2. That if one man, or one class of men, own the land in fee-simple, than all other men are at once disinherited;
  3. That among men living in a non-artificial state, equal rights to land and the products of labour are never denied;
  4. That Prof. Huxley’s knowledge of goat-shooting is very limited.

The sum and substance of Professor Huxley’s contention is summed up in the following passage from his second article:—“So the splendid prospect held out to the poor and needy (by Henry George) is a mere rhetorical mirage.”

Is it to be wondered at that “the poor and needy” prefer the noble and inspiring doctrines of equal laws and equal duties to the cold and repulsive theories of stony-hearted materialism? Herein, perhaps, we may discover the secret cause that impels the high-priest of scientific cannibalism to impeach the regenerative teachings of the New Christianity.

Now, a mirage may be defined as a deceptive scene—a visual illusion—but who can honestly say that our half-starved millions, and our idle lands, are other than grim facts?  Let us look into the slums of great cities—those terrible pauper-breeding warrens; and then let us gaze through the halls of luxurious mansions, let us view the banqueting-halls of nobles, and ask ourselves “Is all that but a mirage?” Whether we view our hollow civilisation in detail, or take a bird’s-eye view of the whole scene, it is

equally terrible. There, standing upon the land, is a law-made “owner,” who insolently flourishes his artistically engrossed parchments in the faces of the disinherited multitude, saying: “This land, and all it contains, is mine, and mine alone. Begone! Begone! Ye have no right or title herein! There is no place here for you.”

Their hearts filled with bitter thoughts, these half-famished millions turn aside in sullen despair, to brood in dangerous silence over their wrongs. Just then, in the hour of their sorest need, a THINKER stands up, “one from among themselves,” and thinks aloud. The lean millions listen eagerly to the tale he has to tell. Thin-faced mothers clasp their half-famished offspring to withered breasts. They crowd around in surging masses, and these are the words that they hear; tones of hungry wolves are mingled in their cheers:—

“O, children of sorrow! Behold those fertile valleys; those grassy, rolling uplands; those vales of eternal verdue; those quartz-reefs; those coal and iron mines; those primeval forests; those endless stretches of virgin-soil, and the unoccupied city-lots! These, O my oppressed and suffering brothers, are God’s good gift to you—to every one of you! Lift up thine eyes, brother, and gaze over thine ancient heritage, and let joy fill thy heart, and gladness brighten thy sorrowful life! There” There” Is food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, and wealth for all! O, ye of little courage” O, ye of chicken-hearts! Go in and possess it, that your wives and your little ones may be fed! For verily I say unto you, It is your own—your own!”

And we may, in imagination, hear this modern Rienzi replying to Professor Huxley’s objections in words such as these:—

“Was the fertility and wealth of Imperial Rome a rhetorical mirage to the hosts of Attila, or the warriors from Herman forests? Already the hungry hordes have crossed the Danube, and lo! The latifundia. Where is the mirage in this, O thou of the protoplasm? Where is the delusion here, O ye of the cosmic dust-cloud? This is the sphinx question of the age: How are ye going to reconcile landless hordes and vast estates side by side—hungry millions in the midst of abounding plenty? Ye must solve this question or— It thou, O my scientific spear-thrower, canst propound a better solution than mine (negation is but as the smoke of the morning), behold! Thy hand we’ll arm with lightnings; thy brow we’ll crown with stars.”

Throughout these articles. Professor Huxley comes out in a novel character—that of a Court-jester. He is very amusing, no doubt, and laughs immoderately at the leaders of the disinherited. To throw away the thinker’s cap and don the jester’s bells, may, perhaps, be a pleasant recreation to him; but his sardonic laughter pierces the hearts of the people like bayonet-stabs from a former friend. If his lot was cast in the ranks of the poor—if he had to support a wife and children (perhaps a widowed mother) upon a few shillings per day, his laugh, if he laughed at all, would have a terrible ring about it.


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