To me, this older conception of man’s nature and destiny seems more realistic, more nearly in accord with the given facts than any form of modern utopianism. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to ask for the blessing, which consists in not being led into temptation. The reason is only too obvious. When temptations are very great or unduly prolonged, most persons succumb to them. To devise a perfect social order is probably beyond our powers, but I believe that it is perfectly possible for us to reduce the number of dangerous temptations to a level far below that which is tolerated at the present time. A society so arranged that there shall be a minimum of dangerous temptations — this is the end towards which, as a citizen, I have to strive.
In my efforts to achieve that end, I can make use of a great variety of means. Do good ends justify the use of intrinsically bad means? On the level of theity, the point can be argued indefinitely. In practice, meanwhile, I find that the means employed invariably determine the nature of the end achieved. Indeed, as Mahatma Gandhi was never tired of insisting, the means are the end in its preliminary stages.
Men have put forth enormous efforts to make their world a better place to live in. But except in regard to gadgets, plumbing, and hygiene, their success has been pathetically small. Hell, as the proverb has it, is paved with good intentions. And so long as we go on trying to realize our ideals by bad or merely inappropriate means, our good intentions will come to the same bad ends. In this consists the tragedy and the irony of history. Can I, as an individual, do anything to make future history a little less tragic and less ironic than history past, and present? I believe I can. As a citizen, I can use all my intelligence and all my goodwill to develop political means that shall be of the same kind and quality as the ideal ends which I am trying to achieve. And as a person, as a psychophysical organism, I can learn how to get out of the way so that the divine source of my life and consciousness can come out of eclipse and shine through me.
English novelist Aldous Huxley was born into a family of scientists and writers. He is best known for his books “Brave New World" (1932) and “Point Counter Point" (1928), but also wrote poetry, essays, screenplays and children’s books. Huxley died in 1963.
According to the closing words Bob Edwards added after listening to this essay, Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day. This radio series came from the 1950s, but I've not been able to tie down the date any closer than that.
My ears perked up when I heard Huxley's name mentioned. In his forward to the 2nd edition of Brave New World, circa 1947, he says that were he to re-write the book, he would include the possibility of a third way. Here's my abridgment:
Huxley was not the only person to find in Henry George's ideas a "third way." Bob Andelson wrote an excellent essay called "Henry George and the Reconstruction of Capitalism."
To return to the excerpt from Huxley's "This I Believe" essay -- "To devise a perfect social order is probably beyond our powers, but I believe that it is perfectly possible for us to reduce the number of dangerous temptations to a level far below that which is tolerated at the present time" -- This brings to mind something that has run through my head from time to time, that there is huge individual temptation to support -- actively or passively -- the maintenance of an inequitable system, even one by which one is currently victimized, if one thinks one might be able to join the portion of society which benefits from that structure. "I might win the lottery; therefore I should support measures that preserve the privileges of those with huge wealth!" -- or so the thought pattern goes -- and goodness knows the wealthy like that thought pattern just fine! Particularly those whose fortunes have been made based on privileges like the ownership of land well-served by taxpayer-provided infrastructure, or scarce natural resources, or anything the classical economists would recognize as "land."
Henry George starts with the premise that "man seeks to satisfy his desires with the least effort" and it flows from this that there is certainly a tendency to exploit one's fellow human beings if structures permit one to, even if one doesn't understand the mechanism of that exploitation.
From there, my musing takes me to the thought that in that same prayer, perhaps the one most used by Christians of any prayer, we ask forgiveness for our trespasses and agree to forgive those who trespass against us. I wonder how that phrase must have seemed to people enslaved in the American south (or north).
And then my musing leads me into one of my favorites of Henry George's speeches, "Thy Kingdom Come." A lift:
“Our Father!” “Our Father!” Whose? Not my Father — that is not the prayer. “Our Father” — not the father of any sect, or any class, but the Father of all humanity. The All-Father, the equal Father, the loving Father. He it is we ask to bring the kingdom. Aye, we ask it with our lips! We call Him “Our Father,” the All, the Universal Father, when we kneel down to pray to Him.
But that He is the All-Father — that He is all people’s Father — we deny by our institutions. The All-Father who made the world, the All-Father who created us in His image, and put us upon the earth to draw subsistence from its bosom; to find in the earth all the materials that satisfy our wants, waiting only to be worked up by our labor! If He is the All-Father, then are not all human beings, all children of the Creator, equally entitled to the use of His bounty? And, yet, our laws say that this God’s earth is not here for the use of all His children, but only for the use of a privileged few!
There's that word again: privilege.
Back to George:
Why, consider: “Give us this day our daily bread.” I stopped in a hotel last week — a hydropathic establishment. A hundred or more guests sat down to table together. Before they ate anything, a man stood up, and, thanking God, asked Him to make us all grateful for His bounty. And it is so at every mealtime — such an acknowledgement is made over well-filled boards. What do we mean by it?
If Adam, when he got out of Eden, had sat down and commenced to pray, he might have prayed till this time without getting anything to eat unless he went to work for it. Yet food is God’s bounty. He does not bring meat and vegetables all prepared. What He gives are the opportunities of producing these things — of bringing them forth by labor. His mandate is — it is written in the Holy Word, it is graven on every fact in nature — that by labor we shall bring forth these things. Nature gives to labor and to nothing else.
What God gives are the natural elements that are indispensable to labor. He gives them, not to one, not to some, not to one generation, but to all. They are His gifts, His bounty to the whole human race. And yet in all our civilised countries what do we see? That a few people have appropriated these bounties, claiming them as theirs alone, while the great majority have no legal right to apply their labor to the reservoirs of Nature and draw from the Creator’s bounty.
Thus it happens that all over the civilized world that class that is called peculiarly ‘the laboring class’ is the poor class, and that people who do no labor, who pride themselves on never having done honest labor, and on being descended from fathers and grandfathers who never did a stroke of honest labor in their lives, revel in a superabundance of the things that labor brings forth.
and, skipping ahead,
Nothing is clearer than that if we are all children of the universal Father, we are all entitled to the use of His bounty. No one dare deny that proposition. But the people who set their faces against its carrying out say, virtually: “Oh, yes! that is true; but it is impracticable to carry it into effect!” Just think of what this means. This is God’s world, and yet such people say that it is a world in which God’s justice, God’s will, cannot be carried into effect. What a monstrous absurdity, what a monstrous blasphemy!
If the loving God does reign, if His laws are the laws not merely of the physical, but of the moral universe, there must be a way of carrying His will into effect, there must be a way of doing equal justice to all of His creatures.
There is. The people who deny that there is any practical way of carrying into effect the perception that all human beings are equally children of the Creator shut their eyes to the plain and obvious way. It is, of course, impossible in a civilization like this of ours to divide land up into equal pieces. Such a system might have done in a primitive state of society. We have progressed in civilization beyond such rude devices, but we have not, nor can we, progress beyond God’s providence.
There is a way of securing the equal rights of all, not by dividing land up into equal pieces, but by taking for the use of all that value which attaches to land, not as the result of individual labor upon it, but as the result of the increase in population, and the improvement of society. In that way everyone would be equally interested in the land of one’s native country. Here is the simple way. It is a way that impresses the person who really sees its beauty with a more vivid idea of the beneficence of the providence of the All-Father than, it seems to me, does anything else.
I've wandered a bit, but perhaps in a sense come full circle, back to Huxley's "This I Believe."