Kenneth C. Wenzer, An Anthology of Henry George's Thought, Volume
I of the Henry George Centennial Trilogy, University of Rochester Press, 1997.
from An Introductory Essay on George's Philosophy, p. 5
One of the more concerned nobles was Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy. In his search
for universal absolutes, purer spiritual values, and a solution to society's
moral and economic problems, the famed novelist avidly read Confucius, Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman,
Edward Bellamy (the author of Looking Backward), and the abolitionist William
Lloyd Garrison to name but a few. But Henry George most fired his imagination,
and he was instrumental in publishing George's works in Russian.38 On February
24, 1885, Tolstoy wrote to his collaborator, Victor G. Chertkov:
I was sick for a week but consumed by George's latest [Social Problems] and
the first book Progress and Poverty, which produced a strong
and joyous impression on me. . . . This book is wonderful, but it
is beyond value, for it destroys
all the cobwebs of Spencer-Mill political economy — it is like
the pounding of water and acutely summons people to a moral consciousness
the cause and
even defines the cause. There is weakness in it, as with anything
created by man, but there is a genuine humanitarian thought and heart,
trash. . . . I see in him a brother, one of those who according to
of the Books of the Apostles [has more] love [for people] than for
his own soul..39
Still mesmerized by Progress and Poverty, Tolstoy in a letter the
next day advised Prince L. D. Urusov, an avid Tolstoyan, to read it. George
marvelous writer — a writer, who will usher in an epoch."40 Nine years
later, on November 24, 1894, Tolstoy wrote to Ernest Crosby, an American disciple:
The more I know of him [George], the more I esteem him, and am astonished
at the indifference of the civilized world to his work.
If the new Tsar [Nicholas II] would ask me what I would advise him to do,
I would say to him: use your autocratic power to abolish the land property
Russia and to introduce the single tax system; and then give up your
power and [grant] the people a liberal constitution.
I write this to you, because I know that you are one of the coworkers
of H. George, and that you. . . [believe in] his ideas.
I wish you success in your work.41
By 1908, two years before his death, Tolstoy had become obsessed with George's
single tax, regarding it as vital for the moral and economic regeneration not
only of his homeland, but of the world. This idee fixe is amply illustrated
in the following correspondence.
I read through your letter and I find your thoughts about land to be correct.
The land is God's. It should not and cannot belong to anyone. All people have
an equal right to it and the only concern is how to distribute it. ... Many
people like you truthfully say that the land cannot be anyone's property. Genuine
property is determined only by labor and people must work in harmony on it.
Many truly understand that to distribute the land among the people is important
and wise. These matters were resolved in a very just form by the American scholar
Henry George. . . . [Whoever uses the land] would pay. . . to society i.e.,
to the government for community needs. . . . There will be no domestic taxes
or foreign duties, i.e., there will not be requisitions or taking anything
away from people's work, because all taxes will be replaced by this land payment.
Henry George was wise concerning this. . . . The injustice of landownership
is now becoming as obvious to people as what occurred fifty years ago when
the evil of serfdom became blatant. It could not last long, and when the time
came, it was abolished. The slavery of people and the stealing from their labor
through landownership cannot long remain in the same manner.42
For over a century, a single tax movement in the United States and abroad
has been devoted much in the same manner as Tolstoy to the alleviation of economic
and social injustice. George's philosophy still inspires the hearts of a small
but active body of men and women attracted to its simple reverence for nature,
its exaltation of the individual, its lack of compromise with injustice, and
its minimalist solution to social ills.
39. Tolstoy to V. F. Chertkov, February 24, 1889 PSS, 85: Social Problems
was read before Progress and Poverty.
40. Tolstoy to L. D. Urosov, February 25, 1894, PSS, 63: 212. According
to one of Tolstoy's Russian biographers, it was the introduction to Progress
Poverty that produced "the strongest and most favorable impression," especially
those lines in which George declares:
"I propose to beg no question, to
shrink from no conclusion, but to follow truth wherever it may lead. Upon us
in the responsibility of seeking the law, for in the very heart of our civilization
today women faint and little children moan. . . . If the conclusion that we
reach run counter to our prejudices, let us not flinch; if they challenge institutions
that have long been deemed wise and natural, let us not turn back"
N. Gusev. Lev Nokolaevich Tolstoi: materiali l biografii s 1881
po 1885 god (L. N. Tolstoy: material for a biography from 1881 to 1885)
(Moscow: Izdatel'stvo "Nauka," 1970),
41. Tolstoy to Ernest Crosby, Nov. 24, 1894, in R. F. Christian,
ed/. Tolstoy's Letters, 1880-1910. vol 2 (New York, Charles Scribner's
1978), 512/ Economic
Progress was unthinkable without an inheritance tax, a tax on the
wealthy, and the application of Georgist ideas (Tolstoy, PSS, 53:
42. Tolstoy to Rgotinov, Aug. 29, 1908, PSS, 78:215.
for more about Tolstoy, see An
Anthology of Tolstoy's Spiritual Economics,
edited by Kenneth Wenzer
Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), cited at http://www.earthsharing.org.au/node/88
People do not argue with the teachings of George, they simply do not know
it. ... He who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.
Of all indispensable alterations of the forms of social life there is in
the life of the world one which is most ripe. ... The method of solving the
problem has been elaborated by Henry George to a degree of perfection that
under the existing state organisation and compulsory taxation, it is impossible
to invent any better, more just, practical and peaceful solution.
Quite difficult matters can be explained even to a slow-witted man, if only
he has not already adopted a wrong opinion about them; but the simplest things
cannot be made clear even to a very intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded
that he already knows, and knows indubitably, the truth of the matter under
The only thing now that would pacify the people now is the introduction of
the Land Value Taxation system of Henry George. The land is common to all;
all have the same right to it.
Solving the land question means the solving of all social questions.... Possession
of land by people who do not use it is immoral — just like the possession
The earth cannot be anyone's property.
I sit on a man's back choking him and making him carry me and assure myself
and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all possible
means - except by getting off his back.
Leo Tolstoy, Letter to a German Reformer, quoted by James Dundas White in
a pamphlet entitled "Land-Value
"It is Henry George's merit that he not only exploded all the sophism
whereby religion and science justify landed property and pressed the
question to the farthest proof, which forced all those who had not stopped
to acknowledge the unlawfulness of ownerships in land, but also that
he was the first to indicate a possibility of solution for the question.
the first to give a simple, straightforward answer to the usual excuses
the enemies of all progress, who affirm that the demands of progress
are illusions, impracticable, inapplicable. The method of Henry George destroys
by so putting the question that by tomorrow committees might be appointed
to examine and deliberate on his scheme and its transformation into law."
Leo Tolstoy, A Great Iniquity, quoted by James
Dundas White in a pamphlet entitled "Land-Value
"Certain persons have driven a herd of cows, on whose milk they live,
into an enclosure. The cows have eaten and trampled the forage, they have chewed
each others' tails, and they low and moan, seeking to get out. But the very
men who live on the milk of these cows have set around the enclosure plantations
of mint, they have cultivated flowers, laid out a race-course, a park, and
a lawn-tennis ground, and they do not let out the cows lest they should spoil
these arrangements. …The cows get thin. Then the men think that the cows
may cease to yield milk, and they invent various means for improving the condition
of the cows. They build sheds over them, they gild their horns, they alter
the hour of milking, they concern themselves with the treatment of old and
invalid cows … but they will not do the one thing needful, is to remove
the barrier and let the cows have access to-S pasture."
Leo Tolstoy, To the Working People, quoted by James Dundas
White in a pamphlet entitled "Land-Value
"The only indubitable means of improving the position of the workers,
which is at the same time in conformity with the will of God, consists in the
liberation of the land from its usurpation by the landlords. …The most
just and practicable scheme, in my opinion, is that of Henry George, known
as the single-tax system." [Leo Tolstoy, To the Working People, xiii]
Leo Tolstoy, letter to Single-Tax Leagues of Australia, quoted by James
Dundas White in a pamphlet entitled "Land-Value
"The injustice of the seizure of the land as property has long ago been
recognised by thinking people, but only since the teaching of Henry George
has it become clear by what means this injustice can be abolished." [Leo
Tolstoy, Letter to Single-Tax Leagues of Australia]
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