Social Problems

Table of Contents

by Henry George 1883

Preface to the Current (1981) Edition


[01] SOCIAL PROBLEMS, when written in 1883 by Henry George, was more than a perceptive account of the problems of society which afflicted not only the nation but the world of his time. It was a harbinger of things to come. We in the latter half of the twentieth century know only too well how accurately his predictions have turned out.

[02] He warned that unless our system of land tenure was reformed, and unless the individual's freedom of action was enhanced, even graver ecological, economic, moral and ethical problems would plague us than his generation faced.

[03] He noted the despoiling of nature which today even the dullest can see and warned of "the destructive character of our agriculture which is year by year decreasing the productiveness of our soil, and virtually lessening the area of land available for the support of our increasing millions."

[04] "We have made," he said, "and still are making, enormous advances on material lines." But he added, "it is necessary that we commensurately advance on moral lines. Civilization, as it progresses, requires a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit. Failing these, civilization must pass into destruction."

[05] That ethically we have been retrogressing instead of advancing is obvious from the physical and spiritual degradation so evident in our great cities, and from the moral degeneracy of our permissive society.

[06] George recognized that the solution of our problems can be found in studying the laws of nature. "The domain of law is not confined to physical nature," he said. "It just as certainly embraces the mental and moral universe, and social growth and social life have their laws as fixed as those of matter and motion. Would we make social life healthy and happy, we must discover those laws, and seek our ends in accordance with them."

[07] Though "the social and political problems that confront us are darker than they realize who have not given thought to them; yet their solution is a mere matter of the proper adjustment of social forces."

[08] His advice on how to help spread knowledge about ways to improve society is as valid today as when he gave it. He noted, "the great work of the present for every man, and every organization of men, who would improve social conditions, is the work of education -- the propagation of ideas. It is only as it aids this that anything else can avail. And in this work every one who can think may aid -- first by forming clear ideas himself, and then by endeavoring to arouse the thought of those with whom he comes in contact."

[09] He was in advance of his times in urging the equality of women with men, for he argued that "we could in no way so increase the attention, the intelligence and the devotion which may be brought to the solution of social problems as by enfranchising our women.

[10] George is best known for his unique program for land reform as set forth in Progress and Poverty, one of America's great classics. In the twenty-two essays of Social Problems he expounded thought-provoking ideas for dealing with many of the ills which plagued his generation and which still persist in our day. If we would but take to heart the advice of this discerning man and put his ideas into action the probability is great that many of these problems would be satisfactorily solved.

Lancaster M. Greene, President
Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
May, 1981

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