Abridged Version


   Take, since you bade it should bear,
  These, of the seed of your sowing—
  Blossom or berry or weed.

  Sweet though they be not, or fair,
  That the dew of your word kept growing;
  Sweet at least was the seed.

-- Swinburne to Mazzini

August Lewis of New York
Tom L. Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio,
who, of their own motion, and without suggestion or thought of mine, have helped me to the leisure needed to write it, I affectionately dedicate what in this sense is their work.

Introductory Epigraphs

But let none expect any great promotion of the sciences, especially in their effective part, unless natural philosophy be drawn out to particular sciences; and again unless these particular sciences be brought back again to natural philosophy. From this defect it is that astronomy, optics, music, many mechanical arts, and what seems stranger, even moral and civil philosophy and logic, rise but little above their foundations, and only skim over the varieties and surface of things, viz., because after these particular sciences are formed and divided off they are no longer nourished by natural philosophy, which might give them strength and increase; and therefore no wonder if the sciences thrive not when separated from their roots.

-- Bacon, Novum Organum

 For tho’ the Giant Ages heave the hill
  And break the shore, and evermore
  Make and break, and work their will;

  Tho’ world on world in myriad myriads roll
  Round us, each with different power
  And other forms of life than ours,
  What know we greater than the soul?


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Henry George
The Science of Political Economy

Which Version to Use,
Abridged or Original?

By Dan Sullivan, online editor of the original version.

A very good abridged version of this work is available online. It was edited by Lindy Davies, director of the Henry George Institute, which teaches an online class using it in combination with supplemental materials.

Advantages of the Abridged Version

The Science of Political Economy was published posthumously from Henry George's unfinished manuscript, with an absolute minimum of editing. A lack of "finishing" is therefore apparent in redundant explanations and occasionally awkward constructions. Some passages in the original seem to have been written more for George's own guidance in finishing his book than for the reader, and many surely would have been reworded, rearranged or even deleted by George had he lived to edit his own work. These "rough spots" have been greatly improved in the abridged version, making it vastly more readable, while most economic concepts have remained intact.

The original work also includes detailed critiques of economic thought and detailed analysis of metaphysical questions George considered to be important underpinnings of proper economic analysis. Davies believed, with considerable justification, that much of this was unnecessary and tangential to George's actual economic assertions, and has eliminated much of this from the abridgement. Thus the reader of the abridged version does not have to wade through involved arguments about arcane and esoteric subjects. The abridged version is not only much shorter but much better focused on the most salient aspects of George's message.

Having read the original version several times, both for content and for the purposes of putting it online, I cannot overstress how much less exertion is spent to satisfy the reader's desire for a basic understanding of George's message by reading the abridged version.

Advantages of the Original Version

Obviously, anyone who quotes George would want to cite his original work, but there are other advantages to reading the original as opposed to just referencing it. There are, I believe, gems in the original that, while not necessary to the study of Georgist economics, are nonetheless important to George's philosophy and to philosophy generally.

George was rare among western philosophers in that he emphatically believed in a spiritual order of things without imposing a particular dogma about to the source of that spirituality. He treated moral laws as being just as scientifically determinable as spiritual laws. To him, moral laws are not authoritarian "commandments," but laws that link cause to effect, just like physical laws. "By their fruits you shall know them" expresses George's approach to moral law. Thus, those who violate moral or spiritual laws destroy morale and create dispiritedness, and such "bitter fruits" provide scientific evidence of the moral laws that have been violated.

George viewed nature as having an "intelligence," not in the anthropomorphic sense of Christian fundamentalism, but in a broader sense that is as Taoist as it is Christian. George believed that God is a metaphor for natural law, and that justice, prosperity and general happiness come from harmonizing with this cosmic intelligence or "natural order." This belief underscores his penchant for starting with principles rather than desired outcomes and his rejection of approaches that rely on grand designs by supposedly intelligent elites, be they aristocratic or socialistic.

Davies's treatment of these questions is more than adequate for George's own stated purposes of his work -- to clear up confusions in mainstream political economy, recast the fundamentals and convey a sound understanding of those fundamentals. Clearly, however, George's agenda also included expressing a metaphysical foundation for anyone considering political, economic or social questions of any sort. The expression of that metaphysical foundation is far more complete in the original work. The original also contains a number of epigraphs, like those in the left-hand column, that express George's sensibilities.

Finally, there is the problem that any substantial re-editing of a work recasts it through the lens of the editor. This is particularly true of major abridgements, and one must have faith that bias is not playing an undue role in determining what gets "short shrift." Although my own perspectives on on some pertinent issues differ from those of Mr. Davies, my sense is that his abridgement was as balanced and true to the original as one could reasonably expect. Still, there could be biases we both share, making it impossible for one of us to appreciate the seriousness of that bias in the other.

Getting the Best of Both Versions

Because both versions are online, and because the full version is heavily glossed with internal hyperlinks, one could most profitably read the abridged version and refer to the unabridged version on occasion, as interest dictates. The gloss along the left hand column of the full version is my own gloss as online editor, and the gloss under each chapter title in the center column is from Henry George's own notations, or, where he left no notations, from those of his son. One should use chapter headings rather than chapter numbers to navigate between versions because some chapters were consolidated in the abridgement.

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