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To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

William F. Buckley: Closet Georgist?

Yet another potential chapter in a book on Georgism's influence on the libertarian movement, if such a book should ever be written. Via Bill Grennon. William F. Buckley, whose early intellectual development was influenced so strongly by Albert Nock and Frank Chodorov, a few years back acknowleged his Georgist ideas in a Brian Lamb interview on CSPAN Book Notes (April 2-3, 2000).

CALLER: Mr. Buckley, it's a pleasure to talk to you.

William F. Buckley, Jr.(WFB): Thank You.

CALLER: I've heard you describe yourself as a Georgist, a follower of Henry George, but I haven't heard much in having you promote land value taxation and his theories, and I'm wondering why that is the case.

W.F.B.: It's mostly because I'm beaten down by my right-wing theorists and intellectual friends. They always find something wrong with the Single-Tax idea. What I'm talking about Mr. Lamb is Henry George who said there is infinite capacity to increase capital and to increase labor, but none to increase land, and since wealth is a function of how they play against each other, land should be thought of as common property. The effect of this would be that if you have a parking lot and the Empire State Building next to it, the tax on the parking lot should be the same as the tax on the Empire State Building, because you shouldn't encourage land speculation.

Anyway I've run into tons of situations were I think the Single-Tax theory would be applicable. We should remember also this about Henry George, he was sort of co-opted by the socialists in the 20s and the 30s, but he was not one at all. Alfred J. Nock's book on him makes that plain. Plus, also, he believes in only that tax. He believes in zero income tax.

You look bored (addressing Brian Lamb)!

B.L.: No, no. As a matter of fact I was going to ask you about this little book ("Lexicon, A Cornucopia of Wonderful Words for the Inquisitive Word Lover"). I'm fascinated by it. I'm going to see if you can pronounce the word, the-fear-of-having-peanut-butter-stuck-to-your-roof-of-your-mouth, This little book starts off and the fellow's name, is it Jesse Sheidlower?...

W.F.B.: I think so.

B.L.: S-H-E-I-D-L-O-W-E-R? You've never read it (the Introduction to "The Lexicon").

W.F.B.: No. I never have.

B.L.: (Quoting the book) "The first time I met William F. Buckley, we were both members of a televised panel discussing word. The moderator introduced me with a pop-quiz to test my credentials asked me to define the word..." Is it USUFRUCT?

W.F.B.: Usufruct, yeah.

B.L. (Quoting the book) "I felt smug as I recite the right to enjoy another's property as long as you don't damage it. Then Mr. Buckley leaned into his microphone and quoted an entire paragraph on usufruct from the political economist, Henry George.

W.F.B.: Oh for heaven's sake!

B.L.: And this little book has..

W.F.B.: The land belongs to those in usufruct.

Also via Grennon, an excerpt from Home, Dear Home by Wm F. Buckley:

Henry George, the eminent social philosopher of a century ago, turned the attention of planners and economists, however briefly, to the indefeasible factor of land scarcity. Capital and labor can increase; land cannot.

Accordingly, George was the apostle of the single tax. It aimed most directly at land speculators. His insights would focus now on the limitations on the use of land imposed by zoning. If John Jones wants an acre protecting his house, he is laying claim to something that cannot expand in size. Since land, in George's analysis, is forever limited, it must be thought of and treated as common property. And therefore the rental value of one acre should constitute a tax (the single tax) on the person who sequesters it for himself.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Sparrow said...

I never would have expected such sensible policy-prescriptions from someone so foul, eltist, and statist as Buckley - or that I would agree with him. Sigh.

November 17, 2005 10:29 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

even though i should detest buckely, i really can't. i like him, and even admire him. one of my favorite tv clips ever is his interview of/debate with noam chomsky. interesting pair, those two...

November 17, 2005 10:29 PM  
Anonymous BillG said...

Buckley's father admired Nock and Nock was a Georgist.

He (Buckley's father) use to bring intelligent people to his CT. estate to privately tutor his 10 chidren...one of whom was Frank Chodorov also a Georgist who became Bill Buckley's mentor (while Nock mentored Chodorov)...

November 18, 2005 1:45 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Is it not fascinating that William F. Buckley, the godfather of the (first) New Right and the central figure of American conservatism takes his inspiration from (and, as BillG tells us) was personally educated by self-proclaimed Anarchists (Nock and Chodorov)?

From the sound of the interview, Buckley's soft spot for Georgism seems to be an instance of earnest appreciation for the individualism of old. But this instance is an anomoly--and the references to Nock and Chodorov beg recalling Buckley's wider history. Clearly he is not an anarchist of any kind, and in addition can be fairly credited with sounding the death knell of the supposedly libertarian Old Right and giving birth to the comparitively authoritarian New. Ever since he appeared on the scene, Buckley was a self-styled champion of "individualism," even as he simultaneously called for "totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores" to fight the Cold War. One of his books is audaciously subtitled "memoirs [or something] of a libertarian journalist."

Now, as Kevin has pointed out at great length, when conservatives and certain libertarians employ the rhetoric of "individualism," "self-reliance," "the free market" and so on, there is at best a double standard at work and at worst (that is, usually) a case of outright bullshit. Of course, the Right has colonized this rhetoric largely with the help of liberal useful idiots who accept it at face value. This flawed paradigm, of course, has its origins largely in the 30's when anyone who opposed the "new" era of government economic intervention, represented by the welfare/regulatory state, automatically came off as an "individualist." The fact is, as Kevin and so many others have pointed out, state intervention was nothing new, it simply took a new, and moreover, visible form, and its opponents (Buckley et al) we able to establish the phony individualism we are so familiar with today (as opposed to the less phony individualism of the Old Right).

I would like to see Buckley's affinity for anarchists excavated in greater detail--I think it would be illuminating or at least interesting. After all, it is one thing for a "vulgar libertarian," an advocate/apologist for state capitalism alone, to claim he is intellectually descended from or even just an admirer of anarchists. But it's another thing altogether for an advocate/apologist for state capitalism, the police state, the empire, and state-imposed morality (there's even a word for this type--"Buckleyite"!) To do so. The man has an enormous body of work; there's no shortage of pontifications from him on a wid range of topics, so maybe's there's something out there that delves into this issue.

I wonder how Buckley's minions on the Right would (or do) react to the fact that their idol was a fan of anarchists...

November 19, 2005 9:38 AM  
Anonymous BillG (not Gates) said...

I don't think you can understand Bill Buckley without giving pause to how his CIA background and deep catholic faith shaped both his anti-communist views (supporting Joe McCarthy) as a spiritualist struggle (see Brent Bozell and Gary Willis) and may have had a twinge of fascist sympathy from catholicsm - at the very least a comfort with hierarchy rather than individualism

November 19, 2005 8:31 PM  

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