How Modern Civilization May Decline

by Henry George

From Progress and Poverty (1879), Book X, Chapter 4

“… A corrupt democratic government must finally corrupt the people, and when a people become corrupt there is no resurrection. The life is gone, only the carcass remains; and it is left but for the plowshares of fate to bury it out of sight.”

“… Now this transformation of popular government into despotism of the vilest and most degrading kind, which must inevitably result from the unequal distribution of wealth, is not a thing of the far future. It has already begun in the United States, and is rapidly going on under our eyes. That our legislative bodies are steadily deteriorating in standard; that men of the highest ability and character are compelled to eschew politics, and the arts of the jobber count for more than the reputation of the statesman; that voting is done more recklessly and the power of money is increasing; that it is harder to arouse the people to the necessity of reforms and more difficult to carry them out; that political differences are ceasing to be differences of principle, and abstract ideas are losing their power; that parties are passing into the control of what in general government would be oligarchies and dictatorships; are all evidences of political decline.” 

“… The most ominous political sign in the United States today is the growth of a sentiment which either doubts the existence of an honest man in public office or looks on him as a fool for not seizing his opportunities. That is to say, the people themselves are becoming corrupted. Thus in the United States today is republican government running the course it must inevitably follow under conditions which cause the unequal distribution of wealth. Where that course leads is clear to whoever will think. As corruption becomes chronic; as public spirit is lost; as traditions of honor, virtue, and patriotism are weakened; as law is brought into contempt and reforms become hopeless; then in the festering mass will be generated volcanic forces, which shatter and rend when seeming accident gives them vent. Strong, unscrupulous men, rising up upon occasion, will become the exponents of blind popular desires or fierce popular passions, and dash aside forms that have lost their vitality. The sword will again be mightier than the pen, and in carnivals of destruction brute force and wild frenzy will alternate with the lethargy of a declining civilization.” 

Our courses cast light on today’s baffling economic problems.

Who was Henry George?

During his lifetime, he became the third most famous person in America, behind Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was one of the most important voices of the Progressive Era, and his supporters included Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and John Dewey, to name a few. Here is more on George’s life and work.

We’ve had students in all these countries.

Our New Book! A user-friendly political economy text for the 21st-century, based on Henry George’s timeless insights. Decades in the making, this up-to-date guide will change the way you think and feel about society and wealth. Order a copy

The Henry George Institute is a non-profit organization, founded in 1971. It is a membership organization supported by dues and contributions. In the belief that the philosophy of Henry George has important answers to today’s urgent problems, the Institute is established to promote this philosophy by educational means. Here’s more on the HGI, and how to join. You can join the HGI, renew dues, or make a contribution right here!

Georgist Journalgjcov
archives now online! Decades of movement news, debates and analysis are now flowing into our ever-expanding compendium. (But only members get the current issue, in print!)

Membership in the Henry George Institute

...has only two requirements: pay your annual dues of $20 (us), and indicate your agreement with our Statement of Purpose. As a member, you get a subscription to the Georgist Journal, and a vote in our annual election for members of the Board of Directors.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

In accordance with the philosophy of Henry George, the Henry George Institute holds that all persons have a right to the use of the earth and that all have a right to the fruits of their labor. To implement these rights it is proposed that the rent of land be taken by the community as public revenue, and that all taxes on labor and the fruits of labor be abolished. The Institute believes with George that “liberty means justice and justice is the natural law,” and that the social and economic ills besetting the world today are the result of non-conformance to natural law. The Institute pledges itself to bring this philosophy to the attention of the public by all suitable means.

Close this popup

Membership in the Henry George Institute

...has only two requirements: pay your annual dues of $20 (us), and indicate your agreement with our Statement of Purpose. As a member, you get a subscription to the Georgist Journal, and a vote in our annual election for members of the Board of Directors.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

In accordance with the philosophy of Henry George, the Henry George Institute holds that all persons have a right to the use of the earth and that all have a right to the fruits of their labor. To implement these rights it is proposed that the rent of land be taken by the community as public revenue, and that all taxes on labor and the fruits of labor be abolished. The Institute believes with George that “liberty means justice and justice is the natural law,” and that the social and economic ills besetting the world today are the result of non-conformance to natural law. The Institute pledges itself to bring this philosophy to the attention of the public by all suitable means.

Close this popup

Getting Started with Understanding Economics

You can take our first course, Understanding Economics, with an individual instructor (recommended) if you pay an enrollment fee of $25. Or, you can do the free, self-paced version of the course. There are no due-dates or deadlines — yet our staff is always available to answer your questions. We'll use your email to send you occasional news and updates — you are free to opt out of this at any time.

It's a good idea to check out the first few readings and video supplements to get ready for your first lesson. Make sure to bookmark our "Site Map" page, which has links to the suggested readings for each lesson (and much more).

When you're ready, click below to enroll.

Close this popup