Liberty and Civilization – George Fitzhugh (Transcribed)

Liberty and Civilization – George Fitzhugh, 1866

As civilization advances liberty recedes, because laws become more complex and numerous, public opinion
more stringent and dictatorial, religion and morality more dominant and restrictive, fashion more exacting in its
requirements, human wants and luxuries more numerous, and the labor needed to supply them greater. Hence
it will even be found that in large cities, the great centres and foci of civilization, there is least of liberty: Not only
the laws of the State and of the Union, but the corporate laws, more restrictive than either, curtail men’s liberties
in such cities.But, white men, especially good men, are extremely averse to that degree of liberty which law and
government still leave to them. They contract marriage and have families, and both husband and wife become
almost slaves to their children, for whom they are legally, morally, and religiously bound to labor, take care of,
and educate. Besides, they become members of a church, and thus incur new obligations, and further lessen
their liberty. But this does not suffice; whilst white men dislike liberty they love security, and very properly are
not satisfied with that loose and imperfect kind of security that mere law and government afford. They labor
from morn to eve to amass property, and whilst so laboring, if not slaves, are performing the part of slaves.
But wealth is easier to lose than to make, and to provide against such losses and the various contingencies
and misfortunes of life, they enter into temperance societies, freemason and odd-fellow societies, and many
other such that provide for their sick and unfortunate members, and for their destitute families after their deaths.
Trades Unions are another fashionable and most efficient way of parting with liberty in order to beget security.
We highly approve of them. Think them a great and beneficent discovery in social science; nevertheless, they
abridge liberty to acquire security. We like especially the eight-hour rule, which, if it is secured, will pretty well
give the “coup de grace” to the liberty of the masses; but it will infinitely promote their well-being, and human
well-being is cheaply purchased by the sale or sacrifice of human liberty, when such liberty stands in the way
of its enjoyment.

But the most all-pervading, thorough and efficient way in which civilization destroys liberty is through the agency
of its servants and offspring, capital or property. Although we cannot trace back civilization to its origin, the whole
of the white race having been more or less civilized, as far back as history (written or monumental) or tradition
extends; yet observation and reflection will readily convince us that the appropriation of the lands by the few was
the first great step in the progress of civilization. Savages always hold lands in common. Were they capable of
originating and fully sustaining the institution of private property in lands, they would at once cease to be savages,
and become civilized. For the owners of lands would not only want necessaries, but superfluities and luxuries, so
soon as they found they could be acquired without labor of their own, by the mere command of other people’s labor,
with which the ownership of the soil had invested them. Liberty took her flight from the domains of civilization when
land became appropriated, and we now hear of her among the roving savages of Africa and America; we mean the
true and genuine goddess. There is, it is true, a pretender or imposter, much worshipped by the Sans Culottes of
Paris, by the people of Utah, and by a few crazy abolitionists of Europe and America. We repeat it. Liberty took her
flight when land became property, at least the liberty of the honest masses, of those who possessed neither capital
nor skill, nor the cunning, shrewd, calculating, overreaching, money. making faculty. Nineteen-twentieths of mankind
became the subjects of an exploitation, as oppressive, grinding and exacting in many instances, as domestic slavery
itself, so soon lands were made private property. Tis true that the owners of money and of merchandise, professional
men, artists, money-making men of all kinds, escaped the bondage of land monopoly by helping the land-owners to
tax and exploit the laboring masses, and thus paying their rents from the profits, gains or advantages which capital,
skill and cunning enabled them to exact from the working millions.

In thus exploiting the masses (we wont say “cheating,” because that is an ugly, vulgar English word, and the French
have such an elegant way of saying harsh things that we always prefer the French term when we know it), these
classes wonderfully aid the landowners, in tasking the masses into continuous, unceasing industry, and in exciting
their ingenuity to make useful inventions and discoveries, whereby a few of them escape from their semi-servile
condition by amassing capital, and thus become themselves taxers or exploiters of the very masses, to which they
lately belonged. If every man owned lands all would speedily become savages, for no man would build a fine house,
or fabricate fine clothing, or furniture, or luxuries of any kind for himself. In such a condition of property every one
would be content to produce the interest necessaries of life. There would be nothing to stimulate to the exercise
of skill and invention, for none could pay for it. No luxuries, elegancies, or superfluities of life whatever would be
produced, for men only fabricate luxuries for others to procure necessaries for themselves, and all owning lands
alike, none need labor for others to procure a living for themselves. All would become poor and ignorant, but no
one would be ashamed of his poverty and ignorance when he saw that his neighbors were equally poor and ignorant.
The loss of liberty is the price of civilization, and it is cheaply paid for at that. Who would not rather be a common
laborer in some large city, bound by law, religion, or prevalent morality, to support one’s wife and children, taxed
by government, exploited by one’s landlord, doctor, lawyer, parson and merchant, and taxed by an odd-fellow’s,
temperance, or freemason society, and by a trades union society to boot; who would not prefer to have his liberty
thus hemmed in, restricted, or taken away, than to be a roving savage. Indeed, we have no doubt that the poorest
white laborer in Europe or America, in the course of an ordinary lifetime, has more of intellectual and physical
comfort and enjoyment than any roving savage whatever; for the savage is half of his time starving, and the
other half stealing or fighting.

He is never secure for the present or the future, and has no moral, religious or intellectual enjoyments. The
proposition to give everybody land (which is a pet notion of Mr. Seward’s, broached by him in the Senate during
the Session of (57-58) is equivalent to a proposition to return to the savage state. That done, and civilization
would take her flight and liberty come again to dwell in our midst; the ownership of land by every one would
be equivalent to holding all land in common. It is the ownership by a few that lashes labor into exertion, and
stimulates and rewards genius, skill and inventiveness, and thus advances civilization. Negroes and American
Indians are irreclaimably wild in their natures. “Tis true they may be tamed, and kept tame, so long as they are
in the society and under the rule of the whites, just as Van Amburg’s lions and tigers were; but when turned loose
to themselves they will as inevitably go wild again as any other naturally wild animals. There are two tame or
civilized races the Whites of Europe, America and Western Asia, and the Yellow or Mongol race of Eastern Asia.
And two distinct wild or savage races–the Negroes and American Indians. The two former races prefer security
to liberty; have been always tame, provident, obedient to law and government, money-making, accumulative,
docile and literary. The two latter, being wild, prefer liberty to everything else, and can only be permanently
civilized by abundant miscegenation, as in the instances of the Choctaws and Cherokees in our Indian territory.
The division of races into the wild and the tame, or civilized and savage, is apparent to every one, and admitted
by all in the many instances of inferior animals that come within our observation. No one will deny that there are
wild ducks and tame ducks, wild geese and tame geese, that horses, cattle and sheep are of a docile and tamable
nature, whilst wolves, foxes and lions are irreclaimably wild, or at least cannot be domesticated from generation to

The dog and cat, and the common barn fowl, seem always to have been tame or domesticated, whilst the partridge
and pheasant are wholly untamable. The submission to rule, the deprivation of liberty, is the distinguishing trait of all
tame or civilized animals; whilst the inordinate love of liberty, and the readiness to sacrifice everything else in order
to enjoy it, is the leading characteristic of wild races of animals, men included. We should study the natural history of
man, and to do so properly we must include a comparative natural history of man and other animals.

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