John Dewey: Great American Philosopher and Admirer of Henry George

John Dewey

No man, no graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard himself as an educated man in social thought unless he has some first-hand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of [Henry George].

~ John Dewey

By most accounts, John Dewey (1859-1952) was the most influential voice of educational reform in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of the tenets of modern educational philosophy stem from his theories on the experimental nature of human understanding and knowledge. During his lifetime, Dewey pioneered three inter-related philosophical movements: pragmatism, functional psychology, and progressive education. It is nearly impossible to enter classroom today and not find some remnant of Dewey’s philosophy in practice.

Given his substantial impact on the development of modern educational thought, it means something to note that Dewey greatly admired Henry George who he recognized as a world class social philosopher. “It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who from Plato down rank with [Henry George],” Dewey famously wrote.[1] While other academics shunned George as an outsider, Dewey appreciated George’s originality as well as his ability to draw important conclusions from firsthand observations and experiences. As Dewey noted,

There have been others who were emotionally stirred by social ills and who proposed glowing schemes of betterment, but who passed lightly over facts. It is the thorough fusion of insight into actual facts and forces, with recognition of their bearing upon what makes human life worth living, that constitutes Henry George one of the world’s great social philosophers.[2]

Dewey didn’t just admire George’s philosophical abilities, he also believed in the single tax. On April 28, 1933, Dewey delivered a radio address titled, “Steps to Economic Recovery,” in which he urged lawmakers to use George’s ideas to guide social and economic reform. “Go to the work of Henry George himself,” Dewey prodded, “and learn how many of the troubles from which society still suffers, and suffers increasingly, are due to the fact that a few have monopolized the land…”[3] In particular, Dewey pressed the nation’s economic “tinkerers” to shift the burden of taxation away from houses and buildings and onto the “socially produced annual value of land.”[4]

Dewey’s deep appreciation of Henry George likely influenced his decision to endorse the educational program of Henry George School of Social Science, for which he was named honorary president in 1938. After visiting the School in the early 1940s, Dewey penned the following letter:

3204 - John Dewey Letter_1

This letter and other works by John Dewey can be found in Series One of the Henry George School of Social Science Collection.

[1] John Dewey, An Appreciation of Henry George. (New York: The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, undated), 1.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] John Dewey, Steps to Economic Recovery. (New York: The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, [1933]), 6.

[4] Ibid., 9.

One thought on “John Dewey: Great American Philosopher and Admirer of Henry George

  1. Most of my K-12 schooling was heavily influenced by Dewey’s ideas. I didn’t realize how good it was until I got to Harvard and its boring lectures. Dad, who was a Dewey graduate and Supt. of my High School, warned me that college teachers would not be as good as those I had known, but boy! Was he right! Military service saved me from more of the same, and I don’t recommend that kind of education either, but postwar I didn’t return to Harvard, but to Reed College, with its more Deweyite methods. Once you’ve tasted freedom it’s hard to return to regimentation.

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