Southern History Month 2019: George Fitzhugh on The False Philosophy Of Our Age

The following excerpt comes from George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters which is one of the most interesting, neglected, original and ferocious attacks on free-market capitalism and liberal democracy that I have ever come across:


The moral philosophy of our age, (which term we use generically to include Politics, Ethics, and Economy, domestic and national,) is deduced from the existing relations of men to each other in free society, and attempts to explain, to justify, to generalize and regulate those relations. If that system of society be wrong, and its relations false, the philosophy resulting from it must partake of its error and falsity. On the other hand, if our current philosophy be true, slavery must be wrong, because that philosophy is at war with slavery. No successful defence of slavery can be made, till we succeed in refuting or invalidating the principles on which free society rests for support or defence.

The world, however, is sick of its philosophy; and the Socialists have left it not a leg to stand on. In fact, it is, in all its ramifications, a mere expansion and application of Political Economy, – and Political Economy may be summed up in the phrase, “Laissez-faire,” or “Let alone.” A system of unmitigated selfishness pervades and distinguishes all departments of ethical, political, and economic science. The philosophy is partially true, because selfishness, as a rule of action and guide of conduct, is necessary to the existence of man, and of all other animals. But it should not be, with man especially, the only rule and guide; for he is, by nature, eminently social and gregarious. His wants, his weakness, his appetites, his affections, compel him to look without, and beyond self, in order to sustain self.

The eagle and the owl, the lion and the tiger, are not gregarious, but solitary and self-supporting. They practice political economy, because ’tis adapted to their natures. But men and beavers, herds, bees, and ants, require a different philosophy, another guide of conduct. The Bible, (independent of its authority,) is far man’s best guide, even in this world. Next to it, we would place Aristotle. But all books written four hundred or more years ago, are apt to yield useful instruction, whilst those written since that time will generally mislead. We mean, of course, books on moral science. We should not be far out in saying, that no book on physics, written more than four hundred years ago, is worth reading, and none on morals written within that time. The Reformation, which effected much of practical good, gave birth to a false philosophy, which has beer increasing and ramifying until our day, and now threatens the overthrow of all social institutions The right of Private Judgment led to the doctrine of Human Individuality, and a Social Contract to restrict that individuality.

Hence, also, arose the doctrines of Laissez-faire, free competition, human equality, freedom of religion, of speech and of the press, and universal liberty. The right of Private Judgment, naturally enough, leads to the right to act on that judgment, to the supreme sovereignty of the individual, and the abnegation of all government. No doubt the Reformation resulted from the relaxation of feudalism and the increased liberties of mind and body which men had begun to relish and enjoy. We have no quarrel with the Reformation, as such, for reform was needed; nor with all of the philosophy that has been deduced from it; but it is the excess of reform, and the excessive applications of that philosophy, to which we object.

Man is selfish, as well as social; he is born a part and member of society, born and lives a slave of society; but he has also natural individual rights and liberties. What are his obligations to society, what his individual rights, what position he is entitled to, what duties he should fulfill, depend upon a thousand ever-changing circumstances, in the wants and capacities of the individual, and in the necessities and well-being of the society to which he belongs. Modern philosophy treats of men only as separate monads or individuals; it is, therefore, always partly false and partly true; because, whilst man is always a limb or member of the Being, Society, he is also a Being himself, and does not bear to society the mere relation which the hand or the foot does to the human body.

We shall propose no new philosophy, no universal and unerring principles or guide, in place of those which we assail. A Moral Pathology, which feels its way in life, and adapts itself to circumstances, as they present themselves, is the nearest approach to philosophy, which it is either safe or wise to attempt. All the rest must be left to Religion, to Faith, and to Providence. This inadequacy of philosophy has, in all ages and nations, driven men to lean on religious faith for support. Though assailing all common theories, we are but giving bold and candid expression to the commonest of thoughts. The universal admiration of the passages we are about to cite, proves the truth of our theory, whilst it debars us of all claim to originality:

SOLOMON, melancholy, gloomy, dissatisfied, and tossed upon a sea of endless doubt and speculation, exclaims, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity.” But, at length, he finds rest from the stormy ocean of philosophy, in the calm haven of faith. How beautiful and consoling, and how natural, too, his parting words:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

“For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

In his Tenth, or Golden Satire, JUVENAL comes to a like conclusion, after having indulged in like speculations:

Nil ergò optabunt homines? Si consilium vis,
Permittes ipsis expendere numinibus, quid
Conveniat nobis, rebusque sit utile nostris.
Nam pro jucundis aptissama quæque dabunt diis
Carior est illis homo, quàm sibi.

The Epicurean HORACE, in his first Satire, sees the same difficulty, but gives a less satisfactory solution:

Est modus in rebus; sunt certi denique fines,
Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum.

BURKE’S beautiful words, “What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!” convey the same thought, without attempting a solution.

SHAKESPEARE employs the profoundest philosophy, to assail all philosophy:

“There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The infidel, VOLTAIRE, admits that “philosophy had ascertained few truths, done little good;” and when he sums up that little, satisfies the reader that it has done nothing – unless it be to perplex and mislead.

He, Voltaire, also, in another connection, exclaims, mournfully:

“I now repeat this confession, still more emphatically, since the more I read, the more I meditate, and the more I acquire, the more I am enabled to affirm, that I know nothing.” NEWTON, admitting his own ignorance, is a standing monument of the inadequacy and futility of moral researches and speculations.


Man, the frail being of a day,
Uncertain shadow of a dream,
Illumined by the heavenly beam,
Flutters his airy life away.


Vain thy ardor, vain thy grace,
They, nor force, nor aid repay;
Like a dream, man’s feeble race,
Short-lived reptiles of a day.


‘Tis sad to think, but me the farce of life persuades,
That men are only spectral forms, or hollow shades.


Come now, ye host of fading lives, like the race of withering leaves,
Who live a day, creatures of clay, tribes that flit like shadows away;
Ephemeral, wingless insects, dreamy shapes, that death expects
Soon to bind in phantom sheaves.

We will conclude our citations, which we might continue to the crack of doom, (for all who have written well and much, have indulged similar reflections,) with Doctor Johnson’s Rasselas, which is intended to expand and apply what others had concisely and tersely stated. The Doctor’s is an elaborate failure.

Philosophy can neither account for the past, comprehend the present, nor foresee and provide for the future. “I’ll none of it.”

Lots of food for thought here.

Maybe the ideologues and fanatics have it wrong?

About Hunter Wallace 12382 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

1 Comment

  1. Hunter, the fanatics and ideologues will always get it wrong. They think they can change the world into a paradise, but since they can’t change themselves, they turn it into a hell on earth.

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