American History Series: George Fitzhugh on The False Philosophy Of The Age

As we wait for the Portland riots to resume tonight on the West Coast, I am continuing to reread and reflect upon George Fitzhugh’s book Cannibals All! or, Slaves Without Masters:

“The moral philosophy of our age, (which term we generically use 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.”

Liberalism is a moral, political and economic system that is based on a false account of human nature. There is no State of Nature which individuals exit to enter society. Man is a social being. Humans are naturally tribal like other primates. Society or the band is man’s natural state. Bands are naturally authoritarian, hierarchical, complex and unequal societies.

“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.”

George Fitzhugh recognized that the 19th debate over slavery was really a debate over liberalism and free-market capitalism which had fused with evangelical Christianity. Liberalism was at odds with slavery because it is at adds with all authority, order, subordination and government.

“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 weaknesses, his appetites, his affections, compel him to look without, and beyond self, in order to sustain self.”

Liberalism is built on the unlimited selfishness of the rights bearing individualist. It is based on an incorrect view of human nature – humans are social and gregarious beings. Language and cooperation comes naturally to us. It is based on an incorrect epistemology – the blank slate or the denial of innate ideas and instincts. It is based on an incorrect ethics – individual selfishness is only the lowest aspect of human nature. Free market capitalism is only liberalism applied to economics.

“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 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.”

Fitzhugh recognized that modernity has been a disaster for moral philosophy.

“The Reformation, which effected much of practical good, gave birth to a false philosophy, which has been 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 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.”

This is a powerful passage.

Fitzhugh is correct to trace the origins of liberalism to the era that passed between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Specifically, the problem can be traced back to 17th century England and the Netherlands, which unlike other Protestant countries became religiously pluralistic. London and Amsterdam were the first modern cities that arose in Western Europe. They developed commercial economies based on international trade. The final ingredient was the Scientific Revolution which encouraged universal and abstract thinking.

“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 also has 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 a member of the Being, Society, he is also a Being himself, and does not bear to society the mere relation which the hand or 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.”

In sum, this is why liberalism is inadequate. It is skewed toward the individual and selfishness and denies everything else which leads to all the “-isms” which all aim at returning to the social state.

“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:

Philosophy is a terrible basis for the foundation of a social order.

As was known by:

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.”

In the name age of moral clarity in American journalism, all of this wisdom has been dismissed as mere “white supremacy.” Woke people are superior to all other White people who have ever existed in that they know exactly what is good and evil and that they are better than everyone else.

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  1. the lion and the tiger, are not gregarious, but
    solitary and self-supporting.

    The Tiger is indeed a solitary and self-supporting animal, but the lions are very gregarious animals.

  2. Most people can not handle deep philosophical thoughts, which is why most people are so easily brainwashed. Wisdom means little to people who are conditioned to like panem et circenses.

    Philosophers also tend to write too much into any given topic. Great thoughts tend to lead to great assumptions, which lead to great disappointments.

    Stoic philosophy is most useful, pragmatic. And Friedrich Nietzsche, Fred is nothing if not entertaining.

  3. Where back to Greek Stoicism HW, as a defense mechanism concerning white identity/and self governing.

  4. Ancient China also had a conflict between a more enduring view that people should be naturally societal, hierarchical, and honouring ceremonies and religion and virtue and ancestors – Confucianism

    Versus an idea that people were simply selfish, virtue very rare, so the only way to run a society is by an intensive system of bureaucracy and surveillance manipulating people’s fear and greed with rewards and penalties – this is known in English as ‘Chinese legalism’

    This latter is important because it was a view revived in the 20th century and was much favoured by Communist Mao Zedong

    Legalism dates from the ‘Warring States’ conflict period, 453-221 BCE. The legalists thought virtue was as rare as finding a good man in Sodom and Gomorrah

    They thought that, “A political system that presupposes human selfishness is the only viable political system.”

    “A society is corrupt when people do not call things by their true names.”
    – Confucius

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