(1880 – 1968)
By Karl Williams
“Who reads shall find in Henry George’s philosophy a rare beauty and power of inspiration, and a splendid faith in the essential nobility of human nature.”
You’re probably thinking: “Ah, yes – Helen Keller was that angelic, sexless, deaf-blind woman who smells like a rose as she holds a Braille book open on her lap.” Well, try this: while she was alive, Keller actually fought against the media’s tendency to put her on a pedestal as a “model” sweet, good-natured, handicapped person who overcame adversity. She was a political animal (even glimpsing the geoist cat towards the end of her life) and wrote “Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim to them.” Once, when an interviewer suggested that she might want to temper her opinions for public consumption, Keller exploded: “I don’t give a damn about semi-radicals!”
Let’s not forget, however, that – whatever her politics – Helen Keller has been a foremost example of a severely disabled person who has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to live a life of significant achievement. Simply, she’s been an inspiration to millions of people all over the world.
She was born in 1880 in Alabama and became blind, deaf and mute from meningitis of scarlet fever when aged 19 months.
Though a wild and destructive child, she showed such signs of intelligence that her mother sent for a special teacher just before she was seven. The teacher, young Anne Sullivan – herself formerly blind – managed to break through to communicate with Helen. The child loved to learn, and her remarkable achievements in reading, writing and even speaking soon made her internationally famous, for Keller learned to speak when she was ten by feeling Sullivan’s mouth when she talked.
Keller earned a bachelor’s degree at Radcliffe College, where Anne Sullivan accompanied her to every class and spelled the lectures into her hand. She wrote poetry, toured on the lecture circuit, and published an autobiography The Story of My Life which was translated into 50 languages. She came of age in an America where racial segregation was law (so she supported the controversial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union), unions were violently suppressed (so she got behind the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World), birth control was illegal (hence she backed Margaret Sanger’s birth control crusade) and the idea of women as voters – let alone politicians – was dismissed as laughably absurd (and so most of her life was a tireless crusade for women’s rights).
It’s no wonder that, with geoism masterfully suppressed in American academia by vested interests, the very busy Keller had little chance to plumb the differentiation between capital and natural resources – most fully-abled [My God! Is that the correct way to express it these days?] people get nowhere near it. Yet Keller became disillusioned with the left and disassociated herself from the radical left. In 1841 she resigned as Honorary National Chairman of the American Rescue Ship Mission, with the New York Times reporting that Keller had concluded “that she had been used as a front for controlling figures more interested in Communism than in the [Mission’s] avowed purpose” of rescuing Spanish republicans after Franco’s victory. Keller also denounced a 1952 international peace conference in Vienna, which had used her name to solicit support, “as a mask for the products of Stalinist propaganda.”
Let Helen Keller also be remembered as a tireless advocate of the poor and disenfranchised, who always acknowledged that she owed a great deal of her success to the advantages of her birth and environment. And let all geoists go that one great step further and work for a world without privileges wherein all have their birthright restored – an equal share in land and natural resources.
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Echoing Henry George on his path to writing Progress and Poverty: “Why in this land of great wealth is there great poverty? Why [do] children toil in the mills while thousands of men cannot get work, why [do] women who do nothing have thousands of dollars a year to spend?”
“The country [the USA] is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor.”
On John D. Rockefeller: “(He) is a monster of capitalism – he gives charity in the same breath he permits the helpless workmen, their wives and children to be shot down.”
“So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me ‘archpriestess of the sightless,’ ‘wonder woman,’ and ‘a modern miracle.’ But when it comes to a discussion of poverty, and I maintain that it is the result of wrong economics — that the industrial system under which we live is at the root of much of the physical deafness and blindness in the world — that is a different matter!”
Image Courtesy of Biography.com