George H. Smith

American philosopher

George Hamilton Smith (born February 10, 1949, Japan) is an American author, editor, educator and speaker, known for his writings on atheism and libertarianism.


  • It is clear that 'social Darwinism' and 'survival of the fittest' were intended by Obama to evoke feelings of fear and disgust. It is highly doubtful that Obama knows anything about the history of these ideas, and it is even more doubtful that he cares. A concern for truth is not the coin of the political realm.
  • The academic who lives comfortably in his professional enclave, secure in the belief that his corner of the cognitive world is the entire universe, has little need for philosophy, which he regards as a descent into idle speculation. Philosophy, for this academic, is an irritating enterprise, one that might call into question his most cherished assumptions.
  • A theory of necessary conditions will tend to generate a model of the open society, whereas a theory of necessary and sufficient conditions will tend to generate a model of the closed society. These conflicting models result from the inner logic of ideas. To offer a sketch of what is minimally necessary for a good society is to leave considerable room for diversity, variation, and change. But the available space for individuality will progressively decrease as additional details transform what had been a sketch into a veritable blueprint for the good society.
  • To enumerate the particular details—the sufficient conditions—of a good society is effectively to prohibit individuality and social change. A planned society, a society in which sufficient conditions are politically determined and coercively imposed, is ‘closed’ to the spontaneous innovations of free association. We see this in the utopian writings of Plato and his many admirers. A utopian society is a perfect society, one that has been carefully designed by a wise and beneficent lawgiver. Any deviation from perfection must necessarily be for the worse, so social change—which in this scheme is but another name for social degeneration—must be arrested at all costs. And this, in turn, requires the suppression of individuality. The individual’s pursuit of happiness—that powerful and unpredictable agent of social change—must be subordinated for the sake of a good society, as specified in the utopian blueprint of sufficient conditions.

Atheism: The Case Against God (1974)


Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1989

  • It is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear. Anyone who claims, on the one hand, that he is concerned with human welfare, and who demands, on the other hand, that man must suspend or renounce the use of his reason, is contradicting himself.
    • p. x
  • There can be no knowledge of what is good for man apart from knowledge of reality and human nature, and there is no manner in which this knowledge can be acquired except through reason. To advocate irrationality is to advocate that which is destructive to human life.
    • p. x
  • Religion has had the disastrous effect of placing vitally important concepts, such as morality, happiness and love, in a supernatural realm inaccessible to man’s mind and knowledge.
    • p. 26
  • Reason is not one tool of thought among many, it is the entire toolbox. To advocate that reason be discarded in some circumstances is to advocate that thinking be discarded—which leaves one in the position of attempting to do a job after throwing away the required instrument.
    • p. 110
  • The Christian theologian will never find a contradiction between the propositions of faith and reason, because it is his job to interpret them out of existence.
    • p. 119
  • If acorns start growing into theologians, or if women begin turning into pillars of salt, then we may wish to hypothesize about a supernatural influence. But until such time as nature becomes hopelessly unintelligible and unpredictable, we need look no further than nature itself for explanations.
    • p. 262
  • Intellectually, every man is an island unto himself; no man can assume the responsibility of thinking for another. The virtue of rationality thus entails intellectual independence and the willingness to assume responsibility for one’s beliefs, choices, and actions.
    • p. 305
  • Christianity cannot erase man's need for pleasure, nor can it eradicate the various sources of pleasure. What it can do, however, and what it has been extremely effective in accomplishing, is to inculcate guilt in connection with pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure, when accompanied by guilt, becomes a means of perpetuating chronic guilt, and this serves to reinforce one's dependence on God. ** p. 308
  • Through inculcating the notion that sacrifice is a virtue, Christianity has succeeded in convincing many people that misery incurred through sacrifice is a mark of virtue. Pain becomes the insignia of morality—and conversely, pleasure becomes the insignia of immorality. Christianity, therefore, does not say, ‘Go forth and be miserable.’ Rather, it says, ‘Go forth and practice the virtue of self-sacrifice.’ In practical terms, these commands are identical.
    • p. 310
  • When conformity is required, as it is in Christianity, what are the results? To begin with, the sacrifice of truth inevitably follows. One can be committed to conformity or one can be committed to truth, but not both. The pursuit of truth requires the unrestricted use of one's mind—the moral freedom to question, to examine evidence, to consider opposing viewpoints, to criticize, to accept as true only that which can be demonstrated—regardless whether one's conclusions conform to a particular creed.
    • p. 321

Why Atheism? (2000)


Amherst, New York, Prometheus Books, 2000

  • A willingness to engage in the give and take of argument displays a commitment to cognitive egalitarianism—the proposition that all people should be treated as intellectual equals, and that no individual can legitimately claim a privileged immunity from the burden of proof.
    • p. 33
  • The significant contribution of empiricism was not the eradication of certainty, but the eradication of infallibility as a criterion of certainty. And this shift from infallibilism to fallibilism has profound consequences not only for toleration, but also for the subordination of faith to reason and theology to philosophy.
    • p. 123
  • The leap of faith is a strategic impasse that confronts every Christian in search of converts; and, as he sees the matter, there is no wrong way to become a Christian. It is the end that is important, not the means; it does not matter why you believe, so long as you believe. For the philosopher, in contrast, the paramount issue is the justification of belief, not the fact of belief itself.
    • p. 136

The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism (2013)


Cambridge University Press, New York, 2013

  • In the late nineteenth century, liberals in Europe and America discovered that they were victims of a linguistic coup. They found that they were no longer regarded as liberals per se but as old liberals – a qualification that had bed foisted upon them by self-proclaimed new liberals.
    • p. 7
  • [G]overnment should only concern itself with matters of justice (i.e. the protection of rights) while leaving more tangential matters to the voluntary decisions and actions of individuals.
    • p. 40
  • Taxes, then, are a necessary means for the maintenance of political power, so the laws, first and foremost, must enforce compulsory taxation.
    • p. 65
  • Taxes forcibly transfer wealth from producers to legislators, who justify their expropriations under cover of law.
    • p. 65
  • Those in government are especially susceptible to the corruption of power, because government is institutionalized coercion.
    • p. 126
  • As Herbert Spencer was to point out in the following century, feudal serfs were required to turn over one-third of their produce to their overlord. This means that any citizen who is required to pay a tax rate greater than one-third is worse off in this respect than the lowly serf.
    • p. 130
  • The physical capacity to coerce others can never generate a moral obligation to obey the dictates of [government] power.
    • p. 147

Individualism: A Reader (2015)


Cato Institute, Washington D.C. 2015

  • According to [Peter L.] Callero, ‘Freedom of choice and self-determination are virtuous principles, but when selfish individual interests threaten to destroy the common good, the limits of individualism are exposed.’ Unfortunately but predictably, Callero is vague when it comes to defining ‘the common good’—a catchphrase with many variations that has been used by murderous dictators throughout history. May we therefore say that the ‘common good,’ when pushed to extremes, results in the likes of Stalin and Hitler?
    • pp. 2-3 (Introduction)
  • Ironically perhaps, key elements in the Marxian criticism of differs little from a popular conservative complaint (though the same point is typically used for different purposes).
    • p. 6 (Introduction)

The American Revolution and The Declaration of Independence (2017)


Washington D.C., Cato Institute 2017

  • Americans feared the Townshend Act for another reason: revenues raised form it were to be used to pay the salaries of colonial governors and judges. This proposal struck at the heart of a revered American tradition. Although the Crown appointed governors in all 11 colonies, their salaries were paid by the colonial legislatures. This ‘power of the purse’ enabled American assemblies to check the power of the governors and judges by withholding their salaries.
    • p. 49
  • The Boston Tea Party has often been called a pivotal event that led to the American Revolution, but it would be more accurate to say that the British response was the true catalyst.
    • p. 63
  • This version of social contract theory stipulated that the king could continue to demand allegiance only so long as he fulfills his part of the agreement. If he violates his trust—as Americans believed he had with the Coercive Acts—he ‘unkings’ himself and releases his subjects from their part of the deal. His subjects are thereby cast into a ‘state of nature’—that is, a society without government—and are then free to form a new government of their own choosing.
    • pp. 76-77
  • According to this approach, legitimate disagreements may occur between subjects and rulers when alienable rights are involved, but no such disputes are justified over the question of inalienable rights. Government cannot claim any jurisdiction over such rights, because inalienable rights, by their very nature, could never have been transferred to government in the first place.
    • p. 115
  • We can see why Jefferson focused on inalienable rights in his effort to fasten the charge of tyranny on the British government. The violation of inalienable rights was a defining characteristic of a tyrannical government, and only against such a government is revolution justified.
    • p. 116

Quotes about Smith

  • Author George H. Smith can either be considered a forerunner of the New Atheist writers so popular in the late 2000s, or as someone supplying a summary and capstone to their work. Readers should not let the decades that have passed since the original publication dissuade them from an enlightening read.
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