A home, says the dictionary, is the house in which one dwells, and a homestead, the home and the land immediately connected with it.
In this civilization of apartment hotels, kitchenette flats, and hall bedrooms it is being made easy for us to forget that there can be no conquest of comfort without both a home and a homestead. We can no more have real comfort in city flats than we can have children without mothers. In both cases the object sought cannot be attained if one of the means for attaining it is absent. For when we take the places in which we dwell away from the country; deprive our homes of intimate contact with the growth of the soil; shut off our access to sun and light on all sides, we do not merely deprive ourselves of fresh air and sunlight, green grass and majestic trees—we deprive ourselves of what is an elemental need of mankind: the inner discipline which comes from communion with the land.
Man is a land animal. He may fly in the air that is above the land; he may sail on the waters that surround the land, but to survive he must always return to the land—the land from which he comes, which sustains him as long as he lives, and which re-absorbs him when he finally dies.
That we are land animals is one of those very obvious truths which we tend to forget when we make the endless number of decisions about what we should do and how we should live. Yet a full acceptance of it and deliberate application of the logic of this fact to the practical problems of life are essential to freedom and to comfort.
As long as we have access to the land we remain free to labor as we wish and free to live as we please. The moment our access to it is conditioned, is limited in some way, our possible freedom is conditioned. And where freedom ends and servitude begins, there comfort ends and discomfort begins.
Out of the twenty-five million families in the United States, thirteen million are landless and homesteadless.
Under the system of land tenure prevailing at the present time, the freedom of those of us who belong to these thirteen million families is limited in innumerable ways. Much of our time has to be devoted to earning money to pay rent. In one way or another we have to support those who own land and from whom we have to rent homes that we may have even a limited access to land. What we pay as rent conditions our freedom. The two millions who occupy the Borough of Manhattan in New York City can work and play, eat and sleep, only after paying rent to the forty thousand landowners who hold title to the various plots of land into which Manhattan Island has been divided.
This system of land tenure, in which most of us supinely acquiesce, requires us to work nearly a quarter of the time we devote to gainful labor merely to shelter our families, or it compels us to pay money for rent which we would prefer to spend for other things. When we are homesteadless, we are thus compelled to devote a large part of our strictly limited time on earth to securing money to pay for the privilege of access to land; to land which nature really provides us but which our system of land tenure makes it easy for a limited number of landowners to own and exploit.
Land ownership makes us freer than landlessness because it releases labor-time which otherwise would have to be devoted to securing the money with which to pay rent. It is true that even with homestead ownership we are still conditioned under the existing system. We are conditioned by the interest we have to pay upon any mortgage upon our property and by the taxes which the state levies upon our homestead—grossly inequitable taxes under the existing system. Yet if we own our homestead free and clear, we are as free under the existing laws of the country as it is possible for us to be.
As long as America was mainly rural and agricultural, before it became industrialized and largely urban, the homesteadless family was a rarity. As long as there was an abundance of “free” land, free to any family which was willing to pay for it with no cost but the discomforts and privations of “homesteading,” the economic sacrifice of the average individual family in providing itself with shelter was so slight that it could accept or refuse employment on a basis of practical equality with those who offered employment. Easy access to land furnished the average American an alternative to employment. For nearly half a century it was a major factor in keeping down the numbers in America who were willing to work for others. Only after the most desirable and most accessible land was no longer free did industrialization on a large scale become possible.
As the free land disappeared, the price of land rose. Rising land values made it more and more difficult for the increasing population, native-born and immigrant, to acquire land and to establish their own homes and homesteads. More and more men had to support themselves by working for others. They furnished the factories with large numbers of laborers who had to work in them in order to find work at all. They built up our cities and filled them with tenement homes. Millions of immigrants who had been agriculturists in Europe were forced to become factory hands and city dwellers in America. In addition, the factory, which was quicker than the farm to utilize machinery and power, offered farm workers more attractive conditions of labor, while to the more ambitious men engaged in farming it offered greater opportunities for advancement. The government encouraged manufacturers in every way. Tariffs were established to protect industry. The prices of manufactured products were raised. Manufacturing profits were made super-normally high, and because farm products could not be protected, farming profits were made sub-normally low.
So began the steady absorption of our population by the factory. The constant decline of the popularity of farming as an occupation for ambitious men, and the rise to favor of all the occupations which have to do with the products of the factory, have continued ever since.
Thus has industrialized America created its present disestablished population. In the beginning, the individuals disestablished by the factory included craftsmen and artisans, most of whom owned houses and shops and land which they cultivated when not at work in their shops. As fast as factory products came into the communities and replaced products made by the craftsmen, the local market upon which the craftsmen were dependent was destroyed. The textile mill destroyed the market for the services of the weaver; the iron mill for the old iron-worker and black smith; the patent flour mill for the work of the local grist-miller; the shoe factory for the cobbler; the clothing factory for the tailor and dressmaker. These craftsmen and the members of their families were forced to go to the cities in which factories located. Their shops were closed or replaced by stores in which factory products were sold; their homes and barns, fields and gardens were abandoned and exchanged for city homes.
They became home renters, most of them, at the same time that they were made into wage-earners.
Before the industrial revolution, the home was both the residence and the producing center of the craftsmen. After the coming of power and machines, home work by handicraft methods became unprofitable, while home work by factory methods became unbearable. With power, with division of labor, with specialization, and with serial production, work was transferred from the home to the factory. The disestablished workers had to earn their living in one place, and to spend their time living in another.
The separation was certainly justified on esthetic, if on no other grounds. For with the coming of the factory, the place of work became large, noisy, ugly, and generally dirty and unpleasant.
After the separation, the home naturally began to lose its importance. It shrank in size as rapidly as it began to lose its economic functions. Today it has dwindled in function until it is hardly much more than a place in which to sleep—where time is spent when it cannot very well be spent anywhere else. The smaller the number of rooms of which the home consists; the fewer the pieces of furniture it contains, and the smaller the quantity of household goods which need to be moved if a change of “jobs” makes a change of location desirable, the better. The more mobile the home, the better is it adapted to the exigencies of this civilization.
As a matter of fact, the apartment hotel furnishes the home which best meets the needs of a factory economy. Such a home makes the fewest demands upon the time of the various members of the family. It leaves the parents and older children free to go to work; the younger children free to go to school.
The apartment hotel is still too expensive for the masses. But it is being developed so amazingly that the time may not be far distant when it will be within the means of even unskilled workers. The so-called California apartment house, with beds which fold up and disappear into closets, and which do away with bedrooms, thus making it possible for a single room and a kitchenette to serve all the needs of a small family, is a step in the direction of bringing the apartment hotel down to a level which eventually will enable the masses to live in them.
When the apartment hotel becomes available to the entire population, disestablishment will be complete. People will be land less, houseless, bedless, and the only property with which they will burden themselves will be the clothes they have to wear.
For the masses with their relatively low standards of taste, the change from the farm to the city and from the shop to the factory had many sorts of compensations. In the city and its factories they did not work so hard. They did not work such long and irregular hours. They worked in large crowds amid a pleasant excitement. They earned more cash, and were able to buy things which under the old order they had either to make for themselves or go without.
That the disestablished masses should overlook the fact that the comforts which industrialism gave them with one hand, industrialism took away with the other, is understandable.
And it is also understandable why they should fail to ask themselves whether a redressing of the balance between the farm and shop on one side, and the city and factory on the other might not make it possible for them really to enjoy the abundance which mechanical progress has made possible.
But it is not easy to understand why we, who pretend to be intelligent, do not face the facts, and ask ourselves whether supine acceptance of the ugliness, the discomforts, and the servitude of industrialism is unavoidable.
I believe that it is possible for us to avoid these aspects of our civilization.
I believe that it is possible for us to make a conquest of comfort, at least so far as the ultimate tragedy of life permits us to do so, by turning to the production of the greater part of what we need and desire for our own consumption in our own homes and from our own homesteads.
It may even be possible for the masses to make a similar conquest of comfort, improbable though such a contingency certainly is.
For the individuals adventurous enough to repudiate completely the factory economy of today, the first step toward freedom is homestead ownership.
Here and there some of us may deliberately re-establish our selves on homesteads.
But the great masses will never voluntarily do so.
History records almost no instance in which landless city dwellers abandoned city life until they were driven into the country by famine, pestilence or warfare. Not even pauperization will make the city-bred masses consider any kind of life in the country. The misery which they know in the city is as nothing to the abject terror which they feel at the prospect of having to fail, for fail the majority would, in trying to secure a living from the land. Once the masses of a nation begin to concentrate in cities, the qualities essential to the enjoyment of country life begin to atrophy. The city-raised individual is from childhood deprived of the training, the knowledge and the mental habits necessary to country life. He not only has none of the abilities required to live comfortably in the country; he has none of the values which make the countryman enjoy the country.
To the city dweller, whether from the slums with their tenements or the fashionable districts with their apartments, the country is a habitable place only in the extreme hot weather of the summer.
Country life is inferior to city life because there are no crowds. There are no crowded stores, theatres, streets.
Country people have to do a host of things for themselves things which are done for the city dwellers either by the hotel management, when they live in hotels, or by the janitor when they live in flats.
And of course, country families must think ahead. Since they cannot run around the corner to a store, they must put in a somewhat larger supply of the goods they need from day to day. They must think not only in terms of supplies covering their needs for weeks ahead, but in terms of whole seasons. If they are to secure vegetables from their gardens, they must plan early in the spring what they want to harvest late in the fall. Indeed, if they want tomatoes early in the summer, they must begin to acquire plants, or seedlings, the moment the snow begins to leave the ground. This becomes so much a part of the make-up of country people that it is second nature to them. It is difficult to picture how intolerable the effort to acquire this mentality is to the city dweller.
The average city family hardly thinks farther than from pay envelope to pay envelope. There are few transactions of vital importance to city people which require them to think months ahead. Only one important incident in life requires them to think as much as a month ahead, and this is the payment of their rent. The only other incidents affecting their economic life which dates farther ahead are installment payments on automobiles, furniture, pianos, radios. But these are broken down into weekly and monthly payments, and require no particular consideration of the future since they are really thought of in terms of the current pay envelope.
One of the great tests of intelligence is the extent to which the individual perceives the time value of future wants. The city dweller is losing this ability. Like a child he is concerned more and more only with present wants. And because of this unavoidable economic myopia, he is degenerating in judgment and discernment, socially and politically. In short, he is becoming as dependent upon the articulation of his city as was the Roman mob upon the tribute from the colonies during the decline of Rome.
The masses of city dwellers will therefore stay in the city. They are already anesthetized against the noise, the smoke and smell, the crowds and the strains of the city, and they are immunized against country life by their utter inability to acquire the wider mental horizon necessary to it.
The cities of our factory-dominated country will therefore tend to grow larger and larger. A myriad of refinements upon the existing devices for handling crowds in buildings, in streets, in stores, and in transportation systems will make it possible to accommodate crowds two, three and four times as large as are now accommodated within the limited areas of each city. Human ingenuity, scientific knowledge, scientific management will be concentrated upon the problem of enabling two human beings to dwell, work, and move about where only one could before.
And to almost none of the city dwellers will it occur that the dedication of all this thought and effort to overcoming the difficulties of crowding millions of people upon a few square miles of land represents the sublimest foolishness in all human history.
Without a complete collapse of civilization, of which there is no immediate indication, it is exceedingly improbable that the masses can be persuaded to adopt a normal country life. Only individual families can therefore be expected to adopt it. But those of us who will devote one-half the effort which we now put into winning a precarious success in business or professional life, into the solution of the problem of attaining the first step on the way to economic freedom will find that all the instrumentalities for achieving it are already in existence. If we can generate the necessary initiative, we will find that the agencies at hand, far from ideal though they may be, can be used by us to establish homes and homesteads.
If any considerable number of the quality-minded would begin in this way to free themselves, the quantity-minded drivers of mankind would become dependent upon and subservient to them. Then for the first time in history businessmen, politicians and soldiers, who rule this society as the quantity-minded have always ruled society, would find that they had to treat with artists, scientists, teachers, doctors, and professional men generally on a substantially equal basis.
Business men would not be able to say to them: “You must help me to make more goods and to sell more and more goods.”
Politicians would no longer be able to say: “You must teach science as the ignorant religious masses demand.”
Generals and admirals, and the imperialists who direct them, would no longer be able to say: “You must write histories to justify the wars the government proposes to wage.”
The artist who wishes to paint what he believes beautiful would be in a position to refuse to do commercial work which he despises; the scientist who wishes to accumulate knowledge for its own sake could refuse to devote himself to cutting factory costs; learned men generally would be enabled to refuse to devote their lives to manufacturing, selling, financing and administrative routines.
Quality-minded types of men and women would possess an alternative to the acceptance of work on terms which the masters of industrialism dictate. They themselves, and not the quantity minded, would determine how they lived and what they did with their time.
A culture based upon significances and not upon magnitudes would be given the opportunity to acquire the social prestige now accorded only to sheer size, and a really superior model of living set for the imitation of the herd-minded multitudes of mankind.
As long as we have to devote from one-fifth to one-third of our time to earning money for rent, we are from one-fifth to one third dependent upon and subservient to the factory economy of today. If we eliminate rent entirely, we immediately become from one-fifth to one-third free.
We cannot, of course, entirely eliminate the expenses which the landlords have to pay out of their rentals. Whether the home is owned or rented, taxes, maintenance and depreciation have to be paid. At best, therefore, we can only become free to the extent to which we reduce our rent by eliminating what is from our stand-point the tribute to the landlord. This reduction alone is sufficient to justify home and homestead ownership.
Ownership, however, is able to free us from the necessity of paying tribute to other lords than landlords. Even a few acres of land can reduce by from one-third to one-half our dependency upon this factory-dominated civilization.
Ownership of a home frees us from dependence upon the factory for earning the money with which to pay the landlord. That alone is half of the possible reduction.
But ownership of a homestead frees us from dependence upon the factory to earn money to pay the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the milkman, the poultryman, and the vegetable and fruit dealer. That is the other half of the possible reduction.
If some of the ingenuity we now expend in business and professional life in order to secure the money to buy what we need and desire were expended upon the development of a few acres of land, our present abject dependence upon the functioning of modern business for an income, and upon the factory itself for goods, would be ended.
Over thirty percent of our income is spent for food—for meat, for milk and eggs, for groceries and vegetables and fruits. The factory furnishes these to us in neatly labeled packages, bottles and tin cans—at a price which seems to me excessive. The home and homestead can provide us with all that we wish of everything but the exotics of the table—the delicacies and luxuries which come from distant sections and from far countries. What is more, the homestead enables us to produce most of the native foodstuffs purer, cleaner, fresher, healthier and tastier than the factory furnishes them to us, for hardly much more in the way of investment than is needed for modern labor-saving gardening and kitchen equipment and for hardly much more in the way of labor than is necessary to our good health and good cheer.
The garden and the woodlot furnish an excellent substitute for the present day cult of physical culture. Exercise is a basic human need. Muscles must be brought into vigorous play; the blood sent coursing through the veins; the whole body stimulated, unless we are to become soft and flabby, sickly and uncomfortable. But exercise for the sake of exercise is an anachronism. Yet it is to an increasing extent a part of our factory-dominated life. At precisely seven o’clock in the morning, millions of us in America tune in our radios and go through our “daily dozen” of exercises. Most of us, under city conditions, ought to do so. But that fact doesn’t make the whole procedure a bit less absurdly wasteful of human cnergy. Primitive man never exercised for the sake of exercise. Yet this is precisely what we moderns find it increasingly necessary to do. We waste energy in exercise which could be usefully and joyfully expended in a garden.
But if the homestead is to make its proper contribution to the production of the essentials of comfort, no attempt should be made to raise produce for the market. There must be no specializing in poultry, in fruit, in garden-truck—no effort to kick out the factory system at the front door and to reintroduce it at the back.
The garden must be just a family garden; not an intensive truck farm with its accompaniment of back-breaking labors and heart-breaking marketing problems. It must be confined to the production of vegetables we wish to eat fresh during the growing season and which we wish to store, to dehydrate, and to can in glass jars for winter.
The poultry yard must be a substitute for the dairy and meat market; not a poultry farm with its inevitable and inedible white Leghorn egg-machines which produce a great stream of eggs which have somehow or other to be marketed. It should provide the home with fresh eggs, with broilers, roast chickens, chickens for boiling, above all with the greatest delicacy the poultry yard can furnish—capons. It should provide the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey. It should provide us with squabs and guineas, delicacies which only the wealthiest can today afford.
The orchard must be just large enough to provide summer, fall and winter apples and pears, peaches, plums and cherries for the family—a dozen and a half trees are ample. It should not be an orchard with hundreds of trees with their pruning and spraying problems, picking and packing problems, and shipping and marketing problems.
There should be bushes between the trees which furnish the small fruits—strawberries, blackberries, raspberries—all the berries the family can consume fresh, canned, and preserved.
There should be two or three hives of bees to provide honey the healthiest of all the sweets; nature’s own sweet for which the white sugar of the factory is a tasteless and health-destroying substitute.
Perhaps a few nut trees to provide a supply of pecans and walnuts and so furnish the family the best of all the proteins which nature provides.
And milch goats with their cleaner, healthier, sweeter milk to take the place of canned cream and condensed milk and the A, B and C grades of boule milk with their varying degrees of germ laden cows’ milk.
But in no case should the farming be to excess. Nothing should be done on a scale so large as to make the work monotonous or to create a marketing problem. Surplus crops, if large enough, might be sold, but they should first be used to enable the family to indulge in an abundant hospitality. For with pantries and cellars and storehouses full, hospitality ceases to be a luxury; it becomes a joyous rite.
A home, a few acres of land, machines and equipment which eliminate drudgery, and no more skill and application than most human beings possess, make all this possible.
But such a home provides us with much more than the means for producing shelter and food. It provides us with beauty as well. The flower garden, the grassy sward, the trees and shrubs and rocks minister to that within us for which no factory and no city provides a substitute. It is not only the fact that the homestead furnishes a beautiful background for family life; that it fills our homes with shrubs and flowers, (without our having to pay florists for them), that makes this esthetic content possible. It is the fact that planning and planting and cultivating on the homestead are creative and artistic activities for which the city offers no satisfactory alternatives.
New York, that prodigious jewel of modern civilization, boasted in 1928 of a new association—the Parks Association of New York City, Inc. Outlining the purposes of the organization, Nathan Straus, Jr., its president, said:
No human being was ever intended to spend his or her entire existence in underground subways and artificially lit offices. The more the necessities of modern cities require such unnatural modes of living, the more urgent becomes the need for adequate park space, adequate outdoor breathing-spots full of sunshine and fresh air as an offset to those unnatural living conditions. The Parks Association of New York City has assumed as its task continual vigilance so that the City Government authorities will properly maintain and increase our city parks.44
It is a strange world: mankind abandoning the country to herd into cities and, once in the cities, moving heaven and earth to bring the country into it—as if light and darkness could occupy the same place at the same time! But no matter how efficiently the city dwellers may design their parks and how vigilant may be their parks associations, at best these only enable them to be spectators of grass, of trees, of shrubs and of flowers. To truly participate in the growth of the soil, the vicarious country life of the city park must be abandoned.
In abandoning the country for the city, and the productive home for the consuming home, not only we, but our children have become victims of the factory system.
So remote are the productive processes in the city that our children have to learn about them from pictures and books and from the advertisements of the manufacturers who tell them only what the manufacturers want the world to know. What our children should absorb at first hand from observation and practice they have to try to learn at second hand from advertisements colored by the self-interest of the manufacturers or from school teachers who have themselves in all probability never once been inside the factories about whose processes of production they are trying to inform their pupils.
Yet we plume ourselves upon the superiority of our modern systems of education! Because our children are able to read about fabrics in newspapers and magazines and to see them on display in attractively decorated stores, we think them better educated than the benighted children of a hundred years ago whose education about fabrics began when the flax grew in the fields or the wool was sheared in the spring. A hundred years ago children needed neither textbooks nor teachers to learn about the fabrics which were in use in those days. The cleaning and scouring of the wool; the spinning of the fibre into yarn; the weaving of the yarn into cloth; the dyeing and finishing and cutting and sewing of the cloth into garments were processes which they observed at first hand, and in which they participated as soon as they became old enough. Without scientific pedagogy, intelligence tests, modern psychology; without perfectly equipped, steam heated, automatically ventilated buildings; without specialists in mathematics, in history, in science; without modern texts and modern libraries, they learned infinitely more about the processes of production than our modern children.
The school of that age needed to furnish only what the home, in many cases, could not: instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. In the better class homes, even this part of education was a home responsibility. Instead of leaving the education of their children to the tender mercies of great educational factories, full of teachers many of whom are working for hardly much more than wages, the education of the children was a matter for the personal supervision and constant discussion of the entire family. No wonder Henry Adams considered the time he spent in school largely wasted. He learned so much more at home.
The only productive activity which our children are apt to see in their homes is that of cooking. Home sewing, especially in the city, is vanishing. Both cooking and sewing are now practiced so little in the home that modern mothers are no longer able to instruct their daughters in these arts. The schools therefore have had to add cooking and sewing to their curriculums, in a probably vain effort to teach their pupils certain elementary facts in connection with housekeeping. But aside from these two occupations, nothing goes on in our homes which gives our children any insight into the amazingly complicated world into which they have been born.
Our children drink milk which cornes to the house in cans and bottles, and butter and cheese which comes in packages. What can they know about dairying?
They eat factory-made bread, cake, cereals, vegetables, jams, jellies, meats, sausages. What can they know of the work of first growing and rearing the material for these products and then processing them into the forms in which they are consumed?
They go to stores in which their clothing, their shoes, their hosiery, their hats are purchased ready-made. What can they know about the complicated economic activities of which these things are the final result?
The modern school tries to teach them about this complex world from printed books and pictures. And the very books in which that world is described are printed so far from the children that they cannot know anything about the fascinating industry which is called appropriately the “art preservative of all arts.”
The modern school is just beginning to discover the nature of the handicap under which it labors. So-called “progressive” schools are being established to try to fill the gap in the life of our children.
Go into a progressive school. There you will find the pupils working in gardens, building houses, working with tools, making pottery, weaving cloth. The children are taught to spin, and to weave, on spindles and looms often as primitive as the instruments which savages use. Yet the most backward savage child knows much more about textiles and their production than the average modern child can hope to know.
The dye-pot having gone out of the home, the progressive school is re-introducing it so as to put back into the life of children the esthetic lessons it used to teach.
Elaborate curriculums and elaborate educational activities are built around similar productive projects; about the growing of vegetables and flowers; the building of model houses; the making of pottery, of paper, of flour. Ingenious educators are busily tying these projects into their teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic. Thus the progressive school lays a foundation for the education of the children of this factory-dominated civilization.
We flatter ourselves that all this is an evidence of real progress in education, and overlook the fact that much of it is superfluous if children are brought up in productive country homes which furnish to all the members of the family a liberal education in the various manual crafts. Life in the country is the ultimate of progressive education. Rearing and caring for growing things, animal and vegetable, is a “head and hand” educational process. Country life produces masters-of-all-trades. It produces human beings able to work with hammers and saws and chisels; to tinker with iron work and with machinery; to use spades and hoes and agricultural implements; to operate water pumps and plumbing systems, heating plants and lighting systems. These activities into which children in the country are naturally inducted, furnish real and not sham progressive educations. They furnish the conditions needed for a firm foundation for a liberal education. Life in the country furnishes opportunities for the study of biology in the raising of poultry; zoology in thc care of animals and birds; botany in the cultivation of gardens, flowers and trees. It furnishes opportunities to study hydraulics in the care of the water supply; electricity in securing light, heat and power; chemistry in cooking and preserving; mechanics in wood working and machine working. Above all, it furnishes children a foundation for a normal emotional life in the abounding panorama of nature, in the procession of the seasons, and in the all important facts of life and death which become less awe-inspiring and poignantly tragic when children are prepared for them by a life of intimacy with what we call the dumb animals.
We are rediscovering the educational value of these contacts with reality through the experiments of our progressive schools. That this latest development in pedagogy should consist so largely of a discovery by the school of the importance of the culture-medium of which the factory and the city have deprived mankind, is the most amazing of satires upon civilized society.
If the day ever comes when we devote to the organization of our homes and families the thought and interest which it is now believed should only be devoted to the organization of business, of religion, of education and of politics, we may develop true organic homesteads—organic in that they are consciously and with the maximum of intelligence organized to function not only biologically and socially but also economically. We shall then have homes which are economically creative and not merely economically consumptive.
The organized, perhaps incorporated, home may not be needed to assure the economic well-being of the very wealthy, but it is absolutely essential to the economic security of the average individual. For the poorer we are, the greater is the need of pooling individual resources and the greater is the benefit from the formation of an economic unit large enough to make it practicable for us to produce our own food, clothing and shelter. Such an economic organism, (which it is possible to establish without a preliminary lifetime devoted to accumulation, reform legislation, or social revolution), may be the only instrumentality through which those of us who are not wealthy and who aspire to a superior life even in this factory-dominated civilization—who seek conditions which will enable us to express ourselves in art, literature, science, philosophy—can achieve our hearts’ desires.
The natural family seems to me the normal nucleus around which to build such a home. But an organic home might conceivably be established by a group of individuals unrelated to each other. Not marriage, not common blood, not even like tastes are essential. What is absolutely essential is that those who undertake to establish such a home shall be individuals with like values. To function with real effectiveness the group should be large enough to make division and rotation of the work of homemaking possible. The homestead must be organized so that it can continue to function uninterruptedly even when individual members are absent traveling or adventuring, or working and studying away from home. The “family,” in short, should be large enough to enable the members to enjoy sabbatical leaves of absence; yet not so large as to preclude administration of its affairs by common consent based upon common understanding.
Perhaps the best method of suggesting the potentialities of such an organic homestead is an outline of a possible form for its constitution:
Preamble- We, the members of this homestead, in order to form a more perfect home, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common interest, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do or dain and establish this constitution.
1. Membership. Membership shall be of two kinds: Regular Membership and Auxiliary Membership.
(a) Regular Membership shall entitle the member to a vote at all meetings and to such an interest in the homestead as may be from time to time agreed upon. Regular Members are those either born of the regular members or those adopted into the home.
(b) Auxiliary Membership may be accorded to those from time to time employed on the homestead, and shall entitle the member to such privileges as the regular Membership may prescribe. Auxiliary Members shall have no vote.
(c) At the age of sixteen, the children of regular Members are entitled to half-votes at the meetings. At the age of nineteen full membership shall begin.
(d) Adoption into the home shall be by majority vote. Upon adoption, the member shall be provisionally admitted, with a half-vote if between the age of sixteen and nineteen. After each year of provisional membership, the family shall by majority vote decide whether or not to continue or end the provisional membership. At the end of their third year provisional membership shall end and full membership shall be accorded.
2. Resignation. Membership may be ended by resignation, by abstention and by expulsion.
(a) Resignation may be at any time, such resignation to be based upon a written agreement making all necessary provisions for the duties which may be owing by the member and for the member’s equity in the homestead. All such resignations shall be provisional for a period of three years, during which time membership, at request, may again be accorded provided the resigned member discharge all obligations which may in fairness be exacted to cover the period for which he has failed to contribute to the support and development of the home.
(b) Absention from the home shall begin whenever by majority vote it has been decided that a member has wilfully absented himself from the home and failed to discharge home obligations. Such absention shall be considered provisional for three years, at which time it will become permanent expulsion, and readmission there after can only be as a result of application for adoption.
(c) Expulsion shall be by majority vote, and such expulsion shall be accompanied by a settlement of all interests which the expelled member may have in the home. Such expulsion shall, at the request of of the member, be provisional for three years, and if it be continued by majority vote for three successive years, shall then become permanent.
3. Meetings. There shall be a regular weekly meeting of the members of the home on Sunday morning of each week. There shall be an annual meeting on the first day of each year at which time an annual votes as to membership shall be made.
4. Officers. All the officers shall be elected by majority vote, and shall hold office for one year, or until their successors may be elected. In general, the principle of rotation of office shall be followed. Only regular members shall, however, be qualified to hold office.
The officers shall consist of a Chairman, a Vice-chairman, a Secretary and a Treasurer, who shall perform all the duties usually performed by such officers. In addition there shall be a Manager of the Household, a Manager of the Homestead, an Assistant Manager of the Landscape, and an Assistant Manager of the Gardens. The managerial offices may be combined in one person.
The Manager of the Household shall have complete charge of all the activities within the household itself.
The Manager of the Homestead shall have general charge of all the activities outside the household itself, including all machinery, buildings, etc., and general supervision of the three assistant managers whose sphere of activities are described by their titles.
Other managers may be from time to time appointed.
5. Property and Finances. (a) The property and financial interests of the home shall be kept separate from that of each individual member.
(b) When any of the home property is used by a member to the exclusion of others, such member shall pay into the homestead treasury a fair rental for its use.
(c) When the home receives from any member property or services in excess of that which is normally prescribed, the member shall be paid for it from the treasury.
(d) A complete financial statement shall be prepared once a year, and any divisible surplus disposed of at such times and in such ways as the membership shall direct.
(e) Each member shall have such pro rata interest in the entire property of the home as may be provided at the time of acceptance into membership.
(f) If an adopted member transfers no property to the home at the time of adoption, the member’s interest shall be confined to the divisible surplus accumulated by the home after adoption. If the adopted member does transfer property to the home at the time of adoption, such transferences shall be added to that member’s pro rata interest in the home.
(g) An appraisal of the value of the home shall be made once each year, and shall be used to determine the relative value of the contributions of those admitted to membership or the interests of those withdrawn from membership during that year.
(h) At the time of withdrawal, a member shall receive back a pro rata interest, more or less than at the time of admission, depending upon whether the property of the family has increased or decreased since admission, and in such form, if the family desires, as the member contributed property to the family.
(i) If necessary the family may issue notes or bonds in order to make payment of such pro rata interests possible.
6. Amendments. The Constitution may be amended at any time by majority vote, but if such amendment be not in accordance with the fundamental principles of this constitution, such amendments may on the request of one-third of the members be considered vital amendments, and shall then be binding only if they have been adopted for three successive years.
For quality-minded men and women, the economic independence which such a homestead would furnish would be of revolutionary consequence. For note this: while freedom from dependence upon the factory would prove a boon to all types of men, it has a distinctive value for this minority of mankind. In our factory-dominated civilization it would enable them to “sell” their talents without having to prostitute them. If the majority of our artists, writers, architects, engineers, teachers, musicians, scientists were in this way to secure the freedom to refuse to do work which outrages their tastes, life for everybody would undergo a radical change. The mere fact that businessmen would lose their power to dictate to the idealists of the world; that they would have to solicit the services of idealists rather than that idealists should beg them to utilize their services, would be sufficient to change a society in which emphasis is placed upon money into a society in which emphasis would be placed upon ideals.
But it would go farther. It would furnish a better pattern of how life should be lived because it would furnish mankind a more intelligent social leadership. Our plutocracy, which today furnishes society with its culture patterns, makes accumulation seem the most desirable thing in life. It stimulates all of mankind to a reckless race for material possession on the theory that wealth is the key to happiness. An economically independent, intellectual aristocracy would very quickly demonstrate the hollowness of a life of mere acquisition. The ancient Chinese long ago showed that it was possible to set up a civilization in which belief in the divine right of learning seemed just as natural to all classes as belief in the divine right of kings seemed to the people of the Middle Ages.
To learn, and then to practice opportunely what one has learnt—does not this bring with it a sense of satisfaction?
To have associates in study coming to one from distant parts—does not this also mean pleasure in store?
Are not those who, while not comprehending all that is said, still remain not unpleased to hear, men of the superior order? 45
How can the quality-minded create such a society unless they fiée themselves from an economic servitude which makes them ridiculed and despised by their fellows? Today it is inevitable that they should be despised and hated by the generality of men; that they should be called “high-brow,” “theorists,” and less elegantly, “nuts.” And why not? How can they win respect for the ideals about which they prate when everybody sees them prostituting their talents because they have to secure money with which to pay the butcher, the baker, and the landlord; when everybody hears them preaching what they cannot practice, and everybody observes them accepting the inferior position to which business men condemn them? Let them reverse the whole present scheme of things; practice what they preach, cultivate their talents, devote themselves to their own interests, and work only in ways that are compatible with their self-respect, and they will set up a new social order—an order in which the philosopher, the teacher, the student shall be first instead of last, and in which a marked shortening of the lag between the conception of ideas by the learned and their final adoption by the world will have lessened what has always been the greatest obstacle to the achievement of a beautiful civilization.
Certain practical objections may be raised to the economy here outlined by those who have solved the problem of supporting themselves along other lines. They may have large incomes—they may be saving and investing—they may not be manually skilled—they may have no taste for bucolic delights—they may need and crave the glitter that the city offers—they may have become dependent upon the organized menial service which the city store, the city restaurant, the city hotel render. Many of these objections are based upon a failure to grasp the distinction between what I propose and the sentimentalism of the return to “nature” which Rousseau proposed or the “back to the land” movement of twenty years ago. Some of the objections are based upon a set of values which are meretricious; values which cannot be transvalued without great effort but which those who still possess the possibility of basic re-education would certainly find worth transvaluing. The best answer to the objection that I tend to overlook the sacrifices involved and the practical difficulties of what I propose is the fact that I am no advocate of poverty and barrenness for the sake of its “beauty” and of hard manual labor for its “moral” value. I suggest an economy which begins with an organic homestead principally for two reasons: because it makes for economic independence, and because it makes for a richer and fuller life.
Let us consider some of these objections in detail, and we shall see that they are not nearly so formidable as at first sight they might seem:
(1) You say you have already attained a large income, and so doubt the wisdom of sacrificing it? But the sacrifice you fear is illusory. Life on a homestead of your own does not involve any sacrifice of real income. On the contrary, even when it reduces gross income, it increases net income. Cutting down rent and food bills does not involve a sacrifice of income; it produces a net gain of income. It releases income for books, for music, for art, for travel, for all of the luxuries of a cultured life.
But often such a life increases both gross and net income. What you command for your work, for your services, for your judgment at the hands of those for whom you work or who are your patrons or clients depends to a very considerable extent upon the relationship between you and them as seller and buyer. Economic independence immeasurably improves your position as a seller of services. It replaces the present “buyer’s market” for your services, in which the buyer dictates terms with a “seller’s market,” in which you dictate terms. It enables you to pick and choose the jobs you wish to perform and to refuse to work if the terms, conditions, and the purposes do not suit you. The next time you have your services to sell, see if you cannot command a better price for them if you can make the prospective buyer believe that you are under no compulsion to deal with him.
(2) You say that it is easier to achieve economic independence through saving and investment than it is to travel against the whole stream of events today under a make-and-consume economy?
But even if it is easier to achieve economic independence in that way, you will not be equally equipped to take advantage of it when—and if—you achieve it.
For many years, and those the most vigorous ones of life, you have to endure a regime of self-denial so far as doing the work you might most like to do is concerned. You will have to postpone the time when you can enjoy your work until you may be too old to really enjoy it. In the meantime you will be working in one of the treadmills which must be kept moving if the factory economy of today is to function. When the time comes to release yourself, the years of routine will have played their part in making you prefer the certainties of your treadmill to the unknown dangers of the work and life to which you at one time aspired. Most tragic of all, the years may have killed the aspiration: you find yourself in the beginning of old age, economically free, but unprepared to use your freedom.
But observe the irony of it all: you may spend your whole life saving—investing in stocks and bonds—and by the very deficiencies of the economic system to which you pin your faith, fail to win the independence you seek. These things may cheat you:
- 1. The investments you make may fail. You may pick the wrong ones. You lose not only money, but the years of time which you spent saving it.
- 2. The value of money may decline. When you wish to retire, the original capital you thought ample may prove insufficient be cause in the meantime the dollar will have declined in purchasing power.
Of course the reverse may prove your good fortune. Instead of losing on your investments, a “bull” market may result in a great appreciation of it. While an appreciation of the value of the dollar is improbable, other changes, perhaps in the nature of industry itself, may greatly increase the yield on your investments. But to the degree in which you strive to make yourself independent through investments, to that degree you plunge into speculation, and to succeed at speculation, you, who are striving to be quality-minded, must become money- and quantity-minded. You will have to match your wits against those professionally engaged in money-making and in that game you, who have other aspirations, are almost certain to come out second best.
The more you try to escape this hazard; the more security you demand in your investments, the higher will be the institutional burden which will have to be borne by the securities you buy. By the time the yield upon them has been reduced to cover the costs of supervising them by conscientious and careful investment bankers, brokers, accountants and trust companies, the net yield is small indeed.
On the other hand, the acquisition of things which you can use to produce the essentials of comfort—houses and lands, machines and equipment—are not subject to these vicissitudes.
Land endures forever. Houses can be made to serve for generations. Machines and tools, with care and replacements, can be made to function indefinitely. These things may rise and fall in money-value, just as investments in stocks and bonds do. But unlike investments you do not acquire them for their money-value. You acquire land for gardening; houses for shelter; machines for saving labor. Money may rise and fall; science and invention change the method of production and industry; laws and governments come and go, but the land will continue to feed you; houses continue to shelter you, and machines will deliver power to you precisely the same year after year. For their economic utility is dependent upon yourself and is not subject to change by markets, by laws or by corporations which you do not control.
Above all you work and live as you aspire to work and live all your life. You do not have to postpone the good life into some indefinite future. You live it while establishing your homestead.
(3) You say that you are not manually skillful—that you could not possibly master all the crafts which are essential in a home and homestead such as I have described? You may be right, and therefore as unfortunately crippled mentally as you would be unfortunately crippled physically if you were armless, legless, or sightless. The man who cannot operate machines and use tools and the woman who cannot cook and sew are both cripples. They are dependent upon others much as cripples are. Practically every woman can learn to do household work well. Practically every man can learn how to handle tools with equal skill. Furthermore, a proper use of modern machinery—domestic machinery, however—the electric drill, the circular or band saw, the lathe, takes all the drudgery out of home mechanics. The garden tractor and the wheel hoe take the drudgery out of gardening, just as modern kitchen and sewing equipment take the drudgery out of house keeping. All the mysteries of which the carpenter, the machinist, the electrician, the plumber are master are like all mysteries: mysterious only to those who have never themselves made any effort to do what these mechanics do. Any intelligent man who can study textbooks and follow instructions can learn enough of what is necessary about these crafts for life upon the land and so acquire a new delight in life because he has heightened his mastery of his environment.
(4) You say you have no triste for bucolic delights and crave the glitter which the city offers? Then you are indeed unfortunate. For then you are in need of a transvaluation of values exceptionally difficult of achievement. A steady diet of highly spiced foods destroys the palate’s sensitivity to the fine bouquet of natural foods. Frosting is a good thing on a cake, but the man who eats nothing but the frosting develops a pathological appetite which does not make it possible for him to enjoy the cake itself. So it is with this matter of life on the land; it has a set of values all of its own. They are immeasurably important values: touching something very deep in the life of man. When we lose our capacity for enjoying them; when we are unable to take these basic cravings of the race and dignify and elevate them into a form of artistic expression, we lose a part of our inheritance as human beings, and we become mere flotsam and jetsam on the stream of consciousness, endlessly bruising ourselves as we live because we are rootless and adrift and hurtling against every snag and rock in the stream of life.
We have applied all our ingenuity to solving the problem of enabling hundreds of families to live in the same house—to cook in separate kitchens, to marry, to give birth to sons and daughters, and finally to die in absolute privacy. This achievement we call an apartment. With equal ingenuity we have made it possible for hundreds of perfectly strange individuals to eat together and sleep under the same roof. And we call this achievement a hotel. I refuse to believe that it is impossible for men and women of like tastes, like educations, like social backgrounds, to live together in such a home as I have described, the individual members securing the freedom to develop themselves by contributing a share of their time to the labor which furnishes the entire group the essentials of comfort.
Productive homes of this kind, by making us economically independent, would free us from the necessity of spending our time as the quantity-minded masters of the world now make us spend it and would make for that reintegration of work and play which is essential to a full conquest of comfort.
So much upon the subject of the homestead—the first factor in the quest of comfort.
We have now to consider the second factor—the factor which I have called time in order to emphasize the point that the question of labor should be approached not from the standpoint of how to increase productivity, but from the standpoint of how to wisely spend the years and days and hours of which life itself is composed.
Next Section | The Factors In the Quest Of Comfort: II. Time