Cultural Psychology

Archive for January 2012

The Occupy Movement, Agrarianism, and Land Reform

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ALTHOUGH the Occupy Movement is voicing many important social and economic concerns, one has thus far escaped attention:  land reform. Here we outline arguments in favor of its inclusion.

The well-known monetary disparity, such that 10% of Americans have 90% of the wealth, is paralleled in land ownership.  Media baron Ted Turner, for example, alone owns more than 2.2 million acres — an area larger than Delaware!

Moreover, the federal government owns vast expanses of habitable land, including military bases, National Forests, and land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  In administering public lands, federal agencies, especially the BLM, are frequently accused of being overly responsive to corporate special interests.

We should consider the reorganization of land to produce a more just, happy and harmonious social system.  This may seem an unconventional and unrealistic proposal, but the truth is that reallocation of land to improve social justice has been done throughout history.

Legislation to allocate small parcels of public land to private homesteaders is easily accomplished.  Though no longer in force, the Homestead Act nevertheless established a precedent we may follow

With respect to vast private lands, we must first forestall the obvious objection:  that private parties have an inalienable right to retain lands to which they currently hold title.  This is definitely not so. Ownership of real estate — save, perhaps, that on which ones house and garden sit — is not a  natural (and hence inalienable) right.  We can allow that people have a natural right to own the property on which their domicile sits; or perhaps a few acres with which they ‘mingle their hands with the soil’ for sustenance.  But private ownership of larger parcels of land is an arbitrary social convention — something created by legislation, and removable by legislation.   Society may change such conventions according to the will of the majority and for good of society.  To be clear: this does not dispute that private parties have, in our society, a right to own land  — only that this is a legislated right, not a natural one.  That is, we could envision a society in which all the people got together and decided to disallow the owning of large tracts of land.  Certainly we can find indigenous societies where such is the case.

The idea of legally limiting public land ownership is not utterly foreign to European and American political theory.  Thomas Jefferson, for example, advocated the usufruct principle.  This holds that private citizens have a right to use the land and enjoy it’s fruits — but not to own it.  If you plant an orchard, you might own the apples, not the land itself.


What concerns us is not just land redistribution, but, more broadly, effecting a transition to a more sustainable, natural, agrarian society.  Agrarianism, in a historical sense, can be defined as:  “the doctrine of an equal division of landed property and the advancement of agricultural groups.”  Today we may extend the definition by envisioning a migration of a certain number of modern urban dwellers to the country, where they may live sustainably in individual homesteads and/or intentional communities.

Sustainability would imply emphasis on self-sufficiency, including cultivating gardens or crops for food, use of renewable energy, water conservation, and like things.

Advantages of a More Agrarian Society

It seems self-evident that much would be gained by redistributing land to give more people the ability to leave the large cities and start self-sustaining, rural homesteads.  Certainly this is appealing to the sensibilities of many.  Specific advantages include these:

  • Gets  people out of crowded urban areas
    • reduces pollution
    • reduces stress, anxiety, and confusion associated with modern urban life
    • reduces water and energy problems
  • Eliminates commuting lifestyle
  • Healthy country living and natural food would promote good health and reduce health-care costs for society.
  • People can live in harmony with nature: the earth is made for man, and man for the earth.
  • 5000 homesteads = 5000 experiments in sustainable living and crop innovation
  • With the option to leave and migrate to the country, urban workers gain better bargaining position; can demand better wages and working conditions
  • Agrarian happiness doesn’t require a $100k college education
  • Committed individuals living on land can help preserve it (stewardship)

The last point is important because it counters the objection that National Forests or large conservancy land tracts should be left free from human habitation.  Responsible people can live within such areas in ways that enhance, not interfere with forest and wildlife preservation.


Is redistribution of land possible, or merely a pipe-dream?

It’s important here to refer to American history, in which a strong current of agrarianism has always operated. Indeed, the history of American economic ideology can be seen as a dynamic tension-of-opposites between agrarianism and commercialism.

Nowhere is this tension more clearly illustrated than in the opposing visions of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.  Jefferson, the Virginian farmer, wanted the country to follow an agrarian path.  He hated cities, in fact, and considered them breeding grounds for vice and unhappiness.  He believed that a nation of independent, citizen-farmers was the best way to achieve just and stable democracy.

In a draft constitution for Virginia, Jefferson proposed: “Every person of full age neither owning nor having owned 50 acres of land, shall be entitled to an appropriation of 50 acres”.  This proposal did not eventuate, but Jefferson did succeed in abolishing primogeniture laws in Virginia. Primogeniture is the custom by which all land in a family is inherited by the oldest son; abolishing primogeniture had the effect of, over several generations, breaking down large land tracts and distributing land ownership more fairly.

Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example…. Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition…. While we have land to labour then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a workbench, or twirling a distaff…. The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strenth of the human body.

Source:  Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 19, 1787.

Jefferson was not the only advocate of agrarianism.  John Taylor of Caroline, for example — the American foil to free marketer Adam Smith — supplied a philosophical and economic foundation for agrarian principles.

In contrast, Alexander Hamilton (who, incidentally, was one of Wall Street’s founders), believed America must follow the path of commerce and industrialization; for this, centralized banking and a financial infrastructure to promote corporate investment was needed.   Hamilton’s party won the day, setting in motion a series of reactions and counter-reactions that have continued since.

Acquisition of new territory (e.g., the Louisiana Purchase), along with growing unemployment and immigration in cities, produced a gradual campaign of political agitation for land access.  A wave of agrarian fervor swept the nation during the presidency of Andrew Jackson.  And a few years later, a new phase of agrarian populism began, associated with such names as Horace Greeley, George Henry Evans, Henry George, and George Julian.

The movement gained steady ground.  In 1848, Martin Van Buren ran for president as the nominee of a newly formed Free Soil party.  Pamphlets circulated, and the phrase “Vote Yourself a Farm!” became a popular slogan.  Extracts from one such pamphlet are revealing:

Are you tired of slavery — of drudging for others — of poverty and its attendant miseries? Then, Vote yourself a farm.

Are you endowed with reason? Then you must know that your right to life hereby includes the right to a place to live in — the right to a home. Assert this right, so long denied mankind by feudal robbers and their attorneys. Vote yourself a farm.

Are you a man? Then assert the sacred rights of man — especially your right to stand upon God’s earth, and to till it for your own profit. Vote yourself a farm.

Would you free your country, and the sons of toil everywhere, from the heartless, irresponsible mastery of the aristocracy of avarice? Would you disarm this aristocracy of its chief weapon, the fearful power of banishment from God’s earth? Then join with your neighbors to form a true American party, having for its guidance the principles of the American revolution, and whose chief measures shall be — 1. To limit the quantity of land that any one man may henceforth monopolize or inherit; and 2. To make the public lands free to actual settlers only, each having the right to sell his improvements to any man not possessed of other land. (Reference: 1846 handbill.)

This activity culminated with the Homestead Act of 1862. Under the Act, an applicant could receive up to 160 acres of undeveloped public land. Requirements were minimal:  applicants needed only (1) to be at least 21 years old, (2) to live on the land for five years, and (3) to show evidence of having ‘made improvements’ to the land.

Despite problems, including widespread fraud by middle-men brokers (and national theft of Native American lands), the Act was, to judge by the number of families who participated, a  spectacular success.  Another testimony to the program’s success was its longevity: the Act stayed in effect for over a century: until 1976 in the lower 48 states, and 1986 in Alaska.


This brings us to the present.  Clearly the tradition of agrarian reform is long and deep in American history.  It is eminently practical, and reflects the simple truth that it makes no sense to crowd people in cities when there are millions of acres of habitable land available.  It is, arguably, simply unnatural.  In 1850, 85% of Americans lived outside of cities.  By 1900, 60% of the population lived rurally.  Today the rate is perhaps 20%.  Perhaps we should reverse this trend.

This doesn’t mean scrapping cities.  Logically, what seems best is a balance between commerce and agrarianism, urban and rural living.  It seems, though, that we are today at a crest of a radically commercial phase, with urban areas falling apart and becoming increasingly aversive. A convergence of social and environmental problems suggests it may be time to shift towards agrarianism to restore balance.


Clawson, Marion. Uncle Sam’s Acres. Dodd, Mead, 1951 (repr. Greenwood Press, 1970). ISBN: 0837133564.

Commons, John R. (ed.) A Documentary History of American Industrial Society: Volume 7 and Volume 8. Labor movement (1840 – 1860, Parts 1 and 2). Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1910.

Dick, Everett. The Lure of the Land: A Social History of the Public Lands. University of Nebraska Press, 1970.

Gates, Paul W. The Jeffersonian Dream: Studies in the History of American Land Policy and Development. University of New Mexico Press, 1996. ISBN: 0826316999.

Landau, Elaine. The Homestead Act (children’s book). Children’s Press, 2006. ISBN: 0516258702.

Parrington, Vernon Louis. Main Currents in American Thought (3 Volumes). New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927 (repr. 1987). ISBN: 0806120819. Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3

Porterfield, Jason. The Homestead Act of 1862: A Primary Source History. Rosen Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN: 1404201785.

Robbins, Roy M. Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain, 1776-1936. Peter Smith, 1950. ISBN: 0803208669.

Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West As Symbol and Myth. Harvard, 1950.

Thompson, Paul B.  The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics. University of Kentucky, 2010. ISBN: 0813125871.

Wiltse, Charles Maurice. The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy. Hill & Wang, 1935 (repr. 1960). ISBN: 0809000288.


Thoreau and Occupy Wall Street: Life Without Principle

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Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), American Transcendentalist philospher and writer.

Could American Transcendentalism serve as a philosophical foundation for the Occupy Wall Street movement? While this is perhaps worth exploring in some detail, here we shall be content to tread lightly – quoting from one of Henry David Thoreau’s (1817–1862) best works, his essay, Life Without Principle.

Reference: Thoreau, Henry D. ‘Life Without Principle’. In: The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (11 Volumes), Vol. 10 (Miscellanies), pp. 263-287. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1894.

The following extracts are presented in the order as they appear in the work.

Part 1

This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

If my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living. All great enterprises are self-supporting.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

You must get your living by loving.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

To be supported by the charity of friends, or a government pension, — provided you continue to breathe, — by whatever fine synonyms you describe these relations, is to go into the almshouse.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Cold and hunger seem more friendly to my nature than those methods which men have adopted and advise to ward them off.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

The ways in which most men get their living, that is, live, are mere makeshifts, and a shirking of the real business of life, — chiefly because they do not know, but partly because they do not mean, any better.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

God gave the righteous man a certificate entitling him to food and raiment, but the unrighteous man found a facsimile of the same in God’s coffers, and appropriated it, and obtained food and raiment like the former. It is one of the most extensive systems of counterfeiting that the world has seen. I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold. I have seen a little of it. I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit. A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I asked myself why I might not be washing some gold daily, though it were only the finest particles, — why I might not sink a shaft down to the gold within me, and work that mine.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Part 2

A man had better starve at once than lose his innocence in the process of getting his bread.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

It requires more than a day’s devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

The news we hear, for the most part, is not news to our genius.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

We do not live for idle amusement. I would not run round a corner to see the world blow up.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself,
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant,
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

If we have thus desecrated ourselves, — as who has not? — the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind. We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

America is said to be the arena on which the battle of freedom is to be fought; but surely it cannot be freedom in a merely political sense that is meant. Even if we grant that the American has freed himself from a political tyrant, he is still the slave of an economical and moral tyrant.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Do we call this the land of the free? What is it to be free from King George and continue the slaves of King Prejudice?
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

What is the value of any political freedom, but as a means to moral freedom?
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

We are warped and narrowed by an exclusive devotion to trade and commerce and manufactures and agriculture and the like, which are but means, and not the end.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

The chief want [i.e., what is missing] , in every State that I have been into, was a high and earnest purpose in its inhabitants.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

When we want culture more than potatoes, and illumination more than sugar-plums, then the great resources of a world are taxed and drawn out, and the result, or staple production, is, not slaves, nor operatives, but men, — those rare fruits called heroes, saints, poets, philosophers, and redeemers.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I have not got to answer for having read a single President’s Message.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Politics is, as it were, the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its two opposite halves, — sometimes split into quarters, it may be, which grind on each other.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Not only individuals, but states, have thus a confirmed dyspepsia…. Why should we not meet, not always as dyspeptics, to tell our bad dreams, but sometimes as eupeptics, to congratulate each other on the ever-glorious morning? I do not make an exorbitant demand, surely.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Each Man a Scholar

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deer-with-tHE other day I was walking around Brussels, noticing the people in the streets, many overburdened, and wondering how I might help make the world better. Suddenly the words, “Each man a scholar” came into my head, as if whispered by a Muse. What struck me was the intelligence in the faces I saw. Brussels is a very sophisticated city, and it seemed very plain that these same people, bright and well-educated, were capable of great achievements. Yet I suspected many or most were going home to watch television, sink on the sofa, or just worry about life in general.

Hence the implications of the thought, “each man a scholar” (which, of course, I naturally understood to mean ‘each woman,’ too). With these words came all at once a much broader and grander vision. The idea is that in this age of computers and the Internet, the role of each person in society is different. Each person can become an expert in some small, but important subject, and share the results of their work with the entire world. Not only is that possible, it seems like this what God is calling us to do, for He has placed us on the earth, you and I, at the precise moment in human history where all this technology has become available.

Such, I propose, is a natural and effective response to the difficult issues that confront us today. Solutions to such problems as hunger, poverty, injustice, disease, alienation, and war all exist. What we lack is a model for organizing ourselves to solve them. The Internet provides us with opportunity to forge such a new paradigm. What might be accomplished were each person who is able those blessed with a good education, computer literate, and with sufficient free time to spend an hour or two every week donating their time to public service in this way?

Belgium, 2008

Revisioning Higher Education: Part 1. The Obsolescence of the Modern University

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Antal Strohmayer - The Philosopher's Garden, Athens (1834)

Modern technology has made the brick-and-mortar university in its present form obsolete.

Consider the following. For any given subject (e.g., Psychology 101), there are, in any semester, hundreds of lecturers delivering the course worldwide. The quality of the lecturers will vary considerably. Some will be outstanding and inspiring; some will be bland, uninformed, and unintelligible. Exactly one of these courses will be the best; the rest will be inferior. This means that only a small proportion of students will receive the best possible course. Some will even pay exorbitant sums for the privilege of getting mediocre or bad instruction.

But video and internet technology make it theoretically possible for every student to view the lectures of the best professor!

This produces a kind of paradox:  it is in the best interests of students to, if possible, watch the lectures of the best professor; yet they have paid money to attend inferior lectures and are usually required to do so.   The student truly desirous of quality education would end up watching both lectures!

A second consideration is the monetary value of lectures. We know that, as supply increases, cost goes down — i.e., a  buyers market benefits consumers more than a sellers market. It is inevitable and certain that more and more courses, and ones of increasingly better quality, will be placed online, at lower and lower cost. Already one can buy world-class lectures from The Teaching Company, used, for $50 or less.  Eventually some philanthropist or enlightened government will place university lectures online for free. For a mere $1 million, high-quality lectures for all courses associated with a basic Humanities or Liberal Arts degree could be produced and placed online for fee-less viewing.

At this point, the monetary value of a college lecture would be $0; this would render it absurd for American universities to continue charging students $50k to $100k for a degree.

Would this render the brick and mortar university completely obsolete?  No — it would change its role.  Professors would be freed from the burden of delivering the same lectures year after year.  They could devote their time more to one-on-one mentoring and other types of activity which they and the students would find more fulfilling.

Thus, the role of the university will change.  But to fully understand the nature of this change, we must consider the educational needs of students and society in the coming decades.  This will be the subject of a subsequent post.

Bertrand Russell’s Sage Advice to Activists: What We Can Do

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This essay by the eminent British philosopher and social critic, Sir Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) was published as the final chapter of his book, Why Men Fight (The Century Co., 1917; download).  It nicely  complements the theories of Pitirim Sorokin on social change — for example, Russell similarly emphasizes the role of integrality and alignment with a higher, transpersonal intuitive principle or spirit.

While my original plan was to supply only excerpts, it soon became apparent that so much merits quotation — it reads, as with Emerson’s essays,  as a steady stream of insights — that it would be simpler to supply  the entire piece.  Not long, it will reward the efforts of any activist who reads it — likely a better investment of time than perusing today’s headlines, and taking no more time.

Russell, who lived nearly 100 years, had the unique distinction of famously opposing both WWI and the Vietnam War!  In 1916, he spent six months in prison for his pacifism.

What We Can Do

Bertrand Russell (1917)

WHAT can we do for the world while we live!

Many men and women would wish to serve mankind, but they are perplexed and their power seems infinitesimal. Despair seizes them; those who have the strongest passion suffer most from the sense of impotence, and are most liable to spiritual ruin through lack of hope.

So long as we think only of the immediate future, it seems that what we can do is not much. It is probably impossible for us to bring the war to an end. We cannot destroy the excessive power of the State or of private property. We cannot, here and now, bring new life into education. In such matters, though we may see the evil, we cannot quickly cure it by any of the ordinary methods of politics. We must recognize that the world is ruled in a wrong spirit, and that a change of spirit will not come from one day to the next. Our expectations must not be for to-morrow, but for the time when what is thought now by a few shall have become the common thought of many. If we have courage and patience, we can think the thoughts and feel the hopes by which; sooner or later, men will be inspired, and weariness and discouragement will be turned into energy and ardor. For this reason, the first thing we have to do is to be clear in our own minds as to the kind of life we think good and the kind of change that we desire in the world.

The ultimate power of those whose thought is vital is far greater than it seems to men who suffer from the irrationality of contemporary politics. Religious toleration was once the solitary speculation of a few bold philosophers. Democracy, as a theory, arose among a handful of men in Cromwell’s army; by them, after the Restoration, it was carried to America, where it came to fruition in the War of Independence. From America, Lafayette and the other Frenchmen who fought by the side of Washington brought the theory of democracy to France, where it united itself with the teaching of Rousseau and inspired the Revolution. Socialism, whatever we may think of its merits, is a great and growing power, which is transforming economic and political life; and socialism owes its origin to a very small number of isolated theorists. The movement against the subjection of women, which has become irresistible and is not far from complete triumph, began in the same way with a few impracticable idealists — Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, John Stuart Mill. The power of thought, in the long run, is greater than any other human power. Those who have the ability to think and the imagination to think in accordance with men’s needs, are likely to achieve the good they aim at sooner or later, though probably not while they are still alive.

But those who wish to gain the world by thought must be content to lose it as a support in the present. Most men go through life without much questioning, accepting the beliefs and practices which they find current, feeling that the world will be their ally if they do not put themselves in opposition to it. New thought about the world is incompatible with this comfortable acquiescence; it requires a certain intellectual detachment, a certain solitary energy, a power of inwardly dominating the world and the outlook that the world engenders. Without some willingness to be lonely new thought cannot be achieved. And it will not be achieved to any purpose if the loneliness is accompanied by aloofness, so that the wish for union with others dies, or if intellectual detachment leads to contempt. It is because the state of mind required is subtle and difficult, because it is hard to be intellectually detached yet not aloof, that fruitful thought on human affairs is not common, and that most theorists are either conventional or sterile. The right kind of thought is rare and difficult, but it is not impotent. It is not the fear of impotence that need turn us aside from thought if we have the wish to bring new hope into the world.

In seeking a political theory which is to be useful at any given moment, what is wanted is not the invention of a Utopia, but the discovery of the best direction of movement. The direction which is good at one time may be superficially very different from that which is good at another time. Useful thought is that which indicates the right direction for the present time. But in judging what is the right direction there are two general principles which are always applicable.

1. The growth and vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible.

2. The growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another.

The second of these principles, as applied by an individual in his dealings with others, is the principle of reverence, that the life of another has the same importance which we feel in our own life. As applied impersonally in politics, it is the principle of liberty, or rather it includes the principle of liberty as a part. Liberty in itself is a negative principle; it tells us not to interfere, but does not give any basis for construction. It shows that many political and social institutions are bad and ought to be swept away, but it does not show what ought to be put in their place. For this reason a further principle is required, if our political theory is not to be purely destructive.

The combination of our two principles is not in practice an easy matter. Much of the vital energy of the world runs into channels which are oppressive. The Germans have shown themselves extraordinarily full of vital energy, but unfortunately in a form which seems incompatible with the vitality of their neighbors. Europe in general has more vital energy than Africa, but it has used its energy to drain Africa, through industrialism, of even such life as the negroes possessed. The vitality of southeastern Europe is being drained to supply cheap labor for the enterprise of American millionaires. The vitality of men has been in the past a hindrance to the development of women, and it is possible that in the near future women may become a similar hindrance to men. For such reasons the principle of reverence, though not in itself sufficient, is of very great importance, and is able to indicate many of the political changes that the world requires.

In order that both principles may be capable of being satisfied, what is needed is a unifying or integration, first of our individual lives, then of the life of the community and of the world, without sacrifice of individuality. The life of an individual, the life of a community, and even the life of mankind, ought to be, not a number of separate fragments but in some sense a whole. When this is the case, the growth of the individual is fostered, and is not incompatible with the growth of other individuals. In this way the two principles are brought into harmony.

What integrates an individual life is a consistent creative purpose or unconscious direction. Instinct alone will not suffice to give unity to the life of a civilized man or woman: there must be some dominant object, an ambition, a desire for scientific or artistic creation, a religious principle, or strong and lasting affections. Unity of life is very difficult for a man or woman who has suffered a certain kind of defeat, the kind by which what should have been the dominant impulse is checked and made abortive. Most professions inflict this kind of defeat upon a man at the very outset. If a man becomes a journalist, he probably has to write for a newspaper whose politics he dislikes; this kills his pride in work and his sense of independence. Most medical men find it very hard to succeed without humbug, by which whatever scientific conscience they may have had is destroyed. Politicians are obliged, not only to swallow the party program but to pretend to be saints, in order to conciliate religious supporters; hardly any man can enter Parliament without hypocrisy. In no profession is there any respect for the native pride without which a man cannot remain whole; the world ruthlessly crushes it out, because it implies independence, and men desire to enslave others more than they desire to be free themselves. Inward freedom is infinitely precious, and a society which will preserve it is immeasurably to be desired.

The principle of growth in a man is not crushed necessarily by preventing him from doing some definite thing, but it is often crushed by persuading him to do something else. The things that crush growth are those that produce a sense of impotence in the directions in which the vital impulse wishes to be effective. The worst things are those to which the will assents. Often, chiefly from failure of self-knowledge, a man’s will is on a lower level than his impulse: his impulse is towards some kind of creation, while his will is towards a conventional career, with a sufficient income and the respect of his contemporaries. The stereotyped illustration is the artist who produces shoddy work to please the public. But something of the artist’s definiteness of impulse exists in very many men who are not artists. Because the impulse is deep and dumb, because what is called common sense is often against it, because a young man can only follow it if he is willing to set up his own obscure feelings against the wisdom and prudent maxims of elders and friends, it happens in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred that the creative impulse, out of which a free and vigorous life might have sprung, is checked and thwarted at the very outset: the young man consents to become a tool, not an independent workman; a mere means to the fulfilment of others, not the artificer of what his own nature feels to be good. In the moment when he makes this act of consent something dies within him. He can never again become a whole man, never again have the undamaged self-respect, the upright pride, which might have kept him happy in his soul in spite of all outward troubles and difficulties — except, indeed, through conversion and a fundamental change in his way of life.

Outward prohibitions, to which the will gives no assent, are far less harmful than the subtler inducements which seduce the will. A serious disappointment in love may cause the most poignant pain, but to a vigorous man it will not do the same inward damage as is done by marrying for money. The achievement of this or that special desire is not what is essential: what is essential is the direction, the kind of effectiveness which is sought. When the fundamental impulse is opposed by will, it is made to feel helpless: it has no longer enough hope to be powerful as a motive. Outward compulsion does not do the same damage unless it produces the same sense of impotence; and it will not produce the same sense of impotence if the impulse is strong and courageous. Some thwarting of special desires is unavoidable even in the best imaginable community, since some men’s desires, unchecked, lead to the oppression or destruction of others. In a good community Napoleon could not have been allowed the profession of his choice, but he might have found happiness as a pioneer in Western America. He could not have found happiness as a City clerk, and no tolerable organization of society would compel him to become a City clerk. The integration of an individual life requires that it should embody whatever creative impulse a man may possess, and that his education should have been such as to elicit and fortify this impulse. The integration of a community requires that the different creative impulses of different men and women should work together towards some common life, some common purpose, not necessarily conscious, in which all the members of the community find a help to their individual fulfilment. Most of the activities that spring from vital impulses consist of two parts: one creative, which furthers one’s own life and that of others with the same kind of impulse or circumstances, and one possessive, which hinders the life of some group with a different kind of impulse or circumstances. For this reason, much of what is in itself most vital may nevertheless work against life, as, for example, seventeenth-century Puritanism did in England, or as nationalism does throughout Europe at the present day. Vitality easily leads to strife or oppression, and so to loss of vitality. War, at its outset, integrates the life of a nation, but it disintegrates the life of the world, and in the long run the life of a nation too, when it is as severe as the present war.

The war has made it clear that it is impossible to produce a secure integration of the life of a single community while the relations between civilized countries are governed by aggressiveness and suspicion. For this reason any really powerful movement of reform will have to be international. A merely national movement is sure to fail through fear of danger from without. Those who desire a better world, or even a radical improvement in their own country, will have to cooperate with those who have similar desires in other countries, and to devote much of their energy to overcoming that blind hostility which the war has intensified. It is not in partial integrations, such as patriotism alone can produce, that any ultimate hope is to be found. The problem is, in national and international questions as in the individual life, to keep what is creative in vital impulses, and at the same time to turn into other channels the part which is at present destructive.

Men’s impulses and desires may be divided into those that are creative and those that are possessive. Some of our activities are directed to creating what would not otherwise exist, others are directed towards acquiring or retaining what exists already. The typical creative impulse is that of the artist; the typical possessive impulse is that of property. The best life is that in which creative impulses play the largest part and possessive impulses the smallest. The best institutions are those which produce the greatest possible creativeness and the least possessiveness compatible with self-preservation. Possessiveness may be defensive or aggressive: in the criminal law it is defensive, and in criminals it is aggressive. It may perhaps be admitted that the criminal law is less abominable than the criminal, and that defensive possessiveness is unavoidable so long as aggressive possessiveness exists. But not even the most purely defensive forms of possessiveness are in themselves admirable; indeed, as soon as they are strong they become hostile to the creative impulses. “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink, or Wherewithal shall we be clothed ?” Whoever has known a strong creative impulse has known the value of this precept in its exact and literal sense: it is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly. The State and Property are the great embodiments of possessiveness; it is for this reason that they are against life, and that they issue in war. Possession means taking or keeping some good thing which another is prevented from enjoying; creation means putting into the world a good thing which otherwise no one would be able to enjoy. Since the material goods of the world must be divided among the population, and since some men are by nature brigands, there must be defensive possession, which will be regulated, in a good community, by some principle of impersonal justice. But all this is only the preface to a good life or good political institutions, in which creation will altogether outweigh possession, and distributive justice will exist as an uninteresting matter of course.

The supreme principle, both in politics and in private life, should be to promote all that is creative, and so to diminish the impulses and desires that center round possession. The State at present is very largely an embodiment of possessive impulses: internally, it protects the rich against the poor; externally, it uses force for the exploitation of inferior races, and for competition with other States. Our whole economic system is concerned exclusively with possession; yet the production of goods is a form of creation, and except in so far as it is irredeemably mechanical and monotonous, it might afford a vehicle for creative impulses. A great deal might be achieved towards this end by forming the producers of a certain kind of commodity into an autonomous democracy, subject to State control as regards the price of their commodity but not as to the manner of its production.

Education, marriage, and religion are essentially creative, yet all three have been vitiated by the intrusion of possessive motives. Education is usually treated as a means of prolonging the status quo by instilling prejudices, rather than of creating free thought and a noble outlook by the example of generous feeling and the stimulus of mental adventure. In marriage, love, which is creative, is kept in chains by jealousy, which is possessive. Religion, which should set free the creative vision of the spirit, is usually more concerned to repress the life of instinct and to combat the subversiveness of thought. In all these ways the fear that grows out of precarious possession has replaced the hope inspired by creative force. The wish to plunder others is recognized, in theory, to be bad; but the fear of being plundered is little better. Yet these two motives between them dominate nine-tenths of politics and private life.

The creative impulses in different men are essentially harmonious, since what one man creates cannot be a hindrance to what another is wishing to create. It is the possessive impulses that involve conflict. Although, morally and politically, the creative and possessive impulses are opposites, yet psychologically either passes easily into the other, according to the accidents of circumstance and opportunity. The genesis of impulses and the causes which make them change ought to be studied; education and social institutions ought to be made such as to strengthen the impulses which harmonize in different men, and to weaken those that involve conflict. I have no doubt that what might be accomplished in this way is almost unlimited.

It is rather through impulse than through will that individual lives and the life of the community can derive the strength unity of a single direction. Will is of two kinds, of which one is directed outward and the other inward. The first, which is directed outward, is called into play by external obstacles, either the opposition of others or the technical difficulties of an undertaking. This kind of will is an expression of strong impulse or desire, whenever instant success is impossible; it exists in all whose life is vigorous, and only decays when their vital force is enfeebled. It is necessary to success in any difficult enterprise, and without it great achievement is very rare. But the will which is directed inward is only necessary in so far as there is an inner conflict of impulses or desires; a perfectly harmonious nature would have no occasion for inward will. Such perfect harmony is of course a scarcely realizable ideal: in all men impulses arise which are incompatible with their central purpose, and which must be checked if their life as a whole is not to be a failure. But this will happen least with those whose central impulses are strongest; and it will happen less often in a society which aims at freedom than in a society like ours, which is full of artificial incompatibilities created by antiquated institutions and a tyrannous public opinion. The power to exert inward will when the occasion arises must always be needed by those who wish their lives to embody some central purpose, but with better institutions the occasions when inward will is necessary might be made fewer and less important. This result is very much to be desired, because when will checks impulses which are only accidentally harmful, it diverts a force which might be spent on overcoming outward obstacles, and if the impulses checked are strong and serious, it actually diminishes the vital force available. A life full of inhibitions is likely not to remain a very vigorous life but to become listless and without zest. Impulse tends to die when it is constantly held in check and if it does not die, it is apt to work underground, and issue in some form much worse than that in which it has been checked. For these reasons the necessity for using inward will ought to be avoided as much as possible, and consistency of action ought to spring rather from consistency of impulse than from control of impulse by will.

The unifying of life ought not to demand the suppression of the casual desires that make amusement and play; on the contrary, everything ought to be done to make it easy to combine the main purposes of life with all kinds of pleasure that are not in their nature harmful. Such things as habitual drunkenness, drugs, cruel sports, or pleasure in inflicting pain are essentially harmful, but most of the amusements that civilized men naturally enjoy are either not harmful at all or only accidentally harmful through some effect which might be avoided in a better society. What is needed is, not asceticism or a drab Puritanism, but capacity for strong impulses and desires directed towards large creative ends. When such impulses and desires are vigorous, they bring with them, of themselves, what is needed to make a good life.

But although amusement and adventure ought to have their share, it is impossible to create a good life if they are what is mainly desired. Subjectivism, the habit of directing thought and desire to our own states of mind rather than to something objective, inevitably makes life fragmentary and unprogressive. The man to whom amusement is the end of life tends to lose interest gradually in the things out of which he has been in the habit of obtaining amusement, since he does not value these things on their own account, but on account of the feelings which they arouse in him. When they are no longer amusing, boredom drives him to seek some new stimulus, which fails him in its turn. Amusement consists in a series of moments without any essential continuity; a purpose which unifies life is one which requires some prolonged activity, and is like building a monument rather than a child’s castle in the sand.

Subjectivism has other forms beside the mere pursuit of amusement. Many men, when they are in love, are more interested in their own emotion than in the object of their love; such love does not lead to any essential union, but leaves fundamental separateness undiminished. As soon as the emotion grows less vivid the experience has served its purpose, and there seems no motive for prolonging it. In another way, the same evil of subjectivism was fostered by Protestant religion and morality, since they directed attention to sin and the state of the soul rather than to the outer world and our relations with it. None of these forms of subjectivism can prevent a man’s life from being fragmentary and isolated. Only a life which springs out of dominant impulses directed to objective ends can be a satisfactory whole, or be intimately united with the lives of others. The pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of virtue alike suffer from subjectivism: Epicureanism and Stoicism are infected with the same taint. Marcus Aurelius, enacting good laws in order that he might be virtuous, is not an attractive figure. Subjectivism is a natural outcome of a life in which there is much more thought than action: while outer things are being remembered or desired, not actually experienced, they seem to become mere ideas. What they are in themselves becomes less interesting to us than the effects which they produce in our own minds.  Such a result tends to be brought about by increasing civilization, because increasing civilization continually diminishes the need for vivid action and enhances the opportunities for thought. But thought will not have this bad result if it is active thought, directed towards achieving some purpose; it is only passive thought that leads to subjectivism. What is needed is to keep thought in intimate union with impulses and desires, making it always itself an activity with an objective purpose. Otherwise, thought and impulse become enemies, to the great detriment of both.

In order to make the lives of average men and women less fragmentary and separate, and to give greater opportunity for carrying out creative impulses, it is not enough to know the goal we wish to reach, or to proclaim the excellence of what we desire to achieve. It is necessary to understand the effect of institutions and beliefs upon the life of impulse, and to discover ways of improving this effect by a change in institutions. And when this intellectual work has been done, our thought will still remain barren unless we can bring it into relation with some powerful political force. The only powerful political force from which any help is to be expected in bringing about such changes as seem needed is Labor. The changes required are very largely such as Labor may be expected to welcome, especially during the time of hardship after the war. When the war is over, labor discontent is sure to be very prevalent throughout Europe, and to constitute a political force by means of which a great and sweeping reconstruction may be effected.

The civilized world has need of fundamental change if it is to be saved from decay — change both in its economic structure and in its philosophy of life. Those of us who feel the need of change must not sit still in dull despair: we can, if we choose, profoundly influence the future. We can discover and preach the kind of change that is required — the kind that preserves what is positive in the vital beliefs of our time, and, by eliminating what is negative and inessential, produces a synthesis to which all that is not purely reactionary can give allegiance. As soon as it has become clear what kind of change is required, it will be possible to work out its parts in more detail. But until the war is ended there is little use in detail, since we do not know what kind of world the war will leave. The only thing that seems indubitable is that much new thought will be required in the new world produced by the war.

Traditional views will give little help. It is clear that men ‘s most important actions are not guided by the sort of motives that are emphasized in traditional political philosophies. The impulses by which the war has been produced and sustained come out of a deeper region than that of most political argument. And the opposition to the war on the part of those few who have opposed it comes from the same deep region. A political theory, if it is to hold in times of stress, must take account of the impulses that underlie explicit thought: it must appeal to them, and it must discover how to make them fruitful rather than destructive.

Economic systems have a great influence in promoting or destroying life. Except slavery, the present industrial system is the most destructive of life that has ever existed. Machinery and large-scale production are ineradicable, and must survive in any better system which is to replace the one under which we live. Industrial federal democracy is probably the best direction for reform to take.

Philosophies of life, when they are widely believed, also have a very great influence on the vitality of a community. The most widely accepted philosophy of life at present is that what matters most to a man’s happiness is his income. This philosophy, apart from other demerits, is harmful because it leads men to aim at a result rather than an activity, an enjoyment of material goods in which men are not differentiated, rather than a creative impulse which embodies each man’s individuality. More refined philosophies, such as are instilled by higher education, are too apt to fix attention on the past rather than the future, and on correct behavior rather than effective action. It is not in such philosophies that men will find the energy to bear lightly the weight of tradition and of ever-accumulating knowledge.

The world has need of a philosophy, or a religion, which will promote life. But in order to promote life it is necessary to value something other than mere life. Life devoted only to life is animal without any real human value, incapable of preserving men permanently from weariness and the feeling that all is vanity. If life is to be fully human it must serve some end which seems, in some sense, outside human life, some end which is impersonal and above mankind, such as God or truth or beauty. Those who best promote life do not have life for their purpose. They aim rather at what seems like a gradual incarnation, a bringing into our human existence of something eternal, something that appears to imagination to live in a heaven remote from strife and failure and the devouring jaws of Time. Contact with this eternal world — even if it be only a world of our imagining — brings a strength and a fundamental peace which cannot be wholly destroyed by the struggles and apparent failures of our temporal life. It is this happy contemplation of what is eternal that Spinoza calls the intellectual love of God. To those who have once known it, it is the key of wisdom.

What we have to do practically is different for each one of us, according to our capacities and opportunities. But if we have the life of the spirit within us, what we must do and what we must avoid will become apparent to us.

By contact with what is eternal, by devoting our life to bringing something of the Divine into this troubled world, we can make our own lives creative even now, even in the midst of the cruelty and strife and hatred that surround us on every hand. To make the individual life creative is far harder in a community based on possession than it would be in such a community as human effort may be able to build up in the future. Those who are to begin the regeneration of the world must face loneliness, opposition, poverty, obloquy. They must be able to live by truth and love, with a rational unconquerable hope; they must be honest and wise, fearless, and guided by a consistent purpose. A body of men and women so inspired will conquer — first the difficulties and perplexities of their individual lives, then, in time, though perhaps only in a long time, the outer world. Wisdom and hope are what the world needs; and though it fights against them, it gives its respect to them in the end.

When the Goths sacked Rome, St. Augustine wrote the “City of God,” putting a spiritual hope in place of the material reality that had been destroyed. Throughout the centuries that followed St. Augustine’s hope lived and gave life, while Rome sank to a village of hovels. For us, too, it is necessary to create a new hope, to build up by our thought a better world than the one which is hurling itself into ruin. Because the times are bad, more is required of us than would be required in normal times.

Only a supreme fire of thought and spirit can save future generations from the death that has befallen the generation which we knew and loved. It has been my good fortune to come in contact as a teacher with young men of many different nations — young men in whom hope was alive, in whom the creative energy existed that would have realized in the world some part at least of the imagined beauty by which they lived. They have been swept into the war, some on one side, some on the other. Some are still fighting, some are maimed for life, some are dead; of those who survive it is to be feared that many will have lost the life of the spirit, that hope will have died, that energy will be spent, and that the years to come will be only a weary journey towards the grave. Of all this tragedy, not a few of those who teach seem to have no feeling: with ruthless logic, they prove that these young men have been sacrificed unavoidably for some coldly abstract end; undisturbed themselves, they lapse quickly into comfort after any momentary assault of feeling. In such men the life of the spirit is dead. If it were living, it would go out to meet the spirit in the young, with a love as poignant as the love of father or mother. It would be unaware of the bounds of self; their tragedy would be its own. Something would cry out: “No, this is not right; this is not good; this is not a holy cause, in which the brightness of youth is destroyed and dimmed. It is we, the old, who have sinned; we have sent these young men to the battlefield for our evil passions, our spiritual death, our failure to live generously out of the warmth of the heart and out of the living vision of the spirit. Let us come out of this death, for it is we who are dead, not the young men who have died through our fear of life. Their very ghosts have more life than we: they hold us up for ever to the shame and obloquy of all the ages to come. Out of their ghosts must come life, and it is we whom they must vivify.”