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The Art of Community is my favorite kind of non-fiction. Such a book takes some mundane thing or custom and examines its history and current place in our society. From this study, the author can take off in any number of directions to shed light on a broader aspect of our culture.
In this particular case, Spencer MacCallum begins with the evolution of the modern hotel, and leads us to a deeper understanding of the meaning and usefulness of private space. Quite simply, this is the original manifesto of proprietary community as the basis for a free nation.
Picking up where his grandfather, philosopher Spencer Heath, left off at the end of his 1957 work Citadel, Market and Altar, MacCallum uses practical examples such as hotels, restaurants, trailer parks, shopping centers and industrial parks to illustrate a variety of methods available to property owners for creating and managing larger communities. Beyond centralized single ownership, MacCallum shows how individual property owners can pool their resource to create similar effects of privately administered spaces. Condominiums and planned subdivisions are good examples of how the latter form of pooled ownership associations is beginning to materialize.
The interesting thing is that all the kinds of community in which MacCallum sees the seeds of contract-based politics have arisen only in the last century. (He might object to my use of the word "politics" here, as he sees the new community as being beyond politics.) As we develop the theory of private space, we are often only a step ahead of real life trends. He draws our attention to the solid experience that refines and furthers our ideas. While reading the book, it sometimes seems that market forces will do our job for us, with or without our help.
Drawing on his background as an anthropologist, MacCallum devises an interesting theory of the state. Primitive tribes began as a form of proprietary community, with the tribal chief acting in the capacity of what we would now call the owner. As tribes grew, settling down and beginning trade with other tribes, conflict arose between them. The state, and along with it the principle of sovereignty, originated for purposes of warfare and protection.
While most anthropologists would see the state as an evolution of human society, MacCallum instead views it as an aberration. "Force is not an organizing principle in its own right, but a natural and primitive expedient in crisis." (p.85) With the emergence of modern forms of proprietary community, MacCallum sees human society resolving this digression of the state, returning to our natural path of political and economic evolution.
Why has this colossal error, this wrong turn in human evolution, taken hold and triumphed to this day? MacCallum would say it is because we lacked the tools to maintain a properly functioning community. We needed to develop high tech social skills. In the beginning, community was based solely on kinship. Even with adoption and intermarriage, as societies became more mobile over wider areas, kinship alone could not assure stability of land-use management, nor of economic productivity. The manorial system that became feudalism was also an expression of these principles, except that the people lacked the freedom necessary to voluntarily make contracts, which is essential to a properly functioning proprietary community.
But today, we see all manner of proprietary communities springing up like mushrooms. The refinement and advanced flexibility of free contract has certainly been the major contributor. We also see new forms of community arising, corporations predominant among them. On many levels in our culture, people are redefining and realigning themselves. Community can now be based on anything and can have a broad range of functions. And given the advantages of coordinated land-use planning, these new communities can be highly profitable.
MacCallum never departs from his focus on the value of land. Our political history is seen in terms of trends in real estate. According to this thesis, the naturally concerned stewardship by a property owner (or owners) in the context of a totally free market will result in the most appropriate use of the land. From proper land-use planning flows community organization, harmony with the environment, economic prosperity, and most importantly, a clear path to our best possible human destiny.
The Art of Community is essential reading for those of us in
the Free Nation Foundation. As we continue to refine our concepts of private
and public space, this book is a basic source of ideas that we will turn
to again and again. I thank Spencer MacCallum for giving us this excellent
book, and also for continuing to develop his ideas within FNF. D
Sean Haugh is a member of the Free Nation Foundation. He is the Editor of The Tarheel Libertarian, the newsletter of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina, and has been active in various libertarian and anarchist organizations since 1980.
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