Garden Cities of To-morrow, by Ebenezer Howard

Chapter Eleven

The Path followed up

‘How can a man learn to know himself? By reflection never — only by action. In the measure that thou seekest to do thy duty shalt thou know what is in thee. But what is thy duty? The demand of the hour.’ — GOETHE.

The reader is now asked to kindly assume, for the sake of argument, that our Garden City experiment has been fairly launched, and is a decided success, and to consider briefly some of the more important effects which such an object lesson, by the light which it will throw upon the pathway of reform, must inevitably produce upon society, and then we will endeavour to trace some of the broader features of the after-development.

Among the greatest needs of man and of society to-day, as at all times, are these: A worthy aim and opportunity to realize it; work and ends worth working for. All that a man is, and all that he may become, is summed up in his aspirations, and this is no less true of society than of the individual. The end I venture to now set before the people of this country and of other countries is no less ‘noble and adequate’ than this, that they should forthwith gird themselves to the task of building up clusters of beautiful home-towns, each zoned by gardens, for those who now dwell in crowded, slum-infested cities. We have already seen how one such town may be built; let us now see how the true path of reform, once discovered, will, if resolutely followed, lead society on to a far higher destiny than it has ever yet ventured to hope for, though such a future has often been foretold by daring spirits.

There have in the past been inventions and discoveries on the making of which society has suddenly leaped upward to a new and higher plane of existence. The utilization of steam — a force long recognized, but which proved somewhat difficult to harness to the task it was fitted to accomplish — effected mighty changes; but the discovery of a method for giving effect to a far greater force than the force of steam — to the long pent-up desire for a better and nobler social life here on earth — will work changes even more remarkable.

What clearly marked economic truth is brought into view by the successful issue of such an experiment as we have been advocating? This: That there is a broad path open, through a creation of new wealth forms, to a new industrial system in which the productive forces of society and of nature may be used with far greater effectiveness than at present, and in which the distribution of the wealth forms so created will take place on a far juster and more equitable basis. Society may have more to divide among its members, and at the same time the greater dividend may be divided in a juster manner.

Speaking broadly, industrial reformers may be divided into two camps. The first camp includes those who urge the primary importance of paying close and constant attention to the necessity of increased production: the second includes those whose special aim is directed to more just and equitable division. The former are constantly saying, in effect, ‘Increase the national dividend, and all will be well’; the latter, ‘The national dividend is fairly sufficient were it but divided equitably.’ The former are for the most part of the individualistic, the latter of the socialistic type.

As an instance of the former point of view, I may cite the words of Mr. A. J. Balfour, who, at a Conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations held at Sunderland on 14th November 1894 said: ‘Those who represented society as if it consisted of two sections disputing over their share of the general produce were utterly mistaken as to the real bearing of the great social problem. We had to consider that the produce of the country was not a fixed quantity, of which, if the employers got more, the employed would get less, or if the employed got more, the employers would get less. The real question for the working classes of this country was not primarily or fundamentally a question of division: it was a question of production.’ As an instance of the second point of view, take the following: ‘The absurdity of the notion of raising the poor without, to a corresponding degree, depressing the rich will be obvious.’ 1

I have already shown, and I hope to make this contention yet more clear, that there is a path along which sooner or later, both the Individualist and the Socialist must inevitably travel; for I have made it abundantly clear that on a small scale society may readily become more individualistic than now — if by Individualism is meant a society in which there is fuller and freer opportunity for its members to do and to produce what they will, and to form free associations, of the most varied kinds; while it may also become more socialistic — if by Socialism is meant a condition of life in which the well-being of the community is safeguarded, and in which the collective spirit is manifested by a wide extension of the area of municipal effort. To achieve these desirable ends, I have taken a leaf out of the books of each type of reformer and bound them together by a thread of practicability. Not content with urging the necessity of increased production, I have shown how it can be achieved; while the other and equally important end of more equitable distribution is, as I have shown, easily possible, and in a manner which need cause no ill-will, strife, or bitterness; is constitutional; requires no revolutionary legislation; and involves no direct attack upon vested interests. Thus may the desires of the two sections of reformers to whom I have referred be attained. I have, in short, followed out Lord Rosebery’s suggestion, and ‘borrowed from Socialism its large conception of common effort, and its vigorous conception of municipal life, and from Individualism the preservation of self-respect and self-reliance’, and, by a concrete illustration, I have, I think, disproved the cardinal contention of Mr. Benjamin Kidd in his famous book, Social Evolution, that ‘the interests of the social organism and of the individuals comprising it at any particular time are actually antagonistic; they can never be reconciled; they are inherently and essentially irreconcilable’.

Most socialistic writers appear to me to exhibit too keen a desire to appropriate old forms of wealth, either by purchasing out or by taxing out the owners, and they seem to have little conception that the truer method is to create new forms and to create them under juster conditions. But this latter conception should inevitably follow an adequate realization of the ephemeral nature of most forms of wealth; and there is no truth more fully recognized by economic writers than that nearly all forms of material wealth, except, indeed, the planet on which we live and the elements of nature, are extremely fugitive and prone to decay. Thus for instance, J. S. Mill, in Elements of Political Economy, Book 1, Chapter V, says: ‘The greater part in value of the wealth now existing in England has been produced by human hands within the last twelve months. A very small proportion indeed of that large aggregate was in existence ten years ago; of the present productive capital of the country, scarcely any part except farmhouses and manufactories and a few ships and machines; and even these would not in most cases have survived so long if fresh labour had not been employed within that period in putting them into repair. The land subsists, and the land is almost the only thing that subsists.’ The leaders of the great socialistic movement, of course, know all this perfectly well; yet this quite elementary truth seems to fade from their minds when they are discussing methods of reform, and they appear to be as anxious to seize upon present forms of wealth as if they regarded them as of a really lasting and permanent nature.

But this inconsistency of socialistic writers is all the more striking when one remembers that these writers are the very ones who insist most strongly upon the view that a very large part of the wealth-forms now in existence are not really wealth at all — that they are ‘ilth’, and that any form of society which represents even a step towards their ideal must involve the sweeping away of such forms and the creation of new forms in their place. With a degree of inconsistency that is positively startling, they exhibit an insatiable desire to become possessed of these forms of wealth which are not only rapidly decaying, but are in their opinion absolutely useless or injurious.

Thus Mr. H. M. Hyndman, at a lecture delivered at the Democratic Club, 29th March 1893, said: ‘It was desirable that they should map out and formulate socialistic ideas which they should desire to see brought about when the so-called Individualism of the present day has broken down, as it inevitably would do. One of the first things that they as Socialists would have to do would be to depopulate the vast centres of their overcrowded cities. Their large towns had no longer any large agricultural population from which to recruit their ranks, and through bad and insufficient food, vitiated atmosphere, and other insanitary conditions, the physique of the masses of the cities was rapidly deteriorating, both materially and physically.’ Precisely; but does not Mr. Hyndman see that in striving to become possessed of present wealth forms, he is laying siege to the wrong fortress? If the population of London, or a large part of the population of London, is to be transplanted elsewhere, when some future event has happened, would it not be well to see if we cannot induce large numbers of these people to transplant themselves now, when the problem of London administration and of London reform would, as we shall shortly discover, present itself in a somewhat startling fashion?

A similar inconsistency is to be noticed in a little book which has had an enormous and well-deserved sale, Merrie England. The author, ‘Nunquam’, 2 remarks at the outset: ‘The problem we have to consider is: Given a country and a people, find how the people may make the best of the country and themselves.’ He then proceeds to vigorously condemn our cities, with their houses ugly and mean, their narrow streets. their want of gardens, and emphasizes the advantages of out-door occupations. He condemns the factory system, and says: ‘I would set men to grow wheat and fruit, and rear cattle and poultry for our own use. Then I would develop the fisheries, and construct great fish-breeding lakes and harbours. Then I would restrict our mines, furnaces, chemical works, and factories to the number actually needed for the supply of our own people. Then I would stop the smoke nuisance by developing water-power and electricity. In order to achieve these ends, I would make all the lands, mills, mines, factories, works, shops, ships, and railways the property of the people.’ That is (the italics are my own), the people are to struggle hard to become possessed of factories, mills, works and shops, at least half of which must be closed if Nunquam’s desires are attained; of ships which will become useless if our foreign trade is to be abandoned (see Merrie England, Chap. IV); and of railways, which, with an entire redistribution of population such as Nunquam desires, must for the most part become derelict. And how long is this useless struggle to last? Would it not — I ask Nunquam to consider this point carefully — be better to study a smaller problem first, and, to paraphrase his words, ‘Given, say, 6,000 acres of land, let us endeavour to make the best use of it’? For then, having dealt with this, we shall have educated ourselves to deal with a larger area.

Let me state again in other terms this fugitiveness of wealth forms, and then suggest the conclusion to which that consideration should lead us. So marked are the changes which society exhibits — especially a society in a progressive state — that the outward and visible forms which our civilization presents today, its public and private buildings, its means of communication, the appliances with which it works, its machinery, its docks, its artificial harbours, its instruments of war and its instruments of peace, have most of them undergone a complete change, and many of them several complete changes, within the last sixty years. I suppose not one person in twenty in this country is living in a house which is sixty years old; not one sailor in a thousand is sailing a ship, not one artisan or labourer in a hundred is engaged in a workshop or handling tools or driving a cart which was in existence sixty years ago. It is now sixty years since the first railway was constructed from Birmingham to London, and our Railway Companies possess one thousand millions of invested capital, while our systems of water supply, of gas, of electric lighting, and of sewerage are, for the most part, of recent date. Those material relics of the past which were created more than sixty years ago, though some of them are of infinite value as mementos, examples, and heirlooms, are, for the most part, certainly not of a kind which we need wrangle over or fight about. The best of them are our universities, schools, churches, and cathedrals, and these should certainly teach us a different lesson.

But can any reasonable person, who reflects for a moment on the recent unexampled rate of progress and invention, doubt that the next sixty years will reveal changes fully as remarkable? Can any person suppose that these mushroom forms, which have sprung up as it were in a night, have any real permanence? Even apart from the solution of the labour problem, and the finding of work for the thousands of idle hands which are eager for it — a solution, the correctness of which I claim to have demonstrated — what possibilities are opened up by the bare contemplation of the discovery of new motive powers, new means of locomotion, perhaps, through the air, new methods of water supply, or a new distribution of population, which must of itself render many material forms altogether useless and effete! Why, then, should we squabble and wrangle about what man has produced? Why not rather seek to learn what man can produce; when, aiming to do that, we may perhaps discover a grand opportunity for producing not only better forms of wealth, but how to produce them under far juster conditions? To quote the author of Merrie England: ‘We should first of all ascertain what things are desirable for our health and happiness of body and mind, and then organize our people with the object of producing those things in the best and easiest way.’

Wealth forms, then, in their very nature are fugitive, and they are besides liable to constant displacement by the better forms which in an advancing state of society are constantly arising. There is, however, one form of material wealth which is most permanent and abiding; from the value and utility of which our most wonderful inventions can never detract one jot, but will serve only to make more clear, and to render more universal. The planet on which we live has lasted for millions of years, and the race is just emerging from its savagery. Those of us who believe that there is a grand purpose behind nature cannot believe that the career of this planet is likely to be speedily cut short now that better hopes are rising in the hearts of men, and that, having learned a few of its less obscure secrets, they are finding their way, through much toil and pain, to a more noble use of its infinite treasures. The earth for all practical purposes may be regarded as abiding for ever.

Now, as every form of wealth must rest on the earth as its foundation, and must be built up out of the constituents found at or near its surface, it follows (because foundations are ever of primary importance) that the reformer should first consider how best the earth may be used in the service of man. But here again our friends, the Socialists, miss the essential point. Their professed ideal is to make society the owner of land and of all instruments of production; but they have been so anxious to carry both points of their programme that they have been a little too slow to consider the special importance of the land question, and have thus missed the true path of reform.

There is, however, a type of reformers who push the land question very much to the front, though, as it appears to me, in a manner little likely to commend their views to society. Mr. Henry George, in his well-known work, Progress and Poverty, urges with much eloquence, if not with complete accuracy of reasoning, that our land laws are responsible for all the economic evils of society, and that as our landlords are little better than pirates and robbers, the sooner the State forcibly appropriates their rents the better, for when this is accomplished the problem of poverty will, he suggests, be entirely solved. But is not this attempt to throw the whole blame of and punishment for the present deplorable condition of society on to a single class of men a very great mistake? In what way are landlords as a class less honest than the average citizen? Give the average citizen the opportunity of becoming a landlord and of appropriating the land values created by his tenants, and he will embrace it to-morrow. If then, the average man is a potential landlord, to attack landlords as individuals is very like a nation drawing up an indictment against itself, and then making a scape-goat of a particular class. 3

But to endeavour to change our land system is a very different matter from attacking those individuals who represent it. But how is this change to be effected? I reply: By the force of example, that is, by setting up a better system, and by a little skill in the grouping of forces and manipulation of ideas. It is quite true that the average man is a potential landlord, and as ready to appropriate the unearned increment as to cry out against its appropriation. But the average man has very little chance of ever becoming a landlord and of appropriating rent-values created by others; and he is, therefore, the better able to consider, quite dispassionately, whether such a proceeding is really honest, and whether it may not be possible to gradually establish a new and more equitable system under which, without enjoying the privilege of appropriating rent-values created by others, he may himself be secured against expropriation of the rent-values which he is now constantly creating or maintaining. We have demonstrated how this may be done on a small scale; we have next to consider how the experiment may be carried out on a much wider scale, and this we can best do in another chapter.

1 Frank Fairman, Principles of Socialism made plain (London, 1888).

2 Robert Blatchford.

3 I hope it is not ungrateful in one who has derived much inspiration from Progress and Poverty to write thus.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42