Garden Cities of To-morrow, by Ebenezer Howard

Chapter Nine

Some Difficulties Considered

‘Watt was often consulted about supposed inventions and discoveries, and his invariable reply was to recommend that a model should be formed and tried. This he considered as the only true test of the value of any novelty in mechanics.’ — Book of Days.

‘Selfish and contentious men will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be accomplished.’ — CHARLES DARWIN, Descent of Man (1871).

‘The difficulty felt about Communism, or even about any fairly complete Socialism, is that it interferes with man’s freedom to make demands for his many-sided nature, and to endeavour to satisfy those demands. It secures bread to all, perhaps, but it ignores the doctrine that man shall not live by bread alone. The future probably lies with those who, instead of pitting against one another, Socialism and Individualism, will seek to realize a true, vital, organic conception of Society and of the State in which both Individualism and Socialism will have their proper share. The bark which carries civilized man with his fortunes will thus steer an even course between the Scylla of anarchy and the Charybdis of despotism.’ — Daily Chronicle, 2nd July 1894.

Having now, in a concrete rather than an abstract form, stated the objects and purposes of our scheme, it may be well to deal, though somewhat briefly, with an objection which may arise in the thought of the reader: ‘Your scheme may be very attractive, but it is but one of a great number, many of which have been tried and have met with but little success. How do you distinguish it from those? How, in the face of such a record of failure, do you expect to secure that large measure of public support which is necessary ere such a scheme can be put into operation?’

The question is a very natural one, and demands an answer. My reply is: It is quite true that the pathway of experiment towards a better state of society is strewn with failures. But so is the pathway of experiment to any result that is worth achieving. Success is, for the most part, built on failure. As Mrs. Humphry Ward remarks in Robert Elsmere: ‘All great changes are preceded by numbers of sporadic, and, as the bystander thinks, intermittent efforts.’ A successful invention or discovery is usually a slow growth, to which new elements are added, and from which old elements are removed, first in the thought of the inventor, and subsequently in an outward form, until at last precisely the right elements and no others are brought together. Indeed, it may be truly said that if you find a series of experiments continued through many years by various workers, there will eventually be produced the result for which so many have been industriously searching. Long-continued effort, in spite of failure and defeat, is the forerunner of complete success. He who wishes to achieve success may turn past defeat into future victory by observing one condition. He must profit by past experiences, and aim at retaining all the strong points without the weaknesses of former efforts.

To deal at all exhaustively here with the history of social experiments would be beyond the scope of this book; but a few leading features may be noticed with a view of meeting the objection with which this chapter opens.

Probably the chief cause of failure in former social experiments has been a misconception of the principal element in the problem — human nature itself. The degree of strain which average human nature will bear in an altruistic direction has not been duly considered by those who have essayed the task of suggesting new forms of social organization. A kindred mistake has arisen from regarding one principle of action to the exclusion of others. Take Communism, for instance. Communism is a most excellent principle, and all of us are Communists in some degree, even those who would shudder at being told so. For we all believe in communistic roads, communistic parks, and communistic libraries. But though Communism is an excellent principle, Individualism is no less excellent. A great orchestra which enraptures us with its delightful music is composed of men and women who are accustomed not only to play together, but to practise separately, and to delight themselves and their friends by their own, it may be comparatively, feeble efforts. Nay, more: isolated and individual thought and action are as essential, if the best results of combination are to be secured, as combination and co-operation are essential, if the best results of isolated effort are to be gained. It is by isolated thought that new combinations are worked out; it is through the lessons learned in associated effort that the best individual work is accomplished; and that society will prove the most healthy and vigorous where the freest and fullest opportunities are afforded alike for individual and for combined effort.

Now, do not the whole series of communistic experiments owe their failure largely to this — that they have not recognized this duality of principle, but have carried one principle, excellent enough in itself, altogether too far? They have assumed that because common property is good, all property should be common; that because associated effort can produce marvels, individual effort is to be regarded as dangerous, or at least futile, some extremists even seeking to abolish altogether the idea of the family or home. No reader will confuse the experiment here advocated with any experiment in absolute Communism.

Nor is the scheme to be regarded as a socialistic experiment. Socialists, who may be regarded as Communists of a more moderate type, advocate common property in land and in all the instruments of production, distribution, and exchange — railways, machinery, factories, docks, banks, and the like; but they would preserve the principle of private ownership in all such things as have passed in the form of wages to the servants of the community, with the proviso, however, that these wages shall not be employed in organized creative effort, involving the employment of more than one person; for all forms of employment with a view to remuneration should, as the Socialists contend, be under the direction of some recognized department of the Government, which is to claim a rigid monopoly. But it is very doubtful whether this principle of the Socialist, in which there is a certain measure of recognition of the individual side of man’s nature as well as of his social side, represents a basis on which an experiment can fairly proceed with the hope of permanent success. Two chief difficulties appear to present themselves. First, the self-seeking side of man — his too frequent desire to produce, with a view to possessing for his own personal use and enjoyment; and, secondly, his love of independence and of initiative, his personal ambition, and his consequent unwillingness to put himself under the guidance of others for the whole of his working day, with little opportunity of striking out some independent line of action, or of taking a leading part in the creation of new forms of enterprise.

Now, even if we pass over the first difficulty — that of human self-seeking — even if we assume that we have a body of men and women who have realized the truth that concerted social effort will achieve far better results in enjoyable commodities for each member of the community than can possibly be achieved by ordinary competitive methods — each struggling for himself — we have still the other difficulty, arising out of the higher and not the lower nature of the men and women who are to be organized — their love of independence and of initiative. Men love combined effort, but they love individual effort, too, and they will not be content with such few opportunities for personal effort as they would be allowed to make in a rigid socialistic community. Men do not object to being organized under competent leadership, but some also want to be leaders, and to have a share in the work of organizing; they like to lead as well as to be led. Besides, one can easily imagine men filled with a desire to serve the community in some way which the community as a whole did not at the moment appreciate the advantage of, and who would be precluded by the very constitution of the socialistic state from carrying their proposals into effect.

Now, it is at this very point that a most interesting experiment at Topolobampo has broken down. The experiment, which was initiated by Mr. A. K. Owen, an American civil engineer, was started on a considerable tract of land obtained under concession from the Mexican Government. One principle adopted by Mr. Owen was that ‘all employment must be through the Department for the Diversity of Home Industries. One member cannot directly employ another member, and only members can be employed through the settlement.’ 1 In other words, if A. and B. were dissatisfied with the management, whether owing to doubts as to its competency or honesty, they could not arrange to work with each other, even though their sole desire might be the common good; but they must leave the settlement. And this is what they accordingly did in very considerable numbers.

It is at this point that a great distinction between the Topolobampo experiment and the scheme advocated in this work is evident. In Topolobampo the organization claimed a monopoly of all productive work, and each member must work under the direction of those who controlled that monopoly, or must leave the organization. In Garden City no such monopoly is claimed, and any dissatisfaction with the public administration of the affairs of the town would no more necessarily lead to a widespread split in Garden City than in any other municipality. At the outset, at least, by far the larger part of the work done will be by individuals or combinations of individuals quite other than municipal servants, just as in any other municipality, at present existing, the sphere of municipal work is still very small as compared with the work performed by other groups.

Other sources of failure in some social experiments are the considerable expense incurred by migrants before they reach the scene of their future labours, the great distance from any large market, and the difficulty of previously obtaining any real knowledge of the conditions of life and labour there prevailing. The one advantage gained — cheap land — seems to be altogether insufficient to compensate for these and other disadvantages.

We now come to what is perhaps the chief difference between the scheme advocated in this work and most other schemes of a like nature which have been, hitherto advocated or put into actual practice. That difference is this: While others have sought to weld into one large organization individuals who have not yet been combined into smaller groups, or who must leave those smaller groups on their joining the larger organization, my proposal appeals not only to individuals but to co-operators, manufacturers, philanthropic societies, and others experienced in organization, and with organizations under their control, to come and place themselves under conditions involving no new restraints but rather securing wider freedom. And, further, a striking feature of the present scheme is that the very considerable number of persons already engaged on the estate will not be displaced (except those on the town site, and these gradually), but these will themselves form a valuable nucleus, paying in rents, from the very inception of the enterprise, a sum which will go very far towards the interest on the money with which the estate is purchased — rents which they will be more willing to pay to a landlord who will treat them with perfect equity, and who will bring to their doors consumers for their produce. The work of organization is, therefore, in a very large measure accomplished. The army is now in existence; it has but to be mobilized; it is with no undisciplined mob that we have to deal. Or the comparison between this experiment and those which have preceded it is like that between two machines — one of which has to be created out of various ores which have first to be gathered together and then cast into various shapes, while for the other all the parts are ready to hand and have but to be fitted together.

1 A. K. Owen, Integral Co-operation at Work (U.S. Book Co., 150 Worth St., N.Y., 1885).

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