What Was Wrong With the Old World
By Rose Wilder LanePosted on 10/21/2006
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Very few men have ever known that men are free. Among this earth's population now, few know that fact.
For six thousand years at least, a majority has generally believed in pagan gods. A pagan god, whatever it is called, is an Authority which (men believe) controls the energy, the acts, and therefore the fate of all individuals.
The pagan view of the universe is that it is static, motionless, limited, and controlled by an Authority. The pagan view of man is that all individuals are, and by their nature should and must be, controlled by some Authority outside themselves.
Everyone has this belief when he is very young. A chick can scratch as soon as it is dry from the shell, and a fish emerging from the egg can swim, but a baby must be spanked before he can breathe, and then he cannot control the little energy that he has. For a long time, he will kick himself in the eye when he is only trying to taste his toes to find out what they are.
He is hungry, and he cannot get food. He is uncomfortable, and he cannot turn over. Food, warmth, comfort, cleanliness, everything he wants and must have, come from a power outside himself, enormously stronger than he. And this power actually does control the conditions of his life.
It does not control his energy — did you ever try to stop a baby's squawling when he merely wanted to squawl? — but doubtless he feels that it does. He wants food; it feeds him. He tries to lift himself up, and it lifts him. When this great power outside himself coincides with his own energy, and does what he wants to do, it must seem to him that it controls his energy. When it does with him what he does not want done, he knows that he is powerless to resist it.
If a baby were able to control his energy in thinking and speaking, any baby would say that experience proves the existence of a Great Power that controls babies.
Men do not remain babies all their lives. They grow up. A time comes when every normal man is a responsible human being. His energy creates a part of the whole human world of his time. He is free; he is self-controlling and responsible, because he generates his energy and controls it. No one and nothing else can control it.
Nevertheless, during some six thousand years of the Old World's history, a majority of men have believed that some Authority controlled them.
In all that time, human energies have never worked efficiently enough to get from this earth a reliable food supply.
Many kinds of insects and some animals seem actually to be controlled by an Authority outside themselves.
A honey bee, for instance, behaves as a cell behaves in a human body. A bee apparently has no desires and makes no choices; a Will of the Masses seems to control it. A bee is ruthlessly exhausted, discarded, replaced by another to be worn out in the same changeless labor for the Swarm, just as cells are worn out and replaced. It appears that a bee has no individual life; the Swarm is the living creature.
The nearest human approach to the bee-swarm is communism.
Some sociologists say that Society began in savage communism and developed through barbarism to civilization; others expect Society to reach its final perfection in future world-communism.
To think of human society as an organism, developing, progressing, or retrograding, is to think like a bee — if a bee thinks. It is to think as a pagan thinks. It is to imagine a fantasy.
In the human world there is no entity but the individual person. There is no force but individual energy. In actual human life the only real Society is every living person's contact with everyone he meets.
So far as Society has any real existence, it exists when boy meets girl, when Mrs. Jones telephones Mrs. Smith, when Robinson buys a cigar, when the motorist stops for gasoline, when a lobbyist tips a bellboy and when he meets a Congressman, and when the Congressman votes on a bill; when the postman delivers the mail and the labor bosses discuss a strike and the milliner brings another hat and the dentist says, "Wider, please." Human relationships are so infinitely numerous and varying every moment, that no human mind can begin to grasp them.
To call all these relationships Society, and then discuss the progress or welfare of Society, as if it existed as a bee-swarm does, is simply to escape from reality to fairyland.
No one knows, or can sensibly guess, how or when or where human life began. If it began in communism, it is beginning now. Plenty of groups of all kinds of persons are living in communism. Groups of American communists have always lived in these United States.
|"The first thing that European intellectuals did, when the thirteen colonies were free of England, was to establish communism here."|
The first thing that European intellectuals did, when the thirteen colonies were free of England, was to establish communism here. Hancock, Harvard, Shirley, Tyringham, in Massachusetts; Alfred and New Gloucester in Maine; Mount Lebanon, Watervliet, Groveland, Oneida (Community silver) in New York; South Union and Pleasant Hill in Kentucky; Bethlehem and Economy in Pennsylvania; Union Village, North Union, Watervliet, Whitewater, and Zoar in Ohio; Enfield and Wallingford, Connecticut; Bishop Hill, Illinois; Corning and Bethel, Missouri; Cedarvale, Kansas; Aurora, Oregon, and scores of other American towns and cities, were communist settlements. In the flowering of New England, Emerson's friends created the communist blossom of Brook Farm. Mr. Upton Sinclair, recently almost elected Governor of California, first established his world-wide renown as a revolutionist by founding the communist settlement of Halicon Hall in New Jersey. The American Indians were communists; so, apparently, were the Mound Builders.
Sparta was a barbarian instance of communism. Plutarch describes the Spartans:
Their discipline continued still, after they were grown men. No one was allowed to live after his own fancy, but the city was a sort of camp, in which every man had his share of provisions and business set out. (Lycurgus) bred up his citizens in such a way that they neither would, nor could, live by themselves; they were to make themselves one with the public good and, clustering like bees around their commander, be by their zeal and public spirit all but carried out of themselves.
That "all but" is the stubborn difference between a man and a bee. A bee is wholly carried out of itself. So (the Spartans believed) was Lycurgus. In history, Lycurgus is a legend. The legend is that, like a bee, he poured his whole life-energy into the public good until, growing old, he killed himself to end a life that had no other value.
For five hundred years the Spartans lived in a changeless commune. King Agis IV tried to raise the standard of living; the Spartans killed him. They continued to live as cells of Sparta until less-communistic Greeks defeated them in war and destroyed the commune.
Twenty years ago the Dukhagini in the Dinaric Alps were living in the same obedience to their Law of Lek. I tried for hours to convince some of them that a man can own a house.
A dangerously radical woman of the village was demanding a house. She had helped her husband build it; now she was a childless widow, but she wanted to keep that house. It was an ordinary house; a small, stone-walled, stone-roofed hovel, without floor, window, or chimney.
Obstinately anti-social, she doggedly repeated, "With these hands, my hands, I built up the walls. I laid the roof-stones with my hands. It is my house. I want my house."
The villagers said, "It is a madness. A spirit of the rocks, not human, has entered into her."
They were intelligent. My plea for the woman astounded them, but upon reflection they produced most of the sound arguments for communism: economic equality, economic security, social order.
I said that in America a man owns a house. They could not believe it; they admired America. They had heard of its marvels; during the recent world war they had seen with their eyes the airplanes from that fabulous land.
They questioned me shrewdly. I staggered myself by mentioning taxes; I had to admit that an American pays the tribe for possession of a house. This seemed to concede that the American tribe does own the house. I was routed; their high opinion of my country was restored.
They were unable to imagine that any security, order, or justice could exist among men who were not controlled by some intangible Authority, which could not permit an individual to own a house.
In precisely the same way, Rousseau could not imagine any civilization if Authority did not control individuals. Twenty-five hundred years after Sparta, only two lifetimes ago, all those brilliant European intellectuals were fighting for the Rights of Man, and expecting human rights to destroy Civilization. They could not imagine any free man but the untutored, noble Red Man, naked and solitary in the American wilderness. (They did not bother to learn that the American Indians, though noble and naked, were communists.)
In 1776, these French thinkers had the freest minds in Europe. They could not imagine that an exercise of natural human rights could create a new kind of civilization. They could not imagine actual human rights; they assumed that some Authority must control individuals.
This false assumption underlies all the thought of the Old World, through its whole history, to this day. It underlies a great deal of American thinking.
This delusion has prevailed so long, and it still lures so many honest minds into escaping from facts, because it seems to solve the human problem. The problem is real; it is the problem of controlling the combined energies of many individuals.
Individuals must combine their energies, to survive on this planet. Their combined energies must work under some control. The question is, What controls them?
The Old World answer is, Authority.
This answer is the basis of human life in the Old World. No Old World thinker has ever questioned it. The question that has always engaged Old World minds is, What Authority?
To find The Authority, men's minds have struggled for thousands of years. To find it, active men, century after century, have revolted against their governments, killed their rulers, slaughtered each other in untold millions and set up form after form, every imaginable form, of living Authority.
From Lycurgus to Lenin, communists reject every form of human Authority. To the question, What Authority controls human beings? the honest communist answers, No living man; no King, no Czar, no despot, no dictator, no majority, no group, no class.
A communist makes this answer because he recognizes a fact, the fact of human brotherhood. He truly says that all men are united in one common effort to survive on this earth. All men share a common human necessity, a common human aim. All men are equally entitled to life, and therefore to the necessities of life.
But from this point, a communist reasons on the ancient, pagan assumption that some Authority controls all men. He does not question this pagan superstition; he takes it for granted.
His reasoning therefore continues: Since all men are humanly equal, no man is an Authority controlling other men. If this Authority is no living man, it must be a superhuman, intangible Authority. To find out what this Authority is, observe how men behave. Their first effort is to get food, clothing, shelter. Economic Necessity controls them.
Here is the fallacy that comes from superstitious belief in Authority.
|"Individuals must combine their energies, to survive on this planet. Their combined energies must work under some control. The question is, What controls them?"|
A naked man alone in the woods can flee in circles until he dies of exhaustion, or he can build a shelter of branches, kill and eat a rabbit, and make a garment of rabbit skins. Historically, men have not run in circles and died; they have survived. The fact is that human life is a struggle between the man's energy, which he controls, and the non-human energies of weather and trees and rabbits.
But the communist is looking for the Authority that controls men, and taking it for granted that the man does not control himself, then the Authority that controls him must be his situation, the sum-total of trees and rabbits and weather. That is, the hunter is controlled by what he hunts. A woman does not control her gas-range, it controls her. Does it?
Since a communist does not know that individuals control themselves, he sees them as cells in Society, which (he believes) has a Great Spirit that is to the individual what the swarm is to the bee.
So far as I know, only the American Indians called this intangible Authority, The Great Spirit. Savages call it tabu. Spartans called it Sparta. My Dukhagin friends called it the Law of Lek. Many groups of communists living in these States call it God. Marx called it The Will of the Masses, and The Proletarian State. Communists in this country now call their Authority, The Party Line, and it lives in Moscow.
In theory, communism is the total self-surrender of the individual to the will of this intangible Authority, which of course is always The Good.
The theory and practice of communism are as old as history. They persist, because the theory is partly based on fact. It recognizes the equality and the brotherhood of man.
In practice, no effort to make this theory work has ever permitted human energy to work effectively, because the theory does not recognize the fact that individuals control their own energy.
Communism succeeds in controlling combined human energies, because individuals control their energies in accordance with their view (whether true or false) of the universe, of Reality, of God; and if they believe that an intangible Authority controls them, they act as if such an Authority did control them. If they do not believe this, they do not attempt communism.
All history proves that communism is a feasible way of living. Men have lived, and are living, in communism at every level of culture and at every economic level ever reached in the Old World.
In order to live in communism, it is necessary only that a number of men and women believe two facts and one fallacy; that all men are equal, that all men are brothers — and that an intangible Authority controls individuals.
Rose Wilder Lane was one of the highest paid writers in the United States during her days as a journalist, war correspondent, and novelist. The daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she was widely considered a silent collaborator on the Little House series. She lived from 1886 until 1968. Comment on the blog.