The Land and the Mind
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A Talk at Greenacre.
BY BOLTON HALL.
WE must devote ourselves to the preparation of the way to externalizing the kingdom—the kingdom that must first be within ourselves, but that will not stay within us unless we strive to extend it. For, to try to keep it to ourselves would be selfishness; that is, would be a return to the bondage of small desires and narrow thoughts—and the kingdom of heaven is liberty. The animal condition of our nature necessarily underlies the mental and the spiritual condition; therefore, with the great majority of our fellow-creatures, a release from the fierce struggle of the animal for physical existence is requisite before they can find time or energy even to consider spiritual things. It is with the physical that we must begin.
The recent experiments in the “cultivation of vacant lots by the unemployed” show that men and women without skill can, with slight instruction, make trades-union wages if they have access to the valuable and accessible land lying unused about our cities. <ref>See A. I. C. P., Notes No. I, published by the Association for Improving Condition of the Poor, New York, 1895, and Report of the Philadelphia (Pa.) Committee, 1898. Of course, the utilization of vacant lots for the unemployed (the present system of land ownership still remaining) will ultimately make conditions worse by reducing wages and raising rents.</ref> If we can relieve the deep physical distress about us by a method so divinely simple—we have a means of awakening the rich as well as the poor to the moral and spiritual truth of brotherhood. It seems hopeless to talk or think of spiritual elevation for the benefit of a car-driver who must work thirteen hours a day to keep together the bodies and souls of his wife and babies. He has not even the time to listen or to read, nor can we in any sense get at him. It is true that one who has reached a certain stage of interior cultivation can rise superior to conditions, even if he cannot rise out of them; but how is the average man in our present state of social and political confusion even so much as to learn that there is a Holy Ghost?
Man’s body lives upon the land, and even the highly developed man is in the chains of the flesh. When the material existence is made a slavery because a few persons monopolize all that Nature’s opportunities offer, how can the masses learn to throw off those physical chains? Nor can we throw the physical chains off of ourselves alone. No one can have a little private heaven of his own, for we are of one flesh and members of one another. Therefore, you and I, who see the truth, must stir the people to take possession of their material inheritance before we can share with them spiritual gifts. We may try monkishly to withdraw or to run away from the surrounding injustice of which we, you and I, are a part; but evil is like the “black care, which sits behind the horseman;” and though we may look, each of us for ourselves, from our heights, over into the promised land, yet none of us, any more than Joshua, can go to dwell in it, except as a leader of the people, for “none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” This is as it ought to be. Man is a social animal, and is intended to help his fellows and to live by the help of his fellows; and when he came upon earth he found in it the means to help his fellows and himself.
It is an infidelity to a loving God and a slander on a wise God to suppose that man has been put upon an earth on which he cannot support himself except by living on his fellows. “I knew,” says Ruskin, “that the fool had said in his heart, ‘There is no God’; but to hear him declare openly with his lips, ‘There is a foolish God,’ was something for which my art studies had not prepared me.” But, in order to draw support from the resources of the earth, man must be allowed to get at the earth.
Our entire social organism is based upon private monopoly of land, based upon the inequity of allowing some to monopolize that upon which all must live. To work at improving the present conditions of the earth, therefore, is clearly to do little else than to improve the condition of the owners of the earth. Mental Science, true religion, or any other kind of wisdom will increase the value of the land upon which the wise persons live. Ralph Waldo Emerson said concerning the early days of Boston, in a paper published in the Atlantic Monthly for January, 1892:
“Moral values became also money values. When men saw that these people, besides their industry and thrift, had a heart and soul, and would stand by one another at all hazards, they desired to come and live here. A house <ref>Of course, Emerson meant the building site, not the building. The house could be built more cheaply as the community became more mutually helpful.</ref> in Boston was worth as much again as a house just as good in a town of timorous people, because here the neighbors would defend one another against bad governors and against troops. Quite naturally, house-rents rose in Boston.”
While present economic conditions remain, any reform or improvement will add to product or to population, and therefore add to the rent of land; that is, to injustice.
The first necessity of man is the earth, which includes all the resources of Nature; and from it, by his labor, comes all produce. If the earth is really our mother, or if we are the children of a common Father, then all have equal right to use the earth. There is a communal cause of land value which should make it a common inheritance. This must be taken for the use of the community. As the value increases, the increase also should go to the community, so that no one can confiscate part of the labor of his fellows by appropriating land value to himself. As soon as all the value of land is taken by the public, speculation in land and the withholding of it from use will cease, because these will be unprofitable; and men will be free to use the earth, the source of all raw material, in order to produce wealth and capital for themselves.
The reform, then, of our present land “system,” which is none but
- “The good old rule, the simple plan,
- That they should take who have the power
- And they should keep who can,”
—is not the end of reforms nor the sum of reform. It is, as a great teacher has said, “the gateway of reforms.” More than that, it is the one reform without which all others will be self-destructive, because all other reforms tend to increase either population or production, and thereby to increase rent—and so to foster every form of monopoly.
Source: Bolton Hall, “The Land and the Mind,” Mind 5, no. 1 (October 1899): 30-33.