All Commentary
Monday, January 1, 1962

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1962/1


Urban Utopiasm

 

It was considered a great tragedy when the center of England‘s Cov­entry was bombed out by the Nazi luftwaffe in the early days of World War II. But when the center of New Haven, Connecticut, which happens to be the small metropolis of the area in which I live, is demol­ished by federal grants from Washington, it is considered a tri­umph for “planning” even when the void refuses to be refilled.

Having looked at Coventry in 1946 and New Haven in 1961, I re­main quite unable to grasp the dis­tinction between war and political­ly directed “urban renewal” in their physical effects on the city. In either case useful buildings are demolished along with some which have undoubtedly seen their best days. In either case the possibility of voluntary renewal on the human scale that results from spontaneity and meaningful individual or small group calculation is rudely set aside.

The school of thought that is represented by Lewis Mumford’s The City in History (Harcourt, Brace and World, $11.50) and by Lorin Peterson’s The Day of the Mugwump (Random House, $6.00) doesn’t mind very much when area “planners” who have no stake in the ownership of a region gain an opportunity to remake its con­tours. The Mumford-Peterson ar­gument is that the “planner,” un­impeded by fractious individuals, may endow a new city center with esthetic harmony. He may also for­get crass considerations of profit­ability. But this is to assume that the planner has some decent es­thetic standards in the first place. It also assumes that the test of profitability is wrong, which is not necessarily true.

The late Mayor La Guardia of New York once said that “When I make a mistake, it’s a beaut.” When politically empowered city planners make mistakes, they beat La Guar­dia all hollow. Just why this should be so is the concern of Jane Jacobs’ remarkable attack on the conven­tional city planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, $5.95). Mrs. Ja­cobs, who lives in the Greenwich Village section of New York, likes big city life, for it gives her the benefit of other people’s diversity and it allows her to live for her­self and her family without being subjected to prying eyes.

The Reasons for a City

 

Knowing what a big city is for, Mrs. Jacobs has devoted her book to isolating the sources of diver­sity and privacy. It is her convic­tion that a city, to be vital, must be the sum of thousands of individ­ual and small-group plans and that, as such, it cannot in itself be a work of art—i.e., a conscious selection from life by a single or­ganizing intelligence. If and when a city achieves beauty (which is sometimes the case), it is because the standards of taste of its dwellers are individually high. The eighteenth century town that looks so neat (see Williamsburg in Virginia, or any New Hamp­shire village) resulted from a shared consciousness of style, not from architectural fiat. Even cities whose sites were planned (as in Washington, D. C.) have not been able to escape the necessity for spontaneity on the part of the in­habitants. Where spontaneity has resulted in ordered beauty, it is because of consensus in taste, which is something different from “planning.”

Diversity is necessary to a city for a thousand-and-one reasons.

There must be markets for many talents. There must be room for many recreations. Moreover, the markets and the opportunities for recreation must be close together. The economics of the situation de­mands a mingling of new and old buildings for the obvious reason that there are many desirable ca­reers which are only compatible with cheap rents. The impecuni­ous artist looking for a good north light may need an abandoned loft at a low price. The maker of keys will need a hole-in-the-wall, as will the seller of sheet music or old prints. Such people must for ob­vious economic reasons be ex­cluded from the planned “rede­velopment”—and when they are pushed away, one big reason for preferring city life to suburban or village life simply evaporates.

Projects and Problems

 

Mrs. Jacobs dislikes “project” building for many reasons. As a true democrat (small “d”) she re­sents the fact that “newness,” im­posed by the planner’s ruthless impartiality, requires extreme in­come-grouping. Like is herded to­gether with like. A “development” must be financed according to across-the-board standards: one must be able to “pay the freight” to live or work in a “planned” area. True, the freight can be sub­sidized, or partially subsidized. But when low-income housing is donated to people by political Mer­lins, the “development” is prompt­ly filled up by the hopeless and the apathetic—by people, in short, who have no “plans” of their own. They promptly proceed, by their attitudes, to turn the low-income development into a slum that has all the disadvantages of the old slum and none of the possibilities for random renewal at a few points that might create a conta­gion for a wider upgrading.

One big trouble with the impar­tial imposition of “newness” on any large area of a city is that it insures a uniform rate of decay. The fashionable development of today is the frowsy lower middle class haven of tomorrow. And, in­evitably, it is the slum of the day after-tomorrow. On the other hand, a region that consists of a mingling of the new and the old will make for individual challenge at all times. In the Rittenhouse Square region of Philadelphia, or the Washington Square region of New York, the older buildings are either reconditioned or weeded out as the inhabitants and owners strive to keep pace with the best that is around them.

The conventional “planner” has a passion for open spaces that runs to mania. For her part, Mrs. Jacobs is not against parks or strips of greenery, but she con­tends that the uses of the open space in a city must be under­stood. When an open space is di­vorced from overlapping uses, it quickly becomes a source of evil. The worst gang rumbles in New York take place in parks that have gone “dead.” A park, to be safe and useful, must be part of a re­gion that remains active almost around the clock. When people are appearing on the streets at all times, there is self-policing. But when everybody deserts the streets at once to go inside (as happens in a “developed” area save during rush hours in the morning and the late afternoon), there will be deadness wherever there is an iso­lated stretch of green. In conse­quence, those who try to cross a green belt or to enjoy a big park at night will be easy prey for the footpad or the degenerate.

Pittsburgh in a Hurry

 

In The Day of the Mugwump Mr. Lorin Peterson praises what city planners, sparked by political mugwumps, have been able to do for downtown Pittsburgh, for ex­ample. But downtown Pittsburgh was “saved” largely because Rich­ard K. Mellon had the money to carry through big-scale change without begging from Washing­ton. Even so, Mrs. Jacobs thinks the remade Pittsburgh has its drawbacks.

For example, the Pittsburgh Parking Authority’s downtown ga­rages are operating only at 10 to 20 per cent of capacity at eight in the evening. But three miles from downtown, in the Oakland sec­tion which contains the Pittsburgh symphony, the civic light opera, the little-theatre group, the most fashionable restaurant, two ma­jor clubs, and the Pittsburgh Ath­letic Association, the parking problem at night is terrific. Good “planning,” so Mrs. Jacobs im­plies, would have distributed the functions of the Oakland and the downtown Golden Triangle sec­tions of Pittsburgh in a different pattern, providing for overlapping use as between night and day.

But even with Mr. Mellon’s money could there have been “good” planning in such a cata­clysmic burst? On Mrs. Jacobs’ own showing, the official planning mind is a “witless” murderer of diversity; it proceeds “by deliber­ate policies” to sort out “leisure uses from work uses, under the misapprehension that this is or­derly city planning.” Mr. Mellon might have done better for Pitts­burgh if he had made haste more slowly, without depending too greatly on political alliances. The most tasteful—and diversified—planning on New York‘s Man­hattan Island, for example, has been done by the Rockefellers at Rockefeller Center, without polit­ical compulsion or reliance on the official planning mind.

In her introduction Mrs. Jacobs notes her dissent from the plan­ning ideas that are uppermost in Lewis Mumford’s gigantic The City in History. The dissent is well taken, for Mr. Mumford, though he is a man of generous emotions, has never succeeded in analyzing state power for what it is, a killer of spontaneity in the citizen. Nevertheless, Mr. Mumford’s huge book has many virtues as well as a few tran­scendent defects. Taken purely as a chronological unfolding of its subject, The City in History is masterly. Its shortcomings derive from Mr. Mumford’s feeling that the city should be a “work of art” in the true sense—i.e., it should be a selection from life shaped and imposed by a master mind.

But, to return to Mrs. Jacobs, a city is not a canvas, to be filled by a Renoir; it is a collection of peo­ple who have their own individual canvases to fill. In applying the artist’s test to city planning as a whole, Mr. Mumford is an unwit­ting advocate of political tyranny. Mrs. Jacobs is quite correct in preferring “chaos” to the central planning that does not allow for the spontaneous eruptions of men with plans of their own.

Freedom And The Law by Bruno Leoni

. (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc. 204 pp. $6.00.)

 

Reviewed by William H. Peterson

Ever since the Pharaohs of Egypt and the theocracies of the Greek city-states, Everyman has had a pronounced tendency to view the law as a mystique, a magnificent fount of splendor and power and justice and wisdom, practically a divine spark—as is seen in the theory of the divine right of kings and the deistic charisma of Der Fuhrer, Il Duce, and “Comrades” Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev.

The aura of greatness surround­ing the law—and certainly the respect for it—have doubtlessly been enhanced by the implementa­tion techniques of law, techniques imbued with persuasiveness—the armed sheriff, the constabulary, the black-robed and sometimes be-wigged judges, the jail, the des­tructive might of armed forces from the age of the battering ram to the age of the nuclear war head. And whenever this power is in­voked, the law is invoked, much in the way that two opposing armies enter a battle after invoking the help of the same God. At any rate, legal might is sometimes mistaken for legal right. Who is not awed by the “majesty of law”?

But not all men have been over­awed. Mr. Bumble in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, for example, referred to the law as an “ass” and an “idiot.” Frederic Bastiat, a con­temporary of Dickens, saw that the law oftentimes descended into what he called “legalized plunder.” H. L. Mencken, the caustic soda of the twentieth century, was out­spokenly unawed by the law, law­yers, or lawmakers. Scholars of the mark of a Friedrich Hayek and a Roscoe Pound, seeking the re­institution of the Rule of Law, have called attention to the dan­gers in the rise of administrative law. And now comes another hard look at the law by the eminent scholar, Bruno Leoni, Professor of Legal Theory and the Theory of the State at the University of Pavia, Italy, and European Sec­retary of the Mont Pelerin So­ciety. Freedom and the Law is an outgrowth of a series of lectures delivered by Professor Leoni at the Fifth Institute on Freedom and Competitive Enterprise at Claremont Men’s College, Califor­nia, in June of 1958.

Professor Leoni sees the bloated lawbooks as a threat to individual freedom. He sees the proliferation of the law into virtually every field of human endeavor as an in­vasion of human freedom. Inflated legislation and voluminous admini­strative rulings, he argues, are overriding common law, custom, convention, the tacit rules of society, private arbitration, and the spontaneous adjustments of indi­viduals and groups. The area of individual choice is being nar­rowed; the area of legalized coer­cion expanded.

The law, in other words, has been perverted into a weapon in the hands of victorious parties and interests, a weapon of the majority against the minority, and of a coalition of minorities against the majority. It has become a manip­ulative pawn in the parliamentary maneuvers of logrolling and vote trading. It has departed from the Golden Rule of doing unto others what you would have others do unto you, and the consequence is what Mises calls omnipotent gov­ernment. The law now undertakes all sorts of unprincipled schemata, progressive income taxation, “land reform,” managed currency, and economic planning. The law now offers special privileges and dis­pensations to unions, veterans, farmers, underdeveloped peoples, and other selected minorities and pressure groups—the idea of one law common to all being passe.

So bad law, in the Leonian sense, feeds on itself and grows and grows and grows. One only has to look at the yards of case­books and other necessary mate­rials lining the shelves in the of­fices of tax attorneys and account­ants to realize the legalistic mazecreated by the Sixteenth Amend­ment. And the income tax is but one phase of modern law: One has only to dwell on the fact that Con­gress in a typical session passes not dozens, not scores, but liter­ally hundreds of laws to realize that through the multiplication of statutes the state is expanding and the individual shrinking.

That this inflation of legisla­tion is producing not order but chaos is the conclusion of Profes­sor Leoni. To document his case he calls as expert witnesses such legal authorities, living and dead, as Coke, Dicey, Montesquieu, and the afore-mentioned Roscoe Pound, and such economic author­ities, past and present, as Pareto, Marshall, Kelf-Cohen, and the afore-mentioned Ludwig von Mises. He marshals historical evi­dence from the Greek, Roman, English, Continental, and Ameri­can legal systems, correlating the laws of different nations and dif­ferent times as movements toward or away from freedom.

For example, he spots the connec­tion between the Norris-LaGuar­dia Act of 1932 in America and its counterpart in England, the Trade Union Act of 1906. Both laws re­strict the power of the courts to issue injunctions against unions in labor disputes. The extension of this privilege broke with the important legal theory of “equality before the law.” To this ex­tent the law injected a degree of chaos into the labor relations of Britain and America. In sum, what the world needs is not more law but less law, more quality and less quantity. Everyman should praise his legislators, not for the laws they pass but for the laws they repeal.

This book is an important con­tribution of the literature on hu­man freedom. It merits the atten­tion of all those concerned with the proper relationship of men to the State. As Bruno Leoni puts it: “My earnest suggestion is that those who value individual free­dom should reassess the place of the individual within the legal system as a whole.”

A Handbook For Inde­pendent School Opera­tion edited by William Johnson.

(Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Com­pany, Inc. $5.85.)

 

Reviewed by Frank B. Keith

Mr. Keith teaches at Keith Country Day School, Rockford, Illinois.

Most people have a definite idea about how children should be edu­cated. Private schools offer parents who disagree with the policies and procedures of the public schools an alternate choice for the education of their children—and almost three quarters of a million American parents so choose today.

Freedom to select the children most likely to respond to its pro­gram, opportunity to choose its faculty with regard to competence rather than state regulation, and small classes with individual at­tention are only a few of the ad­vantages offered by a private school.

If interest leads you and your friends to think about starting a school, A Handbook for Independ­ent School Operation edited by William Johnson will get you off to a good start. Leaders in private and independent school work have written pertinent sections on ad­ministration, curriculum, faculty, business management, public rela­tions, financing, and related topics. Successful procedures and mini­mum standards necessary for a superior educational environment are carefully outlined by the au­thors. This book is a valuable guide and an excellent source of information.


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.