All Commentary
Sunday, November 1, 1970

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1970/11

It is many years since I met Spen­cer Heath, a bearded gentleman (he’d be right in style now) who had a delightfully free way of look­ing at things. Among his many theories was one which made the landlord the center of an ideal eco­nomic and political—or maybe one should say a-political—order. Mr. Heath’s utopia was pre-Norman England, where, as his researches did much to prove, free men paid rent for productive land instead of taxes to unproductive politicians. It was Mr. Heath’s contention that a landlord could sell, for market value, everything from police and fire protection to public utility services without plunging a com­munity into serfdom.

Naturally, Mr. Heath encount­ered many doubters. His book, Cit­adel, Market and Altar, didn’t make many converts. The world has wagged on since Mr. Heath died, and those who refused to listen to his theories haven’t noticeably ad­vanced the cause of freedom or im­proved the quality of our life. Since children aren’t known for their pertinacity about carrying on the work of their fathers, a full generation has passed since Mr. Heath started outlining his theo­ries.

Now a grandson of Mr. Heath, Spencer T. MacCallum, has mount­ed his charger to advance the cause of his grandfather. Mr. MacCal­lum’s book, The Art of Community (Institute for Humane Studies, Inc., P. 0. Box 727, Menlo Park, Calif. 94025. $4.00 cloth, $2.00 pa­per), is a legitimate extension of Citadel, Market and Altar, and it may be more convincing to the pragmatists among us simply be­cause it proceeds by exploring cur­rent trends to show how people un­consciously turn to good theory when the practices resulting from bad theory have let them down.

Mr. MacCallum is a trained an­thropologist, which means that he can look at community organiza­tion without blinking. He sees an “art of community” developing em­pirically, spurred only by the ef­forts of people to make profits by supplying services that states and municipalities have fumbled with so badly. To those who say that a community must be political in na­ture, he offers hotels, shopping cen­ters, industrial estates, real estate complexes such as Rockefeller Center, condominiums, marinas, sci­ence research centers, and “new towns.” Some of these combine in­dividual private ownership with paying fees for the use of common lands or common services that are open to all participants in a com­munity venture. But the point is that one can buy protection or transportation or access to a swim­ming pool or a playground without going through the often disap­pointing rigmarole of politics to get it.

The basis of the “art of commu­nity” is contract. Ordinarily one thinks of contract as something that binds separate individuals. Mr. MacCallum is not against the individual ownership of homes or acreage, but the defect of such ownership is that it can’t ordi­narily provide for police and fire protection and public utilities with­out bringing in the state. The atom­ized private plot is at the mercy of ”neighborhood effects” which the purchaser never bargained for. Ac­cordingly he may find himself abandoning some of his own rights as a private owner by accepting zoning regulations, or by giving a right-of-way to a gas transmission company under threat of expropri­ation by state invocation of eminent domain. Mr. MacCallum thinks in­dividuals could get better bargains by combining their units to form proprietary communities with cen­tral planning powers. The unrecon­structed individual will bridle at this suggestion, but Mr. MacCallum quite soothingly insists that mem­bership in a proprietary commu­nity must go by voluntary choice under contractual arrangements. One need not be forced to do any­thing; if one doesn’t like the deci­sions of the proprietary authority, one can sell his own particular con­dominium, or refuse to renew his lease.

Mr. MacCallum contrasts the downtown shopping centers in our congested cities with the new-style suburban shopping areas to make his points. The downtown mer­chants may all agree that they need more parking space near them for automobiles. But no one of them will willingly allow his own prop­erty to be condemned to provide parking space for the other mer­chants in his association. The polit­ical arm must be called in to bust a few recalcitrants so that others may benefit. Naturally, this creates bad blood or political corruption or both. Since politicians live to be re­elected even more than they live to serve the community, they will do not what is aesthetically right but what is necessary to get the most votes the next time around.

In the suburban shopping center, the proprietor can make whatever decisions he wants, provided he doesn’t break one of his contractual promises. The proprietor sells a variety of services to those who like them well enough to make con­tracts to pay for them. The services can include parking, roads, light­ing, landscaped common areas, police and fire protection, storm sewers, even sewage disposal.

Mr. MacCallum offers some fas­cinating bits of history of a sort that doesn’t usually get into the standard history texts. I’d like to know more about such characters as James B. Douglas, the pioneer of the Northgate “regional” shop­ping center in Seattle, who first worked out the theory of the “cu­mulative pull.” Douglas began by insisting on the “Noah’s Ark Prin­ciple” of supplying two competitors for every type of good that a shop­ping center had to sell. (Today the rule is obsolete; two are no longer adequate.)

Then there is Edward H. Bouton of Baltimore, whose Roland Park development provided for orderly residential planning adjacent to a shopping center. The pioneer of the industrial estate seems to have been Marshall Stevens, who built a ship canal from Liverpool to Man­chester only to discover that the cotton millers, who had marriage ties with the cotton shippers of Liverpool, disdained to use his waterway. To save his canal invest­ment, Mr. Stevens prepared a large tract of land in Manchester for in­dustrial use, putting in the streets and supplying the utilities. He leased the land to various indus­trialists, thus creating Trafford Park, England’s first proprietary industrial park.

In their own way such pioneers as Bouton, Douglas, and Stevens were practitioners of Leonard Read’s “anything that’s peaceful” philosophy. They were communi­tarians rather than individualists, but they did not bring in that en­gine of compulsion, the state, to solve the problems of group living that they posed.

It is hard to see the whole world being saved by the development of proprietary communities. Some people want a more complete type of privacy than is to be found in planned estates of one type or an­other. But the world could only benefit by a vast extension of the sort of thing that engages Mr. Mac­Callum’s enthusiasm. As long as he sticks to contract as the binder in his “art of community,” no individ­ualist, whether unreconstructed or not, can find fault with his theory. His book on the proprietary com­munity is stimulating, and even the most obdurate live-alone-and-like­it individualists among our de­pleted tribe of voluntarists would do well to read and ponder Mr. MacCallum’s conclusions.

  • 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.