The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, , at sacred-texts.com
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How the half-worlds go, and how eutopia may come; and what we need before we can build Jerusalem in any green and pleasant land.
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THE sort of thinking that has created our utopias has placed desire above reality; and so their chief fulfillment has been in the realm of fantasy. This is true of the classic utopias that we have surveyed, and it is truethough not perhaps quite so apparentof the partial utopias that were formulated by the various reconstruction movements during the last century.
While the classic utopias have so far been nearer to reality that they have projected a whole community, living and working and mating and spanning the gamut of man's activity, their projections have nevertheless been literally up in the air, since they did not usually arise out of any real environment or attempt to meet the conditions that this environment presented. This defect has been suggested by the very name of Utopia, for as Professor Patrick Geddes points out, Sir Thomas More was an inveterate punster, and Utopia is a mock-name for either Outopia, which means no-place, or Eutopiathe good place.
It is time to bring our utopian idola and our everyday world into contact; indeed, it is high time, for the idola that have so far served us are now disintegrating so rapidly that our mental world will soon be as empty of useful furniture as a deserted house, while wholesale dilapidation and ruin threaten the institutions that
once seemed permanent. Unless we can weave a new pattern for our lives the outlook for our civilization is almost as dismal as Herr Spengler finds it in Der Untergang des Abendlandes. Our choice is not between eutopia and the world as it is, but between eutopia and nothingor rather, nothingness. Other civilizations have proved inimical to the good life and have failed and past away; and there is nothing but our own will-to-eutopia to prevent us from following them.
If this dissipation of Western Civilization is to cease, the first step in reconstruction is to make over our inner world, and to give our knowledge and our projections a new foundation. The problem of realizing the potential powers of the communitywhich is the fundamental problem of eutopian reconstructionis not simply a matter of economics or eugenics or ethics as the various specialist thinkers and their political followers have emphasized. Max Beer, in his History of British Socialism, points out that Bacon looked for the happiness of mankind chiefly in the application of science and industry. But by now it is plain that if this alone were sufficient, we could all live in heaven tomorrow. Beer points out that More, on the other hand, looked to social reform and religious ethics to transform society; and it is equally plain that if the souls of men could be transformed without altering their material and institutional activities, Christianity, Mohammedanism, and Buddhism might have created an earthly paradise almost any time this last two thousand years. The truth is, as Beer sees, that these two conceptions are still at war with each other: idealism and science continue to function in separate compartments;
and yet "the happiness of man on earth" depends upon their combination.
If we are to build up genuine eutopias, instead of permitting ourselves to pattern our behavior in terms of fake utopias like Coketown, the Country House, the National State, and all the other partial and inadequate myths to which we have given allegiance, we must examine anew the idola which will assist us in reconstituting our environment. So we are forced to consider the place of science and art in our social life, and to discuss what must be done in order to make them bear more concretely upon "the improvement of man's estate."
There was a time when the world of knowledge and the world of dreams were not separated; when the artist and the scientist, for all practical purposes, saw the "outside world" through the same kind of spectacles.
What we call "science" today was in its primitive state part and parcel of that common stock of knowledge and belief which makes up a community's literature, or, as Dr. Beattie Crozier would have said, its "Bible." The departure of science from this main body of literature begins for the Western World, probably, with the death of Plato and the institution of Aristotle's collections in natural history; and from that point onwards the separate sciences, increasingly isolate themselves from the general body of knowledge, and utilize methods which had been unknown to the earlier philosophers and sages; so that by the time the twentieth century dawns the process of differentiation has been completed, and philosophy, once the compendium of
the sciences, has disappeared except as a sort of impalpable, viscous residue.
When Aristotle divided his writing into the exoteric and esoteric groups, into the popular and the scientific, he definitely recognized the existence of two separate branches of literature, two different ways of taking account of the world, two disparate methods of approaching its problems. The first branch was that of the philosophers, the prophets, the poets, and the plain people. Its background was the generality of human experience: its methods were those of discussion and conference: its criteria were those of formal dialectics: its interests were specifically those of the community, and nothing human was foreign to it. With the petrification of Greek thought that followed the collapse of the Alexandrian school, the second branch was slow in coming into its own. As late as the eighteenth century its adherents were called natural philosophers, to distinguish them from the more humane variety; and it is only with the nineteenth century that the subject became universally known as science and its practitioners as scientists.
In the Phaedrus Socrates had expressed the humanist outlook of literature by saying: "Trees and fields, you know, cannot teach me anything, but men in the city can." The shortest way of describing the attitude of science is to say that it resolutely turned its back on men in the city and devoted itself to the trees and fields and stars and the rest of brute nature. If it paid attention to men at all it saw themif we may abuse an old quotationas trees walking. Socrates had said: Know thyself. The scientist said: Know the world that lies outside man's dominion. As science progressed
these attitudes became more rigid, unfortunately, and a conflict grew up between literature and science, between the humanities and natural philosophy, which has given both art and science the peculiar twist we shall presently examine.
Now the developments in modern science go back, through the Arabic thinkers, to ancient Greece; but the great advances that have been made date back scarcely three centuries. On the basis of the precise knowledge of physical relations which became available in mathematics, physics, mechanics, and chemistry the startling changes which have been crudely labelled the "industrial revolution" were carried through. If the essential relationship between the world of ideas and the world of action were ever in doubt, the industrial revolution, especially in its later phases, would be a final demonstration; for beneath the ostensible skyscrapers, subways, factories, telephone lines, and sewers of the modern industrial city lie the immaterial foundations of western physical science, laid down stone by stone in the remote, theoretic researches of Boyle, Faraday, Kelvin, Leibniz, and the rest of that great galaxy. With the far reaching effect of the idols of physical science it is hardly necessary to deal. Everyone realizes how dependent the advance in technology has been upon theoretic science, even though the scientist himself, as Kropotkin pointed out, is sometimes slow in admitting the debt of science itself to practical invention. The actual world of machinery is at present, it seems fair to say, a parasite upon this body of knowledge, and it would speedily starve to death if the host were annihilated.
Science has provided the factual data by means of
which the industrialist, the inventor, and the engineer have transformed the physical world; and without doubt the physical world has been transformed. Unfortunately, when science has furnished the data its work is at an end: whether one uses the knowledge of chemicals to cure a patient or to poison one's grandmother is, from the standpoint of science, an extraneous and uninteresting question. So it follows that while science has given us the means of making over the world, the ends to which the world has been made over have had, essentially, nothing to do with science. Accordingly, as I have suggested, the idola of the Country House and Coketown and the National State, which were built up by literature and art, have given the effective direction to these transformations. So far, science has not been used by people who regarded man and his institutions scientifically. The application of the scientific method to man and his institutions has hardly been attempted.
Even when one qualifies this last generalization, its outline remains pretty sharp. The development of what are called the social sciences was dimly outlined in Bacon's Novum Organon; but it was not till the eighteenth century, with Quesnay and Montesquieu, that the movement gained any real headway, and down to this day a large part of what is called science in Economics, Politics, and Sociology is only disguised literaturework in which the jargon of science is accepted as a substitute for the scientific method of arriving at factual truth, and in which the effort to mold conduct overwhelms the attempt to reach correct conclusions. Indeed, among the economists and sociologists there has been a persistent dribble of discussion
as to whether or not their subjects entitled them to the august designation of scientists.
It is not without reason that the social and human sciences have been distrusted by the devotees of physical science, so that, for example, the British Association has long had a single section devoted to the social sciences in which Sociology, the mother of them all, is permitted to enter as a subclassification of Anthropology! The nearer the investigator gets to man, the more easily he is overwhelmed with the complexity of his subject; and the more tempted he is to adopt the swift and easy partisan methods of the novelist, the poet, the prophet. The mere concealment of this act of seduction under the rough, grey cover of scientific jargon means frequently that the social scientist has added to the offense of not being a good scientist by not even being a good literary man.
Hence there is a great gap between the more external part of the world which has been affected by science, and that part, nearer to man and man's institutions, which has yet for the greater part to be conquered. While the physical equipment of New York compares with that of fourth century Athens as Athens itself would compare with an Aurignacian cave, the life of men in the city is perhaps more disordered and futile and incomplete than the author of the Republic found it. The moral of this contrast need hardly be pointed in so many words. The idolum of science is incomplete; for it chiefly touches life in its physical sector; and it remains to complete the span so that every activity and condition may be described, measured, and grasped in scientific terms. With the vast modern improvement in our physical arrangements in view, it must occur to
almost anyone that a permanent advance in social life depends upon a much more thorough and realistic acquaintance with the facts than the social sciences have yet been able to provide. Before an army moves over the land it is well for it to have moved in someone's mind over a topographic map. Lacking such maps, all our day to day improvements have been wasteful sallies into eutopia, proceeding without order, without a sufficient equipment, and without any general plan.
There is a point up to which each science may well be left to cultivate its field for its own sake, without any regard for the fruits. Mr. Thorstein Veblen, in The Place of Science in Civilization, has well pointed out the way in which science arises out of idle curiosity; and science, studied and advanced for its own sake, is surely one of the great playthings of the race. In this aspect, while science seeks a quite different path to the contemplative life than art takes, its end is the samethe dominant interest is an esthetic one, the joy of pure perception. Science is thus a sort of world in itself, and it is self-sufficient: there is no need for it to make contact with the real world in which we fight and love and earn our daily bread. In its own world, science is no better and no worse than theosophy or astrology or fables about deity.
But the divorce of science from the daily life of the community is not altogether an advantage. If it fosters a whole-hearted cultivation of science for its own values, it tends to lose sight of realities without which its values are meaningless. It is hard perhaps to locate
the point at which science, divorced from every day realities, ceases to have any social relevance; but it seems to me that such a point exists; and when the sciences remain disparate and unrelated one to the other, they tend to pass over from a public world to the private world of the specialist; and the knowledge which obtains in that world can with difficulty be brought out again to irrigate the common life of the community; or if it is brought out, as bacteriology is brought out in relation to the treatment of disease, it is divorced from a consideration of the total situation in a way that makes so many specialist advances in medicine, for example, the stamping ground for the fanatic.
This loss of contact, I believe, is highly dangerous; for it lessens the effect of scientific discipline upon daily affairs quite as much as a cloistered religion, by erecting impossible sanctions, opens the way for much unalloyed slackness and baseness, and by demanding that Pistol and Falstaff live like Christ prevents these biological rapscallions from achieving so much as the level of Robin Hood. The upshot of this dissociation of science and social life is that superstition takes the place of science among the common run of men, as a more easily apprehended version of reality.
Today the whole corpus of knowledge is in an anarchic state, and it lacks order precisely because it lacks any definite relations to the community which creates it, and for which it, in turn, provides the spectacles through which the world is seen. Against the gains that have come from the increasing specialization of the sciences, we have to set off the losses which the community suffers from the development of crude forms
of science, and from quackeries like astrology and spiritualism which succeed in giving a complete account of man's place in the universe in terms that are fairly intelligible to the lay mind. It seems to me, then, that in the cultivation of the sciences a definite hierarchy of values must be established which shall have some relation to the essential needs of the community. The independence of science from human values is a gross superstition: the desire for order, for security, for esthetically satisfactory patternsalong with the desire for fame or the favor of princeshave all played their parts in the development of science. Though the logic of science may discount the human factor as far as possible in its internal operations, it is because men have placed a certain value upon disinterested intellectual operations that these activities are pursued in modern communities to the exclusion of other interests and claims.
Let us put the problem concretely. A community which cultivates chemical science to the point at which it is able to wipe out a whole city by a few explosions of poisonous gas is in a pretty treacherous situation. If the science that it possesses has not helped to found a eutopia, it has at any rate provided the foundations for a kakotopia, or bad place: in short, for a hell. Indeed scientific knowledge has not merely heightened the possibilities of life in the modern world: it has lowered the depths. When science is not touched by a sense of values it worksas it fairly consistently has worked during the past centurytowards a complete dehumanization of the social order. The plea that each of the sciences must be permitted to go its own way without control should be immediately rebutted by
pointing out that they obviously need a little guidance when their applications in war and industry are so plainly disastrous.
We must be prepared to recognize that "truths" do not stand together on a high and lofty pedestal: some are important and some are trivial, some are innocent and some are dangerous, and while the pursuit of truth is a good in itselfand complete freedom in that pursuit is a sine qua non of a good social lifecertain departments of investigation may need to be offset and corrected by work in other fields. In a modern Western European community, a sociological insight into the causes and conditions of war and peace is a needed corrective to the crudities of applied physical science and without such correction the mere increase of scientific knowledge, of which we boast so vacuously, may be highly inimical to the practice of the good life in the community.
If the sciences are to be cultivated anew with respect for a definite hierarchy of human values, it seems to me that the sciences must be focussed again upon particular local communities, and the problems which they offer for solution. Just as geometry in Egypt arose out of the need for annually surveying the boundaries that the Nile wiped out, and as astronomy developed in Chaldea in order to determine the shift of the seasons for the planting of crops, as geology in modern times developed out of the questions that a practical stone mason, like Hugh Miller, found himself confronted withso may the sciences which are today incomplete and partial develop along the necessary lines by a survey
of existing conditions and intellectual resources in a particular community.
On one hand, science must be in contact with the whole idolum of scientific thoughtwith that vast over-world of scientific effort which is the product of no single place or people or time. On the other hand, it must he related to the definite local community, limited in time and in space, in which its researches and its speculations will be realized and applied. Out of these surveys of existing conditions we should find, I believe, that in social psychology, in anthropology, in economics there are a vast number of facts and relations which remain to be described; and that, similarly, certain departments like craniology and jurisprudence and folklore have been vastly overcultivated in proportion to any genuine importance that their researches may have upon our control over the community's development. Such an investigation would bring out, above all, the weakness of contemporary sociological thought, with its diabetic flatulence of special sociologies, and its lack of any general agreement as to the field which is to be cultivated.
Apart from its great function as a plaything, science is valuable only to the extent that its researches can be brought to bear upon the conditions in a particular community, in a definite region. The difference between science as a plaything and science as an instrument for enabling us to establish more effective relations with other men and with the rest of our environment, is the difference between firing a shot at a target and firing at a buck for provender. The practice one gets in firing at a target is great fun, and incidentally it improves one's marksmanship; such idle sport is perhaps
one of the stigmata of a civilized community. Nevertheless, unless one's skill can be definitely brought home it remains a personal achievement; and the community as a whole is not a pound of meat the better for it. If science is to play the significant part that Bacon and Andrea: and Plato and the other great humanists desired it to, it must be definitely brought home and realized in our here and now.
The need for this humanization of science has already been perceived in Great Britain. During the last decade a movement has gathered headway in the schools and extended itself to associations outside the schools. The title of this movement is "Regional Survey," and its point of origin is, I believe, the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh which was well described more than two decades ago as the "world's first sociological laboratory."
The aim of the Regional Survey is to take a geographic region and explore it in every aspect. It differs from the social survey with which we are acquainted in America in that it is not chiefly a survey of evils; it is, rather, a survey of the existing conditions in all their aspects; and it emphasizes to a much greater extent than the social survey the natural characteristics of the environment, as they are discovered by the geologist, the zoologist, the ecologistin addition to the development of natural and human conditions in the historic past, as presented by the anthropologist, the archeologist, and the historian. In short, the regional survey attempts a local synthesis of all the specialist "knowledges."
Such a survey has been conducted in the Southeastern counties of England under the auspices of various local
scientific societies; and the result of it is a complete description of the community's foundations, its past, its manner of working and living, its institutions, its regional peculiarities, and its utilization of physical, vital, and social resources. Each of the sciences draws upon its general body of knowledge to illuminate the points under observation; and when problems arise which point definitely to the lack of scientific or scholarly data, new trails are opened and new territory defined.
In looking at the community through the Regional Survey, the investigator is dealing with a real thing and not with an arbitrary idolum. In so far as the local community has certain elements in common with similar regions in other countries, or has absorbed elements from other civilizations, these things will be given their full value, instead of being disregarded because they weaken the identity of the local community with that precious myth, the National State. The greater part of the data that is thus brought to light may be plotted on a map, graphically presented in a chart, or photographed. In Saffron Walden, England, there is an admirable little museum devoted to such an exhibition of its region; and in the Outlook Tower, at Edinburgh, there used to be a library and an apparatus of exhibition by which one could begin at the point where one was standing and work outwards, in thought, to embrace the whole wide world. Knowledge that is presented in this fashion is available so that whoever runs may read; it has every feature, therefore, of popular science as it is purveyed in the cheap newspaper and magazine, whilst it remains real science and is not presented as something that verges from a miracle to a superstition.
The knowledge embodied in the Regional Survey has a coherence and pithiness which no isolated study of science can possibly possess. It is presented in such a form that it can be assimilated by every member of the community who has the rudiments of an education, and it thus differs from the isolated discipline which necessarily remains the heritage of the specialist. Above all, this knowledge is not that of "subjects," taken as so many water tight and unrelated compartments: it is a knowledge of a whole region, seen in all its aspects; so that the relations between the work aspect and the soil aspect, between the play aspect and the work aspect, become fairly simple and intelligible. This common tissue of definite, verifiable, localized knowledge is what all our partisan utopias and reconstruction programs have lacked; and lacking it, have been one-sided and ignorant and abstractdevising paper programs for the reconstruction of a paper world.
Regional survey, then, is the bridge by which the specialist whose face is turned towards the library and the laboratory, and the active worker in the field, whose face is turned towards the city and region in which he lives, may come into contact; and out of this contact our plans and our eutopias may he founded on such a permanent foundation of facts as the scientist can build for us, while the sciences themselves will be cultivated with some regard for the human values and standards, as embodied in the needs and the ideals of the local community. This is the first step out of the present impasse: we must return to the real world, and face it, and survey it in its complicated totality. Our castles-in-air must have their foundations in solid ground.
The needed reorientation of science is important; but by itself it is not enough. Knowledge is a tool rather than a motor; and if we know the world without being able to react upon it, we are guilty of that aimless pragmatism which consists of devising all sorts of ingenious machines and being quite incapable of subordinating them to any coherent and attractive pattern.
Now, men are moved by their instinctive impulses and by such emotionally colored pattern-ideas or idola as the dreamer is capable of projecting. When we create these pattern-ideas, we enlarge the environment, so that our behavior is guided by the conditions which we seek to establish and enjoy in an imaginary world. However crude the Marxian analysis of society may have been, it at least had the merit of presenting a great dreamthe dream of a titanic struggle between the possessors and the dispossessed in which every worker had a definite part to play. Without these dreams, the advances in social science will be just as disorderly and fusty as the applications of physical science have been in our material affairs, where in the absence of any genuine scale of values, a patent collar button is regarded as equally important as a tungsten filament if the button happens to bring the inventor as great a financial reward.
Up to about the middle of the seventeenth century, before modern physical science had rigorously defined its field, the breach between literature and science, which Aristotle had made, was not altogether complete;
and while the humanist ideal was intact both literature and science were regarded as coeval phases of man's intellectual activity. The two dominating figures of the Renascence, Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo, were artists, technicians, and men of science; and in a comparison between a translation of Michael Angelo's sonnets and a photograph of St. Peter's the sonnets come off rather well.
The great contribution of the Renascence was the ideal of fully energized human beings, able to span life in all its manifestations, as artists, scientists, technicians, philosophers, and what not. This ideal exercised a powerful influence on lesser figures, like the Admirable Crichton and Sir Walter Raleigh, and even down to the time of Descartes it contributed to that exuberance of the intellectual life which was the Renascence at its best. When John Amos Comenius wrote his remarkable little book called The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart in 1623, he combined the outlooks of science and art in a remarkable synthesis; for the first part of this work is a picturesque survey of the actual world as Comenius found it, and the second a picture of the transition to the heavenly world promised in the Christian religion. The idea behind Comenius Labyrinth was the same that inspired Andreæ; and were it not for the complete otherworldliness of this theological utopia, the Paradise of the Heart, Comenius discourse would take a high place in the history of utopian thought.
There is no genuine logical basis, as far as I can see, in the dissociation of science and art, of knowing and dreaming, of intellectual activities and emotional activities.
[paragraph continues] The division between the two is simply one of convenience; for both these activities are simply different modes in which human beings create order out of the chaos in which they find themselves. Such is the humanist view. As an instance of this, when the Royal Society was projected in England in the middle of the seventeenth century, Johann Andreæ advised his friend Samuel Hartlib, then in London, not to neglect the humanities while furthering the pursuit of the physical sciences. Unfortunately, the men who gathered together to form the Royal Society were specialists in physical science; and in the lapse of the humanist tradition through the religious acerbities of the time, they had lost some of their desire for a complete life. As a result, the original charter of the society confined its work to the physical sciences.
Insignificant as it now appears in the annals of science, this decision seems to me to mark a definite turning point in human thought. Henceforth the scientist was to be one sort of person and the artist another; henceforth the idolum of science and the idolum of art were not to be cemented together in a single personality; henceforth, in fact, the dehumanization of art and science begins. It is interesting to note that with the divorce of the humanities from science, art and science entered upon separate careers which, for all their diversities, are curiously similar. Both art and science, for example, ceased to be the common property of the community; and each of them split up into a multiplying host of specialisms. In this process, art and science made many notable advances; so that this period is usually spoken of as a period of enlightenment or progress; but the result on the community was
what we discovered in our examination of Coketown and the Country House.
We must now consider the development of the arts in the modern community. At the height of the Middle Age, as in fifth century Athens, the arts formed together a living unity. A citizen did not go into a concert hall to hear music, to a church to say his prayers, to a theatre to see a play, to a picture gallery to view pictures: it was a mean town, indeed, that could not boast a cathedral and a couple of churches; and in these buildings, drama and music and architecture and painting and sculpture were united for the purpose of ringing changes on the emotional nature of men and converting them to accept the theological vision of otherworldly utopia.
The splitting up of these arts into a number of separate boxes was part of that movement towards individualism and protestantism whose effects most people are familiar with in the field of religion alone. Henceforward, music, drama, painting, and the other arts developed largely in isolation; and each of them was forced to build up a separate world. The greater part of the gains that were made in these worlds was not carried over into the community at large, but remained the possession of the artists themselves or their private patrons and critics in the Country House. With such exceptions as the Italian and Japanese woodcuts of the eighteenth century, and the few survivals of ballad and drama that slipt over from the Middle Age, popular art became another name for all that was coarse and stunted and depressed. The popular architecture
of the nineteenth century is the sordid little redbrick rabbit hutch: popular religion is embodied in the stunted sheet-iron or brick chapel (as it is called in England) of the Baptists and Methodists: popular music is the latest barrel organ lilt: popular painting is the calendar lithograph: and popular literature is the dime novel.
The divorce of the art of the cultivated classes from that of the whole community tended to deprive it of any other standards than the artist himself was content to erect. Here again the comparison with science is curiously pertinent. The world of art is in a sense a separate world, and it can be cultivated for a time without reference to the desires and emotions of the community out of which it has sprung. But the motto "Art for art's sake" turns out in practice to be something quite differentnamely, art for the artist's sake; and art which is produced in this manner, without any external standard of performance, is frequently just an instrument for overcoming a neurosis or enabling the artist to restore his personal equilibrium. Divorced from his community, the artist was driven back upon himself: instead of seeking to create a beauty which all men might share, he devoted himself to projecting a poignant angle of his personal visionan angle which I shall call the picturesque. The cause of this divorce I have already pointed out in the chapter on the Country House; it is with the effects of this divorce, for which the artist was not greatly to blame, that we are here concerned.
This conflict between "beauty" and the "picturesque" is perhaps common to all the arts, and with sufficient
factual detail I might be able to trace its effects on literature and music. For the sake of clearness and simplicity I shall confine myself to painting and sculpture, with the proviso that our conclusions will apply, by and large, to the whole field.
Let me emphasize, before going any further, that I am using the terms "beauty" and the "picturesque" in quite different senses from the vague ones that are usually attached to them; and that I use them without any preliminary judgment as to their place and value in the good life. The picturesque, in the quite arbitrary sense in which the word is used here, is an abstract quality of vision, sound, or meaning which creates what we might call pure esthetic experience. In painting, the picturesque probably arose with the discovery, on the part of the leisured classes in the Country House, that it was possible to achieve rapture, a sort of esthetic trance, a complete state of beatitude, by the more or less prolonged contemplation of a pictorial subject. Up to the time of this discovery, painting was simply a branch of interior decoration; the great paintings of the Christian World served, for the public, as illustrations to that outline of history which mediæval theology provided: they had a habitat, a social destination.
With the splitting off of the picturesque from the main body of ecclesiastical art, painting came into its own as an end in itself, apart from any place that it might have in the scheme of the community's affairs. The symptom of this change is the rise of landscape painting: in the search for pure esthetic experience the painter began to look for themes which were divorced from any human interest but that of pure
contemplation. During the last century this split between painting as a form of social art and painting as a means of achieving contemplative ecstasy has become deeper: even those academic painters who followed the methods of the older artists no longer have the same field to work in, whilst the revolutionistthe impressionists of one period, the cubists of another, and the post-impressionists or expressionists of a thirdare forced by the general irrelevance of art in Coketown to produce work which only the more or less initiate will appreciate.
Now, I would not for worlds underrate the gains which have been achieved by the divorce of art from the whole life of the community. In their isolation from the social group that produced them the modern artists have been able to pursue their solitary way to limits which the common man is probably incapable of reaching: they have widened the field of esthetic delight and have introduced new values into the world of painting, values which will remain even though the disease which created them disappears, just as one can salvage a pearl from an oyster whose sickness is healed. The view from the mountain top is none the worse because many people are afflicted with dizziness and nausea before they have reached the summit; and, like the pursuit of truth, the pursuit of esthetic values is a good in itself apart from any values which may he realized in the community. On these terms, Cézanne and Van Gogh and Ryder, to mention a few of the dead, will hold their own, and keep the boundaries of art from ever shrinking again, I trust, to its academic limits.
Nevertheless, the effects of focussing on the picturesque
can no more be overlooked in art than the dangers of specialization in science. It is almost a banality to point out how, historically, as the picturesque developed in art, beauty has tended to disappear from life. Whilst the cultivated few have become gloriously alive to more exquisite sensations than their ancestors had probably ever experienced, the "mutilated many" have been forced to live in great cities and in abject country towns of a blackness and ugliness such as the world, if we are to judge by the records that exist, has never seen before. In other words, we have become more sensitive to experiencesto the contents of our inner worldsonly to become more callous to things, to the brash surfaces of the world without. In our preoccupation with the inner worlds we have to a large extent lost our hold upon beauty, which, in the limiting sense n which the word is used here, is the quality by which anything, from a torso to a building, shows its adaptation to an end and its sensitiveness to esthetic valuesvalues which are abstracted and intensified in the pure picturesquethat are involved in such an adaptation. In this sense, the beautiful, as Emerson said, rests on the foundations of the necessary: it is the outward token of an inward grace; its appearance is the manifestation of a humanized life; and its existence and development constitute, in fact, a sort of index to a community's vitality.
The divorce of the artist from the community, and the turning away of his energies from beauty, in which the picturesque might be fulfilled, to the picturesque itself, separate from any practical needs, has scarcely been compensated by the advances that have been made in the separate world of art. The result has been that
work which should have been done by artists of great capacity has been done by people of minor or degraded ability. Anonymous jerrybuilders have erected the greater number of our houses, absurd engineers have laid out our towns with no thought for anything but sewers and paving contracts; rapacious and illiterate men who have achieved success in business discourse to the multitude on what constitutes the good lifeand so on. There is really no end to the number of things which we do badly in the modern community, for want of the artist to do them at all.
This generalization applies to the whole range of the arts. The greater part of the creative dreaming and planning which constitutes literature and art has had very little bearing upon the community in which we live, and has done little to equip us with patterns, with images and ideals, by means of which we might react creatively upon our environment. Yet it should be obvious that if the inspiration for the good life is to come from anywhere, it must come from no other people than the great artists. An intense social life, as Gabriel Tarde pointed out in his fine utopian fantasy, Underground Man, has "for its indispensable condition the esthetic life and the universal propagation of the religion of truth and beauty." The common man, when he is in love, has a little glimpse of the way in which the drudgery of the daily world may be transmuted through emotional stimulus; it is the business of the artist to make the transmutation permanent, for the only difference between the artist and the common man is that the artist is, so to say, in love all the while. It is out of the vivid patterns of the artist's ecstasy that he draws men together and gives them the vision to
shape their lives and the destiny of their community anew.
No matter how the modern artist may use or fritter away his abilities, it is plain that he has an enormous reservoir of power at his disposal. What, for instance, has made America so wholly devoted to the conquest of material things? Why are we so given over to collecting those vast miscellanies of goods which are temptingly displayed in the advertising sections of our illustrated weeklies and monthly magazines? The necessity for ameliorating the hard, crude life of the pioneer has indeed been an important influence; but the traditions of this life in turn produced all the minor "artists" or "artlings" who write and draw for the popular papers, who create the plots of plays and motion picture scenarios; and since most of these poor wretches have never been educated in the humanist sense to any degreesince they know no other environment than New York or Los Angeles or Gopher Prairie, since they are acquainted with the achievements of no other age than their own, they have devoted themselves wholeheartedly to idealizing a great many of the things that are crude or ugly or stupid in their beloved community. So the idola of business have been perpetuated by "artlings" who themselves know only the standards of the business man.
Because of the limited horizons of the American artist, therefore, the rising generation aspires after the things that Messrs. Jack London, Rupert Hughes, Robert Chambers, and heaven knows who else have thought good and fine; the younger generation talks like the
heroes and heroines of a melodrama by Mr. Samuel Shipman, when they do not attain the higher level of comic cuts; the younger generation thrills to the type of beauty which Mr. Penryhn Stanlaws sets before its gaze. The notion that the common man despises art is absurd. The common man worships art and lives by it; and when good art is not available he takes the second best or the tenth best or the hundredth best. The success of Mr. Eugene ONeill, perhaps the one playwright of any girth who has contributed to the American stage, proves that the only way that people can be kept away from good art is by not providing it. The younger generation might just as well have had its idea-patterns shaped by Sophocles, Praxiteles, and Plato, if our genuine artists were not so aloof to their responsibilities, and if they were intellectually mature enough to accept the full burden of their vocation. It is a sign of a terrific neurosisand no mark at all of esthetic aptitudethat our genuine art is so completely disoriented and so thoroughly out of touch with the community. We must turn to a man of such uneven parts as Mr. Nicholas Vachel Lindsay before we have anything like a recognition of the classic rôle of the artist.
Art for the artist's sake is largely a symptom of that neurotic individualism which drives the artist out of a public world which baffles him into a private world where he may reign in solitude as an unruly demiurge. Art for the public's sake, on the other hand, substitutes the vices of the extrovert for the vices of the introvert. When I say that art must have some vital contact with the community I do not mean, let me emphasize, that the artist must cater to public whim
or demand. Art in its social setting is neither a personal cathartic for the artist, nor a salve to quiet the itching vanity of the community: it is essentially a means by which people who have had a strange diversity of experiences have their activities emotionally canalized into patterns and molds which they are able to share pretty completely with each other. Pure art is inevitably propaganda. I mean by this that it is meant to be propagated, and that in so far as it fails to impregnate the community in which it exists with its ideas and images, in so far as the community is not changed for better or worse by its existence, its claims are spurious. Propagandist art, on the other hand, is inevitably impure since instead of bringing people together on a common emotional plane, as men, it tends to accentuate their differences, and to void emotions which are proper to art into a realm where the emotions of the missionary's tent or the soap-boxer's platform hold exclusive sway. It is just because the "artist" in America has been impure in motivea propagandist for Pollyanna in the face of Euripides, a propagandist for "just folks" in the face of Swift, a propagandist for niceness in the face of Rabelaisthat he has failed miserably as an artist, and has left our communities to stew so completely in their own savorless juice.
For examples of what the artist might be, and what his proper relation to the community might be when he was mature enough to recognize it and discipline himself to it, let us look at Mr. William Butler Yeats or A.E. There are doubtless a good many other examples
that might be offered in Europe; but these are particularly good; for the reason that with A.E. one can see in his The National Being how the conceptions of art enter into the tissues of all his plans for renovating life in the Irish Countryside. In the work of these artists and their fellows we have a clue to one of the most promising attempts to establish a concrete eutopia which shall rise out of the real facts of the everyday environment and, at the same time, turn upon them and mold them creatively a little nearer the heart's desire.
In the account of Four Years which Mr. Yeats published in The Dial he explains his attitude towards the literature and social life of Ireland; and I recommend that account to all the forlorn revolutionaries and reformers who wonder why the dry bones of their doctrines remain dry bones, instead of knitting themselves together and becoming alive. This passage in particular, defines the relation of the artist both to the tradition of his art and to the community in which he must find a root:
"The Huxley, Tyndall, Carolus Duran, Bastien-Lepage coven, asserted that an artist or a poet must paint or write in the style of his own day, and this with the Fairy Queen and the Lyrical Ballads and Blake's early poems in its ears, and plain to the eyes, in book and gallery, those great masterpieces of later Egypt, founded upon that work of the ancient kingdom already further in time from Later Egypt than Later Egypt is from us." He dismisses this claim with the just assertion that the artist is free to choose any style that suits his mood and subject; for in the world of art time and space are irrelevant; and he goes on to say, "We had in
[paragraph continues] Ireland imaginative stories, which the uneducated classes knew and even sang, and might we not make those stories current among the educated classes, rediscovering, for the work's sake, what I have called 'the applied arts of literature,' the association of literature, that is, with music, speech, and dance; and at last, it might be, so deepen the political passion of the nation that all, artist and poet, craftsman and day laborer, would accept a common design. Perhaps even these images, once created and associated with river and mountain, might move of themselves and with some powerful, even turbulent life, like those painted horses that trample the rice-fields of Japan."
By citing Mr. Yeats conceptions I do not mean to limit the artist to a single functionthat of patterning the good life. It is quite plain that pure esthetic experience is a good in itself; and when the artist has rendered this experience in a picture, a poem, a novel, a philosophy, he has performed a unique and indispensable piece of work. Could italics keep this passage from being ignored I should employ them.
What I have called the picturesque is in reality just as self-sustaining and delightful as the radiant good health which Sir Thomas More rated so highly in his Utopia. If the community went to the dogs, it would still be exuberantly self-sustaining, whilst anyone had the time or the capacity to enjoy it. What I protest against is the way in which the field of the genuine artist, during these last three hundred years, has been whittled away, so that it has become more and more a mark of the artist to concern himself solely with the narrow province of pure esthetic experience, and to protest his complete aloofness from anything that lies
outside this realm. Such an attitude would have struck Euripides or Milton or Goethe or Wagner as undignified and stupid, I am sure, because art is as large as life, and it does not gain in vigor or intensity by reducing its scope to that of the puppet stage. The point is that there is an artistic function to be performed in the community, for the community, as well as in the world of art, for those who are lifted up to art.
"Nations, races, and individual men," as Mr. Yeats says again, "are unified by an image, or a bundle of related images, symbolical and provocative of the state of mind that is of all states of mind not impossible, the most difficult to that man, race, or nation because only the greatest obstacle that can be contemplated without despair rouses the will to full intensity."
Whether these images shall be provided by patrioteers, hack editors, politicians, advertising men and commercialized "artists" or whether they shall be created by genuine playwrights and poets and philosophers is an important question. The function of creating these images is an artistic one, and the artist who evades his responsibility is making life for himself and his kind more difficult, since in the long run a community whose sacred literature is written by Colonel Diver and Scadder and Jefferson Brickthe great heroes of Civilization as the star of empire westward makes its waywill make even the most solitary cultivation of the arts a thorny and difficult task.
In the good life, the purely esthetic element has a prominent place; but unless the artist is capable of moving men to the good life, the esthetic element is bound to be driven farther and farther away from the common realities, until the world of the artist will
scarcely be distinguishable from the phantasia of dementia præcox. Already, the symptoms of this corrosive futility have appeared in literature and painting in Western Europe and America; and such light as comes forth from this art is but the phosphorescence of decay. If the arts are not to disintegrate utterly, must they not focus more and more upon eutopia?
It comes to this then: our plans for a new social order have been as dull as mud because, in the first place, they have been abstract and cockney, and have not taken into account the immense diversity and complexity of man's environment; and in the second place, they have not created any vivid patterns that would move men to great things. They have not been "informed by science and ennobled by the arts."
Through the paralysis of the arts and sciences our contemporary programs for revolution and reform have done very little to lift our heads over the disorderly and bedraggled environments in which we conduct our daily business. This failure to create a common pattern for the good life in each region has made such excellent efforts as the garden city movement seem weak and ineffectual when we place them alongside the towns that mediæval civilization, which had such a common pattern, created. Without the common background of eutopian idola, all our efforts at rehabilitationthe new architecture, the garden city movement, the electrification of industry, the organization of great industrial guilds such as the Building Trades have achieved in England and the garment workers seem on the point of effecting
in Americawithout these common idola, I say, all our practical efforts are spotty and inconsecutive and incomplete. It was not, let us remember, by any legislative device that the cities of the industrial age were monotonously patterned in the image of Coketown. It was rather because everyone within these horrid centers accepted the same values and pursued the same endsas they were projected by economists like Ricardo, industrialists like Stephenson, and lyric poets like Samuel Smilesthat the plans of the jerrybuilder and the engineer expressed to perfection the brutality and social disharmony of the community. The same process that gave us Coketown can, when our world of ideas is transformed, give us something better than Coketown.
The chief use of the classic utopias that we have surveyed is to suggest that the same methods which are used by the utopian thinkers to project an ideal community on paper may be employed, in a practical way, to develop a better community on earth. The weakness of the utopian thinkers consisted in the assumption that the dreams and projects of any single man might be realized in society at large. From the bitter frustration of Fourier, Cabet, Hertzka, and even John Ruskin those who are in search of the beloved community may well take a warning. Where the critics of the utopian method were, I believe, wrong was in holding that the business of projecting prouder worlds was a futile and footling pastime. These anti-utopian critics overlooked the fact that one of the main factors that condition any future are the attitudes and beliefs which people have in relation to that futurethat, as Mr. John Dewey would say, in any judgment of practise
one's belief in a hypothesis is one of the things that affect its realization.
When we have projected the pattern of an ideal community and tend to warp our conduct in conformity with that pattern, we overcome the momentum of actual institutions. In feeling free to project new patterns, in holding that human beings can will a change in their institutions and habits of life, the utopians were, I believe, on solid ground; and the utopian philosophies were a great improvement over the more nebulous religious and ethical systems of the past in that they saw the necessity for giving their ideals form and life. In fact, it has been in the pictures of ideal commonwealths such as Plato's that the "ideal" and the "actual" have met.
It is true that the pure utopians have overlooked the fact that every institution has a momentum of its own: its speed may be quickened or reduced, it may he switched on another track, as the Roman Church during the Reformation was switched from the main line of civilization to a subsidiary route; and at times, in the catastrophe of war or revolution, an institution may jump the track altogether and be wrecked. The critical problem for the eutopian, the problem of the transition from one set of institutions to another, from one way of life to another, was overlooked. Plato's Republic, for example, was a fairly attractive place; but one wonders in what Greek city in the Fourth Century B.C. the transition could have taken place. A transition implies not merely a goal but a starting point: if we are to move the world, as Archimedes threatened to with his lever, we must have some ground to stand on. It is only by paying attention to the
limitations of each region, and by allowing for the driving force of history, that we can make the earth come to terms with man's idola. This is perhaps the most difficult lesson that the eutopian must learn.
What, then, is the first step out of the present disorder? The first step, it seems to mc, is to ignore all the fake utopias and social myths that have proved either so sterile or so disastrous during the last few centuries. There is perhaps no logical reason why the myth of the national state should not be preserved; but it is a myth which has done very little, on the whole, to promote the good life, and has on the contrary done a great deal to make the good life impossible; and to continue to cling to it in the face of perpetual wars, pestilences, and spiritual devastations is the sort of fanaticism which will probably seem as blind and cruel to future generations as persecutions for Christian heresy do to the present one. On the same grounds, there are a number of other social myths, like the proletarian myth, which run so badly against the grain of reality that they cannot be preserved without ignoring a great many values which are essential to a humane existence; and on pragmatic grounds it would be fine and beneficial to drop them quickly into limbo. There is no reason to think that there will be a quick conversion from these myths: the holocaust of war has only intensified the myth of the National State; and our experience with religious myths suggests on the contrary that the forms at any rate will be preserved long after the last shred of reality has disappeared. But the sooner those who are capable of intellectual criticism
abandon these particular myths, the sooner will these idola fall into the state which has been happily described as "innocuous desuetude."
If our knowledge of human behavior counts for anything, however, we cannot put aside old myths without creating new ones. The eighteenth century agnostics very wisely realized that if they wished to maintain the values which had been created by Deism, they could not abandon God without inventing him all over again. In turning away from obsolete and disastrous social myths I do not suggest that we give up the habit of making myths; for that habit, for good or bad, seems to be ingrained in the human psyche. The nearest we can get to rationality is not to efface our myths but to attempt to infuse them with right reason, and to alter them or exchange them for other myths when they appear to work badly.
Here is where we reap the full benefit of the great utopian tradition. In turning away from the social myths that hamper us, we do not jump blindly into a blankness: we rather ally ourselves with a different order of social myth which has always been vivified and enriched by the arts and sciences.
The idolum of eutopia which we may seek to project in this or that region is not a carte blanche which any one may fill in at his will and caprice; certain lines have already been fixed; certain spaces have already been filled. There is a consensus among all utopian writers, to begin with, that the land and natural resources belong undividedly to the community; and even when it is worked by separate people or associations, as in Utopia and Freeland the increment of the landthe economic rentbelongs to the community as a whole.
[paragraph continues] There is also a pretty common notion among the utopians that, as land is a common possession, so is work a common function; and no one is let off from some sort of labor of body or mind because of any inherited privileges or dignities that he can point to. Finally, there is the almost equally common notion, among the utopians, that the perpetuation of the species leaves plenty of room for improvement, and that, as far as human knowledge and foresight are worth anything, it should be applied to propagation; so that the most reckless and ill-bred shall not burden the community with the support of their offspring while those of finer capacity are neglected or overwhelmed in numbers.
Besides these general conditions for the good life which the utopians unite to emphasize, there are certain other points in the utopian tradition of which one writer or another has given the classic statement.
With Plato we see the enormous importance of birth and education; we recognize the part good breeding, in every sense of the word, must play in the good community. Sir Thomas More makes us aware of the fact that a community becomes a community to the extent that it has shared possessions, and he suggests that the local group might develop such a common life as the old colleges of Oxford have enjoyed. When we turn to Christianopolis, we are reminded that the daily life and work of the community must be infused with the spirit of science, and that an acute practical intelligence such as we find today among the engineers need not be divorced from the practice of the humanities. Even the nineteenth century utopias have a contribution to make. They remind us by their overemphasis that all the proud and mighty idealisms in the world are so many shadows
unless they are supported by the whole economic fabricso that "eutopia" is not merely a matter of spiritual conversion, as the ancient religions taught, but of economic and geotechnic reconstruction. Finally, from James Buckingham and Ebenezer Howard we can learn the importance of converting the idolum of eutopia into plans and layouts and detailed projections, such as a townplanner might utilize; and we may suspect that a eutopia which cannot be converted into such specific plans will continue, as the saying is, to remain up in the air.
Taken together, there is a powerful impulse towards creating a good environment for the good life in the classic utopias we have examined: from one or another utopia we may draw elements which will enrich every part of the community's life. By following the utopian tradition we shall not merely escape from the fake utopias that have dominated us: we shall return to reality. More than that, we shall return upon reality and perhapswho can tell?we shall re-create it!
In discussing the foundations of Eutopia I am conscious of a certain abstractness in my method of argument; conscious that I have not been a good utopian in dealing with these proud idols that we may project in every region. Let us come down to earth now and realize what all this amounts to when we turn away from the library and mingle again on the highways that lead past our door.
First of all, I conceive that we shall not attempt to envisage a single utopia for a single unit called humanity; that is the sort of thin and tepid abstraction
which the discipline of the Regional Survey will tend to kill off even in people who are now inured by education to dealing only in verbal things. All the human beings on the planet are a unity only for the sake of talking about them; and as far as that goes, there is very little profitable conversation that can apply to a Greenlander, a Parisian, and a Chinaman, except the mere observation that they are all on the same little boat of a planet and would probably he much happier if they minded their own business and were not too insistent about inflicting their institutions and their idola upon their neighbors.
We shall have to dismiss, as equally futile, the notion of a single stratification of mankind, such as the working class, serving as the foundation for our Eutopia: the notion that the working class consists simply of urban workers is a cockney imbecility, and as soon as one rectifies it and includes the agricultural population, we have "humanity" pretty much all over again. Finally, if we are to give eutopia a local habitation it will not be founded upon the National State, for the National State is a myth which sane people will no more sacrifice their lives to than they would hand their children into the furnace of some tribal Moloch; and a good idolum cannot be founded on the basis of a bad one.
As far as extent or character of territory goes, we will remember that the planet is not as smooth as a billiard ball, and that the limits of any genuine community rest within fairly ascertainable geographic regions in which a certain complex of soil, climate, industry, institutional life and historic heritage has prevailed. We shall not attempt to legislate for all these
communities at one stroke; for we shall respect William Blake's dictum that one law for the lion and the ox is tyranny. There are some 15,000,000 local communities in the world, the Postal Directory tells us; and our eutopia will necessarily take root in one of these real communities, and include within its co-operations as many other communities, as have similar interests and identities. It may be that our eutopia will embrace a population as great as that in the Metropolis of London or New York; but it is needless to say that the land which lies beyond the limits of the metropolis will no longer be regarded as a sort of subterranean factory for the production of agricultural goods. In sum, as Patrick Geddes has finely said, in the Kingdom of Eutopiathe world Eutopiathere will be many mansions.
The inhabitants of our eutopias will have a familiarity with their local environment and its resources, and a sense of historic continuity, which those who dwell within the paper world of Megalopolis and who touch their environment mainly through the newspaper and the printed book, have completely lost. The people of Newcastle will no longer go to London for coals, as the people in the provinces have in a sense been doing this last century and more: there will be a more direct utilization of local resources than would have seemed profitable or seemly to the metropolitan world which now has command of the market. In these varied eutopias, it is safe to say, there will be a new realization of the fact that a cultivated life is essentially a settled life: their citizens will have discovered that the great privilege of travelling from Brooklyn to Bermondsey, and from Bermondsey to Bombay is scarcely
worth the trouble when the institutions of Brooklyn, Bermondsey, and Bombay, and every other purely industrial center, are identicalsanitary drinking devices and canned goods and moving pictures being the same wherever mechanical duplication of goods for a world market has taken the place of direct adaptation to local needs.
It should not surprise us therefore if the foundations of eutopia were established in ruined countries; that is, in countries where metropolitan civilization has collapsed and where all its paper prestige is no longer accepted at its paper value. There was the beginning of a genuine eutopian movement in Denmark after the war with Germany in the sixties: under the leadership of Bishop Gruntwig came a revival of folk traditions in literature and a renascence of education which has renewed the life of the Danish countryside and made an intelligent farmer and an educated man out of the boor. It would not be altogether without precedent if such a eutopian renascence took place in Germany, in Austria, in Russia; and perhaps on another scale in India and China and Palestine; for all these regions are now face to face with realities which the "prosperous" pauperism of our metropolitan civilization has largely neglected.
If the inhabitants of our Eutopias will conduct their daily affairs in a possibly more limited environment than that of the great metropolitan centers, their mental environment will not be localized or nationalized. For the first time perhaps in the history of the planet our advance in science and invention has made it possible for every age and every community to contribute to the spiritual heritage of the local group; and the citizen
of eutopia will not stultify himself by being, let us say, a hundred per cent Frenchman when Greece, China, England, Scandinavia and Russia can give sustenance to his spiritual life. Our eutopians will necessarily draw from this wider environment whatever can be assimilated by the local community; and they will thus add any elements that may be lacking in the natural situation.
The chief business of eutopians was summed up by Voltaire in the final injunction of Candide: Let us cultivate our garden. The aim of the real eutopian is the culture of his environment, most distinctly not the culture, and above all not the exploitation, of some other person's environment. Hence the size of our Eutopia may be big or little; it may begin in a single village; it may embrace a whole region. A little leaven will leaven the whole loaf; and if a genuine pattern for the eutopian life plants itself in any particular locality it may ramify over a whole continent as easily as Coketown duplicated itself throughout the Western World. The notion that no effective change can be brought about in society until millions of people have deliberated upon it and willed it is one of the rationalizations which are dear to the lazy and the ineffectual. Since the first step towards eutopia is the reconstruction of our idola, the foundations for eutopia can be laid, wherever we are, without further ado.
Our most important task at the present moment is to build castles in the air. We need not fear, as Thoreau reminds us, that the work will be lost. If our eutopias spring out of the realities of our environment, it will be easy enough to place foundations under them. Without a common design, without a grand design, all
our little bricks of reconstruction might just as well remain in the brickyard; for the disharmony between men's minds betokens, in the end, the speedy dilapidation of whatever they may build. Our final word is a counsel of perfection. When that which is perfect has come, that which is imperfect will pass away.