Chapter X

THE SMALL COMMUNITY, CRADLE OF DEMOCRACY


Peace is promoted by conditions that give stability to society. Actual democracy and democratic sentiment thrive where people as neighbors know one another and where they are thrown together with the smallest proportion of strangers. Aggregations of people who are strangers to one another are less capable of democracy than are groups of friendly neighbors. Since cooperation thrives best among people who know one another, it begins best with the small organization of neighbors.

The crowded city with its slums destroys men. It is like a monster that sucks into its maw the best that humanity produces and eats them up. They stop breeding. The population of the cities is maintained largely from farms and small communities. Thoughtful people prize democracy. Political totalitarianism and expanding statism are teaching their lesson, and people turn to democracy instead. The city does not make for neighborliness. Neighbors are peculiar to the small community. People who can act democratically are people who come together in a meeting small enough for everybody to have his say and to be known by everybody who hears him. The small community, when it outgrows this possibility, must divide itself into districts where in district meetings these essentials of democracy can prevail.

Hope of civilization lies not in the cities with their teeming millions and whirring wheels, but in the small community; for the reason that democracy must be preserved if the human being is to be preserved. Every step toward improving the culture and attractiveness of the small village is a step in the direction of saving men. Whatever brings these neighbors together to act democratically in their own interest is salutary.

Much can be done to make the small community more attractive. Primary education can be at least as good as in the city. Teachers can be esteemed and paid so well that teaching is recognized as a dignified profession. Rural work can be as well compensated as city work. The economic level of the people can be raised. Rural electrification can bring not only power, light, and heat, but the telephone, radio, and television. The new means of travel and transportation can make possible the uniting of the rural communities with one another and with larger centers of special facilities such as hospitals, laboratories, libraries, technical schools, concerts, forums, lectures, theaters and shops. Model housing to make home and family more attractive is essential.

The lone farmhouse with no near neighbors has seen its day. The farmer, his wife and children are all gregarious and need the warmth of human neighborliness. The small community, the rural village, is their social hope. With the farmer's land adjacent to the village and his opportunities for human contacts, recreations, and culture easily accessible, decay of agriculture may be prevented. Intelligent town planning provides for social centers with radiating avenues. Rural planning follows the same pattern. The rural village is the center. Farms radiate around it. The more the people in each village do for themselves, the more they produce for their own consumption, and the more of their problems they solve locally, just so much more do they make their contribution to the preserving of democracy.

The time was when most people in the United States were occupied in farming. In 1870, 53.5 percent of the working population were engaged in agriculture, 21.9 percent in manufacturing, and 24.6 percent in service occupations. In 1920, the number in agriculture was only 27.6 percent, in manufacturing 32.9 percent, and in service 39.5 percent. In 1930, agriculture had 21.9 percent, manufacturing 30.9 percent, and service 47.2 percent. As stability is attained, more people will be occupied in service than in agriculture and manufacturing combined. The natural trend in a civilized country is toward increase in service occupations and decrease in the proportion of people occupied in farming and manufacturing. A rising standard of living is associated with this tendency. Modern scientific discoveries, new inventions, mechanization, and efficiency methods are largely responsible for the need of fewer people in production. The decrease can go on indefinitely. The advancement of culture contributes to the increase of services.

Among the people in the service occupations are scientific research workers; teachers; musicians; librarians; photographers; electricians; plumbers; newspaper people; authors; artists; architects; engineers; social workers; physicians; nurses; hospital employees; movie and theatrical people; entertainers; transportation workers; distributors, such as retailers and wholesalers; telephone, radio, and telegraph operators; bankers; insurance people; office workers; waiters; cooks; launderers; domestic servants and government employees. This list gives an idea of an expanding field. The interesting fact is that most of these persons can reside in villages and small towns. Easy means of communication and rapid travel now make it possible for village residents to be in touch with the whole world.

The small community can have not only the farmer, but it should have the service worker. He can contribute to its comfort and progress. The village can increase the number of agricultural workers by making it possible for people from other occupations to have a small farm. The most secure workingmen in many parts of the United States are the miners, industrial workers, and artisans who own a farm which guarantees a living for their families. They work at their industry in winter and between times the industrial worker who is smart cultivates a piece of land even though it be only a garden. It is good for his economy and for his health. Teachers, artists, authors, office and other service workers are discovering the advantages and the joy in getting things from the land and in cultivating home industry. Golf, tennis and sailing are fun, but a better quality of exercise can be had in productive occupation, and the normal man likes to produce something.

Few people realize how much can be done in the home that now is done in great industrial centers far away. Much also can be done in the small town. There are local retail cooperative societies in small communities which not only supply food, clothing and household needs, but perform a multitude of other services. Some have the movie show, town bath, skating rink, library, nursery school, refrigerating plant, fuel supply, creamery, bank, and cooperative health department employing a full-time physician. The more self-sufficient the community becomes, the better is its economic security. Cooperative housing in Denmark, Switzerland, and Sweden are examples of these possibilities. In Denmark one finds homes in villages which are centers of beauty and culture. In Holland the school teacher is one of the best paid men of the community.

Farmers need the village, the society of people of other occupations, a community in which the amenities of life can be enjoyed, and the cooperation of neighbors in getting better access to the good things that art and science offer. These other people need to be close to the land for that means to live in the presence of the prodigality of the out-of-doors--the soil, the air, and the water--and to have before them always nature's entrancing book of mystery.

The Swiss have expanded opportunities of small villages by moving industries from city to country. The Danes have brought culture to the country by improving the quality of rural education especially among adults, and by exhibiting in villages the great paintings and objects of art from the National Art Gallery. The saving of democracy requires making life in the small community so worthwhile that drift to the city is stopped.

Decay of democracy has been characterized by centralization of people and of power. Control has passed from the people, in the communities where they live, to the great industrial and political centers. From these centers the people are dictated to and controlled. Symbols of the loss of democracy are Pittsburgh and Manchester. Monuments to the demise of the free individual are Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Moscow, and Tokyo.

A salutary force is operating to preserve control of his economy in the hands of the individual. The cooperative method, among small groups who are neighbors and who know one another, is the initial step the world over. It begins with the small community. Even in the city this rule holds true. In the cooperative society, democracy is more than a sentimental ideal, it is an essential working method. The small society is the beginning. When the society outgrows its small community nature, if it would preserve its democracy and survive, it must divide into district groups. Each group of neighbors must hold its meeting and thus control the central organization. Otherwise its democracy is lost and sooner or later its cooperation disappears. To save democracy, the small community must be preserved even in the teeming city. This is represented in the block, in the social organization, and in the trade-union.

People of small Swiss villages have shown the way toward democracy. When they wanted electricity, they did not ask the political organization to provide it for them by setting up a "municipal plant," nor did they appeal to a public utility corporation; they cooperatively organized themselves as neighbors, put a turbine wheel in a stream tumbling down the mountainside, connected it to a dynamo, and led electric current into their homes. It gave them cheap electricity, made them better neighbors, taught them self-reliance, and made them owners of more private property. This is different from the modern political trend with mammoth impersonal centralization. There are services which can best be developed economically on a large centralized scale, but in the interest of democracy such services must be controlled by decentralized groups of people. This takes us again to the community.

Study groups, discussions, lectures, and literature are needed to precede and supplement cooperative action. Cooperators have learned that the best guarantee of loyalty to the society and the best stimulus of patronage is an understanding of cooperation on the part of members. Such study can go on best in a community of neighbors. Supplying human wants heretofore has been governed by an unsound philosophy. The best way to dispose of an unsound philosophy is to put a sound one in its place.

Not by government doing things for the people, but by the people doing things for themselves, is the way to freedom. Human progress is best promoted not by more but by less compulsory regulation. It is a vain hope to think of making people better or even happier by compulsion.

Political compulsion will be found necessary where people do not cooperate. Where voluntary cooperation does not prevail, what is called compulsory cooperation under the state will appear. And compulsory cooperation is not cooperation. The prevalent worship of the state, the most dangerous superstition of our time, can be overcome only by cooperation of neighbors doing things for themselves.

The rural population of the United States are the people who have, more than any other class, caught the vision and understanding of cooperation. They can save the small community. The small community is the hope of democracy. And without democracy the American ideal is lost. The cooperative method offers a way of creating the attractive village surrounded by farms. The inhabitants are agrarian in their economics, and urban in their cultural opportunities. With their local cooperative method of production and supply, connecting them with their regional federation, they can make their cooperative association the center of their communal life. Their regional federation, connected with the national federation, and this in turn with the international alliance of cooperatives, brings them into a world brotherhood. Through cooperation their local problems are approached. Through the large connections of cooperation, they not only participate in international commerce but they are given that sense of human relationship upon which peace of the world depends. Back of this lies that fundamental of democracy--the small community.

While war is made by governments, peace is made in the minds of men. Whatever social conditions engender peaceful habits and peaceful thinking, these conditions militate against war. Whether the government is democratic or autocratic, peaceful thinking of masses of people will register for peace at the most militaristic capital. Peace built among the people is the first essential to the prevention of war. This is the relation of the small cooperative community to peace.


CONTENTS

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The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.