This article was published in the Autumn 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Review of Spencer Heath's Citadel, Market and Altar
 

by Roy Halliday

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Outline
--introduction
Trinity upon Trinity
The Effects of Latitude and Altitude on Freedom
Barbarism and Freedom
Can Landlords Replace the State?
The Contradiction of the Proprietary Citadel
Evolution
 
 
 

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This book, written by the grandfather of Spencer Heath MacCallum, one of FNF's most admired contributors, reminds me of Isabel Patterson's God of the Machine. Both books provide sweeping interpretations of history from a libertarian perspective, and both books use terminology from the physical sciences to describe human society "scientifically."

By combining libertarianism, economics, and religion, this book also reminds me of Frederick Nymeyer's Minimal Religion, which tries to prove that Ludwig von Mises' economic principles are inherent in the Ten Commandments.

If you start reading Citadel, Market and Altar from the beginning, you are likely to give up quickly and do something else. I suspect that many readers quit this book before they get past the pages numbered with roman numerals. If my suspicion is correct, it is a shame, because they miss all the good parts.

The reason why you might give up on this book is that it begins with a very questionable theory of energy that is supposed to span across all sciences.

If you struggled with science in high school or never learned how to distinguish between scientific knowledge and philosophical speculation, you might be impressed with Spencer Heath's attempt to develop a unified theory of energy. But if you have some appreciation for what constitutes a scientific approach to a subject, whether by the empirical method of observation, hypothesis, and experiment, or by the logical method of definitions, axioms, and deductions, you will not regard Spencer Heath's theory of energy as scientific. Although I am not a scientist, I do have a degree in mathematics, and I have an appreciation for what constitutes a rigorous mathematical proof. To me Spencer Heath's theory of energy is about as scientific as one of Plato's dialogs with a couple of simple algebraic equations thrown in as window dressing.

If an editor stripped the pseudo-science from Citadel, Market and Alter, it would be about twenty percent smaller and one-hundred percent better. It is particularly unfortunate that so much of this dubious material occurs at the beginning of the book.

Fortunately, most of what Spencer Heath has to say about economics and proprietary communities does not depend on his theory of energy or even on his definition of the scientific method. From the fifth chapter on, his theory of energy rarely comes up. He also abandons the quantitative approach to social science. Instead he adopts a logical methodology by reasoning deductively from his axioms and definitions. He is like a Chicago-School economist who calls himself an empiricist even though his conclusions are based on deduction rather than induction and experiment.

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Trinity upon Trinity

Occasionally throughout the book Spencer Heath revives the idea that all science is empirical and quantitative. He tries to link the sound economic principles that he derives logically to physics and biology. He does this mainly by expressing what he regards as the basic reality in each field as a simple algebraic equation in the form A = B x C x D, as though nature always manifests herself in a Trinity of measurable variables whose product is the key to the universe. This excess baggage only makes his economic insights seem dubious and obscure. He writes as though his audience consists of amateur biologists, astronomers, or physicists who have spiritual aspirations.

Spencer Heath's penchant for dividing everything into groups of three strikes me as more mystical than scientific. In physics, he divides reality into mass, motion, and time. In biology, he divides the structure of animals into physical, nutritional, and neurological components, and he divides the structure of individual man into mechanical, chemical, and volitional components. In sociology, he divides human society into Citadel, Market, and Altar. In theology, the Absolute Trinity is the product of Substance, Power, and Eternity.

He explains the Trinity in the title of this book as follows:

"A society has three basic needs. ... These three needs, security, property, and spirituality, are supplied through the institutions of politics and government, of commerce and trade, and of religion and the arts. These institutions evolve successively as Citadel, Market and Altar, the Citadel to maintain freedom from violence, to guard alike against the aggressor from without and the unruly from within, the Market to provide abundance in the necessities of life and the Altar to practice the non-necessitous, the spontaneous and inspirational, the spiritual and esthetic recreations and arts. The first is necessary to the second, the second to the third; but the third, the Altar, is the end-in-itself, the life of creative freedom, above all necessity—the spiritual realm. Upon the free development, differentiation and interaction of these primary institutions, all social advancement depends." (53-54)

"The Citadel repels assault from without, subversion from within. The Market is an outgrowth of the Citadel; the Altar arises from the interaction of Citadel and Market. In point of function, the Market supplies all service energy to the Citadel. By its ministrations to basic necessities and needs, it releases free and spontaneous energies of men to the practice of the intellectual, the esthetic and creative arts—all those sports and recreations of body and mind towards which they freely incline and aspire." (56-57)

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The Effects of Latitude and Altitude on Freedom

Spencer Heath observes that in the early history of mankind it was so difficult to survive in northern latitudes and at high altitudes that states could not form. The environment was so harsh that people had to cooperate to survive. They could not afford the luxury of a parasitic class.

Free societies degraded into state-ridden societies first in the regions where the struggle against nature was relatively easy and slaves could produce enough to support themselves and their masters.

"The early deterioration of free communities by their transformation into political sovereignties took place chiefly in those lush regions where slavery and taxation could be practiced and the inhabitants yet live, and where the marching and marshalling of armies, the recapture of slaves and the rigors of government could be easily applied. But in lands of high latitude or high altitude and of rugged terrain, the sparseness of natural subsistence forbade the inefficiencies of a servile state. Nor would such terrain favor military operations, other than defense, or the capture and recapture of slaves. In such lands, men must practice the free relationships of mutual service in order to survive. They alone have limited their sovereignties. Their kings and councils have been heroes and leaders, the lords (Anglo-Saxon: givers) and exemplars, and not the drivers and rulers of men. Through the ages, and from such sparse origins, came the great warriors who conquered the political slave states of the lusher lands, adopted their enervating ways and were in their turn by virile conquerors deposed." (75)

"Lacking the structure for effective or sustained defense, the primitive village fell easy prey to the depredations of those tribal groups who continued their nomadic ways. In easy-living lands, where the rigors of a political administration over the primitive productivity can best be survived, aggression by raiding became conquest and the permanent subjugation of populations. The predatory slave state was born. Authority tended to center in war leaders who became conquerors and kings. These were neither patriarchs nor were they proprietors; they were predators. Their administration was political, maintained by force, not sanctioned by native custom, contract or consent. They were the first progenitors of the ancient predatory slave states and of all the political sovereignties, whether autocratic or popular, of the modern world." (88-89)

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Barbarism and Freedom

Spencer Heath characterizes the barbarian tribes of northern Europe as free people compared to the more civilized regimes in the south.

"The political history of all ancient times is but little else than the clashing and consolidation of rival slave states and their encroachments on barbarian freedom to extend their domains and build mighty empires until barbarian conquerors from freer lands brought their insolvent glory low." (89)

"The Western world has been so long indoctrinated with the Norman and the Classical traditions of political rulership over servile-minded and tribute-burdened populations that any suggestion of moulding public institutions to the basic pattern of the proprietary or free feudal communities is almost sure to be decried as a return to slavery and to barbarism itself." (80)

If the barbarians were free, why were they so poor and uncivilized? Part of the answer is that they lived in harsh environments where the struggle to survive was more difficult than it was in the Mediterranean region. Another reason offered by Spencer Heath is that the barbarian tribes were seldom united. When they engaged in cooperative enterprises beyond the tribal level, they had more success. "Of all tribal peoples, those having the background experience of successful migration by sea are thought to have been thereby best prepared and most free—since ships' crews are recruited across kinship lines—to effect community organization on the societal basis of a rational cooperation by property and contract in lieu of total dependence on kinship and emotional or biological bonds. Hence their basically free, proprietary communities—in high contrast with the tax- and tribute-bonded city sovereignties and slave-bound nationalistic states of ancient times." (79) Another explanation that Spencer Heath offers is that the Anglo-Saxon barbarians did eventually achieve some measure of social progress. "But in the remoteness of ancient Britain, after the Roman prestige and power was gone, the Anglo-Saxon invaders emerged out of mere tribal solidarity into proprietary communities untouched by the traditions and politics of Rome. In this remoteness, the Anglo-Saxon system of proprietary administration by land lords for free men evolved, and through almost five centuries became the rude but free society that flowered in the "Golden Age of Alfred" until it was destroyed by the Norman power and its liberties submerged under a political and essentially totalitarian rule." (76)

"Once the land was possessed [by Anglo-Saxon invaders], there was no more offensive war, for there was no public revenue; taxation, like slavery, as an institution, was unknown. After Alfred, the Danish invaders laid taxes for eleven years which were continued until the English Edward, coming to the throne, denounced and abolished them as contrary to Anglo-Saxon custom and law." (80)

In Conquests and Cultures, Thomas Sowell denies that the Anglo-Saxon Age produced a higher standard of living in Britain than they had under Roman occupation. After the Romans withdrew, in the early fifth century A.D.: "The use of coins declined. Pottery ceased to be mass produced. Roads and waterways fell into disrepair. Central heating and hot baths disappeared for many centuries. So did bricks, which the Romans used, but which did not reappear in Britain until the fourteenth century, when they were imported from the continent. Glass bottles, which had been produced in Roman times, disappeared from England and did not reappear until Elizabethan times, when bottles began to be imported from Venice, and it was the seventeenth century before glass-blowing was re-established in the British Isles." (page 27) So what are we to make of this history? Does civilization require the state? If we want freedom do we have to live like Eskimos in the frozen north?

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Can Landlords Replace the State?

Spencer Heath sees that the state method of compulsion is the source of all systemic problems in society.

"All general distress, all world-wide wrongs and wars are fruits of the persistence of men in trying blindly and vainly to conduct their public and general affairs on the basis of compulsion, deceit and default instead of by contract, consent and exchange, as men have learned to conduct almost all of their individual and lesser affairs." (52)

"The supposed services of government, though often praised, are seldom weighed against their tragic cost." (68)

He adopts the libertarian view that compulsion is only justified when it is used against aggressors. "The legitimate and constructive use of compulsion or restraints is upon those individuals or groups who attempt other than the exchange relationship by which society lives—upon those who abandon that relationship temporarily or permanently and adopt the reverse. By such conduct they dissolve their membership and become, for the time at least, outlaw to the social body, and must be restrained until they can redeem themselves into the freedom that membership in the social body alone affords" (51) The bulk of this book consists of arguments for private property, voluntary associations, contracts, and free markets. It is hard-core libertarian—even anarcho-capitalist. Spencer Heath's main practical purpose is to encourage landlords to provide services to their tenants in place of state-provided services—so that the state will become obsolete. The most important service that landlords should unite to provide is protection from coercion, in particular they should provide protection from crime and taxation—protection from both anarchy and statism. "Thus government is destined to be assimilated into the voluntary exchange system for the performing of community services, limiting the restraints and compulsions of the Citadel to guardianship and protection of the society against violations of its members or its processes, and to the social rehabilitation of any who may alienate themselves and thus become outcasts, for the time, by their antisocial perpetrations." (59)

"The contractual association of men is the basic free community pattern, impersonal and thereby capable of becoming universal, transcending the narrow bonds of common kinship or descent." (88)

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The Contradiction of the Proprietary Citadel

One of the principle advantages of replacing the state Citadel with a proprietary Citadel is supposed to be the greater efficiency of the latter. The greater efficiency is due to the incentive for profit and the rigors of competition in the market. But when all the landlords unite, there is no competition, and the alleged reason for efficiency vanishes and its place is taken over by monopoly. It then becomes unclear whether the proprietary Citadel would be any better than the state Citadel or even whether it could be distinguished from a state.

I wish Spencer Heath had written more about how a proprietary Citadel would maintain the benefits of market competition. Perhaps his grandson will clarify this point. I think Spencer Heath was onto something worthwhile here. I'd like to be convinced that a proprietary community could provide protection from the state and other criminals without itself becoming a state.

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Evolution

Evolution is another theme that runs through this book. Spencer Heath reverses the direction of Platonic idealism by combining it with a universalized version of Darwin's theory. He postulates that evolution is working its way through higher and higher stages from inanimate matter to single-celled life forms to multi-celled organisms to plants, animals, humans, human societies in which individual humans are the cells, and ultimately to a super-spiritual being or God. Instead of God being the creator of evolution, God is the end product of the process. In Spencer Heath's theory, true society introduces a new element into the evolutionary process because society can survive the death of its individual members indefinitely and it can transform the natural environment through its accumulated intelligence, knowledge, and technology. Human society is the first and only creation of evolution that can change its physical environment instead of merely reacting blindly to it. When the state Citadel is finally replaced by the proprietary Citadel, society will be transformed into the mystic's perfect dream.

It's an appealing vision. I'd like to believe it is true.D
 
 
 
 

Citadel, Market and Altar was published in 1957 by The Science of Society Foundation, Inc., Elkridge, Maryland. Although it is out of print, copies may be found for sale at <www.bookfinder.com>.

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