We need Communes
to help the unemployed
to help themselves.
We need Communes
to make scholars out of workers
and workers out of scholars,
to substitute a technique of ideals
for our technique of deals.
We need Communes
to create a new society
within the shell of the old
with the philosophy of the new,
which is not a new philosophy,
a philosophy so old
that it looks like new.
A philosophy so old it looks like new? The phrase demands our attention. Over the course of the last two centuries the world has gone through a period of rampant materialism. Corporate bodies have taken over the key institutions of society, turning people into slaves of a world-wide 'Mega-machine (see Mumford) that is rapidly disintegrating. As Forster predicted in The Machine Stops, technological 'progress' is bringing the world to a grinding halt.
All previous civilizations disintegrated. They took the form of small centralised hubs of city states served by a vast hinterland of peasant farming communities. In those city states of ancient times, the vast bulk of the work of all kinds was undertaken by slaves. Men and women who had been reared in peasant farming communities were forced to work, under the orders of an all-male elite, following instructions in order to live. Slaves are primarily materialistic in that they must follow their own self-interest in order to live. It follows that moral and ethical considerations become secondary. Slaves may attain very responsible positions in private households and in public life. Nevertheless, lacking authority, they remain as slaves. Even when they are paid a wage or salary, as are vast numbers of today's workers in industrial production, farming, education, health, transport and bureaucracy, they can at best be described as waged and salaried slaves (see gild socialist literature).
When previous pockets of 'civilisation' faded away, humanity as a whole went back to the land. Male aggressive and war-like spirits were tempered by the mothering wisdom of the feminine side of humanity. Now technological and scientific 'progress' is leading us to the brink of total disaster. As there is nowhere else to go, it would make sense to listen to those quiet voices that have been all around us since ancient times, voicing the social philosophy of the spiritual world. What is new today is that humanity as a whole has set aside the ancient philosophy of the common good. As Peter Maurin put it, in one of his Easy Essays:
Modern society has made the bank account the standard of values.
When this happens, the banker has the power.
When the banker has the power, the technician has to supervise the making of profits.
When the banker has the power, the politician has to assure law and order in the profit-making system.
When the banker has the power, the clergyman is expected to bless the profit-making system or join the unemployed.
When the banker has the power, the Sermon on the Mount is declared impractical.
When the banker has the power, we have an acquisitive, not a functional, society.
Peter Maurin’s words ring as true today as when they were first published in the Catholic Worker during the 1930s. One could base an entire evening’s discussion on each individual point made in the quotation. If, however, one tries to raise those same issues within an academic setting, within a 'school of economic or political science' one will be studiously ignored. Which is why they need to be closed down ASAP.