There Must Be a Homestead
by William Gayley Simpson
THERE MUST be a homestead. And a homestead is more than a mere house located in the country. It must be at least a house that a man securely owns, and in connection with which he owns also a shop or land enough to make of him and his holding a significant unit of production. The homestead must provide the means by which a man and those who follow him, generation after generation, are able, without worry or hurry, to make sure of their living, primarily by producing and making for themselves the things that they need. Often there have been laws—very wise ones—by which it was made almost impossible for the ancestral holdings to be alienated.
The homestead thus became the citadel of a man’s life. Here he could hold off the pressures of the world. Here he had room to discover his own bent and to follow it, to try out his own ideas and to reap the fruit of acting upon them. Here he had room to become a person, not necessarily a great person, but a person, with a shape and direction and force of his own. Though another man be greater than he, even much greater (for thus it is among humans), yet by his homestead he was given the freedom, not perhaps to vote (which is generally but an infrequent and trivial, and commonly even an utterly empty, expression of freedom), but to be something in and of himself, to be a man, all year round to be what he really was. The old English yeoman, with his life rooted somewhat thus, in the land, was known wherever he went, and far beyond where he went, for the strength of his character.
The great body of the people of a society thus constituted are established on the land, in the open country, in villages and towns. Also, their economic and political life is decentralized. Everything except matters of the most general concern is decided locally, by the people whose interests are immediately involved in the decision to be made, and who know the situation firsthand. Only so can policies be shaped for the true good of the people. Only so, when the administrative units are small, is it possible to keep alive in the smaller individuals a healthy sense of their worth and importance, to keep them from being crushed into a feeling of insignificance and impotence under the sheer mass weight of numbers and size.
But by this time I am sure that many of my readers, perhaps most of them, are laughing at me. I was fully aware, quite a way back, that some of you had already begun to do so. “What nonsense!” were you not saying to yourselves? “What an anachronism! What is it all but a defeated dreamer’s desire to escape reality by turning back the hands of the clock?” Or, as a Communist intellectual demanded after reading the first draft of this paper twenty-five years ago, “What does this have to do with modern America?”
But possibly I am not quite such a fool as I may seem. At any rate, I myself am fully aware that our much-vaunted modern industrialism has already all but destroyed the economic foundation of the home. It has cut its roots. There is almost no more reason for the existence of homes. People might as well live in flats and apartments, and ever increasingly they do. The decline of family solidarity has been paced by the growth of insurance companies, which have so largely taken its place. In times of trouble people used to turn for help to other members of their families; now they turn to their insurance policies or to a bank. Our family life has largely been dissolved, leaving a lot of very loosely related individuals, each fending more or less for himself. We have become a rootless population, a nation on wheels, and ever more like a horde of wandering nomads. Most addresses are good only for a few years. Which is to say that the real life has long since passed out of the family institution. If we continue in the direction in which we are now plunging headlong, the family must become but a fond memory, an empty name, a dead shell. Yes, I am realist enough to recognize all this. Indeed, I recognize more. I recognize that we are going to continue our present headlong plunge. Whether or not we wish it, the clock is not going to be turned back. On the contrary, we are going to follow our present path—to its end.
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