My grandfather, Spencer Heath (1876-1963), was largely responsible for my being a voluntaryist. He taught me most of what I know about thinking, and my own thinking is largely an outgrowth from his.
About 1898, attracted not by the Georgists’ attack on property in land but by their strong free-trade stance, Spencer Heath became recording secretary for the Chicago Single Tax Club and continued in close association with the movement for the next 40 years. He assisted Henry Geiger in founding the Henry George School in New York City and taught there for several years in the early 1930s, until Frank Chodorov, succeeding Geiger as director, fired him for not hewing closely enough to the established Georgist line. By 1933, Heath had concluded that George’s animus toward land was misplaced and that the institution of land ownership was essential to a functioning society. Indeed, he came to believe that the further development of private property in land was the key to society outgrowing its subservience to the state, which he saw as a social pathology.
The story of my close association with my grandfather during the last half-dozen years of his life (he died in 1963 at the age of 86) actually begins in the Depression year of 1931. On a visit, he found his daughter, my mother, in tears because my father thought they couldn’t afford a second child (my brother had been born two years earlier). My grandfather left the room. He returned moments later with a check for a thousand dollars, a princely sum of money in those years, and asked, “Will this help?” So, being bought and paid for, I was named after him: “Spencer Heath MacCallum.” Years later, when I became the only member of the family interested in working with him to publish his major work, CITADEL, MARKET AND ALTAR, and in preserving and carrying forward his ideas in other ways, he said it was the best investment he had ever made.
After helping me overcome a depressing psychological episode at Princeton University, where I was a student in 1952, I began a long-term intellectual and personal friendship with him. I began listening to what this gentleman, whom I called Popdaddy, had to say. What I heard was amazing. He maintained that the only realistic way to conceive of human society was in the total absence of government as we know it – the absence, that is, of any form of legislated laws or other institutionalized coercions. He believed that people in society are fully capable of providing for every social need through the further, free development of the institution of private property.
I was astonished to hear such extreme ideas from a person seemingly level-headed, who had been preeminently successful in not one but three careers in engineering, law and business. As a pioneer in early aviation, he had developed before World War I the first mass-production of airplane propellers, taking the place of the man who stood at a bench and carved them out by hand, and by 1922 he had demonstrated at Boling Field the first engine powered and controlled, variable and reversible pitch propeller. Over the next two years, therefore, I listened closely and at times incredulously to every word he spoke, while interposing questions and objections, intent to know if he really was the purist about society that his words implied.
Prior to this, Popdaddy had been a vague figure in the family who was “always writing” but had been unable to find a publisher. Looking back on it, anyone with his views would have had little chance of finding a publisher in the 1940s and ’50s. Now, having learned what his writing was about, I proposed that when I finished at Princeton, I’d help him self-publish his book. We’d do it together, I said. Thus began a productive working relationship. After his death ten years later, I collected every scrap of his writing, much of it in longhand, and numbered, transcribed and, more recently, digitized 3,000 items for the SPENCER HEATH ARCHIVE that will be domiciled at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala.
I was slow maturing and, in my teen years, was socially incapacitated by a severe stutter. Popdaddy found out about the National Hospital for Speech Disorders in New York City and offered me his apartment, which he used only at intervals, at 11 Waverly Place just east of Washington Square in Greenwich Village. The apartment was within walking distance of the Hospital, where I could attend daily group therapy. I accepted his offer and left Princeton for a year. It was a wonderful year, having my own apartment in the Village, exploring the used bookstores on Fourth Avenue that I passed walking to and from the Hospital, and finding there and reading, among other things, everything ever written by Sir Henry Sumner Maine. After Princeton, I came back and spent another year with Popdaddy in New York and then at his country place, Roadsend Gardens, in Elkridge, Maryland just south of Baltimore.
I graduated from Princeton in art history. For the required undergraduate thesis, I wrote on Northwest Coast Indian art, then went to graduate school in anthropology at the University of Washington in order to be near enough to visit and learn first-hand about Northwest Coast Indian life and culture. Because these people had had a traditionally stateless society, echoing Popdaddy’s ideas and those of Maine on the village community, my interest turned strongly toward social anthropology. Determined to write my Master’s paper on Heath’s notion of an altogether proprietary, non-political community, for which he often took the hotel as a heuristic model, I decided to read everything I could about hotels and write on the hotel as a community.
I went to Berkeley for a summer to take advantage of the libraries there. Soon after getting well into reading about hotels, I discovered the shopping center. A month later, I was reading about office buildings, and then marinas, mobile home parks and similar phenomena, all members of the class of the relatively recent and evolving phenomenon of multi-tenant properties. Wanting to read everything about all of these, I extended my stay beyond the summer and through an entire winter. Returning to Seattle in the spring, I submitted my thesis, which was rejected. I devoted the summer to recasting it, and in the fall it was accepted. Several years later, following a suggestion made to F.A. Harper by Sartelle Prentice, Jr., the Institute for Humane Studies published it under Alvin Lowi’s suggested title, THE ART OF COMMUNITY. “Art” in the title refers to the empirical art of community which I then saw developing in commercial real estate in multi-tenant properties, paralleling the way that empirical arts like Toledo steel, dye making and the like had developed in the Middle Ages before there was any science of these matters. An authentic science of society, such as envisioned by Heath and by British social anthropologist A.R. Radcliffe-Brown (A NATURAL SCIENCE OF SOCIETY, The Free Press, 1957) was yet to come.
At various times while at the Berkeley libraries, I would visit Baldy and Peg Harper and their family. I bought a lightweight bicycle propelled by a little Italian “Mosquito” motor and would bicycle over from Berkeley to Menlo Park. Baldy was an important mentor. We’d gotten acquainted when he was at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). I’d accompany Popdaddy on his occasional drives up the Hudson to FEE to visit with Leonard Read, Baldy, and others on the FEE staff. Baldy had a great sense of optimism about the future of humanity and by that time had clearly adopted, as his compass setting, the concept of a “total alternative” to political government. This became his ideal goal by which to correct and guide one’s mundane decisions much as the North Star enables the mariner to make continuous course corrections and so come safely into Liverpool. My wife, Emalie, put almost the same thing a little differently: “We must entertain the ideal of no government if we are ever to realize limited government.”
Baldy said that he didn’t know just how he had arrived at this philosophical position, but he thought it might have come about from John Chamberlain, who was Popdaddy’s friend, having forwarded him a working draft of CITADEL, MARKET, AND ALTAR. John had told Baldy that he didn’t really understand it but thought there might be something important here; perhaps Baldy could make something of it. Baldy read it through several times and about a year later found himself advocating, as an ideal toward which to strive, a society totally free of structures of institutionalized coercion.
Considering Baldy’s role in my life as a mentor, it’s worth digressing here to say some more about this unassuming teacher with such a down-to-earth grasp of economics and impeccable intellectual hospitality who encouraged me to a better appreciation of Austrian economics and Hayek. Although Baldy had been the first staff member recruited by Leonard Read for FEE at the end of World War II, he could never prevail upon Leonard to do any more at FEE than promote what was already discovered and known about freedom — which he did very well. Leonard not wanting to go any further, may have felt constrained by the exigencies of fund-raising, perhaps fearful of the label of anarchy. Whatever the reason, Baldy felt there was much more to be discovered about human social organization and wanted to give more encouragement at the growing edge of ideas. Without taking Leonard into his confidence, he began around 1954 to plan an independent organization, to be called the “Institute for Humane Studies.” He did take Popdaddy into his confidence, and they planned much of it together. For a campus, Popdaddy offered to donate Roadsend Gardens, his 100-acre country place outside Baltimore in the direction of Washington. Baldy and his family came down one weekend and walked over the land with Popdaddy and me, but ultimately Baldy decided that the then intellectual climate in California would be more hospitable for what he wanted to accomplish.
Baldy’s dream was to create a special kind of a community of scholars. He wanted to create an environment that would be conducive to breakthroughs in social thought. The Institute would cater to young people, recognizing that breakthroughs in any field tend to be made by the young. But it would cater also to seasoned scholars from many diverse fields (law, physics, biology, not excluding even the paranormal as represented by Dr. Rhine at Duke University) who were retired but intellectually active – and who might be able to use the Institute’s tax-exempt status in pursuing their work.
The Institute would find living arrangements nearby and offer its library and other facilities including private office space, so that visitors – young people and senior scholars – could work alone so far as they liked or mix with others in the library and in the Institute dining room, as had been done so successfully at FEE. The active or vital ingredient in Baldy’s formula would be the give-and-take between seasoned scholars and enthusiastic youth. This interplay, he thought, would lead toward the breakthroughs he felt were sorely needed in contemporary thinking about society. This unique idea tragically came to an end with Baldy’s death from a traffic accident with a drunk driver. Without his leadership, the Institute adopted its present program of hosting seminars and mentoring young people to become professionals — helping them write grants, publish books and articles, get teaching positions, and so forth.
Returning to the thread of this account, while I was pursuing my graduate studies at the University of Washington and then at Chicago, Popdaddy had been invited to Santa Ana, California as a house guest of Frances Norton Manning, who had undertaken to actively promote intellectual contacts for him and had been very successful at it. On my visits there I became acquainted, among others, with R.C. Hoiles, of the Orange County REGISTER, Walter Knott, of Knott’s Berry Farm, John L. Davis, president of Chapman College, and Andrew J. Galambos and two associates, Alvin Lowi, Jr. and Donald H. Allen. The last three had been colleagues in the defense industry. Galambos, an astrophysicist, was entrepreneuring with Don Allen on the side in mutual fund sales and in free-market education and was just then independently arriving at the notion of the “total alternative” (my phrase which Baldy and several others had adopted). Alvin Lowi prompted Galambos to found the Free Enterprise Institute (FEI), which soon became a full-time proposition, Alvin for some years acting as “senior lecturer” and Don managing the bookstore.
The main thing I learned from attending some of the basic courses at FEI was the multifaceted role that insurance could play in a free society. This was a major idea in Galambos’ teaching that had originated with one of his students, Peter Bos. Galambos’ ideas about intellectual property, on the other hand, made little sense to me. I believed in the importance of giving credit for ideas, which is simply good scholarly practice, and learned from Alvin that the time to contract about ideas is before they have been disclosed. I learned little from FEI that I hadn’t already learned in principle from Popdaddy, but Galambos had a profound effect on many people who gained their first vista of the “total alternative” through him, comparable to my awakening experience with Popdaddy. My relationship with Alvin, by contrast, has continued to grow through the years, helping stretch my intellectual grasp well beyond where it was with my grandfather and Baldy Harper. In particular, I’ve gained an appreciation from him of the meaning and implications of scientific method. Alvin became well acquainted with Popdaddy in the short time before his death. Afterward, at the timely suggestion of Don Allen, he assisted greatly in organizing and evaluating the SPENCER HEATH ARCHIVES.
Soon after completing my Master’s at Seattle in 1961, I went on to the University of Chicago for a doctorate. Unaccountably, however, my work slowed down. While continuing to get high marks in my class work, I often took many months to complete course assignments, and independent work suffered. Finally I dropped out, after fulfilling the residence and course requirements but short of the dissertation. For the dissertation, I had planned to do an ethnography of a shopping mall, looked at in its internal organization as a community of landlord and merchant tenants. In preparation for this, the University had given me a summer grant to drive the length and breadth of California visiting shopping centers and collecting case histories of dispute situations and how they were resolved. This gave me a store of empirical data, and I selected the mall in which I wanted to do the fieldwork for my dissertation. That was not to be, however. My last accomplishment before leaving Chicago was publishing in MODERN AGE (9:1, Winter 1964-65) a paper that I still think important, “The Social Nature of Ownership.” For the summer of 1965, I was invited to consult on a project with the UCLA Economics Department with Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz. I had difficulty fulfilling that commission.
I supposed my problem was psychological. Was I not motivated? Why was I having serious problems tracking conversation where several people were present? The next ten years were a totally lost decade. I couldn’t start anything at all with the expectation of finishing it. Finally the answer came. The diagnosis was severe hypoglycemia, which had not been understood in the medical community ten years earlier. It was largely resolved by the simple expedient of eliminating all sugar from my diet. I began to pick up the pieces of my life but never returned to academia.
Around this time, some interesting projects unfolded. The first was discovering the rigorously free-market monetary ideas of E.C. Riegel, a friend of Popdaddy’s in Greenwich Village. Riegel was in the last stages of Parkinson’s Disease when I met him. On a hunch that his papers might contain valuable ideas, knowing that Popdaddy considered him a genius and had similar ideas on money, I kept in touch with the family who received his papers on his death in 1955. Ten years later I was on hand to save them from being dumpstered. Almost ten more years went by, and I showed an essay from them to Harry Browne, who in his best-selling YOU CAN PROFIT FROM A MONETARY CRISIS (Macmillan 1974), called it “The best explanation of the free market I’ve seen.” A flurry of requests for the essay encouraged me to systematically examine all of Riegel’s papers and eventually edit and self-publish two books from them, THE NEW APPROACH TO FREEDOM (1976) and FLIGHT FROM INFLATION: THE MONETARY ALTERNATIVE (1978).
From Riegel I came to respect the notion of an abstract unit of value whereby exchange might be facilitated by simple accountancy among traders in the market. Issue of new units would be done by traders monetizing their future productivity and redeeming them as they offered goods or services competitively in the market. Since political governments are not traders in the market, they would have no place in such an exchange system. Should such a unit of account come to be preferred over legal tender for its constancy, political governments would no longer be able to engage in deficit-financing. Not being traders, they would have no issue power, and having no issue power, they would have no means of watering the money supply. This is radical thinking, but I have fostered interest in it whenever opportunity has arisen.
The other project that developed was with Werner Stiefel, head of Stiefel Laboratories, a family-held, multinational pharmaceuticals firm (a leading product was Lubriderm). In exchange for a small equity in the project, Werner in 1971 commissioned me to draft a master-lease form for a multi-tenant property to be constructed somewhere on the ocean outside of any political jurisdiction. Werner had been profoundly influenced by Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED and wanted literally to create a new country which he would call “Atlantis.” Inspired by Ayn’s “Galt’s Gulch,” he envisioned a place to which, as conditions became untenable in the United States (signs were even then showing), people could flee as they had to the United States when conditions deteriorated in Germany in the 1930s. Werner devoted a great part of his life and many millions of dollars of personal assets to this project. At a critical point he was at a loss to know what form of government he could institute that would not repeat the same tired round of tyranny of all governments in history. I made a suggestion. Among his assets at the time was a motel in Saugerties, New York. I pointed out that a motel is a community. It’s a place, after all, that is divided into private and common areas, and Werner was providing public services there. But instead of citizens, he had customers, and both provision and maintenance of community services was contractual, carried out through ordinary business means. Why not keep this entirely non-political form of community organization and transfer it to the ocean? People could own improvements on the land in any way they liked, but the ground itself, the sites, would be leased. By opting not to subdivide, he would preserve a concentrated entrepreneurial interest in the attractiveness of the development, and this would be ongoing, capable of extending indefinitely into the future. The master-lease form would be the social software to generate the actual written constitution of the community, which would consist of all the leases and subleases in effect at any given time.
The lease form I worked up survived Werner’s project, and over the years it took on a life of its own as many people critiqued it and added valuable inputs. It became for me a prime heuristic aid in thinking through questions of community administration in the absence of taxation or bureaucratic regulation. Several iterations were published as the master-lease form for “Orbis,” one among a cluster of imaginary settlements in outer space. (See THE VOLUNTARYIST, Issue 81.) The reason for presenting it in that way was to avoid calling attention prematurely to the notion of settling the oceans outside the jurisdiction of nation states.
The most recent and important of many innovations in the master-lease form has been to incorporate into it, and hence into the contractual structure of the community, a system of natural law with appropriate procedural rules authored by the late Michael van Notten, a protégé of Belgian natural law scholar Frank van Dun. Contracting parties could adopt any legal system they chose that was not inconsistent with the minimal law system they had agreed to in their lease.
The idea of incorporating a system of natural law arose after several years of consultation with the Samaron Clan of northwestern Somalia. Michael van Notten had married into the Samaron Clan and lived the last dozen years of his life with his adopted kinsmen, during which time he devoted himself to economic development and study of Somali customary law and politics, gathering the ethnographic material for a book. He died prematurely and in his will asked that I organize and edit his notes for publication, which I did (THE LAW OF THE SOMALIS: A STABLE FOUNDATION FOR SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE HORN OF AFRICA, Red Sea Press, 2005).
The Samaron are a traditionally stateless people, many of whom would like to come into full participation in the modern world if they could do so without coming under the domination of a political government, their own or any other. Their idea of how to accomplish this, which originated with them, was to lease a portion of their territory with access to the sea for a private consortium (governments or government agencies need not apply) to be developed and managed as a purely commercial multi-tenant property writ large. This is described in Van Notten’s book. If successful, the Samaron would then have a thriving freeport like a latter-day Hong Kong in their own back yard, from which to pick and choose among the opportunities it would offer for jobs, education, technical training, entrepreneurial venturing, investment, and so forth. It would be their bridge to the rest of the world.
Except for these projects, I continued to be apart from any very serious intellectual life until the mid 1990s. First, I was taken up for eight years beginning in 1976 with an economic-development project of my own involving a Mexican village, Mata Ortiz, in Chihuahua. Because of space limitations I won’t describe it here, but it was successful beyond anyone’s dream. The story is told in the Emmy-Award winning documentary, THE RENAISSANCE OF MATA ORTIZ (http://www.helpfundmymovie.com). In 1999, Juan Quezada, the artist whom I mentored and worked with, received the Premio Nacional de los Artes, Mexico’s highest honor for a living artist, and in 2015 I received the “Ohtli” medal, Mexico’s highest cultural award. The project itself left me rich in intangibles but exhausted the modest inheritance from Popdaddy that had sustained me, and for the ensuing decade I had little time for anything but to work for a living. I worked as a very small businessman, and found it enjoyable.
Emi and I cared for my mother during her last six years, and after her death, a small inheritance from her gave me some independence again. In my wife, Emalie, I’m fortunate to have an outstanding in-house critic of ideas. An invitation in 1997 from David J. Theroux, of the Independent Institute, to attend a Liberty Fund Conference on “The Voluntary City” helped settle me once again into thinking and writing on social organization, and economist Daniel Klein gave me friendship and encouragement. The fruit of that Liberty Fund Conference has been a dozen journal articles, most notably “The Enterprise of Community: Social and Environmental Implications of Administering Land as Productive Capital” (JOURNAL OF LIBERTARIAN STUDIES 17:4, Fall 2003). I also edited and contributed to Van Notten’s book at this time, as well as putting together a small, inspirational book of my grandfather’s, as yet unpublished, THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF MAN: A QUIET CELEBRATION OF VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE.
If I knew how to do it, I would like more than anything else to encourage thoughtful consideration, perhaps by a graduate student looking for a dissertation topic, of some general ideas of my grandfather’s in philosophy of science that he held in higher regard than his thoughts on social organization. He held that action in its technical sense is a more fundamental concept in physics and closer to reality than energy, which is an abstraction because it leaves time out of account, and that literally reformulating physics in terms of action could lead to a great simplification of the science.
My mother maintained that her seventies were the best decade of her life “for sheer, silly fun.” I found the same thing, though I might put it a little differently, continuing now four years into my eighties. Twelve years ago, Emi and I made our permanent home in the small Mexican town of Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. Wanting to help conserve some of the old aspect of this pueblo, we’ve restored four old adobes near the plaza and furnished them with local antiques. These we offer for extended-stay rentals to visitors, who are frequently artists or writers. So we’re making the most of our life here, including entertaining old and new friends. I continue writing, most recently “Freedom’s Ugly Duckling: A New Take on Property in Land” (Volume 7, LIBERTARIAN PAPERS, October 2015) and hope to inspire in a few others the passion for life that I’ve come to feel in these later years.
[Originally from Walter Block’s Autobiography Archive, 2003, subsequently published without updating in Walter Block, compiler, I CHOSE LIBERTY: AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF CONTEMPORARY LIBERTARIANS (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010). This account has been updated by the author and edited a bit by Carl Watner to shorten it for THE VOLUNTARYIST. Spencer MacCallum [firstname.lastname@example.org] is a social anthropologist living in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico. Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com. Permission to use given in the author’s email of December 16, 2014, 11:22 AM.]