What is Mutualism?

What is Mutualism?
by Clarence Lee Swartz

In collaboration with The Mutualist Associates (1927)

Chapter VIII. Education and The Arts

The hue and cry among political and economic radicals is for free education. By that they mean an education furnished free of charge. But that is not at all desirable, as it is not equitable. It would have to be paid for somehow, if not by beneficiaries or sympathizers, then by society at large, and this latter method implies taxes and forced contributions by individuals who may be entirely out of sympathy with that particular form of education, and decline to make use of it. It furthermore implies the existence of the evils inherent in compulsory state education, in direct proportion to the strength of the particular form of government in control.

Compulsory education can no longer be supported on the old argument that people do not appreciate the value of schooling. The tendency today is in just the other direction. People on the whole overestimate, rather than underestimate, the benefits derived from compulsory schools. If today compulsory education were dropped, it need not be feared that people would keep their children out of school, provided that living conditions were not too adverse. This would especially hold true if schools existed in which children could learn things worthwhile.

An ever-present by-product of any state controlled school system is the inculcation in the child of worship and glorification of the particular state (be it Monarchy or Communism), of obedience and blind submission to its laws, the imparting of strictly censored and limited information, withholding anything which might arouse a suspicion in the child that "all's not right with the world", and the creation of false standards of morality which shall tend to make those in power more secure.

Bertrand Russell, in Prospects of Industrial Civilization, says:

In the course of instruction, the schoolmaster has the opportunity to instill certain mental habits. It is here that disagreement begins: what mental habits shall he teach? There are all sorts of possibilities. Jesuits, in the process of giving admirable instruction, taught their pupils to accept unquestioningly the dogmas of the Catholic church. American elementary schools teach the children to become 100 per cent Americans; i.e., to believe that America is God's own country, its Constitution divinely inspired, and its millionaires models of Sunday-school virtue. English elementary schools teach that the British Empire is great and beneficent, that it has never oppressed India, or forced opium on China, that it has been invariably humanitarian in Africa, and that all Germans are wicked. Russian elementary schools teach that Communists are virtuous, Anarchists wicked, and the bourgeois misguided; that the social revolution is imminent throughout Europe; and that there cannot be any imperialism in the Communist party because all imperialism is due to capitalism. The Japanese teach that the Mikado is a divine being, descended from the sun goddess; that Japan was created earlier than other parts of the earth; and that it is therefore the duty of the Chinese to submit meekly to whatever commands the Japanese may lay upon them.

I understand that similar doctrines are taught in Uruguay, Paraguay, and San Marino, each of which is especially favoured by Heaven and vastly more virtuous than its neighbors. In short, wherever a sovereign government exists, it uses its monopoly of the teaching of writing and reading to force upon the young a set of ridiculous beliefs of which the purpose is to increase their willingness to commit homicide … The text-books out of which history is taught are known by every education minister in the world to be deliberately and intentionally misleading, owing to patriotic bias. It is not merely that the history taught is false; the really bad thing is that its falsehood is of a sort to make wars more likely.

The final aim of Mutualism in education is to see the forming of self-reliant, fearless individuals, who are able to do their own thinking and to shape their lives according to their own ideas. To any other scheme such a program would be suicidal. Mutualism will thrive under it. An unbiased, frank attitude toward life and all its phenomena, fearless uttering of one's' findings, self-reliance in social contacts, opposition to external authority of individuals or an aggregation of them - such will be the results of freedom in education.

Of moral - that is, social - precepts, Mutualism has only one, and that one is negative. It is as old as the philosophy of Confucius and better than the Christian, positive version of it. It reads as follows:

"Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."

It is remarkable how fully modern discoveries in the field of individual and social behavior corroborate the truth of the old Jesuit maxim: Give us complete control of the child up to its seventh year, and you can have it thereafter; the implication being that it is practically impossible to break down the habit formations and, more particularly, the emotional and intellectual attitudes formed in early life under such efficient practical psychologists as the Jesuits were. It is quite possible that, with complete control of the environment of individuals by such an agency as the Communist State, habits of unthinking obedience may be trained in the individuals that will bring their social behavior close to slavery - a slavery in one sense voluntary, because the spirit of self-determination will have been crushed out or "conditioned," as the behaviorist terms it.

As in the sphere of religion, such a state of affairs secures and simplifies the technique of governing the members of society. It suppresses criticism of the controlling force, and provokes a condonation of acts otherwise reprehensible. It is the ideal state of affairs for the bureaucrat, the official, the ones in power. Their intentions may be ever so good, as in the case of the Bolshevists. But they will not brook opposition, differences of opinion, or the existence of divergent interests. For the elimination of opposing ideas already existing, they use the jails, exile, or death, as did the church formerly. And, logically, the control of education is their main hope for the future; to prevent bothersome ideas or opposition from being formed, again following the illustrious example of the Church. And the public school system with compulsory education is, in modern times, the ideal means to this end.

If, instead of the communistic - yes, "communistic," however irritating the term may be - public school with compulsory education and tax support, there be imagined a society in which there were a complete freedom in education as there is now in religion, it is easily perceived that in this case the social attitudes and habit patterns would, on the whole, be entirely different.

It is true that there would still probably be certain groups who would prefer a collectivist mode of economic arrangements. And, under freedom, they would not be interfered with. The children trained in their schools would no doubt have largely a communistic attitude. But there would be some who would hold opposite views, and others with many intermediate ideas as to economic forms, all of whom would have their own schools. Thus there would be a plurality of social aspects which would come into healthy competition with one another. The result would be increased possibilities for the individual to make himself free from the selfish control of others and to find the happiness that he desires.

It is also quite probable that such a program will seem to lack definiteness in the eyes of many well-meaning people. But aside from the fact that individual Mutualists have very decided opinions as to the education of their children, it must be born in mind that what distinguishes the whole Mutualist doctrine from other proposals is precisely the circumstance that it does not want to force upon anyone any ready-made scheme for the whole conduct of people's lives, but that it will provide the largest possible freedom in all human conduct, including education, as long as such conduct remains non-invasive.

It is even true that, in contrast to the Russian Communist, the Mutualist will allow the same liberty to the most bigoted religionist. This attitude does not spring from any high esteem for religion, but from the consideration that Mutualists believe it to be necessary, in order to find out what is socially beneficial, that all shades of thought and belief must have equal liberty to develop and function.

The Public School System

The public school system of the United States is usually considered superior to most European compulsory school systems. But even at its best it shares a number of objectionable features with the others. Compulsory state education is avowedly an attempt to develop good and useful citizens. To that end, the child is forced, almost from infancy, to spend the best hours of the day, for two hundred days a year, throughout those most important formative years, sitting at a desk and learning a lot of largely useless information in a slow and uninteresting manner. Classes are usually so large that individual instruction is made impossible. Moreover, teachers often are men or women who, temperamentally and intellectually, are unfit to guide the young, but who have gone into teaching since they have proved, or were afraid that they might prove, failures in the business world, and have sought instead the security of a government job.

The public school with its mass education needs an inconceivable number of hours to impart even the simplest facts, because there is always a minority of obstreperous, lazy or backward pupils. That implies an endless repetition of all information until it must become familiar even to the most inattentive ear, so that most periods consist of mere drill rather than of instruction. This is torture, not only for the teacher, but for the pupils as well, especially for the more intelligent ones, for sometimes weeks will pass before new information is given out. What wonder if the students become bored, lose interest in school and run into mischief? This explains, too, why the most gifted pupils are usually the laziest in school, especially in the lower grades. Laziness is the weapon with which they protect themselves against the stultifying treatment. Very often, their laziness is not real; they may work outside and in spite of the school, but not at the things they are expected to.

With individual instruction, the talented pupil will need but a very small part of the time ordinarily allotted, to cover the entire school curriculum. For the process of memorizing the knowledge gained and of developing dexterity in its use he will not need the presence of a drill master. And private instruction, where the pupil accepts the information gratefully, where disturbances, antagonism, and laziness have no cause for existing, will bring joy to teacher and pupil alike. How rarely is this true of regular class instruction!

Private Educational Institutions

The advantages that would accrue if students received their instruction, not in the public school, but privately, in small groups, are many. Independence and initiative would be developed. The teacher would confine himself essentially to indicating the direction in which they should work. The students would have to create, as far as possible, their own materials for instruction; as making maps and reliefs for geography, gathering collections of specimens for the study of the natural sciences, constructing instruments and machinery for demonstrations in physics, collecting instructive pictures, and drawing, measuring, modeling and sketching. The most complete educational museum, with its expensive collections of every sort paid for out of State revenue, will not be able to accomplish half as much, as it will lack the intimacy and vitality attached to things the individual has actually worked hard for.

Private education, paid for directly and voluntarily by those who sympathize with or make use of the facilities of the particular school or institution, is the best means of providing for the child the training and the opportunities the parents desire it to have. Under present-day conditions, of course, the cost of such education is, for most people, prohibitive, as the worker, after having his earnings split among the employer, the landlord, the money lender, and the government (including taxation for compulsory state education), has hardly enough left to fill the stomachs and clothe the bodies of himself and his family. But once the worker's earnings really go to himself, and he is free to expend or save them according to his needs and desires, he can well afford to pay for the best private education which his children are capable of acquiring.

Most private schools have to struggle hard for their existence, since they cannot protect themselves against the unfair competition of the State. The latter even retains control over the former by prescribing a definite curriculum which must be adhered to irrespective of the possible object of the private school, under penalty of non-recognition of expended educational efforts.

In the field of corrective education of so-called criminal boys, a private school, the George Junior Republic, gets results with delinquent boys so superior to those of any State Reformatory that educators and social workers the world over come there to study the methods employed.

Dr. Maria Montessori is a striking example for the claim made here that practically all progress in education has come from sources other than the public schools. In her private experimental kindergarten in Italy, Dr. Montessori worked out the principles and details of her system of kindergarten and primary education which has enriched preschool and primary education throughout the world.

There are hundreds of thousands of private schools the world over which receive the support of thinking people because of the results, which are superior to those of the public schools. Quite generally these schools are hampered by a lack of funds, but despite this fact they surpass those that exist by reason of compulsory contributions from everyone. It is needless to enumerate examples of the advantages of private elementary education, for everyone knows that, in order to learn anything worthwhile - for example to speak a foreign language - most persons go to a private school; or to learn bookkeeping, they go to a business college (usually private). A child sent to a private institution learns in two or three years what it takes eight years to learn in the public school, with its laborious and authoritarian methods.

As regards the places of higher learning, the main contention of Mutualist against state or governmental education is just as true. They cannot, by their very nature, foster the education of free, fearless personalities. They exist to preserve the status quo, and are therefore forever fighting the dynamic forces among their personnel. The attempt of the War Department to introduce military training into secondary schools and colleges, and its actual success in making that subject compulsory in many cases, proves the Mutualists' contention. As regards actual scholarly accomplishments, there are fortunately already many private colleges and universities, technological institutions and special schools that are doing superior work.

It is true that many of these institutions, especially the denominational schools, are not exactly to the liking of most mutualists. But, as pointed out time and again, Mutualism is not a scheme to provide universal happiness according to the pattern of a few or of many persons, but merely one to give opportunity for anyone to achieve happiness according to his own fashion, as long as he does not attempt to force his particular idea of happiness down other people's throats. But Mutualists prefer, even now, those private schools with which they may not be in accord, because these schools do not have the power and permanency of the public institutions and are therefore more easily adapted to changing needs under free competition in education.

In all this discussion it must be kept in mind that there is no effort to decry the good work done by some state universities and by individual teachers in many of them. The point is that this good work is done, not because the institution is run by the States, but in spite of that fact. And frequently it happens that the scientific findings of a department run counter to some popular notion or special economic interests, and the teacher loses his job, or recants. Thus the system by its very nature, to a large extent discourages respect for truth, destroys initiative, and stifles scientific thought.

It is safe to assume that the quality of private schools under Mutualism will be far superior to that of the schools of today. Even today, the private schools are far ahead of the public schools, not only in their methods of imparting useful information and cultural values, but also in the scope of subject matter, in the linking up of school and life, and in the developing of personalities. The public schools reluctantly follow suit in some minor instances, when sluggish public opinion wakes up for a moment or two and demands progressive reform. But the improvement is usually negligible.

When there are no more privileged schools, which can afford to wait for pupils to be forcibly driven into their classrooms; when all schools are equally free to compete for pupils; when they find their existence dependent upon the quality of their educational achievements rather than upon the whim or decree of some governing power; then shall we see healthy multiformity in education, schools of all types vying with one another to achieve excellence in their particular fields, whether these be kindergarten, primary education, secondary education, university training, vocational training, or some other form of special education. Then only will it be possible to cater to all tastes, needs, and desires, so that everyone may have full opportunity to develop his personality within the limits of equality of freedom.

Arts and Culture

A good community does not spring from the glory of the State, but from the unfettered development of individuals: from happiness in daily life, from congenial work giving opportunity for whatever constructiveness each man or woman may possess, from free personal relations embodying love and taking away the roots of envy in thwarted capacity for affection, and above all from the joy of life and its expression in the spontaneous creation of art and science. It is these things that make a nation or an age worthy of existence, and these things are not to be secured by bowing down before the State. It is the individual in whom all that is good must be realized, and the free growth of the individual must be the supreme end of a political system which is to refashion the world.

This statement by Bertrand Russell, in his Proposed Roads to Freedom, ably sums up the case for liberty. For the sake of accuracy one might modify the phrase "free growth of the individual" by substituting "the freest equitable growth of the individual," so as not to lose sight of the fact that any growth, or benefit, of which one individual might partake at the expense of another individual would be against the principle of equal liberty. And it is this principle upon which the best possible system of society must of necessity rest.

It is the expression of the joy of life in the spontaneous creation of art and science which makes a nation or an age worthy of existence! Of all human expression, art is the one that requires the fullest amount of freedom in order to grow and to flourish. The creative spirit will not thrive in bondage of any sort. It suffers and decays under the censorship of the police, under the whip of commercialized greed, or under the veto of blustering authority.

The nearly exclusive restriction of artists in the Middle Ages to the representation of religious subjects, the destruction of invaluable cultural documents by those in power, as for instance that of the old Teutonic literature by Charlemagne, the whole disgusting keyhole censorship over modern literature and art by puritanical officers of the law, and above all the senseless, shameful, wholesale destruction of cultural and artistic values in the wars of modern governments, are typical examples of the pernicious methods and influences to which the creative spirit may be subjected in any but a free society.

Since a work of art should be the most intimate and essential expression of the individual creator, there is no absolute and universal standard by which it can be judged. It is neither good nor bad, "but thinking makes it so." The same work may evoke a good reaction in one observer and a bad reaction in another. For any body of men to usurp a monopoly of arbitrary judgment in matters of art and culture and to attempt to enforce such judgment by the imposition of fine and imprisonment seems the height of bigoted arrogance. And the inevitable result of such a state of affairs is the throttling and utter destruction of much of the finest potential genius of all times.

Genius will assert itself against all odds, it may be said. But can it even be guessed how much genius has been stunted, thwarted, and killed before it could gather enough force to assert itself ? The atmosphere most conducive to the blossoming of art and esthetic values is not one of oppression or frantic struggle. The Greek sculptors, architects, poets, and thinkers were men of leisure (although not of idleness). The fact is not to be condoned that their leisure to create values was made possible through the existence of a class of helots - slaves - who did all the drudgery.

The Renaissance painters and sculptors, as well as the scientists, were in most cases protégés of the wealthy and powerful, who enabled them, for brief periods of time, to live entirely for their special work. It can only be imagined what a sense of utter humiliation and sickness of heart these men must have experienced in having their freedom to create dependent on the whims and prejudices of more or less aristocratic and pompous ignoramuses, but the social system of the period had ho other means of providing leisure and money for the artist than by currying favor with rich patrons. But if they had been really free to create, we should have an even more inspiring, deeper-reaching aesthetic heritage to draw upon. Censorship, with its train of evils, and the deplorable need of rich sponsors have ever been the bane of art.

There is no reason to suppose that in a mutualistic society art should still remain in bondage. On the contrary. One whose compensation amounts to the full value of his product can afford to spend fewer hours at the task of earning a living than is possible for him under the present system, especially since commodities would be cheaper because of the elimination of the triple burden of interest, land rent and monopolistic profits. With more leisure and fewer cares man can give more heed to the development of self, both ethically and esthetically. Therefore the Mutualist worker will be more able than the wage slave of today to take active interest in the practice and appreciation of the arts and sciences, in the application of art and beauty to everyday life, and in the voluntary establishment of cultural units by which all the members of society may benefit.

Even now there are private galleries of distinction which are open to the public. In the official museums, often the most interesting exhibits are those loaned or donated by private individuals. Private museum associations are in existence which are more alive and informative than the usual type of fossilized public museum. There is the Balboa Museum in San Diego, California, which is kept up by private contributions and (undoubtedly for this very reason) manages to impart much cultural influence to the community and to the various groups of eager, youthful students. The Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Natural History in New York, the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, are all of the same type.

There are organizations like the National Geographic Society, which exists entirely by virtue of private contributions from its many thousands of members, and yet is able to carry on extensive explorations and expeditions of great cultural value and to bring to its members first-hand information on many subjects, in many countries, through its beautiful magazine. The various auto clubs, with their good-road maps and dependable touring information, not to forget their road and traffic signs, which are for the benefit of all automobilists, give other instances of successful private associations not organized for gain but for mutual benefit. There are alpine and hikers' clubs, whose public mountain huts, especially built trails, freely furnished climbing accessories, and general friendliness to all lovers of the out-doors are healthy signs of cooperation for the good of society at large.

In Germany there is the "Duererbund," and association of artists, teachers, writers, and workers in the trades, whose express purpose is the development among all classes of people of artistic and cultural enjoyment and appreciation. Through a great number of varied activities, with the enthusiastic help of its members, the Duererbund, during the past thirty years, has actually succeeded in raising the cultural standard of a large part of Germany's population to a noticeably higher level. There are private, non-profit-making theater clubs which provide tickets for good plays to anyone at reduced rates.

In all civilized countries similar instances may be found. Such scientific expeditions as those or Amundsen, and of Ellsworth to the Polar region, of Lord Carnarvon into Egyptian tombs, of Schliemann to the ruins of ancient Troy, are all the result of private subscription.

Even now there are millions of people who pay, without any legal compulsion whatever, for the support of all sorts of institutions for which there is a ''demand"; as private schools, churches, fraternal orders, hospitals, libraries, museums, crematories, artists' clubs, scientific organizations, peace societies, recreational institutions, social service agencies, civil liberty unions, and others. Indeed, it is hard to realize how many different activities are being carried on by voluntary associations of individuals, not merely for the benefit of the group, but with the avowed purpose of being at the disposal of society at large.

If a system so heedless of human values as is our present system has not been able to crush out all artistic impulses and the voluntary creation of cultural values, what may we not expect of a society of individuals who will have the opportunity for self-development, leisure to create and to appreciate, and, above all, who will fully understand the meaning and value of mutuality and who will protect one another's freedom to engage in any non-invasive activities, no matter how radical a departure from the customary activities they might happen to be!