Untitled Item from the Spencer Heath Archive

When my grandfather, Spencer Heath, died in 1963, now almost fifty years ago, I had the good sense to gather up all of his writings, a good bushel basket full of mostly penciled notes, jottings in lined tablets and on the back of envelopes. Gradually over a period of months I transcribed them uniformly by typewriter, in no particular order, numbering each as I went. The final tally was just over 2,000 items, now called the Spencer Heath Archive.

Subsequently, at the suggestion of Donald H. Allen (a long-time colleague of Galambos), Alvin Lowi studied and annotated several hundred items. These he pulled more or less randomly since there was no organization to the cartons of typed sheets, looking for ones relating to the philosophy of science. For although Heath had never published on that subject, he valued his discoveries in that area more highly, even, than his contributions to voluntaryist social organization. Years later, in 1998, Lowi authored “The Legacy of Spencer Heath,” intended as a forward for a contemplated new edition of Heath’s Citadel, Market and Altar. In the Summary of that essay, he wrote,

“Spencer Heath is remembered here for his work to establish a realistic basis for science. His theory of reality upholding observable events per se as the foundation of natural science suggests a reformulation of physics in terms of action (instead of the more abstract energy) and has far-reaching implications. A rational measure of quality, or value, in human terms is found in the dimensions of action. Heath’s reasoning is followed into the domain of social phenomena where an action concept of population provides a quantitative measure of social performance and a humane rationale for human progress.”

Except for Lowi’s work, the Archive lay fallow until this year, 2011, when Emalie and I undertook to scan it to make it accessible to the public. It is now about one-fifth scanned, and I am amazed and humbled at how much richer the content is, now that I come to it with greater understanding than in my callow years half-a-century ago. When the following item came up, Emalie suggested posting it on this site as a taste of what we are finding. It’s a different slant from what Lowi describes above, and was probably a random taping I did from conversations with Heath around 1960. Because Heath published little, and never had students, his ideas are little known. An accessible Archive may go some ways toward remedying that.

An Untitled Item:

Society is like a machine even though it be vastly more. It is an organization of units which function together. This means that there is an exchange of energy between them. The energy is not mechanical, not chemical, not electrical. Yet these are included in it. The energy that is exchanged among the units of society can be called social energy.

Not all human energy is social; much of it is individual, acting within the parts of the individual or between the individual and his general environment. But there is a kind of human energy that is social because it passes from one individual to many others and is of such kind that it can be measured in units of its own and that it induces a counterflow of social energy similarly measured in return. This counterflow is due to the energy being beneficial — life-serving and pleasure-giving to its recipients. The relationship between individuals in which this socialized energy flow is given and received, that is, exchanged, is called contract. A system of contract is the basic vital process or metabolism of the higher organism known as society. This relationship and mutual exchange of energy is what distinguishes the living and growing society from the dying and disintegrating political and other coercive and irrational.

The practice of contract constitutes the social institution called the market. This is where the measuring process in the formation of contracts takes place. This process is called competition. It depends upon freedom. This means that each contracting party is free to choose from among all others from whom and in what manner he shall be served. This eliminates waste of human energy and accounts for the social process being integrative and creative instead of the reverse. The energy flowing from member to member must be embodied in some form, either the human bodily form or through other material structures in association with the human. These other structures are portions of the physical environment which are so treated by the common consent as to constitute private property and thus to be the subject matter of contract.

All property is fundamentally land, and land is the first and original subject-matter of contract. When things extracted from land are so modified as to serve primarily others, such material things are organized in what is called capital. The administration consists in transferring control over it or the use of it to others in such manner as to cause a corresponding return of social energy. This return is called gross income. It defrays the cost of all preparatory energy, called production, and provides a fund for its own maintenance and against depreciation and for its own replacement after obsolescence. It thus has a kind of permanence and immortality of its own so long as the free process among individuals called contract continues.

History, for the most part, records the coercive relationships among men. It records the acquisition and dissipation of coercive power. Cultural anthropology lays more stress upon the reciprocal and beneficial relations subsisting among men. The primary relationship is biological and subsists only among the family and herd or tribe — among units organized upon recognition of common ancestry or other common origin. The amenities of this relationship depend upon awareness of it and are therefore strictly limited in extent. There is a numerical limit to family or tribal solidarity, and the relations among its members are purely emotional, without any quantitative rationale. Throughout the greater part of the historical period, cooperative relationships among men on any wide scale were virtually impossible. The great mass of men had little or no jurisdiction over themselves. They could not make or perform contracts. Not until the beginning of the modern period were the generality of men free to serve one another by mutual consent and upon terms which were established in the democracy of open competition in the market place. Prior to that, virtually all men were under compulsion of those above them in the exercise of coercive or political power. The modern relationship was a matter of unconscious growth (like the kingdom of heaven). Pirates gradually became merchants without knowing it. And merchants to this day are thought of largely as pirates because the mass mentality has not evolved to recognize the modern relationship.

. . . In the Mediterranean and in the Baltic, when the Roman sovereignties all broke down, then the pirates gradually discovered that they were more prosperous and longer lived through the trading relationship. Those who became traders lived. King Solomon built the temple of cedars from Lebanon. People think that was trading, but Solomon got it by taxes or shipping around booty. All the Greek and Roman public works and glory was of the same kind. That’s why it could not stand; it was not capital, it could not perpetuate itself. The self-aggrandizement of monarchs was not trading. It was not raising, but lowering the general standard of living.

The rise of medieval commercial houses grew upon the foundation of piracy by the importation of contract — the adoption of contract in the place of violence. As, nourished on trade, they became sovereigns again to fill up the vacuum left by the decline of Roman powers, they relapsed into coercion.

This is a great big pageant, you know. Pirates became merchants and traders and when they get enough wealth they commenced to fight one another. Modern, highly organized violence depends upon highly organized contract. Modern sovereignty does not enslave the individuals, it enslaves the process. It participates by violence in its fruits

Spencer and Emalie MacCallum
September 9, 2011

Spencer MacCallum will be speaking at Libertopia Festival 2011 in San Diego
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