In the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of GR I wrote a short biographical introduction to Ralph Borsodi and his experiments in homesteading: "The Life of Ralph Borsodi: Unsung American Back to the Land Pioneer."
The first article traced Borsodi’s life from his birth in 1888 to his founding of a homesteading community in 1936 at Suffern, New York. I ended the last article at this point with no more than a statement of purpose for the School of Living. From 1936 until his death in 1977 Borsodi produced a number of works I can describe in no other words than sheer genius. I’ve found ample evidence in his writings of a powerful and systematic mind. He left an astonishing legacy.
Unfortunately he has been virtually forgotten, even within the School of Living. I am inclined to ask why he has been so thoroughly laid to rest? Had it not been for his associate Mildred Loomis, who carried on the School of Living after his death, and a few others he would be no more than a rare book item today. Until recently, with the digitalization project of his books by the School of Living, copies of his works were rare, scarce, and pricy. I suppose it is in part because his work is daunting unless you have a very strong motive to get study it. He provided the key to that motivation: You have to have a strong belief in the potential of the human race; enough to find the inspiration to do difficult things like read his books.
The books on education that Borsodi left are introductory. He had hoped to produce at least a dozen more volumes. His vast library has been lost. Archives have yet to be accessed and tapped. Therefore the recovery of his work is yet preliminary. Having studied Borsodi and gaining insight into his thoughts, I find it a worthwhile and productive cause to once again translate his ideas into a framework that can be applied in the daily lives of ordinary people seeking an alternative to a world gone mad as he had intended.
A BRIEF EARLY LIFE AND WORK
To set the context, and at risk of repeating material in the first article, I would like to make just a few points on Borsodi’s early life and work. He was probably born in Vienna, grew up and worked in New York City. He was a financial wizard. He married Myrtle Mae Simpson in 1911 and they and their two children started a homestead just outside of the city in 1920. He wrote books on finance and then homesteading, became involved in Depression era relief projects, got battered by government red tape and internal politics and started his own homesteading community in 1936 which he called Dogwoods.
We know that RB was attracted to Henry George and likely knew Georgian Single Taxer Bolton Hall who published several books including Three Acres and Liberty (1906) and A Little Land and Living (1908), both pioneering works on back-to-the-land. Ralph’s father, William, wrote an introduction to A Little Land and Living.
It is not clear what RB did during the decade before he and Myrtle moved to Dogwoods, from 1908 to 1920 but it is likely that he worked for his father’s printing and advertising company. William Borsodi went back to Europe to stay in 1919. Why RB did not take over his father’s business is unknown. It appears the business prospered after William left but it may have gone to an older brother. In 1920 the Borsodis bought first seven and then an addition 12-18 acres in Ramapo Township, a few miles from Suffern, NY and started homesteading. A short walk from the railroad station, that location gave him ready access to his professional work in NYC.
We pick up the work record again in 1922 when RB published a successful book, The New Accounting. It appears that RB wanted to give small businesses greater self-reliance in the management of their finances. The book lead to an offer by a textile fashion publisher, E. L. Fairchild. RB worked for them for at least six years. In 1928 he started his own company, the Borsodi Analytical Bureau, which conducted economic analysis, developed forecasts and gave business seminars.
Here is an interesting tidbit I picked up on RB from an article, “The New Trend in Distribution” in The Journal of the American Statistical Association, 1929”
“One of the most successful dinner meetings of the New York Branch of the American Statistical Association was held at the Fraternity Club, New York City, on October 17, 1929. Over 300 were present.
“Mr. Ralph Borsodi, director of the Fairchild [Why not Borsodi] Analytical Bureau, spoke on the critical phase of mass distribution. One of the chief points that Mr. Borsodi brought out in his discussion was that the chain store has no monopoly and that the merged or consolidated organizations in the past have been successful largely due to monopoly control. This has been particularly true in the previous periods of consolidations, characterized first by the Standard Oil Company of 1870 and second by the United State Steel Corporation in 1897. Both these corporations grew to their present magnitude largely due to monopoly control which is lacking in the chain store development.
“Mr. Borsodi stated that the mass distributors have not the mines, patents, franchises or trademarks to protect them, as is the case of monopoly in the production field. He further contended that scientific management is essential and necessary to any successful development in the chain store field.
I found the “Borsodi Analytical Bureau” cited in other articles in 1929, 1931 and 1932.
In 1923 Borsodi wrote a critique of the American advertising industry in his book National Advertising Versus Prosperity. In 1927 he wrote The Distribution Age, a critique of the massive factory system that had grown up before, during and following World War I. Both advertising and distribution of goods add significantly and unnecessarily to consumer cost he said. Borsodi already saw American capitalism moving towards collapse.
In 1929 he wrote This Ugly Civilization. He attributed the ugliness of life to an abuse of the machine and to the factory system. He saw the life of the worker consumed by this system and in the life of the citizen dependent upon its products. In this book he made his case for going back to the land.
In This Ugly Civilization Borsodi started writing about the role of the mind in determining the quality of life. He observed that the ugliness of civilization comes from the quantity-minded, while the beauty we find comes from the quality-minded. He was troubled by the effect of mindless work, poor education and advertising in forming the mentality of the vast mass of people – the herd mind. To improve our culture requires an improvement in education and the development of quality-minded leadership. He, realistically, appreciated that the formation of a quality mind is a difficult and exacting task but that it could be achieved by a correct education.
Quality minded men and women would seek the independence found on the homestead. That independence would give them an unprecedented degree of freedom. They would be able to free themselves from the demands of the world of work, of commerce and government regulation. They would be free of economic servitude. Such men and women would be natural leaders. They would be in demand by society to address the pressing problems that plague it. That leadership would undermine the plutocratic order that ran, and ruined, the country.
The book lead to his being called to his disappointing experience in Dayton discussed in the first article. A publisher asked for a more popular book about homesteading and in 1933 Borsodi published his, Flight from the City: An Experiment in Creative Living on the Land (republished as a paperback in 1972). In 1933 RB started Homestead Notes. Myrtle Mae produced some 32 articles on what became the subject of home economics for this publication.
Flight from the City came out at the depth of the Great Depression. There were fifteen million men out of work and without resources. They should go back to the land, he asserted. RB carefully calculated that a family of five required two and a half tons of food plus dairy and meat a year and that they could comfortably raise that much food on three acres of land. He stressed the advantages of cooperative sharing of things like expensive farm equipment. Pasture and woodlands could also be held in commons.
Going back to Henry George, he advocated putting land into trust, if not into the public domain, and making it available for productive use. In 1935 he bought 40 acres of land near Suffern, New York, and invited 16 families to take up homesteading in what they called the Bayard Lane Community (at the end of Bayard Lane). To acquire land RB set up Independence Foundation, Inc. and attracted a number of wealthy Georgist supporters to invest in the project. Instead of a hefty down-payment and mortgage, homesteading families could rent from the trust. He set up the first School of Living at Bayard Lane (photos from a recent visit can be found on the School of Living Facebook page). In 1938, Borsodi started another homesteading community at West Nyack, the Van Houten Fields Association, modeled after Bayard Lane. It had 40 homesteaders on 106 acres.
RB enlisted Ernest Gaunt to start an organization within the School of Living to develop local businesses. Gaunt was a businessman and a New Deal supporter turned homesteader. Together they developed the Ramapo Guild Association. The Guild hired local unemployed craftsmen and construction workers. At Van Houten the Guild did the construction work to build the homesteads.
Flush with success Borsodi set up another homesteading community at Ringwoods, New Jersey. Ringwoods repeated the West Nyack plan with 40 homesteaders on 130 acres. RB wanted something still larger. He found 600 acres near Ossining, NY that would accommodate 200 homesteading families plus a large commons, with a lake and land set aside for future commercial development.
In January 1937, RB and Herbert Agar (associated with The National Catholic Rural Life Conference and the Southern Agrarians) started and edited Free America. This journal promoted a strong decentralist agenda advocating rebirth of local, Jeffersonian democracy, splitting up large corporations, promote homesteading, consumers and workers coops, and competitive pricing of goods and services. It drew a large following particularly among the Southern Agrarians. It ran for ten years.
RB published Prosperity and Security. A Study in Realistic Economics in 1938. Something of a play on George’s Progress and Poverty it focused on the widely perceived failure of the New Deal, the resurgence of corporate hegemony and the rise of totalitarian states. RB continued to see corporate capitalism as the major treat to individual freedom in America. Economic inequality makes a mockery of democracy, he said.
In 1939 RB also wrote three chapters for Agriculture in Modern Life to flesh out his philosophy of agrarian living. The book was coauthored with two high ranked officials of the US Department of Agriculture. That year Mildred Loomis joined him to work for a year at Bayard Lane. It was also that year that the homesteading dream RB had worked so valiantly to establish began to unravel.
The end of the homesteading projects is complex and not well documented. By 1938 there were some signs of recovery in the American economy and people were loosing interest in homesteading. Dictators were strutting on the world stage and everyone knew war was coming. Mildred suggested that RB had characteristically tried to do too much too quickly. Some complained that he had a prickly personality. There were some problems with administration. RB was criticized for investing money in the Ossining acreage and forced to pull out of the investment. He lost money and key investors. A conflict occurred between the Guild and a homesteader that would not resolve and he had a falling out with Gaunt. The Bayard Lane community found a loophole that allowed them to opt out of the trust and gain their property fee simple. In 1940 Myrtle Mae was diagnosed with cancer. Borsodi turned administration of the School of Living over first to Mildred, who soon moved to Ohio to start Lanes End, and then to Ralph Templin who became director of the School of Living from 1940 to 1945 when the School of Living building at Suffern was sold and what remained of the school moved to Mildred’s Lanes End.
The coming war would, of course, affect the lives of everyone.
THE SCHOOL OF LIVING
Borsodi decided that homesteading communities would be developed not around church or factory or trade, but around the school: A School of Living. After 1940 he shifted his full attention to developing the School of Living model.
In the seventh chapter of the first edition of Flight from the City, Borsodi publically introduced the School of Living. The idea started with the education of their children. Dissatisfied with the local schools, Ralph and Myrtle Mae started a home school. They turned “education” into “learning,” instilled a joy of reading in their two sons and sought to awaken their active young imaginations. The school combined living with play and work. Education, or learning, involved not only the children but adults — parents and, ideally, grandparents.
RB begin developing an adult, practical, life-long learning program. Starting from his own unhappy experiences in school and drawing on his own wide-ranging reading, he outlined a more holistic education. Elaborating on the barriers to true human progress presented in This Ugly Civilization, he wrote: “We need for everyday living: (1) economic polices, (2) physiological, (3) social, (4) biological, (5) psychological habits; and (6) religious, (7) moral, (8) political (9) education, (10) individual values.” To that list of subjects he added history – past, present and future, and the arts and sciences. These subjects were learned not in separate compartments but as different facets of the whole of living our lives. They are approached not in the abstract but in terms of their use in life.
In the introduction to the second edition of Flight from the City, Borsodi listed these purposes of the School of Living:
· To associate a select group of artists, craftsman and teachers in a demonstration of the contribution which decentralized, self-sufficient living in the country may make to redress the economic and psychological insecurity of our industrialized civilization
· To study and develop the possibilities of the home and homestead as a productive and creative institution
· To furnish to men and women the opportunity to follow a carefully developed plan of learning and experiences in living securely, comfortably and richly and in leading others to live equally well
· To offer those who may be able to come for short visits only a place to see and study the relationship of homesteading and domestic produce:
- To the past, present and future
- To our present industrialized, centralized, organized, political society; and
- To make life more meaningful to themselves here and now.
Borsodi had a passion for conferences. As Hitler launched his war in Europe, RB launched a series of forums in New York City. At one of them, in January 1940, he read the following paragraphs of the School of Living charter to the assembled group.
“Believing that the full development of each human being is the supreme value, the School of Living has as its primary purpose to assist adults in their study and use of the accumulated wisdom of mankind.”
“Believing that such study and use of wisdom is best facilitated by being related to the universal and perpetual living experience of human beings, the School of Living aims to assist adults in becoming aware of and the defining the major problems of living common to all people.
Here we have a clear statement of the “problems,” which ultimately became the focus of his life’s work. But of equal significance was the presence in that audience of Stringfellow Barr, President of St. Johns College.
A new curriculum had been established at St. Johns College, at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1936. The college itself is one of the oldest in the US but was loosing its accreditation. Barr and Scott Buchanan took over the college and set up a new curriculum based on the Great Books of the Western World. This curriculum was derived from the Great Books project at the University of Chicago under Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. It was partially modeled after John Erskine’s two year liberal arts program at Columbia, which Adler attended. You can find The Great Books in just about any library. Encyclopedia Britannica mass marketed tens of thousands of 54 volume sets.
The St Johns curriculum consists solely of the study of great books. There are no lectures, only seminars. The program introduces students to the entire scope of western culture. It nurtures quality mindedness. It teaches critical thinking. It also includes arts, music and lab work, often repeating landmark original experiments in science. St. Johns bestowed a master’s degree, the highest degree it confers, on RB for his work in education. RB retained an affection for Barr and St. Johns to the end of his life.
St Johns is currently the only “liberal arts” college in the country. There is a second campus at Santa Fe. I learned about St. John’s in the 1970s, visited the campus, and came away deeply impressed by its unique program. That experience gives me a better understanding of Borsodi’s vision.
We know little of Borsodi’s life during the 1940s. It is unknown how he earned a living during this period. We know Ralph attended to Myrtle Mae during her long illness. He also wrote two volumes of Education and Living, published in 1948 (Now available in digital form at the School of Living web site). RB hoped Education and Living would serve as a systematic plan to attract people back to the land. He believed the US economy would collapse after the war. He saw massive inflation as the likely consequence of Keynesian economics. While completing Education and Living, he wrote Inflation is Coming and What to Do About It. He was deeply disturbed by the continued presence of tyranny in the world, of the vast centralization of government and the economy that came out of the war, and the prospect of social unrest as the country adjusted to a post-war reality. He was right about tyranny but wrong about the collapse of the US economy. It took a couple of decades for inflation to hit. As in many things, Borsodi was ahead of his time. Education and Living is right for our day.
The two volumes of Education and Living are split between a detailed critique of “mis-education,” and a new model of “right” education. “Mis-education” is merely indoctrination. It feeds tyranny. He was critical of Dewey’s progressive education and the centralization of education. He strongly disagreed with the school taking over many of the social functions of the family.
Education must, however, become society’s dominant institution, RB insisted. And it must be a local, not a national, or even a state, enterprise. He wrote: “Civilization will only be saved if we turn for guidance to the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of mankind, and insist that the teachers and leaders of mankind do the job which they really should be doing – teaching mankind how to live.”
The book drew a very poor reception. The year it appeared Myrtle Mae died, leaving RB in a deep depression.
In 1949 RB embarked on yet another great experiment. An old friend, Virginia Wood, bought some land in Melbourne, Florida and wanted to set up a homestead. She invited RB to come and consult with her. Wood introduced RB to Clare Kitteredge, also recently widowed. They were married a year later. RB sold Dogwoods and he and Clare settled on a new homestead near Melbourne.
In 1952 RB and Clare embarked on a trip around the world. They toured 11 countries in Europe and Asia for 1 ½ years. Returning home to Melbourne, RB started an evening seminar on the universal problems of living. He launched the Journal of Praxiology in March 1955. Interest developed in his theories of education. He sought backing from old supporters to develop a new university. He attracted Prof. Willis Nutting of Notre Dame who took a sabbatical to work with him on the university project. The university was planned to develop community leaders, men and women with a new vision, leaders of decentralism. Forty acres were secured and buildings constructed.
Melbourne University was formally chartered by the State of Florida and opened January 4, 1956 with RB as Chancellor. Just prior to the formal opening a week-long conference was held on “Man is the Problem?” It drew 60 distinguished participants. RB barely made it through the conference. He had overtaxed himself and was on the verge of collapse. Mildred was delayed in joining him to help administer the university. Then a fire consumed one of the dorms. RB was ordered to “complete rest.” He was 68. Clare shipped him off to Spain to recuperate. Nutting took over the chancellorship. Seeing that his health would be slow to return RB resigned his chancellorship in July 1957 and ended editing the Journal of Praxiology.
Melbourne University had its Sputnik moment. It found itself in the middle of the US space program then taking roots at Cape Canaveral, now Cape Kennedy. Pressured by developments, Melbourne University closed and the land was sold. It became an engineering school.
Borsodi published The Challenge of Asia: A Study of Conflicting Ideas and Ideals in 1956. While traveling in Asia he had witnessed post-war development, particularly in India and China. China had become the People’s Republic and was going through a massive centralization and modernization. Free China, on Taiwan was going West; industrializing. So was India, despite Gandhi’s warnings to the contrary. Nehru was determined to make India a modern industrial nation. The challenge Asia faced was the same that the US had: to retain its traditional values and an agrarian, human-scaled life, or to take the path of the ugly civilization.
In 1958 Borsodi returned to India. He was warmly embraced by Gandhians. That year he published the Pan-Humanist Manifesto. It was in part a synthesis of the ideas of Jefferson and Gandhi. It sought to humanize society, promote a social renaissance, sought greater political liberty, if not a virtual decentralist "anarchy," and economic justice in the face of capitalistic development. In it he explored a third alternative between capitalism and communism.
Encourage by his Indian friends, surrounded by people interested in his ideas, and given a place to work, he called for his research files. He started work on what were then the fourteen universal problems. He projected sixteen volumes, including a volume for each problem, 3,000 pages in all. By the Fall of 1960 he managed to complete two manuscripts that came out as one book (in 1963), The Education of the Whole Man. His health collapsed again and this time he nearly died. He was 72.
Borsodi’s son Bill, then working in the East for Standard Oil, got him to a hospital in Karachi. After six months in the hospital RB tried to return to India but collapsed again. Clare decided to find a small town in New England for him to settle and hopefully rest, a place near a good library. They moved to Exeter, New Hampshire. For two years RB slowly mended. He loved Exeter. He could walk, visit libraries, found lots of people to have serious talks with, and many more he just enjoyed chatting with, he read voraciously, and continued to dream. Exeter became his Eutopia, which means “place;” not Utopia, which means “nowhere.”
RB was by no means done with life or with the life of the mind. He worked steadily on a masterpiece, Seventeen Problems of Man and Society (At School of Living web site). That was published in India and America in 1968. That year he turned 80. The year before Seventeen Problems came out he published a densely reasoned little book The Definition of Definition in an effort to clarify the way we define the terms.
I’m going to end the “life” of RB here. He lived nearly a decade longer (died October 1977) and still had much to do, including receiving a doctorate degree from the University of New Hampshire for a life of inspired and inspiring work, publishing an update on inflation and creation of an alternative currency with the potential to beat the runaway inflation of the seventies.
I’m going close this article with a focus on Borsodi’s last two major books on education, The Education of the Whole Man and Seventeen Problems of Man and Society. I want to preface these comments with two thoughts. First, the remaining copies of Seventeen Problems were delivered to the School of Living in 1974. Mildred intended to republish it. That didn’t happen. In 2012 we brought this book back to life in digital form. Second, in her Major Universal Problems of Living (Introductory Pages), a very brief summary of the seventeen problems, Mildred mentioned a 2,500 volume library organized to address each of the problems of living. I can’t but wonder what happened to that library? We need to rebuild it and a project to create such a virtual library is underway.
SCHOOL OF LIVING RENAISSANCE
Borsodi sought an educational renaissance to revive a civilization lost in an ugly industrial madness and to return it to a human-scale existence. “Renaissance” means “rebirth” or “revival.” He had the vision of Jefferson, of Tom Paine, of Emerson, of thinkers like Stringfellow Barr, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Henry George, Lewis Mumford, the Southern Agrarians (with whom I closely identify) and many other thoughtful people. I’ve studied many of his contemporaries. He admired and befriended Pitirim Sorokin. I studied under one of Sorokin’s most distinguished students. It is our common interests that underlie my fascination with Borsodi and belief in his vision.
I spent a lot of hours slowly turning the pages of Mildred’s personal copy of The Education of the Whole Man. I have my own copy now; the only one I could find on the internet at the time. Like many of RB’s books it is challenging. It is a grand and detailed vision and a practical program; and it is lengthy. Here is a lesson from that book: You have to have a chapel at a School of Living. In the chapel learning must be elevated to the pinnacle of human devotion.
There is actually nothing hard to read in this book. Borsodi had the gift of writing as if he were talking to you. Listen to him:
“The three most important occupations in my considered view are neither governing nor engineering, as most men believe today, nor business and money-making, as most men believed yesterday. The most important occupations are educating, homemaking and farming; the first because it is the educators of mankind who either humanize or fail to humanize both man and society; the second, because it creates the environment in which the young are either rightly or wrongly prepared for living like normal human beings, and the third because it [encourages] collaboration with Mother nature, for man’s co-operation with the living soil, the living plants, and the living animals of the Earth.” (And he capitalizes Earth.)
But yes, it is a daunting book in some respects. It is two books in one, 39 chapters. The ideas are densely packed, precisely expressed, no fluff. Each chapter consists of a sequence of ideas, each carefully defined and explained. We must keep in mind that these are only the first two volumes of a series, a mere summary of his ideas. He intended to write a more detailed book on each of the major problems. He had thousands of pages of notes. Four steamer boxes were sent home from India (where are they?).
Borsodi was clearly well-read. His mind appears to have been highly retentive. He was a systematic note taker. He had the capacity to organize ideas. He was a taxonomist: He could take a huge mass of information, extract the key ideas, define each and carefully classify all of them into appropriate categories. He would then go on to explain each idea in detail. The scope is broad because it is about the Whole (Wo)Man.
RB's objective was not to give the answers but to ask the questions. Before you can get an answer to your problem you have to ask the right question. Our major failure, then and now, is that we ask the wrong questions. It doesn’t matter what answer you get, how logical your reasoning, how thorough your research, the answer, even if it might be absolutely true, to the wrong question, won’t solve the problem that you really have.
I’m not going to quote extensively from The Education. The one quote above is example enough. The book is of use only if it is studied slowly, when it is studied collectively, and when we study it to apply it. I can almost guarantee that by doing this you will gain a new understanding of life that is worth the effort.
First, of course, we have to have copies of the books (A digitalized version coming soon to the School of Living web site). Second, perhaps, is that some of us need to take the responsibility to provide the foundation, a seminar, in which the study is interesting, rewarding and even fun. We need to produce a small cadre who can use these books as RB intended, to build a curriculum, to establish Schools of Living around which communities of homesteaders can grow.
Borsodi provided structure but it was elaborate and detailed. It is too close to the ground to get a good view of the work. Let’s move to a higher altitude; get out of the trees so we can see the forest.
As noted, there are two books in this one volume. The first is a general treatise. This book opens with a challenge to RB’s Indian friends: They must choose a national destiny: Gandhi or Western industrialization. The flip side of this coin is that RB was thinking that India might be Earth’s last real chance to create an agrarian national culture. Gandhi’s spinning wheel is not, as popularly held, a protest against the British textile mills. It was intended to encourage village economies.
The West has lost the idea that all subjects are aspects of human nature. We fail to solve problems in large part because we take them out of context. Specialized, narrow, knowledge simply cannot resolve them. We need an integral education. That is even more true today.
Depending on how you cut the deck, there is always a senior problem. The senior problem is how to guide human action. The key to that is the problem of education: how to shape and inform the character of the actor. The second book, or section, was addressed solely to the problem of education: 30 chapters worth.
Throughout his life Borsodi emphasized the need for humanization. Industrial civilization dehumanizes. Schools indoctrinate. They make compliant, adjusted, automations fitted to the factory. What is “human?” That is a hard question. We are born without the capacity to know and understand our nature. We are born with strong hormonal instincts, like sex. We begin as emotional beings and only later achieve the powers of rationality. But that is part of who and what we are. We must understand the stages of life and the things that make us human.
Life presents us with problems, problems of living. Many of our problems relate to beliefs, to ideologies, to what we think. Many other problems relate to action. Every problem of life comes down to how we act: to what we do. It raises the issue of “normal” and “abnormal” human actions. This raises the issue of ethics. Ethics brings us to the problem of social norms: what is the right way to live. Are there laws that govern human action? What can we learn from science, from statistical data? How do we define “norm” and “normal?” There are far too few normal, that is, truly human, individuals whom we can use as examples.
Now that we have, or may have, a model of a human being, the objective of humanization, of right living, how do we go about nurturing the development of the quality minded individual? Our current educational models leave us with a sense of inadequacy. Is there promise in the St. Johns program, in the liberal arts?
There are many forms of education: Physical education, emotional education, perceptual education, introspection education, axiological education, volitional education, etc. But these are not different things. They are part of a whole. There are stages of development, from infancy through age twelve, sixteen, eighteen, higher education, adult education. Chapter by chapter RB explores each of these topics. They must be developed as a curriculum.
RB found the “problem” a universal human experience. His work on problems started with one 4 x 6 inch card. One day, about 1936, he wrote down a problem someone had come to him to discuss. At about 1,000 cards he began to perceive a pattern. There were 11 major problems, then 14 and finally 17. That deck of cards grew to 8,000 case studies (where are they?).
I’m gong to finish with one of the Seventeen Problems: how we make our living. This is Problem X: Labor and leisure: The Occupational Problem.
Every way in which we spend time is an occupation, including sleep. We have to choose how to spend out time. We must take responsibility for the conditions of our lives. Our choices must be rational. Occupational choice is normative, not arbitrary, not a descriptive science (Reference Problem IX).
Out of his 8,000 cases, RB found four categories of occupations:
1. Inhabitational, or how we occupy our place and dwelling. Inhabiting, verb. It can be a room, house, homestead, town, region, etc. RB makes a point of the importance of the "stead," or "steading," i.e., the homestead. Stead is the background of our being, our identity. How we live is the background of our lives.
2. Vocational, or how we earn our living. That includes beggary or thieving. This also includes avocational work.
3. Recreational, or revival of the spirit. It can be hard physical work.
4. Recuperational, or restoration of physical energy: Sleeping, eating, exercise, bathing.
Gender may define our occupation. Only women can bear and nurse children. Men may have greater physical strength. There are also nine stages in the life of a human being (described in Education and Living), each of which provides different options.
Some qualities we are born with, some we acquire. First comes the body we are born with and its capabilities, the energies it is capable of producing. Second is survival energy, the response to challenges. Third is sexual or genetic energy. Fourth is cultural energy. Finally is necrotic energy, or the death instinct which is expressed when the organism fails to thrive.
Freud explored the death instinct. Borsodi found our collective failure to thrive of compelling importance. One the pathologies that contribute to our failure to thrive is overspecialization (but not all specialization is bad).
He referred again to the factors that determined the quality, quantity and herd mentalities.
He noted that the hobby movement is an attempt to bring back productive and creative activities as recreations which people are deprived of in their work.
Finally he wrote of three types of ideologies that shape our occupation choices:
· Ascetic, or non-material, non-hedonistic, spiritual, including religion, yoga, Benedictism, Buddhism, etc.
· Chrematistic, or money ideologies such as commercialism, industrial, capitalism and communism. Preoccupation with money. Hedonistic. Plutocratic rule. He found this ideology pathological.
· Hygienic ideologies or those things that make for physical and mental health, such as agrarianism, homesteading, cooperation, etc. Many occupations produce mental diseases, severe neurotic aberrations.
Occupational norms need to free (wo)man from blind dictates. He listed four types of occupational norms, one for each of the occupational types. Norms allow us to distinguish between what is normal and abnormal.
RB closed each problem with a Commentary and Bibliography. He pointed out resources and listed relevant books.
This outline is, of course, very brief, very high level, but illustrates that this vast and complex feast of ideas can be taken in easy bites.
Borsodi crammed a lot of knowledge into the pages of his books. We need to work on processing this material to make it more manageable. One way to organize a topic is to summarize it in your own worlds. I started with one of the seventeen problems (Seventeen Problems of Man and Society). This one was only 22 pages long. I was able to outline it in just over 500 words, about a page. This was one of the nine “practical” problems. There are eight other “practical” problems, problems about how we live our lives, another 310 pages. I estimate that a summary of these would require just another dozen or so pages of brief summaries.
There are two other groups of problems. One group is rather metaphysical. It includes problems about what life is all about: cosmos, nature and us. These are going to take a bit more work. There are four problems that relate to values, or axiology, something RB’s friend Sorokin was deeply interested in. They are abstract and will also take more work. Still Seventeen Problems is manageable if taken in bit-sized chunks. There are eighteen chapters in Seventeen Problems. Taken one a week, one evening a week, a small seminar could work its way through the book in a few months.
I believe RB wanted us to develop each of the problems into seminars and the seminars into a school curricula and school into a lifetime learning enterprise. In a seminar we can get to the core of each of the problem statements and find ways to address real problems in life. If we record how we do that we can, over time, come up with lists of books and others resources related to the problem. We can come up with interesting stories. In this way a library and a “curriculum” can begin to grow.
RB thought we must be systematic in teaching the universal problems starting in grade school and step by step to adulthood. It is lifelong learning. It never ends. There are always new things to learn, new problems to solve, old ones to solve in new ways and new ideas that might just be fun to get our teeth into.
RB thought we must be systematic in teaching the universal problems starting in grade school and step by step to adulthood. It is lifelong learning. It never ends. There are always new things to learn, new problems to solve, old ones to solve in new ways and new ideas that might just be fun to get our teeth into.
Borsodi referred to a “determining” number of people would have to be trained to serve as leaders. Historian Arnold Toynbee called them a creative minority, those he found at the root of the formation and maintenance of great civilizations. Our job, the job Borsodi outlined for the School of Living, is to train that “determining,” creative leadership. They will, of course, need to be homesteaders, men and women who are independent, freed from economic servitude. They in turn will open more schools and organize communities of homesteaders.