A Community of Mankind

During this period of isolation, forcing us to close our doors to the public, we wish to keep the resources of Schumacher Center’s Library available. As one way to do this our librarian, John Gagnon, will be sharing profiles of selected books that appear most frequently in the library’s collections. While each collection reflects the particular character of the “collector,” the books they have in common best illustrate that which unites their efforts to imagine and build a new, more just and sustainable economy.

Arthur E. Morgan is one such author whose writings and practical community experiments influenced many in the new economics movement. His books appear in the collections of Martha Shaw, the MANAS Journal, George Benello, Richard Bliss, and the library’s general collection.

Henry Geiger quoted Morgan frequently in MANAS Journal, commenting that “Arthur Morgan’s thinking is truly timeless…a source of inspiration.”

Arthur Morgan is probably best remembered as one of the directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A.), one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression era organizations that sought to use hydroelectric dams to bring electricity and economic development to the rural Tennessee Valley. In his work with the T.V.A. Morgan came to focus on the importance of the community, especially the small, local community, as the foundation of both a sustainable economy and a democratic way of life. In the introduction to The Community of the Future and the Future of Community, he writes:
There is a feeling toward human affairs, especially in America, that what is small or local is unimportant. We see bigness as a measure of significance. From this point of view the community, being small, can be of little consequence. It deals with the common affairs of life, with the detailed and the particular. Yet it’s details and particulars which inform us most directly of the nature and the realities of life.

This focus on community led him to establish the Celo Community in western North Carolina whose model of land ownership was a precursor to the community land trust. When asked to take on the presidency of Antioch College during a financial crisis, Morgan rose to the occasion and successfully turned the institution around. He went on to found Community Services Inc. (now Community Solutions) and the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, both in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

During World War II, Bob Swann, co-founder of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, was among a group of conscientious objectors (C.O.s) who, while imprisoned, participated in a correspondence course led by Arthur Morgan. One of the key texts Swann and the other C.O.s read and discussed was Morgan’s book The Small Community. Morgan’s ideas about community prepared a foundation for Swann and many other C.O.s when they were released from prison. It directed their efforts not just towards challenging unjust systems, but towards building new, better ones in their place. For as Morgan writes in The Small Community:

Unless many people live and work in the intimate relationships of community life, there can never emerge a truly unified nation, or a community of mankind. If I do not love my neighbor whom I know, how can I love the human race, which is but an abstraction? If I have not learned to work with a few people, how can I be effective with many?

Stephanie Mills’ essay “Young Vigor Searching for Light: Bob Swann, Arthur Morgan, and the Pantheon of Decentralism” recounts the story of the correspondence course with C.O.s. The essay is a chapter in her biography of Swann, On Gandhi’s Path: Bob Swann’s Work for Peace and Community.

Many good wishes for you, your family, and community,

John Gagnon and Staff of the Schumacher Center