Proprietary Communities

Citadel, Market and Altar


Citadel, Market and Altar, by Spencer Heath, Heather Foundation, P.O. Box 48, San Pedro, CA 90733, 1957, 284 pp., $6.00.

Spencer Heath was as unique and versatile in the ideas he entertained as in the life he led. Engineer, lawyer, businessman, horticulturist, philosopher and poet, he enjoyed less acclaim during his lifetime for his discoveries in the realm of ideas than for his accomplishments in the development of the early aviation industry. Like many original thinkers, Heath has had to defer to the judgment of time and await a posthumous vindication. Now, a decade after his death, his writing speaks to us with special relevance in its unparalleled effort to surmount the cul de sacs of contemporary social thinking and point the way to a free and solvent community life.

Citadel, Market and Altar, first published in 1957, is the summit of Heath's work and the culmination of his 25 years of independent research in the realm of social phenomena. The title symbolizes three major functions which must be accommodated by the institutional arrangements of any viable society. The Citadel offers protection from violence and theft, permitting mankind to advance their material well-being through the operations of the Market to such point as they are able to devote their energies to the spiritual pursuits of the Altar—art, religion or any activity pursued solely for its own sake. To discover how best to ensure protection and facilitate exchange, in order to achieve the greatest possible release of human energy to creative artistry, was the overriding goal of Heath's work.

Citadel, Market and Altar addresses itself to the paramount problem of understanding the rationale of social process and integrating this knowledge within the theoretical framework of the natural sciences. Heath's analysis of the market system, founded on analogy with biology and physics, is among the most original I have encountered.

High among his accomplishments is the redemption of a word long lost to the opponents of freedom: consistent with the successful operation of spontaneous organization wherever found in nature, social processes are not any of the collisional interactions among individuals but are those processes, characterized by voluntary and reciprocal exchange, through which the human life-form is carried upward to qualitatively higher energy levels. Of particular note is the extent to which Heath moves beyond a merely static conception of society. It was his aim in Citadel, Market and Altar to predict the direction in which the operations of society must further evolve if the parts of the "societal life form" shall articulate in complete harmony. "The Mecca of the economist is Economic Biology," said Alfred Marshall. It was Heath's Mecca as well.

Set within the context of his synoptic view of market operations, Spencer Heath's explication of the social function of property in land takes on a breadth of meaning seldom encountered in the land debates which have been continuous from the time of Adam Smith. Reversing the orientation of classical economics, Heath demonstrates that property in land, far from being the Achilles' heel, is in fact the foundation of society's successful operation. In answer to the classical critics of landownership, he provides a noteworthy analysis of the social service rendered by landowners in their capacity as distributors of the community's sites and resources. To quote Murray Rothbard: "I do not know anyone who has brought out the productivity of land owners as clearly as Mr. Spencer Heath." [Man, Economy and State, p. 929]


Having vindicated private property in land, Heath proceeds to his forecast of the trend of social evolution. An historical and functional analysis of community organization leads to the discovery that the social role to which the landowner is ultimately and uniquely well suited is that of community administration. Land values are shown to vary directly with the quantity and quality of "public goods and services"—such as roads, utilities, fire and police protection—conferred on land sites. The value of such services, net of any disservices coincidentally supplied by the political authority, is directly reflected in competitively determined ground rents. The landowner, therefore, is in a unique position to monitor the social value of public services as measured in ground rents, precisely as the entrepreneur, through their price behavior, monitors the relative values of other goods and services. Moreover, it is in his interest to ensure that such services are supplied; the penalty for dereliction is declining rents. As landowners gradually become aware of their stake in the effective provision of public services, Heath foresaw the emergence of corporate enterprises that would undertake the provision of such services in exchange for competitively determined recompense by leaseholders. Services that such organizations could promote would include fire protection and security systems, maintenance of public highways and utilities, and the service of fostering the productive use of sites and resources in general through some degree of land use planning—a service that municipalities have attempted to provide, with uneven results, through political devices such as zoning.

These proprietary communities are for Heath the viable alternative to the waste and abuses of political systems. In terms of social evolution, they represent the culmination of human advance from status to contract. Whether Heath's prediction that the emergence of the proprietary community portends the eventual absorption of the Citadel into the Market proves to be true or not, it is sufficient justification of his work that he has directed our attention to an unexplored area of the market that offers hope of remedy for the acknowledged failures of political government.

Citadel, Market and Altar's trilogistic development of the proprietary community theme from the standpoints, respectively, of science, practical technology, and philosophy, permit the book to be approached as a collection of diverse essays or as a unified treatise, as the reader wishes. However approached, the book will generously reward the reader with novel insights into the operation and potential of the market economy. Above all, Citadel, Market and Altar treats us to the expansive vision of a man who consciously strove to unify the falsely dichotomized worlds of esthetics and science in his effort to delineate the trend of mankind's advance toward a world in which the human spirit may be more fully realized.

Don Erik Franzen studied philosophy at the University of Southern California, from which he graduated in 1972. He has since compiled and edited a book on the social philosophy of Spencer Heath based on Heath's unpublished literary estate under a fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies. He is currently a third-year student at the University of Southern California School of Law.