Vom Eigentum zur Gemeinschaft (From Property to Community)

EA 29/07

Additional Information
Author Eberhard Arnold
Date November 23, 1929
Document Id 20125980_13_S
Available Transcriptions English

From Property to Community

[Arnold, Eberhard and Emmy papers – M.S.]

[Draft Translation by Bruderhof Historical Archive]

EA 29/7

From Property to Community

Address (Vienna, 23 Nov.1929)

"From property to community" is the main subject that occupies us these three evenings; and now this evening it depends on us that we recognize the curse of property, and the cause of its poisonousness,

The poisonous root of property is separation, is decomposition. Death is the poisonousness of property. For property is bred out of separation; but separation is decomposition. When our body falls apart, it decomposes. And when the community of mankind falls apart into individuals and into property, it is in the state of decomposition. The separation of the individual "I" is the poisonous root of property. And the curse of property consists in the fact that individuals become disconnected with one another and with God, the root of being and of life. Death will ensue. Mankind lies in agony; it has declined to the condition of death. And the strongest sign of its deathly state is property. Property is bred out of the selfish seeking of the covetous will. The selfish seeking of the covetous will is the root of separation.

Let us compare with mankind the human body which God has given us, as something real, by means of which we may see how mankind ought to be. When one member of the human body breaks loose from the conscious unity of the body, and stands in opposition to this unity, to the unity of the bodily functions, we recognize it as something demonic.

Jesus says: "If thy right hand offend thee, if it inciteth thee to death, cut if off and cast it from thee." When a man is living in conscious oneness, then all his members and all his bodily functions serve the unity of the body; and no member serves itself without having any regard for the other members. If it is otherwise the body is diseased. The best known is disease in the sphere of sexual life. But although it is right that this is most clearly to be seen in the sexual sphere, we can recognize the same thing in all the other functions and all the other organs. And when one particular function intrudes and makes itself noticeable, health is already gone and disease is there. Our heart is sound when we do not notice it.

It is exactly the same with individuals. When an individual makes himself noticeable, makes himself important, gives himself airs and is pushing, it is a sign of his decline, a symbol of his diseased state. It can only be otherwise when each exists for all, and unity for all is revealed.

This is most clearly shown in property. Property, private possessions, are the root of murder. Out of property are bred war, competition, greed and the mutual injuriousness of business life. Property nourishes the most morbid form of sexual life, paid prostitution and which is the same thing, marriage for money. Out of property are born business lies and every other kind of lie in the mutual methods of relationships.

I remember a related family I used to know who suffered the loss of a considerable sum of money in the mahogany forests of Cuba. This family met together for a small family council at which the question was, "Where can we cut down our expenses; we cannot stop travelling first class, and we cannot do away with our carriage and horses, for that would harm our credit. So we can only practice economy in the daily life of our immediate family circle. To the outside world we must maintain a false attitude of apparent wealth."

Or again, we all know what false splendor is blatantly displayed when we go through a city, and see elegant apparitions with fine boots, fine stockings, in fine silks and velvets, and then we experience how these same persons live (in which kind of back-parts or attics) they are provided for. Whoever has any knowledge of the world knows how it is.

It would lead us too far to explore such examples more fully. For all these things, it is property which provides the proper nourishment. Without private property, all these things would be substantially relieved of their poison. I have already referred once to Max Stirner. It is still to be examined whether Max Stirner did not mean his whole book ironically. He wrote the book "The Individual and His Property", and in this book he had the unheard of courage to present the whole of life today as naked, murderous egotism. Everything that I do I do for myself.

That must also be clear to us in the love between man and wife. It must be clear to us that this love too as the possessive grasping of the body is egotism. Yes, it must also be clear to us, that the friendly gesture which we take pains to offer here and there to our fellowmen comes out of egotism. We are friendly and amicably disposed just when we can see some possible advantage in it for ourselves, or some extension of our sphere of influence. Also everything whereby I try to give joy to others I do only to extend the circle where I stand in favor. Max Stirner traces the consequences quite clearly: That the material working out of this life, as it is expressed in reality, is property. If that is so, we have nothing but property to teach and to inculcate in our children. Egotism and property are so completely one that property is nothing other than the outward form of egotism.

Now in contradiction to this it is said: "Man, like every other living thing, has received from nature, from God, the instinct of self-preservation, as an essential force for his existence. If one has reverence for the creation, one must recognize the instinct of self-preservation and foster it. This instinct strives after property, and must obtain property and hold on to it. Man must live; that is his moral obligation." So runs the counter thesis to that which I have to say.

This instinct of self-preservation is linked up (wedded) with the sexual instinct, and comes to expression as the urge for power, as desire for gain. The economic system obeys its own laws, and all its laws are the laws of property and of egotism. Our entire economy is based wholly and alone on the desire for profit, on the egotism of self-preservation, and on the desire for increased power in the inner being of the individual.

Now there is a certain cohesion within the economic system and the order of society. Jesus has already said: "If the kingdom of Satan were divided against itself, it would have long ago come to ruin." And that is why our highly capitalistic system does not fall to pieces. For these demonic forces of profiteering are united in themselves. They pursue the same course. So then those who possess are possessed, they are demonically possessed. Property, money, the economic system have become laws unto themselves just as in the physical body the misuse of the sexual organ makes it become a law unto itself. To be subject to one's own laws, is demoniacal. It is the curse of the century in which we live that our life is torn and rent apart, that we have fallen to the Gods of self-appointed lawfulness, that we all bow our knees before them and quite especially to the self-appointed laws of money and of the economic system.

The development of our western countries is going rapidly downhill. And if in the middle ages we had the preponderance of the church over the state and over the whole life, and if later we have had the preponderance of the state over the life of the church and of economy and over the life of all things, today we stand in a period of development in which the economic system has taken preponderance over state, school, church and existence. I do not want to make a judgment here as to which is the better or worse of these possibilities; I only want to establish that we have now arrived at a time of slavery to material things. That is a fact.

We have called the first point the urge to self-preservation. Now the second objection: The objection of collective egoism, according to which one says, "I do not live for myself at all, I will not keep my property for myself, I will use it for my wife and children or for somebody else; if I am drawn into the war, I do not want to defend my own property at all, I am only doing it for the sake of everyone."

He who loves his wife and children loves his own flesh and blood and has not yet proved thereby that he lives free of egoism. Not only love to one's own family, but also the clannishness of the tribe and the firm loyalty of the gang, settlers of a colony among themselves, the defense of a race or a state, still more also the civil war for one's own class and cast--all these are collective egoism. The number involved is not decisive here, but the nature ( of the struggle). The question is not whether I am only looking after myself or whether I am looking after those bound together with me. That would be only arithmetical distinction. The question is am I going to care exclusively for myself and those who belong to me, in contrast to all others.

I will say it openly, I stand in opposition to nationalism and patriotism, I am in opposition to the proletarian class struggle; I am also in opposition to the ruling class system of those who have possessions, and what is more, I stand in opposition to the right of inheritance. I maintain that egoism is there wherever it is a question of defending mutual interests of a smaller or a larger group.

I am opposed to the party system. Our whole public life has succumbed to this curse. For what reason are the military there? Why is the court of justice here, why is the civil force there? The whole thing is indisputably there in the interests of property, for the sake of all that is isolated and in a state of decay to the point of death. It means that we tear down the atmosphere of destruction. As long as the covetous will, the fight for existence, as long as our own claims and pretensions and our own privileges count, we are lost. We have declined to the state of division and a falling away from God. Here an example of how this atmosphere holds men in bondage.

In Berlin we knew of a woman who was badly afflicted with tuberculosis, and who lived in a room where not a gleam of light penetrated right through the day. This woman could no longer stand up alone, and so every day she was lifted out of her bed by an occupant of the house, and in the evening laid in it again. We succeeded after a considerable amount of trouble and by putting together all our funds, in renting a sunny room for her in a healthy district. And when we came to fetch her, she would not go. She had become so accustomed to her surroundings. And this is the state of men today. They have become accustomed to the curse of a life which is in ruins: it is necessary for us to wake up and hear the gospel which will make us free from a life which is without the spirit and without God.

Let us now look at nature, so that we might recover from these shocking pictures. Whence then comes our life, considered from a purely natural standpoint? Ne live from the sun, from the atmosphere, from the air, from water, from the earth and the treasures of the soil, and we live by our own working strength, which knows how to use utilize these forces of nature through the exertion of our body and spirit. To whom is the sun given? He is given to all, to all, to all. And if there is anything that men do have in common, it is the gift of the sun. still there are men who live a shady existence, but they must come out into the light of the sun.

Now the old Hutterians say in their writings: If the sun were not hung so high, it would long ago have been claimed as property by some people to the detriment of others, who would no longer be able to see any of it. For the will to possess, which takes to itself what does not come of its own, would not hesitate even with the sun. How is it with the air? It is in part already bought. Health resorts do after all demand special charges; that is to say they allow themselves to be paid for the air. How is it with water, and with waterpower? And how is it with the earth? Is there reasonable ground for dividing up the earth as personal property? The earth should not be personal, private property. The earth belongs to the inhabitants of the earth, to them for whom God ordained it. But today the earth is to be found in private hands.

What is "private": what does "private" mean? "Private" car, private property, "private" road? "Private" means "to rob"! So it means stolen property! But from whom then is it robbed? It is robbed from God and from Mankind. It is taken away from the creation of God, and the individual has appropriated it, or else he has inherited it, which is the same thing. And each one holds fast to it.

The curse of property could be made clear to man from nature alone. But he needs the prophetic spirits of the truth, which can put the thing quite clearly before his eyes. God has always sent such prophets to men. Jesus is the friend of man, and therefore the enemy of property. Jesus wants true life for mankind, therefore he is the enemy of the instinct of self-preservation as an egotistical existence. So one of Paul's letters tells us also: Everyone shall be of like mind as Jesus. He did not hold on to his privileges, but gave up everything and held on to nothing and took the lowliest place among men. He was not only the poorest of men but also the lowliest of men, in that he was classed with criminals. He held on to nothing for himself, he had no money, but the wandering community had a communal purse. And he said quite clearly: he who lived for the sake of his own life, has lost his life. He who will keep his life must lose it. And he who does not forsake all that he has is not of me. No one is of Jesus who is still sticking to his property. Sell all that thou hast and give it away. He who has more than one coat, let him give it away. Also your second hour of work shall you give. The second hour of work is indeed the source of property. And if the goods, like the sun and also the earth, belong to everybody, that is to say to God and his rule, so also the second hour of work should belong to God and to everyone. Gather no fortune together! Free yourselves from all rights and privileges.

Until now we have spoken only of property, but now we want to speak of community. We want to speak next of the conception of "life". Nietzsche himself has said that Jesus puts a real life in opposition to a false one. What is the true life that we should lead? What is life? A body is alive when all the organs and functions consciously work together in unity for one another and for the task of the body. Life is where there is solid unity in movement. Life comes only out of the living. New life can only emerge where there is already life. But life is only there where unity is, unity of movement, unity in variety, unity in consciousness, unity in will, in feeling and in thinking. Life is organic unity, unity in consciousness, unity of body. Community among men as a living organism presupposes unity. And mankind is united so far as it is led and determined by one collective soul, by one spirit of community in which all stand for all, or give themselves for all.

If we want community, we must want the spirit of community. I only believe in that society and community which believes in the spirit. The collective soul of community is the Holy Spirit. In Him the Church Community is unanimous and united; in Him the Church is rich in gifts and powers and in different ways of expressions. But just as in the body unity can only be maintained through sacrifice, so also in this world, in this fellowship unity can only be maintained through sacrifice. That is a clear outcome, for if this unity were to be achieved without sacrifice, it would only be a gratification of self-will. In the Church each individual must be ready for every sacrifice of all his strength, for the surrendering of his life.

Only he has the right love who can give up his life for his brother. If we want to set to work in the Church Community, we must have open, free hands. That is the only way to come into the Church Community, the only way to belong to the Spirit of the Church Community. If we can grasp this mystery, then we shall understand that this message is the affirmation of life. It is not a question of dying for the sake of dying, but it is a getting free from the old poisoned life for the sake of the new life; a turning away from illusions for the sake of winning reality, a complete change over from unessentials to essentials.

Now what must come upon this earth, is the fire of the Holy Spirit, that he may enkindle a network of holy torches, of holy fires on the mountaintops, a network of organic life, of living cells.

Early Christianity was in the habit of speaking unphilosophically and simply. An indication of this, how the future of mankind should look:

The picture of the community of the table and that of the wedding feast.

As one gathering round the table all shall be united; in one wedding company all shall be united. And the unity between one man and one woman shall be the symbol of the unity between God and his people. Thus the Church of Jesus Christ also shows us here, in the married life, a fulfillment of the spirit in two. Our task in the community consists in making our whole life a symbol of the future of mankind in the coming Kingdom of God.