"I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms," William James announced. He favored instead "the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets . . . rending the hardest monuments of man's pride, if you give theim time."
A century later Karl Hess tried to be a highly visible molecular moral force that would show this city-if not the world-that the Adams-Morgan neighborhood could thrive without Safeway, sewers, Exxon, and representative government. This slender volume by the Goldwater speechwriter turned welder-iconoclast explains why it should have worked but didn't. Hess has since left this multi-racial neighborhood, in which he had spent an apparently happy childhood, for rural West Virginia, where the chances for community self-sufficiency are presumably better.
The Adams-Morgan projects of growing fish in basements, vegetables in vacant lots, and creating self-contained bacteriological tiolets (unhooked from the sewers) foundered on shoals that appeared all around. Hess discovered that most low-income blacks are more interested in being dealt into the existing power system than in being diverted into communal experiments led by voluntarily poor counterculture whites. And then there emerged the neighborhood politicians, exploiting town-meeting forums as a springboard for purely personal ambitions. To these add the workers in many enterprises who became more hooked on ideology than useful skills. And if this were not enough, there were the newly arriving relatively affluent beneficiaries of the existing system, guilty of the further sin of buying physical security from the thievery and worse than ultimately drove Hess to the countryside.
Stripped of its own considerable ideological cant, this book (published by the kind of giant enterprise so scorned by Hess) has a modicum of practical advice for someone seeking greatter self-sufficiency in a world of increasingly fragile interdependence. John W. Gardner once cautioned that those who value philosophers more than plumbers will eventually find that neither their theories nor their pipes hold water. Let us, then, salute Hess the welder but leave the philosophizing to E.F. Schumacher. (Harper & Row, $7.95; paperback, $2.95) CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by John Ryan