The Ten Meaningful Books Challenge: Day Seven

When Democracy Builds by Frank Lloyd Wright (Published 1945)

Before I knew anything of his writings, I was in love with his architecture! Sometime during my high school years I read an article about the house, Falling Water, and I was hooked … a house in the woods with a river running through it? A house I might have envisioned if I were an architect.

In college, while studying interior design, I started researching Frank Lloyd Wrights designs — his buildings – both private homes and public buildings – his furniture and his fabrics. One of my teachers had a similar affinity for all things “Wrightian” and lent me some of the books from his library and took me to the Art Institute of Chicago where I was given entry into the fabric archives and allowed to look through the swatch books of his fabric collection (with gloves on, of course).

That teacher let me keep some of the books that he’d lent to me and this book, When Democracy Builds, is one of them. Since then, I’ve bought others written by Wright and about Wright and now I have my own collection, but this is the book that touched me the most deeply. Rereading the dust cover, the foreward and the bit of poetry by Walt Whitman Wright used to open the book, I’m struck by how deeply this still hits me. So I’ll just quote:

AND THOUGH AMERICA …

Thou, too, surroundest all/Embracing, carrying, welcoming all, thou too/By pathways broad and new approach the Ideal.

The measured faiths of other lands,/The grandeurs of the past, are not for thee/But grandeurs of thine own,/Deific faiths and amplitudes, absorbing, comprehending all,/All in all to all.

Give me, O God, to sing that thought,/Give me, give him or her I love this quenchless faith in Thee./Whatever else withheld withhold not from us/Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space …

Walt Whitman

From the Foreward to When Democracy Builds

What sap and leaves were to the great oak a healthy aesthetic is to a people.

This book is written in firm belief that true human culture has a healthy idea of the beautiful as its life-of-the-soul: an Aesthetic-Organic as of Life, not on it. This normal aesthetic sense would make of a man a gracious, potent, integral part of the whole of Life. Ethics, Art, and Religion survive only to the extent that they embody human sentiment for the beautiful. To ignore this truth is to misunderstand the soul of man, turn him over to science ignorant of his significance and blind to his destiny.

Here in this great melting-pot of all the breaking-down or cast-off cultures of this world, we have allowed the present arrogance of science to deprive us of genuine culture.

Just as great trees die, so civilizations die — withered from within. Or they are blown down, destroyed root and branch by war: the tempest. Or buried by revolution: the flood.

Our salvation and our future protection depend upon the realization that if our Science is carried far enough and deep enough, we will find great Art to be a sure significance of all science can ever know. We will see that true Religion is a valid prophecy of everything science may discover. We will likewise find that philosophy itself is the science of man from within the man himself — while so-called sciences must work upon him from the outside. Where man’s soul is concerned, science works mostly in vain. Because such science as we have practiced has tried to substitute morality for ethics, has ignored or only imitated art, confused religion, and demoralized philosophy and ethics in the popular mind. No science can be fruitful until Art, Religion, Philosophy, Ethics, Science, too, are comprehended and comprised as one great Entity or, at least, universal Unity.

… Once upon a time the conquering of physical or territorial realm was the new frontier. But to conquer sordid, ugly commercialism in this machine age … this conquest is now “the New Frontier.”

So this book is on the firing line of this new, most important frontier of all frontiers: the fight for Faith, faith in democracy, faith in the gospel of individuality, and faith in Beauty that is the efflorescence of the Living Tree. Faith in Man: his faith in himself as Himself.

The music to accompany this book, “America the Beautiful/The Times They Are a’Changing” from the album Spirit of ’76 – by Spirit (1975).