Get a Horse?

By R. J. Rushdoony
January 02, 2023

Chalcedon Report No. 94, June 1973

One of the by-products of the ecology movement is a slogan which of­ten appears as a bumper sticker: “Fight smog. Get a horse.” Suppos­edly horses provided a cleaner atmosphere than automobiles do. Behind that assumption lie some very interesting philosophical and religious be­liefs. However, before commenting on them, let us look first at the day of the horse.

Joel A. Tarr, in “Urban Pollution — Many Long Years Ago” (Ameri­can Heritage 22, no. 6 [October 1971]), gives a vivid picture of how much pollution horses created. Milwaukee, in 1907, had a population of 350,000 people, and a horse population of 12,500. It had a daily problem of 133 tons of manure. It should be noted that every city, apart from its own horses, had a daily influx of wagons and teams from farms, with produce, and from small towns nearby, so that at all times, and espe­cially in the early 1800s, the horses which daily entered a city were very numerous. In 1908, when New York’s population was 4,777,000, it had 120,000 horses. Chicago in 1900 had 83,330 horses. Remember, too, that by this time the streetcar and some automobiles had alleviated the need for horses to a great degree; there were, however, still three and a half mil­lion horses in American cities and seventeen million in the countryside.

Consider the implications of this. In the winter or spring, the manure turned to slush, and it meant walking (and slipping and falling) into liq­uefied manure in bad weather. Americans then were not as calm and se­date as romantics would believe. The weather then led to more bad tem­pers than we can imagine today. What the well-dressed man and woman said on being splattered by liquefied manure by a passing carriage, or on slipping and failing into the foul slush, is best left to the imagination. It was not a pretty picture.

Summer weather did not improve matters. The summer sun dried the manure, and the carriage and wagon wheels soon turned it into a floating dust to be breathed by all, and to coat clothing and furniture with a foul covering. People complained about breathing “pulverized horse dung,” and a summer breeze was a disaster. Summer rains only brought back a manure mush.

The windblown particles were a reservoir for disease spores, such as tetanus. Because of a variety of other forms of pollution, in those days, epidemics of cholera, dysentery, infant diarrhea, small pox, yellow fever, and typhoid were common.

The manure, of course, bred flies by the billions, and they were every­where. It was impossible to keep swarms of flies out of the houses, and a common gesture at the dinner table was to keep waving your free hand to keep the flies off the food. The sparrows were also a major problem. They fed on the grain particles in the manure and they multiplied astronomi­cally. A very common complaint in those days was the sparrow problem. Sparrows could make it difficult to sit under the shade of that old apple tree, and housewives found that their clothes on the clothesline often bore evidences of sparrow droppings.

But this is not all. Freighters, junk men, delivery men, and cabbies were commonly brutal in their treatment of horses. This led to the found­ing in 1866 of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ani­mals. In spite of their efforts, men still killed an animal which dropped in its tracks or broke a leg, and left him dead on the city street. In 1880, there were 15,000 dead horses left on New York streets; as late as 1912, Chicago had 10,000 dead horses left on its streets, although by then streetcars and automobiles were lessening the horse population. One of the first things that happened to a dead horse, before any disposal agency could get to it, was that dogs, by nature scavengers, were quickly busy tearing it to shreds and carting hunks of meat into nooks and alleys.

Much more can be said. For example, the noise pollution was very great. Iron horseshoes on cobblestone pavements, four shoes to a horse, and sometimes two and four horses to a wagon, made a tremendous rack­et, night and day. Automobiles and trucks are silent by comparison. The noise also involved the shouts and profanity of teamsters trying to get the maximum effort out of their overworked animals.

But we have barely touched the surface of urban pollution. Cooking and heating by wood and coal stoves meant that, winter and summer, coal soot was a part of urban life. In heating with coal, faulty flues often led to carbon monoxide poisoning. (In 1902, Emile Zola lost his life in France through charcoal fumes.) Faulty flues often led to serious fires. On winter days, the balls of greasy soot would form and drift in the wind and on the streets. With smog at its worst, cities are today far cleaner. With coal as fuel, housewives could not allow curtains to go unwashed more than six weeks: they would disintegrate if not washed very regu­larly. This meant, too, that painted walls were regularly washed down by tidy housewives as a routine in housecleaning. Housewives aged more rapidly in those days, not because they did not know how to take care of themselves, but because severe pollution, and constant heavy work in combating it, aged them rapidly.

Remember too that, without the automobile, urban sprawl was not nearly as possible then as now, and cities were more compact and con­centrated. This meant that every form of pollution was also more concen­trated and had a corresponding effect on city dwellers.

Other forms of pollution then common can be cited, but the picture is by now clear. The coming of the twentieth-century technology and the automobile did not increase pollution. Rather, it helped limit it severely. Bad as smog is, a very strong case exists for the very important fact that the air over cities is now definitely cleaner.

Moreover, more power to the agencies of civil government is not the answer. The worst pollution today is probably in the Soviet Union (see Marshall I. Goldman, The Spoils of Progress: Environmental Pollution in the Soviet Union [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972]). Most pollution today is created by statist agencies, or, as Dr. Hans Sennholz has shown in a recent study in The Freeman (Irvington, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education), by those sectors of industry which have some form of statist subsidy.

People, however, are very ready to believe that technology and prog­ress are responsible for pollution. In fact, with very many it is a truism that progress means pollution, and the only way to restore the earth is to return to a more primitive way of life.

So-called primitive man was and is a great polluter. One reason why such “primitive” tribes have not done more damage to the earth is that their way of life leads to so much pollution and disease that it limits their population, and their ability to damage is thereby restricted. Many such tribes would set grass and forest fires in order to drive game to them. (This was common among some American Indian tribes.) Others would spread nets across a river to trap all spawning fish. A tribe would stay in one place until all the fish and game were too scarce, or until it was too filthy from human pollution to be tolerable, and then move on. This myth of “primi­tive” man as a conserver is a part of the broader myth which is so deeply rooted in the very unhealthy and twisted aspects of the ecology movement.

The roots are in Rousseau and Rousseau’s idealization of “primitive,” natural man as against civilized and Christian man. Rousseau’s thesis was essentially this, as he himself described it: “man is by nature good, and . . . only our institutions made him bad.” The way to the future was for Rousseau a return to man’s barbaric and primitive past.

Last month, a woman interviewed on television described in glowing terms her visit to a backward tribe. One of the most “wonderful” things about them was their total disregard for time. She found it “beautiful” that someone who promises to do something tomorrow morning might decide to do it only days later. The woman conducting the interview also rhapso­dized over this and declared that we are all too much ruled by the clock, and how wonderful it would be if we could all get rid of living by the clock.

This, of course, is pure Rousseau. Rousseau gave away his watch and declared that time-watching was an evil manifestation of civilization and a mark of decadence. Civilization, the church, private property, technol­ogy (as much as then existed), and much more were all damned by Rous­seau as aspects of degeneracy. Man’s hope was in a return to primitivism, to a golden age of unspoiled, non-Christian man.

The philosophy of Rousseau meant, thus, a negation of Christian civi­lization. It meant, to use Methvin’s apt phrase, the development of “the technology of social demolition” (Eugene H. Methvin, The Rise of Radi­calism [New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1973], p. 99). It meant also the birth of revolution as man’s hope of salvation, of salvation by mass destruction. The philosophy of Rousseau is basic to modern education, politics, and religion. It means that the modern world pins its hopes on destruction, and it has a hatred of progress and civilization, of technology, of religious and philosophical principle. The more deeply all these agen­cies succeed, the more deeply suicidal destruction becomes a way of life. Increasingly, militant sons of Rousseau work to bring technology to a halt out of a radical hatred of technology and progress. A gasoline shortage is developing in the United States, because no new refineries can be built due to opposition on the grounds of a Rousseau-inspired ecology movement. New oil fields cannot be developed for the same reason, and so on and on. Add to this statist controls which are restricting industry, and the picture is one of a man-created crisis caused by a serious shortage of common sense.

In a very important book, Out of Revolution, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (New York, NY: William Morrow, 1938) pointed out that the basic movement of the modern world is from Christ to Adam, from re­deemed and supernatural man to natural man, from Christian civiliza­tion to an anti-Christian world. Goethe’s formulation of this new gos­pel was to the point: “Allah need create no longer. We instead create his world.” As Rosenstock-Huessy observed, the word “creation” was transferred from God to the man of genius. The new world imagined by the followers of Rousseau is the world of post-historical man because primitives know no history. “Books like James Henry Breasted, Dawn of Conscience, with its ardor for an age preceding the despicable age of revelation, or like Frazer’s Golden Bough, pave the road for an age when Jerusalem, Athens and Rome can be eradicated from our children’s textbooks, and where the life of Indians, negroes, Egyptians, Sumerians, Teutons, and Celts will seem much more attractive than the so-called classics of Greece and Rome” (p. 118). The hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses says, “History is the nightmare from which I will awake.”

To say that we are developing a post-Christian civilization is absurd. It misses the whole point of the revolution of our times. What humanistic men are trying to do is to destroy Christianity and civilization, not to create a new civilization. Seidenberg’s Post-Historic Man is also post-civilization man, man beyond and without civilization.

This dream is both insane and impossible, because it reckons without God, but it is no less destructive. There can be no compromise with it, no catering to it, and no collaborating with it. If you are busy bemoaning or apologizing for technology and the machine, either wake up, or get over into the ranks of the barbarians. And leave all your clothes behind as you go: if you are logical and true to your faith, you will not need them. They interfere with your “natural” environment. Take your picket signs with you as you go: you may need them for firewood when your bare butt gets cold, if you believe in fire, that is.

Meanwhile, the rest of us had better realize that it is Christian civili­zation that we must reconstruct, one systematically and faithfully estab­lished on Biblical premises. We must have a healthy regard for the world God has given us, and for the things He has given us the power to develop and to use in the exercise of our dominion under God.

We do not despise the “primitive” or the past, and we recognize that what we have developed today is “primitive” compared to what is to come. We owe much to the men of the last century, and their horse-drawn carriages, but respect for their accomplishments requires that we build further in terms of them.

Remember at all times that God who made all things has also or­dained all things in terms of His sovereign will. The future belongs, not to the sons of Rousseau and their “technology of social demolition,” but to God, and to the people of God. We must remind ourselves, as coura­geous men of past ages have done, that the results are in the hands of God, but the duties are ours. It is time we met them.

Topics: American History, Culture , Technology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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