I came across this book in an odd way. Jerome Lange had gone on a trip to visit family and friends in the upper Midwest; I went over to see him when he got back, and he told me a friend had loaned him a really good book about back-to-the-land thinking, by a fellow whose name he coudn’t pronounce. It wasn’t Belloc, was it? Well, yes it was, and the book was An Essay on the Restoration of Property.
The Belloc book is published by IHS Press, which is devoted to reprinting Distributist and related works. We were standing by Jerome’s desk, I saw a copy of another book from IHS Press, which his friend had also loaned him; I hadn’t seen it before, and so I asked if I could borrow it. The book, Flee to the Fields, turns out to be one of the most helpful I’ve read in the past few months.
The subtitle of the book is The Founding Papers of the Catholic Land Movement. I’ve mentioned before that what I was reading about distributism was mostly abstract and not very practical. But it turns out there was actually a movement in England that worked to put distributist principles into practice. This book is not exactly a history of that movement, but rather a summary of the thinking behind the movement about ten years into the project. It sits somewhere between armchair speculation and empirical results; the ideas have been partially proven, and some of them have been adjusted in response to experience.
The Catholic Land Movement was not a roaring triumph, but it was experiencing moderate success and exhibiting some momentum, when WWII brought the effort to an abrupt halt. But the things they accomplished between 1929 and 1940 lend a lot of credibility to the program laid out in these documents; it was much more than just a pipedream.
Flee to the Fields is brief, but still comprehensive. Like most of the IHS volumes there is a new introduction that puts the book in historic context. And the various papers address the history of agrarianism, the problem of industrialism, the response of distributism, the importance of family and community and church to agrarian life, together with explanations of how and why we must center our lives on farming and handcrafts.