Out of Egypt have I called my son.1
In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class…2
The law therefore should favor ownership; and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the humbler classes to become owners.3
Many excellent results will follow from this, and first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided. For the result of civil change and revolution has been to divide society into two widely different castes. On the one side there is the Party which holds power because it holds wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labour and trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and for its own purposes all the sources of supply and which is even represented in the Councils of the State itself.4
On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, broken down and suffering and ever ready for disturbance. If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another.5
A further consequence will result in the greater abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder on what belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields, in response to the labour of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labour would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the Community is self-evident.6
And a third advantage would spring from this; men would cling to the country in which they were born; for no one would exchange their country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life.7
The challenge of these inspired words of Holy Scripture and authoritative words of a Papal Encyclical has led the Catholics of these Islands to begin a Movement out of the towns and back to the country. Not that the challenge of itself led immediately to the present Movement. There have been forty years of social wandering since Pope Leo called the need of a remedy “urgent.” When his challenge was first sounded,
Some minds were not a little disturbed, with the result that the noble and exalted teaching of Leo XIII, quite novel to worldly ears, was looked upon with suspicion by some even among Catholics and gave offence to others. For it boldly attacked and overthrew the idols of liberalism, swept aside inveterate prejudices, and was so far and so unexpectedly in advance of its time that the slow of heart ridiculed the study of the new social philosophy and the timid feared to scale its lofty heights. Nor were there wanting those who, while professing their admiration for this message of light, regarded it as a Utopian ideal desirable rather than attainable in practice.8
The group of Catholics, Priests and Lay-folk, who are beginning an exodus from the famine to the possibility of ownership have, in fact, yielded to authority only as brought home by circumstances directly observable by themselves. They have been finally moved to act and to re-act not merely, or mainly, by the challenge from Rome but by the cry from the penury and sin of Glasgow, Birmingham, and London. In conviction, if not in words, they had anticipated the following words of the Holy Father:
After modern machinery and modern industry had progressed with astonishing speed and taken possession of many newly colonised countries no less than of the ancient civilisations of the Far East, the number of the dispossessed labouring masses, whose groans mount to Heaven from these lands, increased beyond all measure. Moreover, there is the immense army of hired rural labourers, whose condition is depressed in the extreme and who have no hope of ever obtaining a share in the land. These, too, unless efficacious remedies be applied, will remain perpetually sunk in their present conditions.9
Let us then set down in order some of the main motives that have led these Catholics to see in obedience to the Holy Father in this particular matter not only a generally right and desirable thing for Christendom to do, but the best and most urgent thing for themselves to do here in Great Britain and at the present time.
First and Principal Motive: To Worship God
Like the chosen people they are minded to leave the flesh pots of Egypt, not for the “milk and honey” of the Promised Land, but that the people may go and worship God.10 They wish to put first things first. Their law, or rule, like the law of the people of God, begins: I am the Lord, thy God, that brought thee out of the Land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage. Thou shall not have strange gods before Me.11 Not only will they not worship by desire what is wrong—like Mammon—but they will not desire as a primary good what is only a secondary good. Thus they will leave the ugliness of the town, not for the beauty of the land, but for the beauty of God’s face; they will fly from the disease of the town, not for the health of the body, but for the health of the soul; they will cut the tangled complexity of town life, not for the simple life with nature, but for the quiet life with God.
Second Great Motive: To Follow Christ
Moreover, as a greater than Moses has, by His death on the Cross, led them out of a greater bondage than that of Egypt, the God whom they worship and would follow is He whose name was written on the Cross as “JESUS OF NAZARETH”.
Now Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made Flesh, did not come into our midst, to show flesh and blood an example but to be its redeemer.
Man’s power of willing what he knew had always been so much less than his power of knowing what to will that what he needed most was not leadership or even example making a plain way still plainer, but redemption making his weak human will stronger.
Now what must be said of the human race in the days before the coming of Jesus must be said today. If we may believe two Popes, who have written about social matters, mankind has done wrong so effectively that social good has to be, not only stored, but restored. An evil or a mistaken past must now be redeemed at a great price. But only the weights and measures of Nazareth will give individuals and nations the ownership and sovereignty of their own souls. The modern world needs redemption; and redemption means a return to Nazareth. It is for this reason that over the lintel of every home and homestead we would build on the land might well be cut in stone:
And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them.12
Third Motive: Family Love
One of the most explicit motives of those who are turning their faces towards the land is the desire to restore the Catholic Family. Most of the older men and women who can themselves remember parents and grandparents, know that the modern arrangement of the world has put an end to the historic institution called HOME. Many of the younger men and women, too, realise as if by intuition that a state of things that makes race-suicide seem to be the only practical policy is only a state of chaos—if, indeed, it can be called a state.
The splendid vision of wedded love, granted by God to the heart of youth, seems but divine mockery when met by town conditions, which make the begetting of a family seem a crime against the State.
It is to the credit of our sober days that amongst the most sober fugitives from that proximate occasion of sin called “the modern town” are to be found young men and women whose heart is stirring with the self-sacrificial desires of wedlock and parenthood.
It is in these aspirants to wedded vows that poor prodigal, man, turns from the squalor of a stye and the company of swine to a home furnished and adorned with husband and wife, parent and child.
In that holy place of human love, room and need will be found for the parent, now become the grandfather or grandmother. How ill-organised is a world that has no other place than an “Institution,” a Workhouse, for the wisdom of the old. But what a school of human and divine love, and therefore of wisdom that springs from love, is a Home made possible and safe by the Homestead. Modern seekers after the true method of education will seek in vain until they recognise the wisdom in the phrase once uttered by a woman of the crowd: “I had nothing but home-schooling.” Yet the home-schooling now almost absent from town life is so fundamental that, in another phrase of a Priest of God: “Political Economy is the child of Domestic Economy.” This only says, in language of the Schools, that God has made the Family to be the unit and model of the State, and that the greatest praise of Sovereign Power is to call the wielder of that power the “Father of his People.”
Fourth Motive: Love of Chastity
This family life, with its craft of love, leads to another motive driving Catholic men and women out of city life to the land. Everywhere around them there are the sight and reek of bodily sin. These men and women are beginning to burn with shame at the insult offered to them. If they are men, they feel the insult of being considered so sensual that even a food or a holiday haunt cannot be offered to them without the recommendation of some sensual nudity. If they are women, in an age of self-consciousness they feel even more insulted by the suggestion that women’s chief interest for man is not spiritual or intellectual, but carnal.
Town life, with its daily herding together in dwellings and modes of transport, is tending to produce a sensual disease which only isolation will cure or prevent. Psychologists of the mob-and a modern town is hardly more than a mob will recognise that no moral disease is so contagious and persistent as that which is based on the bodily pleasure accompanying the altruism of parenthood.
Too often has mob psychology studied merely the wild outbursts of a crowd in anger; forgetful that, though “Thou shalt not kill” is a more fundamental commandment than “Thou shall not commit adultery,” yet taking life is, in itself, so mentally abhorrent, and creating life is so physically pleasurable that when men and women are herded together in our modern towns sexual uncontrol tends to spread like a social plague. To flee that sensual plague Catholic men and women are going out of the crowded town to the wide spaces of the countryside, where the infection of sin within them will not be in the fittest medium for its growth and spread.
Fifth Motive: Love of Justice
Another motive behind the Catholic land-crusaders is the ideal embodied in the Redeemer’s first reveille: “Blessed are the Poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Yet that reveille does not awaken the ideal of a starving poverty that is hardly permitted to give, or even to live. On the contrary, it is the heroic and socially valuable poverty of Him who was poor yet enriching many. Return to land-work, and its twin-fellow hand-work, means the return to a stable, profitable state of things, where the worker lives over his work and deals directly with the things made by infinite wisdom and love. When man has made this return, not to things primitive, but to things primary, MAN NEED NOT WASTE A MOMENT OF TIME OR AN OUNCE OF MATERIAL.
In other words, return to land-work and hand-work gives all men the chance, and unselfish men the inducement, to the ideal: Poverty of Work in Production—Poverty of Thrift in Consumption. These are the two kinds of Poverty linked with the two primary functions of Production and Consumption.
By Poverty of Work a man seeks to produce as much as possible of real, as distinct from, token wealth. His ideal will be to produce the most he can of the best he can. St. Paul’s challenge to the discussion-loving Ephesians will seldom fail from his thoughts—“He that stole let him steal no more. But rather let him toil, working with his hands the thing that is good that he may have wherewith to give to the needy.”13
Such a worker will have all the more to give if after he has produced as much as he can he consumes as little as he needs. Poverty of Work joined with Poverty of Thrift. A land-worker or a hand-worker who measures his rights by his duties, and his wants by his needs, will leave the world that welcomed him richer than when it gave him a welcome.
Set against this enriching poverty of land-work and hand-work, the machine-work of the town is seen to be essentially wasteful of time and material. When, then, the Catholic land crusaders plan to leave the town it is not merely through a desire to worship God and keep the hard command:—“Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but in a desire to fulfill, “Thou shalt not steal”.
Sixth Motive: Love of Liberty
A further motive of urgency with the Catholic Land Crusaders may be called their Love of Liberty. To some of them this motive expresses itself as a principle:—“The Home is the Social Defence of Liberty and the Homestead is the Economic Defence of the Home.”
Yet this liberty is not a man’s physical and moral power to do what he would, but to do what he ought. The half-truth, and therefore heresy, of “self-expression” takes no lasting root on the land.
But only on the land, with its easy direct access to the forces of nature, is there the normal possibility of that unselfish self-reproduction which is nature’s counterstroke to “self-expression”.
On the land, therefore, the father of a family, which is the divine unit of human society, can seek liberty without himself falling into any anti-social selfishness. His demand to be free from servile conditions is a demand to have no hindrance to the good use of his power to beget and rear a family.
Put briefly, the ideal of liberty appears thus to the young men and women of the Land-Crusade. They think that human love, being a divine instinct, lives only by the making and the keeping of promises, or vows. Now, every vow made is a duty forged. For wedded love the mutual promise of the husband and wife, and the promise, all the more sacred because not mutual, of the father and mother towards the child, forge a chain of duty which demands the utmost freedom from all let or hindrance. And the youth who are now looking for the liberty to worship God by family life are turning from the servile conditions of the modem town as man has made it to the free conditions of nature made by God.
Seventh Motive: Love of the Fatherland
Lastly, the men and women who are preparing to quit the towns for the land of their native country are prompted by the love of their country. They recognise that no town feeds or clothes itself, but must necessarily be fed and clothed by the dwellers on the land. Moreover, they go on to recognise that the more people dwell in the town, the more people must dwell on and till the land. Hence, a State so organised that town-dwellers increase and land-dwellers decrease is a State bleeding to death.
But no other country in the world has our excess of town-dwellers over land-dwellers. The results of this ill-made distribution of our people are set out with startling clearness by the Prime Minister—Mr. Ramsay MacDonald—in a recent utterance on the National Crisis:
It is essential that the confidence of the world in our credit should be restored; otherwise we shall not be able to maintain the value of the pound sterling and the results of that should be very carefully considered. First of all, if there was any collapse of the pound we should be defaulting in our obligations to the rest of the world, and our credit would be gone. This would be fatal, since this country, above all others, depends on the maintenance of its credit, having to buy, as we do, so large a Part of our food and raw materials from abroad.14
If our financial stability is endangered and a run made on our financial resources, the consequences are too terrible to envisage.15
It is sometimes urged that land-work is hard. The reply must always be:—“Hard or easy, land-work is necessary.” If then, the Nation needs for its life the sacrifice (or, as the present writer would say, the seeming sacrifice) of land-work, this work must be organised, either voluntarily or compulsorily; because a nation, like an individual, cannot take its own life. If voluntary effort fails the Nation will be compelled to apply compulsion. Flens dico.16 Such compulsion would be a disgrace to any people, especially the people of these Islands, to whom God has committed land that is the most fertile and a climate that is the most temperate of His World.
But the Catholic Land Crusaders are determined to prevent this disgrace by making voluntary effort not a failure, but a success. Filled with a hope and love that spring from their high vision of faith they are tided to go forth from Egypt’s servile conditions to the liberty of the sons and daughters of God, where they may worship Him with hand and heart. They will not be forgetful that when God bids them worship Him by the commandment “ Honor thy father and thy mother,” He has bid them to give honour, reverence, obedience, and, at times, self-sacrifice to the land that bore them and the breasts of earth that gave them suck.
Prepare thy work without and diligently till thy ground that afterwards thou mayest build thy house.17
- Matthew 2:15.
- Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum, no. 3 (1891).
- Ibid., no. 46.
- Ibid., no. 47.
- Ibid., no. 46.
- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, no. 14 (1931).
- Quadragesimo Anno, no. 59.
- Exodus 6.
- Ibid., 20:2-3.
- Luke 2:51.
- Eph. 4:28.
- Broadcast Address (25th August, 1931).
- Letter to unofficial members of the Labour Party (26th August, 1931).
- I say it with tears.
- Proverbs 24:27.