Monday, July 14, 2008

From Third Ways paraphrasing Chesterton's "agenda" for Distributism

To decentralize transportation, discourage the railroads and favor the automobile. ... after the tyranny of the railroads, "the free and solitary traveler is returning before our very eyes ... having recovered to some extent the freedom of the King's highway in the manner of Merry England."

There is much to be said, pro and con, for the rise of the automobile. Chesterton believed that the automobile would bring back some personal freedom-not just in practice, but maybe also in a way of life:

If possessing a Ford car means rejoicing in a field of corn or clover, in a fresh landscape and a free atmosphere, it may be the beginning of many things .... It may be, for instance the end of the car and be the beginning of the cottage.

And in some senses I agree with this last. But we both must remember (as Chesterton certainly does-read the paragraph preceding this quote from the Outline of Sanity) that the automobile itself is not intrinsically good or evil. And while I would be hard pressed to give up one of my automobiles, I think that looking back, Chesterton might find that the auto has done more to kill the family farm than to help it.

Here's the deal. I was talking to a neighbor farmer the other day. He is 87 years old. This area used to be full of family farms, including dairy farms etc. I asked about cotton (it is not seen too much in these parts.) He told me that this whole area was awash in cotton. I asked whether the textile mills closing (going overseas) was the cause of its demise. He said, maybe in part. But he told me that more importantly, the kids left home to work in the cities to have more cash. He told me that farming could be a hard life, but you never were in want, (you never had cash-but you had food, the necessities). But the children born to his generation wanted cash; they wanted things. So they left the farm. Without families to work the farms, especially the more labor intensive crops, the farms died.

Now is the automobile to blame? Oh not entirely, but it is certainly one of those things in life which gives you a sense of independence from everyone and anything else-and can make you want more of the like. You can make it on your own.

Sometimes one needs this, but in truth (and this is hard for Americans) we need each other, our family and our community. And for the good of our souls, we need to rely more upon each other.

Chesterton was right about the possibilities, but in our fallen human nature, he was overly optimistic about how many would see the clover and give up the car (not literally of course). In fact, it worked more often the other way.

So Chesterton saw the potential for good of the auto. And of course, Englishmen (and England) are different than Americans-perhaps this makes all the difference?

Oremus pro invicem!

1 comment:

jenniferfitz said...

I think the oldness of europe -- so much of the infrastructure was already well in place before the automobile came along -- made the impact of automobiles very different than what happened here. That has been my experience, anyhow.

--> Though I don't know whether the specific point about family farming is any different.

On the other hand, some of the changes we've experienced in the US are just changed expectations. It seems like children (and adults) walk less and less in each generation, because more and more we think it is right and normal to drive everywhere.

In another writing (can't remember which) Chesterton observed that seeing the world from a car window is not the same as seeing it on foot. He was right about that. When we drive past our neighbors, we don't get the same experience as when we walk past.