Friday 29 October 2021

Voluntary Poverty

During the interwar years of the last century (1918 - 1939) malaise, depression, disease, poverty and loneliness were rampant. As the First World War ended the Spanish Flu pandemic brought sudden death to millions. Soldiers returned from the War-to-End-All-Wars permanently damaged physically and mentally. Economic Depression and totalitarian regimes followed. Out of those devastating times many initiatives arose, as men and women sought ways to work together to bring an end to poverty amidst plenty. In these days of sickness, confusion and loneliness, the story of The Catholic Worker, a story that continues to this day, is encouraging and enlightening.

Accounts of the founding of The Catholic Worker in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin are many and varied. A good starting point is Wikipedia. The paper promoted justice and peace, and reported on strikes, demonstrations and court cases arising therefrom. The paper promoted intelligent discussion of current affairs by men and women of all faiths and all walks of life, rich and poor, scholars, farm and factory workers. Peter Maurin's three point programme was simple and direct. It comprised Round-table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality, Agronomic Universities.

Round-table Discussions: The starting point was discussions where people can contribute their ideas and clarify their thoughts. People need to be well read and articulate, and Peter "believed this was within everyone's grasp no matter the level of education or state of mind. All who asked deserved to be taught the best and to be treated as equal scholars, as everyone could and should have a philosophy to live by". (Kate Hennessy Dorothy Day, The World Will Be Saved by Beauty (Scribner, 2017. p71)

Houses of Hospitality: Houses of hospitality are organised to provide the destitute in urban areas with shelter, food and clothing. Peter Maurin based his vision of such establishments on the bishop's hospices for wayfarers in the middle ages.

Agronomic Universities: Those at the Houses of Hospitality could, and did, move on to form farming communes, or 'agronomic universities' where workers and scholars together could rebuild society within the shell of the old. There people could find their vocations, no longer needing to become waged and salaried slaves of the multi-national corporations. Agronomics is the branch of economy dealing with the distribution, management and distribution of land. As Peter Maurin observed, there's no unemployment on the land. To lessen the need for money, you need to "grow what you eat, and eat what you grow." using organic farming methods.

In summary, Catholic Radicalism goes to the root of the problem. It supports individuals in their quest to work with others on their own terms. It enables young people to adopt a lifestyle of voluntary poverty, which is very different from destitution, by working and developing their skills sustainable communities. Central to such a programme is a ready supply of books and hard copy literature in libraries which can be maintained to be accessible to all.


Lincoln Steffens says:

"The social problem

is not a political problem;

it is an economic problem.

Kropotkin says:

"The economic problem

is not an economic problem;

it is an ethical problem."

Thorstein Veblen says:

"There are no ethics in modern society."

R. H. Tawney says:

"There were high ethics

in society

when the Canon Law

was the law of the land."

The high ethics

of the Canon Law

are embodied in the encyclicals

of Pius XI and Leo XIII

on the social problem.

To apply the ethics

of the encyclicals

to the problems of today,

such is the purpose

of Catholic Action.

Peter Maurin

If the named authors are unfamiliar, we can check them on Wikipedia. But that is no substitute for study in hard copy. When he wrote the 'Easy Essay' above, Peter Maurin was referring to books and articles written by each of the named authors, that he had read for himself.

NOTE: See earlier blogs for more information on this topic. See Easy Essays on the SOCIAL ART page of

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Thinking Allowed

"We must help each other". So said Brian Gerrish in a recent edition of UK Column News, the news channel that seeks to understand the causes of social malaise. Those words put me in mind of the 1st September entry on this Understanding Life and Debt blog and the story of the Bonesetter. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War he turns up to accept, with great dignity, a charity handout of food. Bonesetters were traditional healers who, like priests, teachers, parents, carers and farmers, gave service outside the money economy. Their work was informed by the common cultural heritage of traditional learning and skills, built up over untold generations. They supported, and were supported by, the community as a whole. This raises a host of highly discussable questions.

The notion of being trained to give service has given way to the necessity to be trained to perform specific tasks in return for a money wage or salary. Those tasks are specified by a system that is beyond the comprehension or control of even the most senior economists, historians, philosophers and academics. The young men and women of today are being trained to produce and administer, pharmaceutical, agribusiness and technological products that the world economy demands by virtue of its control over finance in all its guises.

At the end of a very long article on modern medicine in New View (Autumn 2021) Dr. Thomas Hardtmuth describes an event that took place earlier this year in Germany:

"On 1 August 2021, I took part in a demonstration against the corona measures in Berlin, and I have never seen so many peaceful and relaxed people, families with children, pensioners, artists, musicians, intellectuals,and even clowns – all from the middle-class echelons of society. I couldn’t find a single ‘Nazi’ or other so-called (rightist) ‘radical’, as they are so often presented in our German media! Talking to some of the participants,it was so pleasant for me to experience how many sympathetic, courageous and also educated people there are in our country – a modern, colourful society, as one would basically like to see.

"In fact, the planned demonstration on the 'Strasse des 17 Juni’ and in the government district had been banned, so that the estimated 200,000 people dispersed in numerous smaller marches throughout the centre of Berlin. What was frightening was the massive extent of the brutality and show of force with which the police acted. Endless squadrons of emergency vehicles raced through the city with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing – actually, completely senseless – generating a catastrophic kind of mood for which there was no justification at all. Countless police squads in black uniforms, with helmets, visors, batons, tear gas, firearms, knee and elbow pads (as if they wanted to win a war) obviously had orders from ‘above’ to stop and disperse the demonstration marches by means of numerous road-blocks. Some of the violence used was so martial that the UN Special Representative for Human Rights Violations has since intervened with an enquiry to the government.

At one point, we were directly confronted by a chain of police officers. On closer inspection, the pale faces of totally over strained and completely insecure young people, including many young women in their early twenties, who were sweating with fear, were partially hidden in these threatening-looking suits of armour; how grotesque! An older woman next to me obviously also made a similar observation, stepping forward and shouting to them, ‘Why don’t you take off your helmets – we won’t hurt you!’. After this ‘disarming’ sentence, there was a short silence; it was one of those small profound moments where it brought tears to some people’s eyes because this simple sentence had such a strong impact.

Dr. Hardtmuth asks the fundamental question of our times: "Where does this aggression and accompanying fear come from, which threatens to divide society more and more at the moment, and which has already destroyed so many relationships in private life?"

It is a question that can only be answered by all of us living today. As we go about our daily business, as adults young and old, the task is to maximise what we can do for others in the real economy - outside the financial economy - whilst seeking to rationalise our relationship with the financial economy. (See resources on the website

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Blowing the Dynamite



Writing about the Catholic Church,

a radical writer says:

"Rome will have to do more

than to play a waiting game;

she will have to use

some of the dynamite

inherent in her message.

"To blow the dynamite

of a message

is the only way

to make the message dynamic.

If the Catholic Church

is not today

the dominant social dynamic force,

it is because Catholic scholars

have failed to blow the dynamite of the Church.

Catholic scholars

have taken the dynamite

of the Church,

have wrapped it up

in nice phraseology,

placed it in an hermetic container

and sat on the lid.

It is about time to blow the lid off

so the Catholic Church

may again become

the dominant social dynamic force.

Peter Maurin

"Blowing the Dynamite" is one of Peter Maurin's Easy Essays on Catholic Radicalism. How these essays, and several books on Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker, came to be on my library shelves I have no idea. But I suspect it came about in the following way.

About ten years ago I was part of a small group of parishioners at the local St. Anne's Parish RC Church in in the centre of Keighley, Yorkshire. We took over the near-derelict premises of the old Catholic Club and, for a few years, ran the two-storey, double-fronted premises as a community centre. Donations to the bric-a-brac stall included many wonderful books on church history, arts, lives of saints, social history, prayer, devotion, philosophy and so on. We bought bookshelves and formed an ever-expanding library. Two of our number took charge of the library, which became quite naturally a place to linger and chat over coffee. When a change of regime took the premises out of our hands - we were quite literally locked out of the premises - we managed to rescue some of the books. Those about the Catholic Worker movement may well have come from there. What happened to the rest of the books, I have no idea.

Over its time as a community centre, the building as a whole was a good place to be. The upper floor, with its bar and catering facilities, provided for a range of low-cost social gatherings, including musical events, parties, weddings and funeral teas, and it could be booked by outside organisations. In addition to the library, the ground floor provided light refreshments for all manner of small groups, from mother and toddlers to afternoon teas with entertainment for the elderly, coffee mornings, prayer groups, study groups, meditation, ecumenical and inter-faith discussions, groups of disabled (wheelchair access) and so on. The whole place was enthused by Catholic social teaching. Its weakness and vulnerability was due to our insistence upon an all-volunteer management team.

For a place like that to survive, in pre-Covid days, it was necessary to find funding to pay a manager a salary to maintain the premises, whilst constantly seeking out sources of funds to continue to pay the employee. Our merry band of total volunteers was doomed to failure in the long run.

Things are very different now. In these days of Lockdowns, masks and covid passports, we may now fruitfully explore the literature of the Catholic Worker movement. Founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the USA during the Depression years of the 1930s, the movement enabled thousands of young people to share voluntary poverty in the cause of a just, loving and peaceful society.

Over the course of its existence, the Keighley Catholic Community Centre provided support for so many people, support that was never quantified, measured or recorded. It just happened quietly, behind the scenes, as people came in to book funeral teas or sit with others over coffee. One group of 'craft and chats' were mothers of ex-military sons who had been traumatised by their experiences. They provided mutual support to each other. I would suggest that every locality in the UK could provide some form of community centre, self-organised by volunteers, based in a range of premises such as municipal libraries, faith centres and community halls. Indeed, much work is already being done along those lines. It just needs to be transformed from stop-gap to mainstream. At the heart of the Catholic Worker movement is the full commitment of the young to a life of voluntary poverty. Voluntary poverty can be shared by all, scholars, workers and carers alike. It does not mean destitution.


Dorothy Day The Long Loneliness

Fritz Eichenberg Works of Mercy

Peter Maurin Catholic Radicalism (text on SOCIAL ART page of

Sunday 17 October 2021

The Catholic Worker and the Land

For those who have put to us the question "What have you to offer in the way of 'a constructive program for a new social order?" we have replied over and over, "Peter Maurin's three-point program of Round-table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality, Farming Communes." This program is so simple as to be unsatisfactory to most, who look for something to be so complicated before it can be successful. Remembering the words of St. Francis that we cannot know what we have not practiced, we have tried not only to publish a paper but to put our program into practice. From the very beginning we have sought clarification of thought through The Catholic Worker, through round-table discussions, forums, through circulating literature. We have had a workers' school where the finest scholars of the Church have come to teach. We have had a House of Hospitality now for two years, where we gave shelter to the homeless, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and cared for the sick. We have tried, all of us, to be workers and scholars, and to combine work and prayer according to the Benedictine ideal. We have tried to imitate St. Francis in his holy poverty. Our aim has been to combat the atheism of the day by our devotion to the liturgical movement; to combat the bourgeois spirit by the Franciscan spirit; to oppose to class-war technique the performance of the works of mercy.

We have not altogether neglected the farming commune idea, inasmuch as we had a halfway house in Staten Island where children were given vacations, weekend conferences were held and the sick cared for, and a garden cultivated.

March 1st will see the start of a serious attempt to put into practice the third point in our program. We are going to move out on a farm, within a few hours of New York, and start there a true farming commune.

We are making this move because we do not feel that we can talk in the paper about something we are not practicing. We believe that our words will have more weight, our writings will carry more conviction, if we ourselves are engaged in making a better life on the land.

This does not mean that we are going to abandon the city, which we realize is above all the home of the dispossessed, of the forgotten. We shall keep a group in New York City and the work of the apostolate of labor will go on. We shall also be sending out apostles of labor from the farm, to scenes of industrial conflict, to factories and to lodging houses, to live and work with the poor. The columns of the paper will be filled as usual with industrial news, discussion of unionism, the cooperative movement, maternity guilds, relief, public and private. But there will be more space devoted to rural life problems, and you will hear from month to month how the work of the farming commune is progressing, the difficulties, the mistakes, and the progress of the work.

Help us in this venture, which is your venture, too. And pray with us we get out of the city by March 1.

Dorothy Day, January 1936

COMMENT: This blog serves to introduce the Catholic Worker, and Peter Maurin's concept of agronomic universities. More to follow. See also the earlier blogs, and the Easy Essays on the SOCIAL ART page of . See also Does anybody know what form the "maternity guilds" (mentioned above) took in the 1930s?

Friday 15 October 2021

Introducing Peter Maurin's Easy Essays

 NOTE: In 1975 Stanley Vishnewski wrote the following introduction to Peter Maurin's Easy Essays The Essays are reproduced on the SOCIAL ART page of

ter Maurin's Easy Essays were never meant to be written. His Essays were intended to be declaimed in public. Peter did not consider himself to be a writer. He was inclined to look upon himself as a modern Troubadour. One who would tour the length of this industrial society preaching in his singsong method the thoughts that he had painstakingly gleaned from his voluminous readings and studies.

It was only when people would refuse to listen that Peter went to the trouble of writing out his Essays and leaving them with people who he thought would be interested.

Peter was a classic example of not judging a man by his appearance. I recall one evening when I was with Peter in the auditorium of a church where a forum on Social Justice was being conducted. I remember how the chairman persistently refused to recognize Peter because of Peter's shabby appearance. But somehow Peter managed to get to speak and in a few minutes he had the audience enthralled as he recited his Easy Essays and the applause was thunderous.

Peter was a thinker and a synthesizer of history. He had a great grasp of history -- a knowledge that caused Father Parsons S.J., then editor of America, to comment that Peter was the best read man that he had ever met.

Peter was a man with a message. It was a simple message, so simple that it was a stumbling block to many who wanted a complicated program of action. Peter's teachings were based upon Cult, Culture, and Cultivation.

By Cult, Peter meant the Liturgical Cycle of the Church with its yearly cycle of festivals and ceremonials. A worship of God that would use the whole man (the holy man) in the worship and adoration of God.

By Culture, Peter meant the study of literature and the great classics. The cultivation of the mind by the intimate knowledge of literature.

By Cultivation, Peter meant the return to the soil -- The Green Revolution. The establishment of Community Life in a strongly individualistic society.

When Peter Maurin met Dorothy Day in 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, he came with a program of action based upon his message. Peter, in his wisdom, realised the futility of preaching to men who were homeless and had empty stomachs. ("You can't preach to a man on an empty stomach," a saint was reported to have said.) So the first plank in his program was the establishing of Houses of Hospitality. These would be centres (many times store fronts) where those in need would receive help from those who came to serve them at a personal sacrifice.

Once the needs of people were taken care of and they no longer had to worry about their next meal or a place to sleep then it was time, Peter taught, to start the second part of his program, which was Round-Table Discussions. By means of discussions, talks, leaflets, papers, people were to be given an understanding of history. People were to be led to understand for themselves what there was nf history that led up to the Great Depression and was the cause of unemployment, war and their own misery. Once they understood this, then by studying the present they could slowly prepare the groundwork for a new social order.

The Catholic Worker paper was established to carry out the second part of Peter's program. The first issue of 2500 copies was launched by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in May, 1933. From this small beginning the paper, as the organ of The Catholic Worker Movement, spread throughout the world. Today (1975) some 90,000 copies a month are printed.

A great deal of controversy surrounded the publication of the Catholic Worker. The issues of land reform, unionisation, war and peace, industrialism vs agrarianism filled the pages of the paper.

But there was little controversy on the first part of the program: Houses of Hospitality. The ideal of taking care of the poor and the needy at a personal sacrifice appealed to hundreds of young men and women -- many of whom gave up comfortable homes and good jobs to live with the poor. It was Peter's idea that the voluntary poor should live with the involuntary poor to give them hope and love.

Before long there were 35 Hospices in the United States -- most of them falling victim to the slum clearance that followed the Second World War. But today as I write (1975) there has been a complete resurgence of the Hospices and Dorothy Day tells me that there are now 46 Hospices, with new ones coming into existence from time to time.

The third part of Peter's program was more visionary. It was the establishment of Farming Communities. Peter dreamed of a society where it would be easier for men to be good. He dreamed of Farming Communes where those unemployed would find work and security. Peter wanted to restore the ideal of Community in a Church that had forgotten the ideal -- and because Churchmen had lost the ideal, the heresy of Communism had sprung up.

Peter's philosophy of action, as he was the first to admit it, was not a new philosophy at all, but one so old that people had actually forgotten it. The Church, Peter taught, had a message that was so revolutionary that to preach it would rock the social order from one end to the other. But what had happened was that Catholic scholars had sealed the message in pious tracts and that it was now the mission of the Catholic Worker to explode the dynamite that was inherent in the teachings of the Church. These thoughts of Peter are here in this slender volume of Easy Essays that the Chicago Catholic Worker Hospice had reprinted. They will bear careful reading and studying. They are the distillation of a lifetime of serious studying and thinking of the problems of our age. The money from the sale of this book will be used for the work of the Chicago Hospice and I am happy to be able to add these words of mine to the memory of a man whose greatness will one day be recognized. Stanley Vishnewski, Catholic Worker Farm, Tivoli, New York (1975)

NOTE: The Easy Essays are reproduced on the SOCIAL ART page of

Saturday 9 October 2021

Stop, Read and Listen

 In former days, when life was slower and calmer, a child would be told to pause at the roadside, to "Stop! Look! and Listen!" before proceeding to cross.

In a similar way Ernst Wolff's address to the Wachstum Erde Frieden Freiheit – (‘Growth’, ‘Earth’, ‘Peace’, ‘Freedom’) in Davos, Switzerland demands our full attention. Presented on 21st August 2021 and now available in German, with English subtitles, the speech is being widely circulated in print.

Whatever you may be doing, it is time to put it aside (Stop), look at the printed version (Read) and then to watch the recorded version (with English sub-titles) in the original German (Listen) before selecting some of the salient points to discuss with your circle of colleagues.

1. Uncovering the Corona Narrative. The title speaks volumes. We are being fed a pack of lies. The question is - why?

2. "Nothing happens accidentally in politics ..." The use of the word "alarming" is not OTT.

3. " ... problems are not being addressed and solved, but magnified and multiplied ... "

4. Note what is said about the "premeditated change of power in Afghanistan .."

5. The whole section on the power of the "digital-financial complex" gives much food for thought.

6. "The IT industry is nothing other than a tumour ... stands far above all governments ..."

7. In short ..." They will drive society into chaos in order to present the introduction of digital central bank money as the solution to all problems. Namely, in the form of a Universal Basic Income (UBI)."

The whole gives plenty of food for thought. There are no easy answers, no short cuts to easy solutions that would enable us to go back to the Old Normal of business as usual. But at least we have a basis for informed discussion.

Ernst Wolff - Uncovering the Corona Narrative - Aug 2021

The full text is available in the Michaelmas 2021 issue of New View.

Thursday 7 October 2021

Luddites for Life

by Murray McGrath

Where is modern technology taking us?

Effective techniques every day are making us

Work, when we need to replace faulty parts,

New joints, and new livers, new kidneys and hearts.

New arms and new legs like Oscar Pistorius

Doing the job in a way that's quite glorious.

But treatments for flu, hypertension, and gout

Are doubtful at best, we're finding this out.

Failing with super-bugs, cancers and aids,

With the risks and the side effects, confidence fades.

They're studying parts, that get smaller and smaller

But profits get bigger, make many a dollar.

And how does it help in our everyday lives?

Does it ease all the worries of husbands and wives?

And their children, so precious, to have vaccination,

Do they know what they do without full information?

Interfere with the body, you're asking for trouble

Far from fixing your problems, they'll soon end up double.

So follow your heart, look after your health

Live a natural life, it doesn't take wealth

With a spring in your step and a smile on your face

You can show how it's done to the whole human race.

NOTE: Murray McGrath (1934-2020) published his Rhymes for Reciting in 2019.