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

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