Thursday 18 November 2021

Voluntary Poverty

NOTE: Murray McGrath's poem (see last Blog) portrays Money as a useful tool, but nothing more. The following passage is taken from Kate Hennessy's biography of her grandmother. Dorothy Day worked in collaboration with Peter Maurin to promote Catholic Radicalism through the Catholic Worker. (See previous blogs) Peter took is cue from the Irish seanachie, the story teller:

"He ... liked to speak in verse with a cadence. Dorothy's brother John came to call his verses Easy Essays, and the title stuck. He liked to shout out one-liners: "Everyone take less so that others can have more! Freedom is a duty more than a right! Workers should be scholars and scholars should be workers! Fire the bosses!" He said we need to get away from thinking solely in terms of a job or a wage. Everyone has a vocation, and we must find the work we are best suited for, what we are called to do, and then do it single-mindedly. Artists and musicians do this. They are willing to risk poverty in order to do what they must do, what they love. Not only did Peter believe in a philosophy of work that spoke of love of work rather than work ethic, he also believed that we must have a philosophy of poverty. True reform begins with oneself, he would say, and voluntary poverty and manual labor are where we begin. Proud of being a peasant, Peter worked as a day laborer on the railroads and in mills or smashing rock to build roads. He had no home and owned nothing but the clothes on his back and the books in his pockets. When Dorothy met him he was a laborer at a Catholic boys' camp in upstate New York earning five dollars a week.

"Dorothy liked to refer to Peter as the leader of the Catholic Worker, but he was not a man to tell anyone what to do. He offered his vision and ideas to provoke people into thinking for themselves, but it was up to them to take it or leave it. He did not offer practical ways to achieve things, and when people asked him what they should do, he answered, "I am not a question box; I am a chatterbox." But he spoke of a philosophy of action that Dorothy could understand, and he had one ambition—to change the hearts and minds of men and give them a vision of a world where it was easier to be good.

"Peter's program, which was simple, direct, and Catholic, and therefore caught Dorothy's attention, began with roundtable discussions where people could contribute their ideas and where there would be 'clarification of thought'. He wanted people to be well-read and articulate, and he 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. He included even the mentally ill who, through their illnesses, could sometimes wring out every bit of his own vitality in his effort to give them his full attention and respect.

"Second in his program was the establishment of houses of hospitality with priests at their head, based on the bishops' hospices for wayfarers in the middle ages. Then those at the houses of hospitality would form farming communes, or "agronomic universities," as he liked to call them, where workers and scholars together would rebuild society in the shell of the old, and where people could find their vocations and no longer would need to work in factories or for corporations.

"There's no unemployment on the land," he'd say, and to lessen the need for money we needed "to grow what you eat and eat what you grow."

Extract from Kate Hennessy, (2017) Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty. An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother, Scribner, pp70-71)

Money by Murray McGrath

Money, money, money,

What does it do for us?

It lets us do the shopping,

And travel on the bus.

It's how we get the things we want

Or that's the way it feels.

We need it to evaluate

And consider doing deals.

So all in all, when chips are down

It is important stuff.

But although I can accumulate,

I never have enough!

There's something funny going on,

Enough for what I need

Should do, to keep me happy,

The rest must just be greed.

What do I really want in life?

I'm tempted, when the ads

Promise instant satisfaction,

And all the latest fads.

With the latest gadget in my hand

More important I will be

This one will not be like the rest

It'll last for years, you'll see!

But soon I want another one

To keep me up to date.

It's a hopeless, never ending quest

To be in such a state

But what about those things in life

We want, that don't cost money,

Like love and friendship, days of joy,

When weather's warm and sunny?

Walking in the moonlight

Under clear and starry sky

Does more to keep me happy

Than something I can buy.

The beauty that's in nature,

Is available to all.

But maybe that's the trouble.

Whether rich or small,

Value status and possessions

More than spiritual matters

We'll get the same old sad result,

Our happiness in tatters.

COMMENT: The poem Money is by our dear friend Murray McGrath, who died late last year. I include it as a slight diversion from the series of autobiographical entries. He would certainly have fully approved of its inclusion at this point.

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Common Wealth

Of my first four years of life, lived in London under the shadow of war, I have very little recollection. Yet, like the rest of the Class of '53, my life was shaped by the experiences of my parents' generation, who grew to maturity in the English-speaking world of the 1920s and 1930s. From the very beginning of the 20th century the written word in the form of books and journals facilitated study and discussion of literature, the arts, religion, society and politics on an unprecedented scale. We hear tell of the evils of enclosure of the land, the rise of employment/waged slavery in the mills, mines and factories of the industrial towns, of slavery and empire. But we hear little of the working class movements, of the Diggers, the Chartists,William Cobbett, John Ruskin, William Morris, GK Chesterton, George Orwell, and so many, many others Their thinking, in part, served to shape the formation of the 20th century Welfare State. In the aftermath of the two World Wars the population as a whole found itself shrouded in a cosy blanket of materialism, tucked in by the Nanny State.

Presently we are being swept along on a tidal wave of misleading assumptions about how society is organised, how it came to be as it is, and how it might be in the future. The quest is for freedom. Freedom from the fake future of transhumanism to which technological 'progress' is leading us. And freedom from the blind acceptance of elite authoritarianism, where legal limitations on civil liberties are accepted by the majority who seek a quiet life. It is all too easy to assume that scientific progress is motivated by the desire of scientists to further the common good, whereas, all too often, the self-interested quest for an income is the dominant motivation. Similarly, The unquestioning observance of laws, rules and regulations laid down in the past can seem the right thing to do. Yet, all too often, laws set by church, state and military authorities may corrupt human interaction in unexpected ways. The health and educational services of the Welfare State, based on rules and regulations considered as necessary for promoting the common good of the whole, provide many examples of such provisions. We have only to read George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm to see how the slavish following of orders by the military and civilian police can lead to the totalitarian State. After all, as a young man, he fought in the Spanish Civil War, as did William Krehm, a remarkable character of my acquaintance who edited COMer for many a long year (see back numbers of The Social Artist).

Orwell is just one of a very large number of names of authors of the 19th and 20th centuries who became household names. Their writings were to be found on the shelves of municipal and university libraries, and in household collections across the British Isles and throughout the English-speaking world. The literary works, works of fiction and non-fiction were reviewed and discussed in innumerable periodicals, many of which circulated across the continents. To take just one example, the Catholic journal Commonweal, which is still published today (see Wikipedia), is described thus:

"Commonweal has published the writing of Fran├žois Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Hannah Arendt, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Jacques Maritain, Dorothy Day, Robert Bellah, Graham Greene, Emmanuel Mounier, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Thomas Merton, Wilfrid Sheed, Paul Ramsey, Joseph Bernardin, Abigail McCarthy, Christopher Lasch, Walter Kerr, Marilynne Robinson, Luke Timothy Johnson, Terry Eagleton, Elizabeth Johnson, and Andrew Bacevich. It has printed the short fiction of Evelyn Waugh, J. F. Powers, Alice McDermott, and Valerie Sayers; the poetry of W. H. Auden, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, John Updike, Les Murray, John Berryman, and Marie Ponsot; and the artwork of Jean Charlot, Rita Corbin, Fritz Eichenberg, and Emil Antonucci."

The journal, described as "A Review of Religion, Politics, and Culture", is run as a not-for-profit enterprise. The word "commonweal" is a reference to an important term in the political philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, who argued that legitimate leaders must prioritize "the common good" or "the commonweal" in making political decisions.

The quest is for ordinary people to take charge of their destiny by becoming culturally, politically and spiritually informed citizens. Self-education - adult education - is not a preparation for unquestioning service to the corporate world. On the contrary, the corporate world holds sway over the political, cultural and economic spheres by deluding their workers into absorbing passive entertainment, watching films and documentaries under the illusion they are being well-informed. The time has come to investigate the local history of books. What books are to be found in the homes, private collections, libraries, bookshops, cafes, places of worship, and meeting rooms of our immediate locality? How did they get there? Who is conserving books now as one of our most valuable resources? Second only to the ability to care for the land itself, books are our most important cultural heritage, to be treasured like gold. (To be continued ...)

Thursday 11 November 2021

Wedding on the Eve of War

The question now arises - how did my parents meet? How was it that they came to be married on 28th August 1939, literally on the eve of a war in which their friends and families were on opposite sides? They did not meet in the beautiful city of Salzburg, where my mother was born in 1917. And they did not meet on my Dad's home territory of the slums of Leeds. It all came about as follows.

Brought up on bread and dripping, often without the dripping, my Dad had to leave school at 12 years of age to earn enough money to buy food and to pay the rent of the one-up-one down back-to-back terrace house (toilets five doors down the road) where his dad and younger brother lived. He worked as a wheelwright for his uncle (which didn't last long) and as a butcher's boy delivering meat on a bicycle, which didn't last long either, though he never stopped talking about it until he died at the age of 95. There were no computers in those far off days, so when the local bank manager asked the headmistress of the local school if she knew anybody who was good at figures, she recommended teenager John Huddleston. He became a bank clerk and never looked back. After working all day he attended a series of evening classes, taking every opportunity to broaden his education and working within the Labour and cooperative movements. At the mature age of 28 he registered for undergraduate study in economics at the University of Leeds. At this point he was taken in by the local labour MP. Lewis John Edwards and his wife Dorothy remained lifelong friends of the family. On graduation, JH became a member of the teaching staff at the university, whilst engaged in post-graduate study of the history of adult education in Germany.

When on holiday in Jersey, JH met my mother, Amalia Katerina, Keilwerth. Born in Salzburg, AK had won a scholarship to the top girls' boarding school in Vienna. There she received a full classical education that included the reading of the works of major literary figures in their original languages. In those days the to-be mothers of the elite were well educated. Able to speak and read in German, French and English, she never quite got to grips with the ways and customs of the working class in the North of England. AK spent some time as au pair to the Edwards family, before returning to work in a newspaper office in Salzburg. In the course of his studies JH travelled to Germany and attended a Nuremberg Rally and was profoundly shocked at the gullibility of otherwise sane people in the face of a totalitarian regime. In his view, the Catholic Church in Germany had one hell of a lot to answer for in their failure to oppose Nazism outright.

Of my infancy I remember little, save that Christmas in my family was always a time of great sadness. For my mother, being in a foreign country with very different customs, whilst separated from her family by a terrible war, must have been hard to bear.

(To be continued ...)


Tuesday 9 November 2021


It all began with Wilkie's phone call on the eve of my 80th birthday. We reflected on the history of the year group that started to attend Chester-le-Street Grammar School in 1953 and who have kept in touch ever since. Over the years we have shared reminiscences and celebrations of our life stories. Some died tragically young, all met success and adversity. All who remain will be 80 this academic year, and have so much to offer those entering adult life today. The battle is to swim and not to sink into cosy illusions of going along with the crowd. After all, it is the dead fish who swim with the tide.

On the morning of the day itself I enjoyed opening cards and presents, receiving calls from immediate family, and gathering up fallen apples in the autumn sunshine. Just before Mass Arlene, whose birthday is the same day as mine, told the priest, Fr Michael, how old I was, and he handed me a copy of a ten-page document entitled "A Guide to Catholic Funeral Rites in the Diocese of Leeds: Including Instructions for My Funeral Liturgy". That made me chuckle - I had asked for it a while back. I was even more amused when he announced from the altar at the end of Mass - a lovely Mass it was, too - that it was my 80th and that the Guide was available for all. My delight turned to sadness as so many fearful faces, many of them masked, mumbled their personal greetings with downcast eyes. Although the sermon had been about the widow's mite and trusting in the Lord, only Arlene and Fr Michael retained the spirit of joy. Even Sean, who brought us into the Church, and who would always burst into song at the drop of a hat, even he was down, overwhelmed by the pandemic. Later in the day a family quiz took place on Zoom. Here is an attempt at summarising my life story as it emerged from the Quiz questions about 'Mum', 'Grandma', 'my sister', wife etc.

Like all the class at Chester-le-Street Grammar School, I was born during World War II. Those were terrible times. Cities full of civilians were being bombed in night-time air raid attacks. Families, including my own, sheltered underground during those raids, many lost homes and family members, all were issued with gas masks (which I remembered as a child when I was removed from home for three months when my sister was born). Things were far worse in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the tragedy of war ended. What were my parents doing living in London during a 'World War'. Why didn't they just move out? That is a crucial question, and the answer is obvious - my Dad's job was in London. No employment, no income.

So here we have a diversion into the lives of my parents. Both their families had experienced life in the First World War and its aftermath, a period of sadness, sorrow and apprehension that led almost inevitably to further world war. (There are many books written, glorifying and deploring war. Read Warhorse, for example.) At the end of the First World War my mother's family were living in the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria, home town of Mozart. My father's family lived in dire poverty in the back streets of the industrial city of Leeds. My grandmother died in 1912, at the age of 38 years, when my Dad was seven years old. Both my grandfathers were conscripted into the army, but on opposite sides. Born in 1905, my Dad and his schoolfriends grew into their teens during the years of depression and unemployment that preceded the 'War To End All Wars". They had seen their older brothers going off to war full of optimism. The money to pay them, kit them out and send them off to war, suddenly and mysteriously appeared from nowhere. Some under age - you had to be 16 to go to the trenches - lied about their age, went off to war and were killed. One close friend of my parents, later in life, told of her brother who died in the trenches, leaving his widowed mother and his sister penniless. These were the people who, during the 1930s and 1940s, educated themselves, went into politics and fought for for the Welfare State (health, welfare and education for all).

Thursday 4 November 2021

What Everybody Really Wants to Know

EVERY day I am bombarded with messages calling my attention to protests, petitions, videos and articles on what's going wrong in the world and what we ought to be doing about it. As I mused upon the latest batch of contributions, I fell to re-reading one of my early books. Written at a time of great optimism, when totalitarianism appeared to be a thing of the past, and 9/11 and Covid were yet to happen, What Everybody Really Wants to Know About Money seems, to me anyway, to offer scope for Round-Table discussions on the lines advocated and practised by Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement (see recent Blogs). Slightly updated, the following text appears on the back cover of my book.

* * * *

What Everybody Really Wants to Know About Money

by Frances Hutchinson

Jon Carpenter,1998, ISBN: 1-897766-33-5. 2006 pp, £12

Money makes the world go round – but in ever diminishing circles. It's the driving force behind most of the world's problems: global warming, habitat destruction, homelessness, ethnic and religious conflict, the widening poverty gap within and between countries, debt and homelessness, to name but a few. Thanks to money, the world is a nastier place by the day.

There seems to be no alternative to social injustice and environmental destruction, simply because there is no money for anything else. We all use money every day, but we don't understand where it comes from, who creates it, and most importantly, why.

As this book shows, most economists do not have a clue what's going on, and that is partly because they make all sorts of assumptions about human nature that are manifestly nonsense. Since economists have little understanding of the nature of money, they assume it is just a convenient neutral alternative to barter. In fact, money is now traded for its own ends, and has become the universal measure of good and bad. To bring about today's global capitalist free market, work has been devalued to a form of slavery, and people everywhere have been denied access to their natural and basic means of survival: the land.

Frances Hutchinson shows why this situation has arisen, and explains many of the basic errors of the orthodox economics upon which all politicians rely. After discussing the powerful body of ideas that originated in guild socialism and were popularised across the world by the social credit movement in the 1920s and 1930s, she applies these insights to develop a 'home economics' which can be introduced by groups of people in their own localities anywhere in the world.

With a chapter by Alan Freeman on the World Trade Organisation and the globalisation of world trade, together with intellectual property rights and the privatisation of public and traditional knowledge.

"An excellent summary! It should help in demystifying money and awaken us all to the opportunities that lie beyond the false philosophy of economism." HAZEL HENDERSON. Author of Paradigms in Progress and Building a Win-Win World.

"A fascinating journey that helps us explore our historical relationship to land, food, labour, status gathering, spiritual culture and money. Orthodox economists beware! This book may be harmful to your career." GUY DAUNCEY, author of After the Crash: The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy. 

At the time of publication of What Everybody Really Wants to Know About Money FRANCES HUTCHINSON was an economic historian at Bradford University, UK. Her previous books included Environmental Business Management: Sustainable Development in the New Millennium (with Andrew Hutchinson) McGraw Hill (1997), and The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism (with Brian Burkitt), Routledge (1997). Her later works include The Politics of Money: Towards Sustainability and Economic Democracy (with Mary Mellor and Wendy Olsen), Pluto Press (2002), and Understanding the Financial System: Social Credit Rediscovered, Jon Carpenter (2010). She edited The Social Crediter/ The Social Artist from 2002 to 2020.

The full text of What Everybody Really Wants to Know About Money is available electronically on the FRANCES HUTCHINSON page of Use search to find references, eg to Bill Gates (yes, in 1998) and genetic engineering.

Hard copy can be purchased from the PUBLICATIONS page of the same website.