Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 3

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 1
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 4
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 5

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 3

by G.T. Wrench, originally published in 1946

It was during the late stages of World War II when G.T. Wrench began work on his thesis which held that soils, health, and the likelihood of war were/are closely related throughout history. And further that “reconstruction” of society after war would require a return to the soil. This is the third in a multi-part reprint of the material. We hope that you will find these ideas as thought provoking as we have. LRM


In order to get a clear idea of the modern valuation of the soil and its effects, it is well to begin with the opposite of the unavoidable sketchiness of a trans-continental survey, such as that of the last chapter, and to concentrate upon self-contained examples on a small scale. Small islands offer themselves at once as the opposite to great continents. By nature they are self-contained. Their inhabitants get food from the sea, a source with which they are unable to interfere as they can with the soil. Sea-food, therefore, has the natural quality of wholeness. Health, therefore, should be found in such islands.

It is never vain to ask health from nature, and small islands still preserve to a large extent this gift, or certainly did until trade intervened. The health of the few inhabitants of that most isolated island, Tristan da Cunha, was described by a medical visitor in the British Medical Journal, March 1938, as ‘vastly superior to that of the civilized world’. Similar health distinguished the inhabitants of the once isolated Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The health of uninterfered-with South Sea islanders affords further examples.

This whole health is shared by all forms of life and is preserved whilst the island is a self-contained life-cycle and the rule of return is followed automatically. But, when trade enters and breaks the rule of return, then a deterioration of life sets in. This has happened in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. There are many islands, but only two of any size. They run parallel to each other and are some 100 miles long. These islands came into the hands of the British over a century ago. Bleak and almost treeless, they nevertheless possessed vegetation upon which sheep and cattle could feed. So these animals were imported and bred for the British market. The venture was a success, but in course of time there came evidence that the way in which the trade was conducted was inimical to the life-creating soil of the islands. Sir John Orr, in Minerals in Pasture, described what this was: ‘Munro reports that in the Falkland Islands sheep have been reared and exported for forty years without any return to the soil to replace the minerals removed. During the last twenty years it has become increasingly difficult to rear lambs. The other animals are also deteriorating.’

The sequence or story is a very simple one. There are these two islands, which have their own life-cycle. They became British and Britons imported sheep and other domestic animals to the islands. These animals were not predatory. They belonged to the grazing animals, which all over the world feed on grass and other herbage and do the soil no harm. Presumably, then, they could have been added to and supported in the Falkland life-cycle without doing it any harm, if, as just part of that cycle, they grazed and at the same time returned to the soil again what they took from it in life and finally after death. The story does not, however, run this good and happy way; it, like so many primitive stories of life, has its demon. In this case the demon quite probably lives in Liverpool, and he shows his demoniac quality in buying the Falkland sheep, having them shipped to Britain for the Britons to eat their flesh and spin their wool. He is not a demon of commission but of omission. This is what he and his like effect in the words of Sir John Orr: ‘The process of depletion and the resulting deterioration which shows itself in decreased rate of growth and production, and in extreme cases by the appearance of disease, is proceeding on all pastures from which the milk, carcasses and other animal products are taken off without a corresponding replacement being made.’ In Britain itself domestic animals are reared and then sent off to industrial areas without replacement. ‘In our own country this process of depletion has been going on for many years, especially in hill pastures, and it is probable that the recognized decrease in the value of hill pastures in certain areas, owing to the increase in the diseases and mortality of sheep, is associated with the gradual process of the impoverishment of the pasture and its soil.’

The sheep want to get their full share in the life-cycle, but they cannot. The minerals are not there, for they left the life-cycle when the sheep’s ancestors were deported to industrial areas. Precisely the same has happened in the Falkland Islands in the distant South Atlantic; and in both places it happens for the same reason, that the men, who own both, put money before life.

This is known with the half-conviction and half-knowledge, which are part of the famous facility for compromise of the trading race which owns them. In certain grazing areas, a form of return is given, which again forms a trade. The pastoralists or their employers buy the chief minerals, which the soil loses, from other men who mine and excavate them, and these imported minerals are put into the depleted soil. It is something to the gain of the soil for the time being and maybe this is being done to the Falklands. I have no information on the subject but it is possible that phosphates from the South Sea island of Nauru eventually reach the soil of the Falklands.

Such a return would occur, and does occur in a great number of places, not as a following out of the rule of return, but from an almost absolute necessity because the rule has not been followed. Were it followed, there would be no need of any reconstruction of the treatment of the Falkland Islands, nor to state how it would have to be carried out as a reconstruction based on the soil.

The herds kept by the British in the Falkland Islands constitute the biggest animal feeders upon the herbage. The herbage draws its minerals from the soil, and these minerals pass into the bodies of the cattle. When those bodies, either alive or as carcasses, are taken out of the islands, then so much of the minerals of the soil as they contain are taken out of the islands. They arrive in Britain and there these minerals enter into the bodies of the British, who eat the meat of the animals. The British are, in brief, eating up the soil of the Falkland Islands. To fulfill the rule of return, when ships take the animals to Liverpool or London, ships should take back their equivalent in food for the Falkland Islands to Port Stanley. This is no more impossible than it is for iron to float upon the water and form the ships in which the food travels. It is only a question of values. If the condition of the soil were the valuer, this would be done. If health were the valuer it would be done. If the economy of health and quality were the valuer, it would be done. It is not done, because under present values, a number of people actually profit from the ill health of a far greater number, their methods of business being inseparably involved in the breaking of life-cycles and consequent ill health and its social complications. The buyer buys the products of the small islands, but he gives back only something abstract, namely money; he has no duty to give back anything more than his money. Further, the owners of the Falkland products exchange them for money and they also have no duty to life in the form of the rule of return. They may be forced to buy some sort of manure for the land, but they do this under pressure of the land’s depreciation. But as long as they can sell the minerals or stored fertility of the Falklands to Britain for money, they do so without any pricks of conscience as regards the effect of their deeds upon the quality of life. It is, in short, an astonishing anomaly that they who ship this life to Britain, in doing so, each time actually commit murder on a certain quality of life in the Falklands. They become ultimately as dangerous to the pastureland as the pastoralists of the last chapter, and, indeed, being more powerful in means than they, correspondingly more dangerous.

What could be ensured if the rule of return were followed? This can be answered by a consideration of a contrasting picture to the Falklands, a yet smaller microcosm than the islands, actually a dairy farm. The one I propose to review suits my purpose well because it was a deliberate reconstruction based largely on the rule of return.

The farm of 165 acres only is situated within a hundred miles of the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, in a land of heath and pinewoods and an unfavourable climate of heavy wind and low rainfall. Its story starts with failure. In spite of importing sound cattle and feeding stuffs from outside at considerable expense, the farm fell, where sick farms and industries do fall, namely, into the hands of a bank. But the bank failed to make it flourish and eventually it came into the hands of a farmer who believed that to get a sound and healthy farm it must be a self-contained unit within the countryside itself. The beasts had to get their health from the soil on which they lived and not from outside, and they had to give back what they took from it. He proposed, as it were, to put a circle round it and that circle was to be a magic circle. Its magic was to be the aboriginal strength of the soil. A self-contained world of plants, animals and insects was to be brought into being and the balance that nature produces allowed to give its wholeness or health. The faith of the farmer was that only when the cattle bind their whole nature with the soil that nourishes them can they and the soil unitedly reach their full strength.

Everything was planned as a whole, but for the purposes of description the parts will be taken separately. Firstly comes the soil. Its chief needs were water, protection against wind, and food. Water depended upon the annual rainfall and this was some thirteen to seventeen inches yearly. More rain could not be got, but shelter helped to prevent evaporation, as shown in the woods and heaths, which were the uninterfered-with vegetative cover of the land. So the growing of trees and hedges with their double use of protecting soil by their above-ground growth and connecting soil and subsoil by their below-ground growth. Trees also gave a homeland to birds, and hedges to flowers, hedgehogs, lizards, hens, hares and a varied world of insects, all of which were neither encouraged nor suppressed, but allowed by the knowledge that in free instinct each form of life seeks its sustenance from and gives its quota to the whole, which in natural balance is health.

Then came the cultivated plants and these were chosen for the food of the animals, a smaller part for the humans and a larger part for the domestic animals. The plants for the animals were so chosen that food from the soil was available all the year round. Where special protection for finer foodstuffs was necessary, a terraced garden was devised for their growth. When use had been made of the edible part of these plants, the rest was rotted into manure by a process of composting with the dung of the animals and so returned to the soil. Nothing went off the farm except the milk and the occasional sale of a young animal in later years, when their vigour became celebrated.

We can now form a picture of what this farm became. It became, in its having as far as possible a setting in the original nature of the land, an aboriginal farm. But added to this was the skill and knowledge of specially trained man. It was a farm which deliberately reintroduced the methods of nature in uncultivated lands so as to regain nature’s health and strength. It was a declaration that it is never vain to ask nature to give health to the work of those who know what health is.

The results were termed miraculous. The healing brought about certainly makes one think that the miracle is not in nature being able to create health, but that so few westerners know it. Here are the conditions before and after the miracle. When the dairy farm was started on the new lines, the herd of cattle suffered from contagious abortion, and were strongly tuberculous. A number of the animals had to be destroyed owing to tuberculosis, and it was even debated whether it would not be better to destroy the whole herd to get rid of tuberculosis, contagious abortion and other diseases once and for all, and buy a new herd. But the faith that works miracles was present. Out of the sandy floor came a fount of animal health. The one-time sick herd acquired a new health. The new methods required understanding, hard and sacrificing work. But the result was that on this new shut-off and self-contained farm the soil revealed its surprising gifts.

The young plants took upon themselves a new being. They now were healthy and reproduced abundantly. The seeds that they bore were seeds which the sandy soil welcomed; they were just the right seeds being in the same cycle as the soil itself. The plants looked well and the fodder straw preserved its beautiful golden colour. The plants grown for human use yielded foods notably rich in taste. The animals in their qualities accompanied the plants. They became healthy and fertile instead of sick and infertile. The cows gave more abundant milk and the young cows born on the farm doubled the output of the past milkers. The milk itself was rich in taste and acquired a special market amongst invalids, who enjoyed its taste and experienced its nourishment. Particularly noticeable, because of the eternal charm that belongs to healthy youth, were the generation that were born into this lifecycle on the farm. At birth the calves at once sprang up and showed a lively temperament. They grew strong limbs and glossy coats. Rather surprisingly they contradicted the dictum that soils poor in chalk produce poor bones. These calves built notably strong bones upon their chalk-poor soil. That other weird fact, which in itself seems to partake of the miraculous, that rays from the sun upon the skin of beasts assist powerfully in the use of chalk, came into its full operation so that such chalk as the soil had was economically excellent chalk. Every particle of it fell into its right place in the cycle, and, as an outward and visible sign of it, owners of neighbouring farms came to inspect the calves, felt their strong limbs, admired their vivacity and delight in life and readily bought them when for sale to increase the strength of their own herds according to the accustomed manner, which the farm itself had been able to abandon.

So we have these two contrasting pictures, the picture of the Falkland Islands, where the cattle showed such marked deterioration and where they were difficult to rear, and that of the sick farm which became a fount of animal health. The similarity of health and wholeness of the farm is unmistakable. Health is a positive quality and I do not know how else it can be obtained or maintained except by wholeness in the cycle of life. Nutrition diets, vitamins, protective foods are not wholes. They are only selections of one factor of a cycle, the factor of human food. If they are given the claim to produce health, which is a whole, it is a claim which will lead men, or mislead men, to further disappointment. Health is now being particularly pursued by a nutritional avenue as well as by the anti-microbic sanitation avenue. But when the whole is the aim, the fragmentations which are sought by these avenues, the specific microbes, the antiseptics, the sera, the vaccines, the great chemical remedies which now compel the admiration of all, the vitamins, the minerals of food, the protective foods, the hormones — all become unessentials, being absorbed by the positive whole, in which even the microbic world loses its negative and dangerous character and becomes positive and beneficial. Negatives vanish and positives take their place. The world, as fashioned by men, undergoes an enormous simplification. The scores of diseases of men and the animals and vegetables they farm constitute an immense mass of negatives, the elimination of which would alter the very aspect of life. At present we are pushed to a host of discoveries, inventions, and health and even life-destroying creations, because the simple contrasting pictures, which figure in this chapter, have not been seen at all by the vast majority and not seen with lively vision by the few. We shall now review further happenings in the wide world brought about by the alienation of men’s minds from the creative power of the soil.


The traders of England take living matter in the form of cattle from the soil of the Falkland Islands, pay money for it to the Falkland farmers, but pay nothing at all to the living soil itself. The reason for this is that there are no banks in Britain for the soil of the Empire, though there are plenty of them for the farmers of the Empire.

What the soil needs as payment for its share in the production and feeding of the cattle is not, of course, money. It does not want symbols of reality; it needs reality itself. Unless it has this reality, it becomes less and less able to carry out its part of the partnership between it and the Falkland farmers. So it must have a payment in its own currency, that of soil-food-substances, and not in the currency of men.

It is true that the currency in which the farmers are paid could be turned into one factor of soil-food by means of a further trading transaction. The farmers, for example, could with the help of their banks buy phosphates from the island of Nauru in the Pacific Ocean and give it to the Falkland soil to make up for the phosphates that were taken out of it in the bodies of the exported cattle. But this transaction, being carried out by traders’ money-banks, would not prevent the final loss of the phosphates of the Falkland soil. These phosphates would, in the absence of banks for the soil in Britain, just go down the drain; in other words, they would first be eaten as a part of beef or mutton by some people in Britain, made use of by them, be passed by them as excreta into the drainage system and, through it, eventually reach some part of Britain’s Atlantic girdle. So, from the world of terrene men, these phosphates would be dispersed into the vast, dark world of the waters of the sea.

With banks for the soil in Britain, however, the story would be very different. Not only the phosphates, but all the life substances of the Falkland soil would be collected by the banks for the soil and paid back to it, just as the farmers’ banks collect the money due to the farmers and pay it back to them. The banks for the soil would in brief, follow the rule of return. They would do for the Falklands, what they would also do for all exporting countries, the products of whose living soils were imported into Britain. They would collect all forms of imported soil substances after use, make them into soil-food and return them to the exporting countries. Thus the balance of life, which is far more important ultimately than is the balance of trade, would be preserved. As it is, in this age of commercial values, nothing at all is done; the benefits of trade are split off from life itself as a whole, and, quite unconsciously, the traders become the enemies of that life. They actually destroy that upon which their own very wealth depends. They impoverish the soils and in the end will so degrade them that trade will come to an end. Even the soil of the huge cattle estates of the Argentine, which send far more animal food than the little Falklands to Britain, is known to be deteriorating.

It is, then, where traders and other business men are most concentrated that the need of banks for the soil is most urgent; it is there that the wastage of the currency of life substances is most colossal; it is there that the knowledge of this wastage is so meager as almost to be entirely absent. Britain, as an importing country in particular, takes large quantities of raw material for food, clothing and manufacture from foreign soils. The towns of many other countries do likewise. The result is that export trade in terms of the life-cycles, entails a great transfer of the elements of life from one country to another without return, or, in other words, a slow bleeding of the exporting countries. The importing countries are seen as leeches or other blood-sucking parasites harboured, all too willingly, by the exporting countries. With vast territories the exporting countries will enjoy a long spell of prosperity founded upon a primal high fertility of the soil, but the end is inevitable, a loss of the wholeness of its life-cycles, partial or complete spoiling of the land, erosion, flood, swamp, even barren hills and desert, degenerate plant and animal life, human depopulation and poverty, disease, and other sequels of the loss of soil fertility.

In reconstruction, this loss of the fertility of the soil, due to the wrongful values of commercial dominance, can only be met by banks for the soil. It is not a question only of whether life can be healthily carried on without them, but of whether it can be carried on at all. In 1896 Professor Shaler of Harvard gave a very clear and ominous reply to this question of questions: ‘If mankind’, he said, ‘cannot design and enforce ways of dealing with the earth which will preserve the sources of life, we must look forward to a time – remote it may be, but clearly discernible – when our kind, having wasted its great inheritance, will fade from the earth because of the ruin it has accomplished.’ This is the startling fact, with which the neglect of banks for the soil faces the peoples of the era of progress.

The Falkland Islands are very small and very distant. Their loss to the modern world would make little difference. They do but present an infinitesimal part of a wastage that is going on on a truly enormous scale. Of this wastage, let us now take one of its chief examples, that of the wastage of human sewage.

Everyone knows that manure can be turned into food by the soil, and in nature is returned to the soil. Yet the waste of potential manure is prodigious. The dictionary definition of waste is ‘resembling a desert’. Yet what is called waste does not resemble, but is the opposite of the desert. The desert is out of life. It is modern water-carriage sanitation that takes the elements essential to human life and puts them out of life, and then calls them waste.

A vast picture of this waste is given by Professor F.H. King in his classic, Farmers of Forty Centuries: ‘On the basis of the date of Wolff, Kellner and Carpenter, or of Hall, the people of the United States and Europe are pouring into the sea, lakes or rivers, and into the underground waters, from 5,794,300 to 12,000,000 pounds of nitrogen, 1,881,900 to 4,151,000 pounds of potassium, and 777,200 to 3,057,600 pounds of phosphorus per million of adult population annually, and this waste we esteem one of the greatest achievements of our civilization.’

The loss of such quantities of the three elements is but a partial measure of the total loss, into the sea and other waters, of elements of the human lifecycle, a loss which could be avoided by the banking of these elements and returning them to the soil. To supply, by contrast, a picture of banking, Mr. King quotes Dr. Arthur Stanley, when Health Officer of the city of Shanghai, in his annual report of 1899: ‘Regarding the bearing on the sanitation of Shanghai of the relationship between Eastern and Western hygiene, it may be said, that if prolonged national life is indicative of sound sanitation, the Chinese are a race worthy of study by all who concern themselves with Public Health… While the ultra-civilized Western elaborates destructors for burning garbage at a financial loss and turns sewage into the sea, the Chinaman uses both for manure. He wastes nothing while the sacred duty of agriculture is uppermost in his mind.’ Banking for the soil, therefore, captures Dr. Stanley’s decision. He was no advocate of sanitary progress for Shanghai in the form of destructors for garbage and the water-carriage system.

There are in Europe, however, towns which, like those of the Far East, bank in the interests of the soil. There are towns which have actually gone back to this banking after trying out the water-carriage system. The beautiful capital of Sweden is one, and its transfer back to use in place of wastage must have been just completed when the war broke out. In German towns banking was ordered by the Government in 1937, not as a part of the soil basis of civilization, but as a war measure amongst other war measures, an application of knowledge about life-creation to assist at life destruction.

In Britain, the Ministry of Agriculture in 1923 published a leaflet, No. 398, advocating this banking, but again not for the obvious reasons of the rule of return. Motor-cars, buses and lorries had greatly reduced the number of horses and the amount of stable manure. Among the various substitutes for this loss, one which had thereby gained a financial farming value, declared the department, was ashpit refuse. There was plenty of it, but it was unfortunately very little used. ‘Incineration of this refuse is costly and is sheer waste… More up-to-date town authorities are now making an effort to dispose of their refuse in a better and more useful way, and some are adding other wastes and crushing the whole for use as a fertilizer.’

There follows an account of what some of these towns were doing: London, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen, Rochdale, Warrington, Halifax and in particular Gateshead, where 80 per cent of the houses had ‘mixed pail’ or ash closets, and hence the ‘home refuse contains a considerable proportion of human excreta’. This was crushed with ordinary town and slaughter-house refuse, and made into a manure at the low price of two shillings and sixpence per ton, at which price it was eagerly bought by local farmers. Tested in the field, it showed itself a valuable substitute for farmyard manure. Night-soil in dried form was prepared and sold by the Rochdale, Warrington and other corporations, a method, which if generally adopted, said the leaflet, would solve the problem of the wastage of sewage and ‘the shortage of organic manures on the farm would be greatly relieved; but we must expect these methods of conservancy to be superseded’. Fifty years ago even London was a town from which farmers could take night-soil for their fields. But the excessive convenience and niceness of the water-carriage system have given it the approval, not only of the urban peoples, but of many of the country folk also, so that now something surreptitious has become attached to any other method of disposal. One must expect these other forms of conservancy to supersede any form which recognizes sewage and garbage as merely latent forms of life. That, however, is unquestionably what they are; and a hygiene which destroys them and drives them out of the human life-cycle, has no real title to its name. In this it is the opposite of the name it bears.

The waste substances themselves show their avidity for life when put together. In the making of manure from the various town wastes, the materials, when mixed together, cook themselves by fermentation. A heap of compost, for example, gets so hot that, if an iron rod is thrust into it, when withdrawn it is too hot to grip and hold. The final result of this cooking is like the leaf-mould that forms on the floor of a forest. The rotting of vegetable and animal matter in a forest is a cleanly process and that done in a town with town wastes can be as clean, and as free from flies and smell. It can, indeed, and should be the replica of the method of the forest, except that the pace of the urban method is rapid and makes good, sweet humus in three months, whereas the making of humus in the forest is a slower process. But in both cases there is evidence of active life. The heat is one evidence, and the growth of fungus is so active that it can be seen like smears of whitewash both on the floor of the forest and in the urban heap.

This waste then announces, in a really emphatic manner for something supposed to be dead and done for, that it is very much alive and that it is just as much a part of the life-cycle as a whole as it is when it pulses in the hot blood of a Derby winner. It is also hot life, indeed, for during the greater part of its activity it is considerably hotter than is an animal’s blood. Then, when its heat and activity die down, it has become the pleasant-smelling and crumbling humus, which is a starting point of the rich green growth of healthy vegetation.

Such is one result of banks for the soil. The shamefully misnamed waste becomes the beautiful, soft, crumbling humus, which is the very substance of healthy life. It needs, perhaps, a poet to realize what beauty it contains. A poet can see in it the great, positive Yea, which is the unchangeable token of healthy life and of all that gives strength, grace, swiftness, endurance, cheerfulness, agility, elegance and beauty to mankind. It is the universal parent of the excellencies of life.


The link which connects towns and country in such a matter as the use of town waste is a money link, or cash nexus. Under present values one would be unable to find a municipality that turned its wastes into humus for the good of the soil, but only because, as good for the soil, the farmers bought it. By selling that which once had been waste, it is converted into cash, and this, in present values, is the good result from the municipal point of view.

Leaflet No. 398, of course, had to accept the dominance of this way of valuing. It wished to persuade the farmers to make use of prepared waste, because thereby the great loss to the land of organic manure, which had resulted from the diminution of stable manure, would be mitigated, if not compensated. It was true that money, in the form of railway costs in particular, prevented farms distant from towns being able to get the manure, but those in their vicinity were urged to its use. As things were, the leaflet found that some 10,000,000 tons of ashpit refuse was produced annually in England and Wales, and that towns were spending £6,000,000 a year on collection and disposal. This was unquestionably waste.

The cash nexus, therefore, overrode more vital reasons. Twelve years after the issue of the leaflet of 1923, Sir George Stapledon gave out the ominous information that sixteen and a half million acres of England and Wales, or 43 per cent of the total of cultivable lands, had fallen into ‘a more or less neglected condition’. They were, however, ‘capable of radical improvement’. The Earl of Portsmouth, about the same time, summed up another aspect of the same question in these words: ‘It is a staggering commentary on our present attitude to health and agriculture that, excluding all accident, all patent medicines and private medical cases, the bill for sickness in this country amounts to £276,000,000 a year, while the farmer receives for his gross output barely £250,000,000.’

Putting the two together, there was a great deal of wastage of wastes and of land itself. The wastage of land was very great indeed and the more surprising in that it occurred in a country threatened by war on a greater scale than that recently experienced in 1914-18, in which it was nearly brought to its knees by the lack of well-cultivated homeland, a war in which also the blockade of its enemies and their consequent shortage of food was a large factor in their collapse. The need of good soil had been emphasized by world events in such high tones that it would be almost incredible that it was not regarded as a paramount national and popular need, were it not that, for a prolonged period, a thought-barrier had practically and intellectually shut out the people from the soil.

So one of the strangest things happened. In spite of the great danger of the neglect of soil being written large in letters of blood, the people were blind. They were also deaf, for they did not hearken to the warnings of such authorities as Sir George Stapledon, the Earl of Portsmouth, and many other leaders of the countryside. ‘It takes two to speak the truth,’ said Thoreau. ‘One to speak and one to hear.’ They were unable to hear.

The barrier was the paramountcy of money, of the cash nexus. As long as that was paramount, the creative power of life and all that pertained to it was inextricably fettered.

Only the rare man could himself escape from the entanglement and see things in their proper proportion. Such a rare man was the late Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West, and his account is so clear that it must here be given in his own words. Spengler’s German is very difficult. My quotations are from the two-volumed English translation of his work.

He begins his analysis at the time when civilization was purely agrarian. ‘The life of the population is purely that of the peasant on the open land. The experience of the town has not yet come. All that elevates itself from amongst the villages, castles, palaces, monasteries, temple-closes, is not a city, but a market, a mere meeting place of yeomen’s interests, which also acquired, and at once, a certain religious and political meaning, but certainly cannot be said to have any special life of its own. The inhabitants, even though they might be artisans or traders, would still feel as peasants, and even in one way or another work as such.

‘That which separates out from a life in which everyone is alike producer and consumer is goods, and traffic in goods is the mark of all early intercourse, whether the object be brought from the far distance or merely shifted about within the limits of the village or even the farm. A piece of goods is that which adheres by some quiet threads of its essence to the life that has produced it or the life that uses it. A peasant drives “his” cow to market, a woman puts away “her” finery in the cupboard. We say a man is endowed with this world’s “goods”; the word “possession” takes us back right into the plant-like origin of property, into which this particular being — no other — has grown, from the roots up. Exchange in these periods is a process whereby goods pass from one circle of life into another. They are valued with reference to life, according to a sliding-scale of felt relation at the moment. There is neither a conception of value nor a kind or amount of goods that constitutes a general measure – for gold and coins are goods too, whose rarity and indestructibility cause them to be highly prized.

‘Into the rhythm and course of this barter the dealer comes only as an intervener. In the market the acquisitive and creative economics encounter one another, but even at places where fleets and caravans unload, trade only appears as an organ of countryside traffic. It is the “eternal” form of economy, and it is even to-day seen in the immemorially ancient figure of the pedlar of the country districts remote from towns, and in the out-of-the-way suburban lanes where small barter-circles form naturally, and in the private economy of savants, officials, and in general everyone not actively part of the daily economic life of the great city.

‘With the soul of the town a quite other kind of life awakens. As soon as the market has become the town, it is no longer a question of mere centres for goods-streams traversing a purely peasant landscape, but of a second world within walls, for which the merely producing life “out there” is nothing but object and means, and out of which another stream begins to circle. The decisive point is this — the true urban is not a producer in the prime terrene sense. He has not the inward linkage with the soil or with the goods that pass through his hands. He does not live with these, but looks at them from outside and appraises them in relation to his own life-upkeep.

‘With this goods become wares, exchange turnover, and in place of thinking in goods we have thinking in money.

‘With this a purely extensional something, a form of limit-defining, is abstracted from the visible objects of economics, just as mathematical thought abstracts something from the mechanistically conceived environment. Abstract money corresponds exactly to abstract number. Both are entirely inorganic. The economic picture is reduced exclusively to quantities, whereas the important point about “goods” had been their quality. For the early-period peasant “his” cow is, first of all, just what it is, a unit being, and only secondarily an object of exchange; but for the economic outlook of the true townsman the only thing that exists is an abstract money-value which at the moment happens to be in the shape of a cow that can always be transferred into that of, say, a bank-note. Even so the genuine engineer sees in a famous waterfall not a unique natural spectacle, but just a calculable quantum of unexploited energy.

‘It is an error of all modern money-theories that they start from the value token or even the material of the payment-token, instead of from the form of economic thought. In reality money, like number or law, is a category of thought.’

Here is clarity joined with profundity, a feat only to be executed by genius. The initial picture of the agrarian world, in which production primarily from the soil gives the products a reality because of the quality or life that is within them. They become man’s possessions, something near him, placed or sitting by him, and valued with reference to life. But with the soul of the town a quite other kind of life arises, one in which something intervenes between ‘goods’ and man. The result, in its essence, is contained in the change from creative goods-thinking to abstracted money-thinking, expressed in phrases italicized by Spengler himself: ‘With this goods become wares’ (things of the warehouse not of the personal home), ‘exchange turnover’ (not as a mere inter-change of goods for other goods), ‘and in place of thinking in goods we have thinking in money’, and ‘in reality money, like number and law, is a category of thought’.

Let us look closely at this differentiation, particularly in its relation to those ‘goods’, which are most nearly related to life and without which life could not be, the good-products of the soil. The vegetable food-products are seeds, roots, leaves and fruits, and early men made the observation that when seeds were put in the ground, a plant grew up which produced a greater number of seeds than were put into the ground. These men did not worry about whether or not the production of a great number of seeds from a few revealed a rather gloomy and even brutal design on the part of nature to make the few seeds successful in becoming plants and so proving their superiority to the rest as the fittest to survive in a struggle for existence. They did not regard the few and the many as being due to a rather snobbish, if divine, order of precedence, serving as the explanation of the exuberance of the creative power. They were more simply bound to the facts that these extra seeds, tubers, fruits and foliage provided them with food, and they saw themselves dependent upon the manifold character of re-creation. All they understood was what they saw, namely, the generous outpouring of abundance, in response to their efforts, by a mystical power, which in its working was beyond them, but in its revelation to them aroused their awe, their reverence, their gratitude. So they served nature to the best of their ability, drew their share from the cornucopia of abundance and humbly thanked a God in this revelation of paternal love and superhuman magnanimity.

The abundance, as the result of their labours, enabled the work of a group of families to supply food not only for themselves, but for others. A certain part of their produce was, therefore, set aside for the non-working members of the families, for craftsmen who gave them possessions in return for food, and for the men of government in the form of taxes. So much of their produce had to go to government. They did not pay government for its services in money, but in produce.

Now the great significance of the tax in kind is that it is, of course, completely related to the basis of human life, the soil. The soil yields so much grain. The grain is mixed, spread out and a portion, say a fourth, is taken by an official for government. Taxation, therefore, receives the stability of the soil, and nothing really is so stable in human life as the well-cultivated soil. There is, when products are many in character, a fairly steady average return in response to a traditional agriculture, if that agriculture is not wasteful. There must be some such steady relation of the soil to men, for human life to continue without violent fluctuations. There are, of course, good seasons and bad seasons. There are times of drought, there are times of flood, but a settled and capable form of agriculture does produce prolonged national life.

Payment of taxes in kind is a payment in terms of that which is primary to national life. It is factual and real in a whole national sense. It is terrenely genuine and sufficient, and has no foreign, extraneous and unlimited character, such as life dependent on conquests, on the wreck of weaker nations or, through the agency of money, on the well- or over-fed condition of the few and the underfed condition, or malnutrition, of the many. It, in fact, liberates the soil and keeps it free from money, the one real and essential freedom for a whole national life.

In the old conception the peasants paid the king for national protection. That was the service he rendered to them and for which they returned reciprocal service. That is the doctrine to be found in the classics of the past, such as the Smriti or law-books of ancient India. The land of the country was not the king’s property, but the common property of all who work on that land, and enjoy therefrom the fruits of their labour, as Professor Dvijadas Datta insists in Peasant-Proprietorship in India, 1924. Taxes were to protect the living land and the land of the living, and not as they have now become, under the priority of money, for things so anomalous as, for example, the payment of interest on money lent by the privileged class for wars that were fought and decided over a century ago. The peasants did not pay the king to protect the land against enemies, whose dead bodies had for long been dissolved into soil-fertility. They paid for the protection of the land on which they were living and by which their nation was living.

No one can juggle with the soil as acquisitive men have learnt to juggle with money. The soil is reality; it has its own dominant character: it is more powerful than man, for it has that infinite mystery of power to turn death into life, and so not to remain as death. But money is purely man’s invention and he can fashion it of what he likes, from the ponderous blocks of iron of the honest Lycurgus to the book-entries of modern bankers or manufacturers of credit. It can take every form of transubstantiation that dominant men choose to put upon it. It permeates everything that they dominate. It is only upon the land that men will ever be able to get free of it. It is only there that they will be able to see clearly what life really is.

And life is something that starts from the health of the soil in a way that, if it is to be successful, the principle of life must direct. Soil, in conservative and whole life, directs and rules money, not money the soil. Soil is the first primary thing and in reconstruction its needs must be provided for apart from the assumption of priority by money.

Money acts rather as a balance, as a subservant to the soil. So it acted at least amongst Indian and other peasantries. That is why it was denoted by metal and why it was recognized as a possession because, being metal, it had durability as the land had durability. It could act as a substitute of the land. When there was scarcity in local soil-products, coins came into existence to make stored food and second-class food available by assisting poor land to be cultivated. When famine threatened or existed, then the silver bangles of Indian women were taken and handed to the sowcar and weighed by him and turned into an equivalent weight of silver coins. So coin became more plentiful at times of distress.

This is the exact opposite of urban banking. When distress threatens, bankers call in their loans. As distress increases, money in circulation becomes less, not more — more distress less local money, not more distress more local money. In very great distress, according to the sages, it was right for the king not only to forgo the taxes in kind, but to give money, not loan it, in order to lighten the distress by enabling the suffering people to buy food and assistance from outside their locality.

The right economics of the soil do not exist under thinking in terms of money. If the soil is lined up with other productive agents of saleable goods, then its intrinsic character vanishes. It is essentially different to goods manufactured for sale, for it is as much a property of life as is the air. Neither soil nor air have market value, because they are necessary means of life. There is no market value yet for air, there should not be one for soil. City air, burdened with petrol, is not bad economics but bad life. The soil, that is burdened with money, is not bad economics, but bad life. That is why the right human partnership with the soil is an essential of human life, if it is to endure.

With the right conservation and service, the soil responds with something that is as certainly stable as the human virtue which, through the continuity of family service, provides this protection. It responds with its repetitive, but limited, gifts with a regularity, which is entirely different to the violent fluctuations in national and personal life which have occurred from the output of the precious metals, and owing to which the most profound effects in modern civilization have followed upon the discovery of Potosi silver, Californian gold and improved chemical processes for extracting gold. Nothing, one feels, could be more fantastic than to try to stabilize human life — and it must be stabilized if catastrophe (or change in the crust of the earth which is one of its dictionary definitions) is to be avoided — while measures of such inconstancy are permitted to dominate.

Let us now, then, in the midst of our inconstancies and the great catastrophes in which we have our present being, in this our reconstruction review this great virtue of constancy in terms of the creative power of the soil. Here we have for our enlightenment Professor F.H. King’s book, Farmers of Forty Centuries.

His introduction of ten pages is one of contrast pictures of the thorough and profound relation of men to the soil in China and its pupillary countries, of the conditions of social constancy that result therefrom, and of the undeveloped relation to the soil of men in the West. He took as a striking example the meticulous care with which water is preserved and used for the land in China. ‘To anyone who studies the agricultural methods of the Far East in the field’, he wrote, ‘ it is evident that these people, centuries ago, came to appreciate the value of water in crop production as no other nations have. They have adapted conditions to crops and crops to conditions to such a pitch that in rice they have produced a cereal which permits the most intense fertilization and at the same time ensures the maximum yields against both drought and flood. With the practice of Western nations in all humid climates, no matter how completely and highly we fertilize, in more years than not, yields are reduced by a deficiency or an excess of water.’

He went on to summarize the magnitude of the systems of canalization in China, a conservative estimate of which would place the miles of canals at 200,000. China has as many acres in rice each year as the United States has in wheat, yet the rice area does not bear rice alone, but ‘produces at least one and sometimes two other crops each year’.

When and where water is not available for irrigation, the people cultivate ‘quick-maturing, drought-resisting millets as the great staple food crops’, and for them the water is preserved by ‘almost universal planting in hills or drills, and so making possible the utilization of earth mulches in conserving soil moisture’. Thus ‘these people have with rare wisdom combined both irrigation and dry farming methods to an extent and with an intensity far beyond anything our people have ever dreamed of, in order that they might maintain these dense populations’.

The canals, moreover, render not only water, but a refreshment of soil itself comparable to that of the overflow of the Nile or of the warping of the Isle of Axholme. ‘In China enormous quantities of canal mud are applied to the fields, sometimes at the rate of even seventy or more tons per acre.’ And where this mud is not available, they yet refresh the soil in a manner again rivaling the autochthonous renewal of Egypt. ‘So, too, where there are no canals, both soil and subsoil are carried into villages and there they are, at the expense of great labour, composted with organic refuse, then dried and pulverized, and finally carried back to the fields to be used as home-made fertilizers.’

Finally, on page 241, he asserted that ‘China, Korea and Japan long ago struck the keynote of permanent agriculture… In selecting rice as their staple crop; in developing and maintaining their systems of combined irrigation and drainage, notwithstanding that they have a large summer rainfall; in their systems of multiple cropping; in their extensive and persistent use of legumes; in their rotations for green manure to maintain the humus of their soils and for composting; and in the almost religious fidelity with which they have returned to their fields every form of waste which can replace plant food removed by the crops, these nations have demonstrated a grasp of essentials and of fundamental principles which may well cause Western nations to pause and reflect.’

Without much reflection, it must be quite clear that in these works and actions of the Chinese, all the factors which promote the fertility of the soil are brought together so as to ensure and preserve its highest creative power. This is done ‘at the expense of great labour’ as the true character of the economics of the soil. By such great labour a fair constancy of return from the soil can be assured, a constancy which has no parallel in the dominant money system of our time, a constancy which depends upon the fact that if all the factors of fertility in a locality are brought into the action of cultivation, the results will reach a certain degree which they cannot surpass.

The whole conception of dominant money is, on the other hand, foreign to the soil. When money is lent, it expects to get not itself but more than itself in return. Omitting the speculative hopes of capital improvement, money lent expects an addition of itself called interest.

But in good agriculture, fertility is fully used in producing a crop. It is not and cannot be called upon to create an extra quantity of itself so as to produce an extra crop or interest. Only something parasitical could add itself as an extra growth on decadent vitality and that does not occur in whole farming. In farming dominated by money, however, parasitism is as abundant as debt, like breeding like. If one reads a book on modern farming one cannot help being struck by the number of parasites that take their share in it. There are warble flies, scabs, lice, fleas, maggot flies, bollworms, eelworms, wireworms, fruit flies, fungi, leaf roll, blackscab, blight, mosaic, rust, bunt, smut, leaf stripe, black leg and so on. The more complex scientific farming becomes says Mr. D. H. Robinson, the greater ‘the spread of complaints which formerly were unknown or of little importance’.

There is clearly quite a definite difference between a farm carried on for the preservation of a high fertility and one for the immediate production of money-crops, enforced to this by the dominance of money and credit-debt. Once a farm is involved in the credit-debt dominance, once this credit-debt is looked upon as a first need or chief claimant, then agriculture becomes inextricably involved in a huge system, with its owners and managers, and its local, national and international debts. These debts affect everyone within the system. Modern men, therefore, in facing the problem of life, find themselves loaded and hampered by the dead weight of debt. The size and pace of enhancement of these debts are so extreme that there is no hope of their being balanced by the creative power of life. The only reply to them is to use up without replacement the stored fertility of the past. Even this fails. It does not abolish, but extends debts and debtors on the land. The whole position is so utterly beyond any balance that only men with minds split from the reality of creative life could possibly acquiesce in the hypotheses and creeds which have arisen to fortify it and to make it appear rational and sane, hypotheses which were eventually forced to raise the sleek speculator and the barrel-bellied millionaire to the status of darlings of nature; her selections in the survival of the fittest!

The stark fact that appears now, and which wrote itself across the Roman Empire, is that debt and taxation increase as the soil declines. The one is a counterpart of the other. The huge, unpayable debts are the measures of the death of reality; step by step they are matched by the loss of soil-fertility. In coming chapters we shall see how remarkably the greater money dominance of the present era is matched by the greater ill of the soil. The money dominance and its vast debts, personal, local, national and international, are on the side of death and against the creative power of life.

Nature, it must be remembered, has no interest in maintaining a more highly organized form of life such as man is. If he takes a harmonious place in a life-cycle, he will continue; if not, he will be replaced by some other form of organic life, as bracken replaces grass. Survival is not a matter of struggling to be fittest, it is not a matter of the modern boast of the conquest and exploitation of nature. It is a matter of reverence.


The English peasant first appears in Engleland as an individual with a strong bent for independence. Engleland was the southern part of the thumb of land that projects itself between the North and the Baltic Seas, the northern part being the land of the Jutes or Jutland.

The dwellers in Engleland, writes Mr. John Richard Green, in his Short History of the English People, ‘seem to have been merely an out-lying fragment of what was the Engle or English folk, the bulk of whom lay probably along the middle Elbe and on the Weser’, and he adds that they were allied to peoples occupying a wide tract reaching to the Rhine and collectively known as Saxons.

Mr. Green does not, however, speak of the fascinating theory of Henri de Tourville, who gives the name of ‘particularist’ to these Nordic peoples, because they were people of the small or particularist families of husband, wife, and children as opposed to the large joint families of fathers, their sons and grandsons and their wives and children. Henri de Tourville, in his Histoire de la Formation Particulariste, believes this small family came into being in the following way: some Teutonic or Nordic people reached the plains of Sweden and in their search for undisturbed homes, passed on over the mountains and settled along the fiords of Norway.

Anyone who has voyaged up these fiords must have been struck by the patches of bright green cultivation that are set between the precipitous mountains and the sea water of the fiords. They are like unequally spaced gems of emeralds. He will also have been struck by the smallness of the greater number of them. Nevertheless, what is grown on them and the fish of the fiords still form the food of isolated families.

These families were small or particularist owing to the sheer limitation of vegetable food. When the families of a fiord grew too large, the younger members gathered together, stocked a few ships and voyaged southwards, seeking land for themselves in fiords farther south, in the projecting thumb of Denmark, in the northwestern river-lands of Germany, and finally in the island of Britain. In the new settlements, the love of independence led to the persistence of the small family system.

However this system actually arose, it has been of great significance in the world’s history. It is the oddity as opposed to the customary large or joint family; it is independent individuality as opposed to dependence on joint opinion; and a very strong oddity it has proved to be. However rude and rough these early Engles may have been, there are few Englishmen now who will not be thrilled, when they read how Tacitus, coming from the great cityworld of Rome, was struck by the jealous independence of each farmer and his family in their settlements. ‘They live apart,’ he wrote, ‘each by himself, as woodside, plain or fresh spring attracts him.’

They could not, however, be quite independent. Dangers from other peoples sometimes threatened them and they then joined together, chose a chief and took to arms. They were fierce fighters and, when they arrived in Britain under their captains, they drove the Britons westwards or slew them and took their land, until once more they were independent farmers at peace. They were the forerunners of similar settlers in America, Australia and New Zealand.

But, before the coming of the Norman Conqueror, these farmers, says Green, lost most of their peace and much of their independence. They had so many wars that warrior-kings and their military subordinates had become a standing feature of their society. For greater protection against invaders, like themselves in race, they had to submit to larger association, and eventually one kingdom. They lost their spontaneity of action and had, as a condition of existence, to attach themselves to a lord or thegn of the King’s party. ‘The ravages of the long insecurity of the Danish wars aided to drive the free farmer to seek protection from the thegn,’ wrote Green. ‘His freehold was surrendered to be received back as a fief, laden with service to its lord. Gradually the “lordless man” became a sort of outlaw in the realm. The free churl sank into the villein, and changed from the freeholder who knew no superior but God and the law, to the tenant bound to do service to his lord, to follow him in the field, to look to his court for justice and render days of service in this demesne.’

The coming of the Conqueror, William of Normandy, increased and confirmed the subordinate position of the English farmers, by giving them foreign conquerors as their lords. The tendency to the establishment of the authority of the aristocrat ‘was quickened by the conquest’, wrote Green; ‘the desperate and universal resistance of his English subject forced William to hold by the sword what the sword had won, and an army strong enough to crush at any moment a national revolt was necessary for the preservation of his throne. Such an army could only be maintained by a vast confiscation of the soil. The failure of the English risings cleared the way for its establishment; the greater part of the higher nobility fell in battle or fled into exile, while the lower thegnhood either forfeited the whole of their lands or redeemed a portion of them by the surrender of the rest.’ Land became the property of the King, who rewarded his followers and bound them in their interests to his, by gifts of land as private property. The Norman aristocracy received many estates, scattered so that they could not constitute a dangerously strong local power, but even ‘the meanest Norman rose to wealth and power in the new dominion of his lord.’

So William initiated land as the private property of an aristocratic caste of landowners, and the peasants became bound to the land as serfs.

England was, humanly speaking, a very small country at that time. The population was some two million at the time of the Conqueror and two and a half million at the time of Edward III. The total area of cultivated soil was small, the greater part of the land being forest and therefore possessing undisturbed its primal vegetative cover. The farming was backward as the slow growth of the population reveals, and, compared to that of more enterprising countries on the Continent, it remained backward for many centuries. Nevertheless, it produced a life-cycle which, though of low grade, preserved within itself a certain stability and was free from pronounced waste.

When a balance between the English and their Norman conquerors was brought about by time, the features of an association based upon the soil, with which readers are now largely acquainted, came into being. The farming was carried out by a method of large estates. These estates were called manors and the heads of the estates were the lords of the manor. Under them the people worked, with various grades of right to the land, by which one and all got their food and home directly from the land. The country as a whole was in a condition of ‘Natural Economy’, not ‘Money Economy’, and such commonplaces of the country of to-day as are capital, labour, competition, employee, had no meaning. The family or associative method was everywhere. A man might employ labour, but he worked himself with those he employed and he ate the same foods as they did. The manor was, indeed, like a large family. It was a self-contained community and the land itself was the father and mother of the community. The lord of the manor represented a personal government, but he was not able then to do with the land what he wished. His position was that of chief functionary, and not that of slave-owner as in post- Punic Italy.

The land was worked on a common plan. There were no separate fields, but one large open space marked off into strips by balks. The lord of the manor would often have his strips amongst those of the villagers. In such cases the community was a true community, in which the land was alike to all. But in other cases the personal land of the lord of the manor was not amongst but separated from that of the villagers. The community was then almost, but not quite, a true community based upon the soil.

In addition to farming by the manor system, the most or only educated section of the people, the monks of the Church, contributed to the national farming the benefits of their devotion, learning and art.

William Cobbett has given an account of the special character and quality of the monasteries and their meaning in an agricultural civilization, in The History of the Protestant Reformation, written over a hundred years ago. He said: ‘Nor must we by any means overlook the effects of these institutions on the mere face of the country. That man must be low and mean of soul who is insensible to all feeling of pride in the noble edifices of his country. The monastics built as well as wrote for posterity. The never-dying nature of their institutions set aside in all their undertakings every calculation as to time and age. Whether they built or planted, they set the generous example of providing for the pleasure, the honour, the wealth and the greatness of generations upon generations unborn. They executed everything in the very best manner: their gardens, fishponds, farms, were as near perfection as they could make them; in the whole of their economy they set an example tending to make the country beautiful, to make it an object of pride with the people, and to make the nation truly and permanently great. Go into any county and survey, even at this day, the ruins of its, perhaps, twenty abbeys and priories and then ask yourself, “What have we in exchange for these?”’

To their practical farming, the monks brought the help of the classic writers of Rome, of Cato, Varro, Columella and others, whose works in Latin they were able to read. They were cultured farmers, to whom the spiritual side of creation appealed with especial significance. It was they who instituted improvements and preserved a standard in medieval farming. It was they who harboured that endeavour to do well, without which the work of the mass of men tends to decline. It was they who built roads and bridges, and maintained traffic by opening their monasteries as places of temporary rest and hospitality to all travelers, rich or poor; they who drained marshes, reclaimed wastes, and improved livestock. It was they who filled in what one might call the full composition of a soil-based civilization by giving it the vision of religion, the art of the temple, and the culture of studentship. They also defended, as far as they could, the independence of the peasants, and supported them in their efforts to rise out of serfdom.

The lords of the manor were the worldly heads of the people. They supervised and directed the division of the land, saw to the upkeep of cottages and buildings, presided over schooling and apprenticeship, arranged marriages, punished slovenly work, dealt with quarrels and crimes, checked short weights and the adulteration of grain and beer, arranged for the exchange of goods, and directed the relations of the villagers with the outer world which began on the farther side of the forest that bounded the manor.

We now come to the introduction of ‘Money Economy’ to the land.

At the time when the manor system flourished best, the lords of the manor were the paternal chiefs of the villagers. But they also had a number of rights which belonged to a conquest and were, in fact, derived from the Norman Conquest. It was these rights that made their precedence in the village something different from that of the village assembly, which is the common form of village rule and which constitutes the true freedom and independence of the partners of the soil. The lords of the manor had the right to exact a varying amount of enforced work from the villagers; they exacted fees for the services of the manorial court; they had the right to sell timber from the estate, to permit strangers to take up land, to mill and even bake the people’s bread; and, their class being the lawmakers of the country, they were able to pass such laws as the Statute of Merton in A.D. 1236, which gave them a right to enclose certain lands of the villagers for their own use. In brief, they were indisputable masters; they prolonged the Conquest indefinitely and thereby prevented the villagers of England from getting complete freedom of property in the land they cultivated.

There was one other privilege of the lords of the manor, which was a direct contradiction of the freedom of the soil to terrene man. It was this. They had the right to fold, not only their own cattle, but also those of the villagers, on their land. They became the manurial, as well as the manorial lords of the estates, and everyone in the village, of course, knew that their lords robbed them of food, when they took the manure.

The lords of the manor, judged from the basis of the soil, became thereby life-robbers in the midst of the village. They were manurial robbers long before they became open robbers and pillagers under Henry VIII. By their theft or privilege, whichever it be called, their land received a greater and the villagers a less fertility and, in accordance with this change in the soil, there came into being a change in the human beings. A difference in quality entered. The rich, fed by a more fertile soil, were better in physical quality. The level of the people generally was degraded. Rich and poor became not only a thing of measurement by money, but a visible physical condition.

There is nothing perhaps that has to be made more clear than this: that the first separation leading to the divided classes of employers and employed, of rich and poor, with the poor dependent not on the soil but on the rich, was a separation of farm dung. It was a personal sequestration of life-elements. It was not a crime in English law, but in terms of the soil, a lethal type of crime eventually to lead to disasters for the robbed. Immediately, owing to it, the life-cycle of the lord’s demesne was improved, that of the peasants’ land was diminished. ‘On land which was inadequately manured,’ wrote the late Lord Ernle, in English Farming, Past and Present, 1922, ‘and on which neither field turnips nor clovers were known till centuries later, there was no middle course between the exhaustion of continuous cropping and the rest-cure of barrenness.’ Much of the land had to lie fallow, unused and uncultivated until it recovered its strength, a natural part of which the lords of the manor had taken from it. The aristocracy needed the extra wealth which this sequestration of life-elements brought them. The crime was forced upon them by their luxury and expenses as courtiers and as warriors in the Crusades and French wars. They became, consequently, exactors, not protectors, of the soil, and they displaced the old Natural Economy of the manor for the new Money Economy.

The more enterprising and frugal villeins of the manor, supported by the Church, saw in this need of their lords the opportunity to satisfy their cravings for independence. With the surplus they achieved by their ability, they won their freedom from service to their lords and they became tenants by the payment of rent. They took over land, too, from the least efficient of the manor’s farmers and worked it with the previous owners as labourers, thereby becoming in the manor the Kulaks in the Mir, to speak in Russian terms.

Thus, during the slow break-up of the manor system owing to the introduction of the new Money Economy, the people of the manor came to be divided into four classes; the first was the lords and their families and personal dependants; the second the tenant farmers; the third the villeins, who did not become tenants; and the fourth those who failed to support themselves upon the land that had been allotted to them, and who now worked for their more successful brethren for a wage paid in kind or in money. This fourth class are often spoken of as the class of free labourers, because they were to some extent free to sell their labour. Their freedom was very limited, being due to their poverty, which compelled them to use it, as labour uses its freedom to-day, in binding itself to this or that master. They lost their right to the land and to the stock which had been their capital. Their value was relative to their abundance or their shortage. Only when there was a great shortage of labour, such as that which followed for many scores of years the destructive Black Death of the middle of the fourteenth century, did their wages exceed the cost of their necessities. Thorold Rogers called the fifteenth century the golden age of the English labourers or farm-workers measured by the relation of their wages to the prices of their necessities.

The freedom that these relatively high wages brought was defeated by the continuous decline of the soil of the land in the early Tudor period. Lord Ernle wrote: ‘Land had depreciated in value; rents had declined; farming had deteriorated; useful practices had discontinued; cattle were dwindling in size and weight; the common pastures had become infected with “murrain”; the arable area of open fields had grown less productive, and without manure its fertility could not be restored.’

Desperate measures were required to save the land and the measures undertaken were those dictated by the ascendant Money Economy. In Roman Italy, after the Punic Wars, the deterioration in fertility of the soil led to the substitution of family-owned farming by large estates, the latifundia, and large landowners. In Tudor England the same substitution of latifundia for small family farming also took place. In post-Punic Italy, acquisitive men seized the lands of weakened farmers with complete disregard of the law. ‘The whole system’, Mommsen tells us, ‘was pervaded by the utterly unscrupulous spirit characteristic of the power of capital. …Roman capital was gradually absorbing the intermediate and small landed estates in Italy as well as in the provinces, as the sun absorbs drops of rain.’ In Italy, the large number of slaves acquired by Rome’s conquests, hastened the process, for it was easy for large landowners to break right away from their own fellow-countrymen, and, leaving them to their fate, to engage foreign slaves for the service of the Italian soil. In England the process of the eviction of peasant family farming was not completed until the industrial era itself.

In both cases, as on similar occasions elsewhere in history, the social change was in the nature of a conquest. A group of acquisitive men, who had got money by other ways than those of direct agriculture, acted as conquerors. They overthrew the peasants’ customary rights in the soil as the basis of the State and made land a commodity to be purchased by the richest bidder. In Italy these acquisitive men were the Equites or Knights, who had acquired great wealth by acting as middlemen in the newly acquired realm of Rome, and who were to form the chief part of the aristocracy of the eventual empire. In England the acquisitive men, who overthrew the agricultural basis of the State and with it the Church and the monks, became the new aristocracy of Tudor England. In both cases also there were statesmen and other leading men, who set themselves against the ‘terrible measures’ under which the independence and rights of the farmers and of the free labourers were to succumb. Such were Wolsey, More, Latimer, and Queen Elizabeth and her Ministers amongst the English. Nevertheless, in spite of all such efforts the great living fact about a soil remained and that fact was expressed by Ernle in the words: ‘Without manure its fertility could not be restored.’ Dung had to save the soil, and the quickest way to dung the land was to enclose it with hedges and breed and put upon the fields sheep and cattle. Fortunately, the acquisitive men were attracted to this method by the price that British wool fetched upon the Continent. It was this opportunity for more wealth that made them seize the land of the small men and of the monasteries and with the expenditure of their capital turn it into sheep farms. It was unquestionably good for the soil, but it entailed a brutal punishment to the small farmers and farm labourers, whose only sin had been that they had submitted originally to the enclosing of the lord’s demesne upon the manor and the robbery of the dung of their animals for the land of the manor’s lord. So, a new aristocracy arose upon the human relics of a system that had failed and the brilliant later Tudor period of English history followed.

From that time the proletariat and pauperism became the familiars of social England. No appreciation of the value of the small holdings appeared. There was no Prince Kropotkin at that time to make what would have seemed an insanely preposterous statement that, with the intensive farming of small holders, the British soil might support a hundred million inhabitants. Nothing was known of the rich results of the Chinese peasants, who were so skilled in the use of water and who followed the rule of return with such meticulous care. Nothing was known of the agriculture of the fallen Arabic Empire. The Tudor world was deeply stirred by what Green calls the New Learning, but the New Learning did not bend down to the humble giver of life, the soil.

For the further story of the English agricultural labourer, the only authoritative history in English that I have been able to find is A History of the English Agricultural Labourer, by Dr. W. Hasbach of the University of Kiel. It was first published in 1894, translated into English in 1908 and reprinted in 1920.

Where enclosure occurred, Hasbach says, a proletarian class appeared. English agriculture from the fifteenth century, when rich commercial men began to buy out owners living on their land, was ‘sacrificed to the interests of industry’.

He gives a full account of the second great period of enclosures, that of the eighteenth century. It was in the latter part of this century that the genius of the English and Scotch brought in a new epoch, that of the machine. The power of the machines effected a revolution. Manufacturing towns grew up and multiplied, and the demand for food put a premium on the land. The Tudor enclosures had only affected a limited area, but now there was a far greater cry for new and undeveloped land and for the deteriorated land, on which the poor crops and poorer cattle revealed the need for capital and manure. In the pre-machine part of the eighteenth century, Enclosure Acts were few; in Anne’s reign two, in George I sixteen, in George II two hundred and twenty, but in the latter part of the century, when George III reigned, there were three thousand five hundred and fifty-four. In the fifty years before George III 337,876 acres were enclosed; at the end of his reign 5,686,000 acres had been enclosed.

As in the times of the Tudor, there was a great improvement of the soil enclosed. Robert Blackwell (1725-95) transformed raw-boned cattle and lean sheep into animals twice the size; from 1776 on, Thomas Coke of Norfolk proved the capacity of capitalistic mixed farming to carry treble the livestock and to produce rich crops of wheat in place of scanty rye. Turnips were grown for winter feed of the cattle and clover for the improved feeding of the soil. Earnest farmers followed these great examples. Nevertheless, the main impulse to the enforcement of enclosures was the opportunity of acquisitive men to rise quickly to great wealth. It was this that gave the movement its brutality and the character of a civil war between one section of the people and another. Though the swords of the fortune hunters were sheathed in legality, they were none the less keen when unsheathed and so, says Hasbach, enclosures were ‘not seldom changed into a national curse’. It was the better class of inhabitants of rural areas who appreciated local opportunities of seizure, and it was therefore ‘squires, parsons and lawyers who were the chief owners and benefiters’.

Though peasant-ownership-farming survived in some few parts of England, in general ‘yeomen farmers and peasant proprietors ceased to exist; they drifted to the towns and sank into workers at a daily wage. Not only small holdings but the lesser tenancies gradually vanished in a universal system of large estates and farms.’ This quotation is from Richard Green.

The agricultural labourers in this period reached the nadir of their fate. They had no protection from the Church and the monasteries, as they had when Catholicism was the religion of England; their cottage industries had been supplanted by the new machines of the town; the days of an agricultural labourer trades-union were yet to come. They were utterly helpless and hopeless. They were not even slaves, ensured by their masters as regards board and bed. The landowners ceased to pay wages in kind, in other words in food, because food fetched higher prices in the towns and the yeomen who had once filled the village markets, were no more. Their food was almost confined to wheaten bread, which, being wholemeal, supported life. Their wages were miserably small, so small that the parishes often had to add to its pittance an allowance from the rates. Because of this the parish authorities hired out the labourers, and sometimes, says Ernle, ‘the paupers were paraded by the overseers on a Monday morning, and the week’s labour of each individual was offered at auction to the highest bidder’.

The labourers presented heart-rending pictures to their bravest champion, William Cobbett. Here is one taken from his Rural Rides in 1821. ‘The labourers are miserably poor. Their dwellings are little better than pig-beds, and their looks indicate that their food is not nearly equal to that of a pig… The land all along here is good. Fine fields and pastures all around; and yet the cultivators of these fields are so miserable… When I see their poor faces present as nothing but skin and bone, while they are toiling to get the wheat and the meat ready to be carried away to be devoured by the tax-eaters; I am ashamed to look at these poor souls and to reflect that they are my countrymen, and particularly to reflect that we are descended from those amongst whom beef, mutton, pork and veal were the food of the poorer sort of people.’

This degradation of labourers on the land was essentially English. It did not happen in England’s neighbour, the Netherlands. Nathaniel Kent traveled in the Netherlands, and, in his Hints to Gentlemen of Landed Property, A.D. 1775, tried to awaken the said gentlemen to this fact. In the Netherlands, he wrote, there was an astonishing quantity of provisions, and as one of his broad hints to the Gentlemen of Property, he recorded that the holdings were all small and the cultivators on equality. This degradation, therefore, only happened in England. And even then, strangely enough, it was not inevitable everywhere in England itself. That indefatigable traveler on behalf of agriculture, Arthur Young, at one time the zealous champion of Enclosures, but later of the opposite opinion, discovered ‘with great delight the life of the small proprietors of Axholme’ (Report on the Agriculture of Lincoln, A.D. 1799).

Now the singular fact about these small proprietors of the Isle of Axholme was that they were not English but Dutch. They were a bit of the Netherlands transplanted to England. Their ancestors had been transplanted in the Isle of Axholme more than a century before Young visited them. The Isle was a swampy property of 46,000 acres between three rivers in Lincolnshire, and had the good fortune of belonging to one of the most cultured and educated men of his time in England, Charles I. Charles had knowledge of the small holders of the Netherlands, and he called some of their families over to England to drain the Isle of Axholme and cultivate it. They were true intensive peasant-family farmers, who, as Hasbach wrote, took every small advantage, cultivated every corner, had the help of their wives, brought up their sons in their footsteps, and ‘serve the land in the way it should be served, never stinting themselves and as absorbed in their service as any priest in his religion’. So these peasant-families caused Axholme to flourish, and it was flourishing when it delighted the eyes of Arthur Young at the time of the degradation of the small English proprietors and their expulsion by the Enclosures.

Axholme is still flourishing. Sir Rider Haggard in his Rural England, 1906, welcomed its ‘almost inexhaustible richness…it will produce magnificent crops of wheat, potatoes, celery, or whatever it may be desired to grow’. Mr. Gilbert Slater, yet later, in the Making of Modern England, 1934, seeing heavier crops in the Isle than he ever saw elsewhere, drew the conclusion that the men of the Isle of Axholme had abundantly justified their stout refusal to submit to enclosure in the eighteenth century. ‘Not only are the open fields of the Isle of Axholme exceptionally well cultivated at the present time, but the island serves as a training ground in practical and effective farming, and men who begin as labourers there frequently become large farmers elsewhere.’

These skilled, independent men met with strong resistance from the English farmers who tried to expel them, but they inherited a tradition of soil-protection and feeding, which gave them great faith in their own work. They knew its superiority and they have not changed. Their ancestry ‘affects the physical appearance and accent of the inhabitants of the present day’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th edition.)

The English labourers, in the early part of the nineteenth century, on the other hand, had lost all courage. They were an unprotected proletariat. In the times of their prosperity and independence, say Hasbach, ‘they had avoided early marriages and abstained from multiplying as a mere proletariat does; whereas now all such evils appeared’. This, he goes on to say, with great significance to all narrow-visioned reformers who wish to increase a population, this is the answer to Malthus, who failed to recognize the psychological elements (despair of the future and of freedom) in the rapid increase of population. ‘the error was immense.’

Hasbach places the beginning of the slight recovery of the English agricultural labourer at 1834, in which year a Poor Law stopped the parish allowance to advantage the farmers and made them, the farmers, pay the whole of the labourer’s wage. Actual paupers were put in the workhouse. But the real betterment, he found, was in two things, allotments and trade unions.

About this time certain kindly farmers gave allotments of land to their labourers for their own use and were glad to find that, instead of making them work worse on the farmers’ lands, they worked better. The eternal truth that everyone likes to be able to pride himself on his own work glimmered into being again and, from being proud of the crops they raised on their own land, these humble men and their wives and children took pride in the crops they raised on their masters’ land. They did so well on their private land that when a Government Report in 1843 pressed for the extension of allotments by law, the farmers complained that they had difficulty in getting enough cheap manure as the labourers wanted it for themselves. The labourers in a very small way were, in fact, turning the scales against the old lords of the manor who had started their troubles by stealing their soil-food.

In 1872 the labourers, under Joseph Arch, started a trade union, and ‘considering the character of the labourers and their natural isolation they were at first very successful’. But their efforts to get better wages were defeated by the farmers, who summoned unemployed workers from the towns and impoverished Irishmen for harvesting, hop-picking and other unskilled work in the busy seasons.

‘After a long period of depression the unions sprang into life again in the year 1890.’ We find them going to the root of the matter in their attempts to free land from the dominance of money. They supported the Land Restoration League, which wished to put a tax upon rent and increase it progressively until it absorbed and eventually abolished rent, and thus achieve the aim of Henry George. Agricultural and urban unions began to work together to prevent town labourers frustrating rural strikes and vice versa. Though poverty, ignorance and isolation of their members kept the rural unions back, they always ‘gave expression to the labourers’ desire for land’.

Allotments remained the most recognized form of relief. In 1889 a Parliamentary Committee on Small Holdings, with Joe Chamberlain as Chairman, reported, with ‘farsightedness and objectivity’, that a well-to-do peasantry was beneficial to any country, nationally, socially, and economically, and this was supported by the Central Chamber of Agriculture maintaining that, whereas large farming was suitable to sheep and corn, small holders were suitable to other types of farming.

‘The theory that the agricultural population in general was unconquerably attracted by the towns cannot be seriously maintained.’ ‘The labourers did not depart where allotments could be obtained, where good houses could be had at a fair price,’ and where some independence thereby was theirs. They preferred to live in villages to having cottages on farms. Yet, with the village life, the younger generation began to show themselves discontented. ‘The old semi-feudal relationships of the English village were no longer quite pleasing to the younger generation,’ who were more willing to migrate to towns, chiefly, or even solely, because on the land there was so little chance to raise themselves socially.

Hasbach ends with a review of the labourer from 1894-1906, and in these last pages the light of hope is dulled. The prospects of betterment did not mature. The generation that was content with allotments, good wages and decent cottages almost died out. The new generation ‘altogether despises the position of an agricultural labourer’. ‘He is at the bottom of the social scale,’ and knows it; whereas in a town a man can lose ‘identity among the masses of the inhabitants’.

As a result of his study, Hasbach came to the belief that little or no permanent betterment in the lot of the labourer had been attained. He could not avoid the impression ‘that, in spite of the talk of better wages, the lot of the agricultural labourer in many parts of the midlands, south, south-east and south-west, where often the houses are wretched and both allotments and small holdings are wanting, is such that he is strongly induced to turn his back on the land, even though his sense of self-respect is comparatively undeveloped’. While the labourer strives for a humble independence, it is definitely the end of many people ‘to place a proletarian class at the disposal of the farmer, believing such a step was in the interest of the employers’. No statesman had arisen capable of viewing the picture as a whole of or ‘estimating the total probable result of any measure’. ‘Hitherto failure has attended all attempts to apply to the problems of agricultural labour the principles which have been effective in the realm of industrial labour.’ The consequence has been the demoralization and depopulation of the countryside. Facts show that the system of the large farm cannot meet the crisis. Hasbach’s final advice is the greatest possible extension of small and middling holdings.

So ends this most instructive and unique book.

Between 1906, when Hasbach ended his story, and the present day, England has fought in two Great Wars; in both her people have been aroused to the perilous state of their food supply; in both they might and almost certainly would, have been starved into submission, had it not been for supplies sent to them by the people of the U.S.A. In the first war there was a wise increase of allotments to increase food. Powers were given to local authorities to acquire land by compulsion for allotments, and their number leaped from 130,536 acres to 1,330,000 acres. In the interval of peace that followed, much land went out of cultivation. The great efforts to increase the production of food before and during the second Great War are too well known to be recounted here. How far we are from the knowledge of how to feed our soil, and how it can best be cultivated, these two great crises have revealed. In no country is a reconstruction by way of the soil more needed than in our island. We have a large population; we need a large fertility of the soil to render our population safe and healthy. We need to free ourselves from robbery of the soil.