Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Lymington: Nature, the Family, and the Nation

This essay first appeared as chapter one of Alternative to Death: The Relationship Between Soil, Family and Community (London: Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1943), pp. 11–31, and was recently republished in the IHS Press essay collection Distributist Perspectives Volume II.

This biography of Lymington appears in the IHS collection:

Gerard Vernon Wallop (1898-1984), the Viscount Lymington, became the 9th Earl of Portsmouth early in 1943, upon the death of his father, Oliver. He was born in Chicago and raised in the United States, where his parents had a farm near Sheridan, Wyoming. He was educated in England at Farnborough, Winchester College, and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1923 he took over a 150-acre farm on a family estate. As a farmer and landowner he was, according to Dr. Philip Conford, “successful and progressive.”

He served as Conservative MP for Basingstoke (1929–34) and was a leading member of the English Mistery, founded in 1931 by William Sanderson, before splitting with him in 1937 to form the back-to-the-land “English Array.” The Array’s journal was the Quarterly Gazette, and the movement was dedicated to, as Lymington put it, the regeneration of the English stock and soil; opposition to alien corruption, internationalism, and usury; craftsmanship and domestic responsibility; and the employment of organic agricultural methods to replenish the soil and produce healthy food. While leading the Array, he founded an additional journal, the New Pioneer, whereupon he collaborated with John Warburton Beckett (an ex-socialist MP), A. K. Chesterton, Anthony Ludovici, Philip Mairet and others; he was also its editor from 1938 to 1940.

In the face of the increasing likelihood of war in Europe, he founded (also in 1938) the British Council Against European Commitments, while Array activities ceased in 1940. He also joined the British People’s Party, and collaborated in the foundation, with Rolf Gardiner, of the Kinship in Husbandry – of which he was, with Gardiner, effectively the heart. It was an informal but influential alliance of ruralists, whose aim was, according to Drs. Richard Moore-Colyer and Conford, to restore the English yeomanry, establish local and regional self-sufficiency, resurrect the craft tradition, and repopulate the English countryside. The group included as members other figures such as H. J. Massingham, Philip Mairet, and Adrian Bell, and it influenced other organicist and ruralist organizations such as the Rural Reconstruction Association of A. J. Penty and Montague Fordham and the well-known Soil Association. He was also a member of the Council for Church and Countryside, founded by David Peck and Reverend Patrick McLaughlin.

His books include Horn, Hoof and Corn, Ich Dien: The Tory Path, Famine in England (at the time a Sunday Times “book of the month”), Alternative to Death, and A Knot of Roots, his 1965 autobiography. He contributed to Massingham’s 1945 anthology The Natural Order and wrote for John Middleton Murry’s paper, The Adelphi. After the war he settled in Kenya, where he was eventually to own about ten thousand acres of land, and where he would remain for about 25 years. He served there as member of the Board of Agriculture, chairman and later president of the Electors’ Union, and member for agriculture of the Legislative Assembly, which latter post he maintained for three and a half years, beginning in 1957. In 1965 he was invited by Jomo Kenyatta to become a special advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. He held the post until 1976, when he suffered a stroke and returned to England. Speaking of the Lymington legacy, Conford notes that he was “crucially important in development of the organic movement.”

Nature, the Family, and the Nation
by Viscount Lymington

When McCarrison discovered that rats fed on the equivalent diet of many of our city dwellers grew diseased, nervous, treacherous, quarrelsome, and cannibalistic, but that similar rats fed on the fresher, whole, simple diet of some Indian hill tribes were fertile, gentle, and healthy, he thumbed a long nose at the last two centuries of “progress.” His experiment diagnosed one root cause rather than the symptom of a sick world. Fresh food from well-tilled land is the basis of physical health, for earth is the matrix and the grave of our physical existence. Body, mind, and spirit in our span on the earth are one whole; thus, if we neglect the matrix, the grave alone remains the “fine and private (final) place.”

History may resound to the tramp of armed men and the liberal historians may put battles down to economics and a lust for freedom: that is, licence to pursue economic gain.

But the fundamental history of civilization is the history of the soil The understanding of this is vital to all peoples who stand at the gateway of death. The whole white civilization stands there today. In any civilization there comes a moment when, if it is to continue, civilization must become ruralization. All its economics, all its amenities, its armies, and its splendour depend on one thing: the reverent use of its soil. The writing on the wall is there; we are being weighed in the balance and found wanting – in ruralization.

The writing is scrawled in erosion across the world. At present it goes almost unheeded; so we must return to history for proof of our present follies. Only in rare and fortunate cases does the jungle triumph and do vines choke the city walls while monkeys chatter in the roofless courts of kings. Mostly the sand and the silence drift across the crumbled splendour of man’s too careless endeavours. In reasons which caused the ruins of Gobi and Sahara and the buried cities of Arabia we have more to learn for human survival than in all the chemistry, plumbing, and germ theories of today. The desert has succeeded to the cities of the past because, being cities, they bred a race which forgot the soil on which it fed. Today there are well-schooled but poorly educated children in English industrial areas who cannot believe that milk comes from the cow, and not the tin. These children had their counterparts in Rome and Nineveh.

The background of human wisdom is the ever present consciousness that the soil nourishes the plant, the plant the animal, and plant and animal the human being. Thus, the city is built from the produce of the soil. When there are too many in the city for the soil, the soil and the city perish together, as a rabbit warren is eaten bare and then poisoned by the rabbits. As soon as the soil is made the servant of the city, and not the master partner in the civilization, the desert begins. Even useless wars and gigantic wastes like the burning forests only serve to underline men’s madness in forgetting their own source of life: Quem deus perdere vult, prius dementat.

Man, insofar as he is an animal, is bound to the soil, however heaven-born he thinks himself. When he enters the city he cuts himself off from one side of his own cosmic nature, and even his fertility fails so that he has to be constantly renewed from the country stock. But the longer he remains urban bred, the more his nature is divorced from the background of human wisdom. As he develops the habits of the parasite, be he lawyer or money-changer, scribe, broker or huckster, he is fastened ever more heavily on the servant of the soil, who sinks beneath his weight. The peasant thus exploited either moves to the city to become a parasite, or else, to live, exploits the soil itself, and so with gradually increasing speed destroys his own and the parasite’s source of livelihood. First the soil is exhausted of its human stock, and then of its own life-giving qualities. For many years the human exhaustion can go on, but once the exhaustion of the soil’s own stores of fertility sets in, the town gives way to desert.

The fate of the Roman Empire should be our lesson. It is so curiously paralleled today: A hardy peasant stock subdues a fertile peninsula. It is a stock full of the sturdy characteristics of those who live for the soil. War kills off some of the best of that stock. War also brings opportunities to the natural parasites who congregate in the city while the battle rages outside. Already the seeds of decay are sown. Being a peninsula the sea is a natural highway leading to Empire, and above all, to trade. Trade leads to usury, and usury is to demand that money grows at the expense of living growth.

Trade for its own sake means more urban population, and successful war means an abundance of slaves. The slaves lower the market value of the free peasant’s hard-won fruits of his labour. The peasant is displaced, drifting workless to the town. The latifundia, the large-scaled slave-worked farm, is made possible by the huge fortunes annexed through war or trade. The city population grows as the material wealth increases; conquests of corn-growing land in Africa and elsewhere are exploited by money-lenders to bring food to the city’s workless, who must have bread and circuses; for if they are not drugged by uncreative amusement they are just as likely to turn against their Emperors as if they are not fed. The latifundia in Italy must be worked harder and harder to compete with the grain ships. All that is best in the old Empire goes to the edges where there is still a man’s work to be done, and the shame of corruption at the heart is deadened by distance. Food and amusements are imported and the best go out to the perimeters to prop up a worm-ridden empire. Throughout the corruption gets worse because of the foreign customs and foreign purveyors of vices and titillating innovations which pour in to keep the capital amused, or in the form of foreign slaves to keep the now crossbred parasites in idleness. The Barbarian sweeps over the old barriers and the dark ages succeed. But it is not the barbarian who has broken Rome, it is the neglect of the soil and its servants. The once fertile granary of Africa from the Atlas to Cyrene is a desert, and Italy is stripped bare.

Transpose this lesson to our own times: for latifundia and slaves read “international capitalism and mass production,” for Africa read “the dust-bowl of America,” for bread and circuses read “the dole, Hollywood, and the headline press.” The parallel in the waste of land and the degradation of a fine yeoman stock is complete.

Reports and commissions, invention and finance will not help us if we do not remember this lesson and seek a salvation which can make integrate men; that is beings integrated within themselves and living in harmony with the whole of their environment.

I cannot believe that the Golden Age is a mere myth of superstitious ancients, or the Utopian figment of self-deceived idealists. I believe it to be a race memory, well-nigh universal of times when peoples in differing places had achieved a way of living in partnership and harmony with Nature. They possessed the secret, almost perfect, of adaptation to their environment, so that health, gentleness, beauty and strength were the rule and not the exception. That is the adaptation expressed in the Book of Job “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” – man conscious of his relationship to God and his unity with creation. The memory was nearer to the most ancient Egyptians and the earlier Greeks, even to the Aztecs, than to ourselves. Sometimes we may believe that there is more than a trace surviving still, when we read of the Hunzas of northern India living among the eaves of the world, or remember what Tahiti must have been before it was despoiled.

Even the story of Eden is a race memory of natural harmony and adaptation broken into by adding knowledge which could not be assimilated into wisdom. So far in this century, if we are honest with ourselves, we see that we have scientific knowledge but not the wisdom to use the knowledge to save us from shattered bodies and empty souls. We calculate our children with contraceptives but omit to make the wholeness of environment and love which is home. We are full of medical knowledge without health; scientific exploitation of the soil without the love and care, experience, and foresight to know that what we take we must return. The philosopher and the seer are at a discount, when they are most needed.

Self-knowledge must drive us to ask in humility: how may we regain a harmony with Nature* – with the ordering of life unspoiled by man’s quick-tempered and unmeditative arrogance; with a pattern of life that is essentially religious, sometimes in despite of religions? Even a cursory review of legends of the Golden Age, and observation of extant survivals or historic records of healthier, fuller, and calmer ways of living, show that care for the soil and ordering of life have been fused in an almost unconscious radiance of love. Happiness born of exuberant health, nurtured by patient adherence to the common purposes are its hallmarks.

[* This does not mean returning to a state of Nature. Man has altered Nature for too many thousands of years for this to be possible, were it even desirable. But it does mean that we should reach a conscious understanding of our nature, instincts, and biological make-up in relation to the soil, plant, and animal life with which, and by means of which, we have to live, and that we may yet have to learn the relationship of all these matters with the solar system.]

Again and again we find the story of descent from some human being transcendent in wisdom and health, transmitting his qualities to family or tribe, by whom order and tradition were established. It would be fair to say that in nearly every case one gets evidence of intense respect for the soil and its conservation, based upon the continuing close-bred life of the family. There is evidence also that in physical matters these happier human beings had not lost their instinct of physical adaptation to the order of Nature which may be found from the newts to the felidi.

On the reverse picture one gets evidence that civilization broke down because it disregarded the right use of the soil, and disintegrated because it had too much knowledge, but had lost its wisdom. We know that half the deserts of the world are monuments to human folly. The popular study of anthropology, collated with a biological knowledge of medicine and modes of agriculture, leaves us grounds for supposing that the debased savage and the cannibal were not simply laggards in the supposed race of evolution, but the relics of peoples who have taken the wrong turning earlier than ourselves. It is not difficult now to doubt the turning which our technocratic material civilization has taken in the last three hundred years. We can begin to understand how living has been divided from life, and body from spirit. When man is fragmentary and no longer integrated, it is no wonder in the endless crisis of our own disordering that men snatch at tendered panaceas – vitamin pills for the body and quack religions for the soul. We are so used to a readymade world that many ask for a ready-made mass religion to salve their souls and even to comfort their bodies. It is only the over-weening materialist who salve their souls and even to comfort their bodies. It is only the over-weening materialist who could flatly deny that by their approach to God the great mystics have left the human race in their debt. It is perhaps true that we need the influence of these seekers today, and that the world is parched for lack of striving after the ultimate wholeness which is assimilation into Being beyond our diurnal comprehension. But, although we may acknowledge, we cannot fulfil the need for such persons as we would apply an engineering technique to a new invention.

However, hunger for unfulfilled spiritual leadership and authority, for what we fondly believe is a short cut, should not leave us without either the energy or the faith to see that workaday solutions can be achieved, with the strength of purpose to work for these ends, and discipline to adhere to the values which shape them. Perhaps then, and only then, will the revived spiritual authority come to men of our day.

If we are sufficiently humble we should understand that the instinct of right living has been overlaid just as we have cast away the traditions which those instincts made.

On the other hand, however disordered our knowledge, however superficial our intellectual pride, we can still, with the power of reason and co-ordination of knowledge reproduce wisdom, and again give the best of our instinct the chance to assert itself for enduring ends. Reason, which does not apply its power for achieving harmony with Nature, or ally itself to liberating and guiding human instinct, can only plan Utopias and achieve Genevas.

The chapters which follow in this book are a tentative effort to use knowledge and experience in trying to point out on practical lines some, but by no means all, of the methods which could first restore to no inconsiderable number of the English, integrity of health for body and mind, in alliance with, rather than in opposition to, Nature. My hope and belief is that these methods might make such a nucleus of sound men and women that the example and influence would grow until it embraced the whole. Therefore, before proceeding to indicate solutions, I shall have to establish the principles upon which they are to be based, and incidentally at times to refute established errors, the virtues of which are taken for granted.

I have based this book primarily on the soil; on the family; on responsibility; and the development of instinctive excellence of craft and leadership. To believe that it is possible to found and maintain a great civilization without first using, maintaining, and even enriching its soil is to court disaster – disaster due to insecurity, subnormal health, and repressed instinct. The soil is the limiting factor. It is the liberator or inhibiter of inheritance according to its quality. Breed counts, but it cannot function properly on bad or ill-used soil; only when we cherish the sources of life can sound blood fulfil its potent destiny.

If, for instance, one were to feed a well-bred race-horse on the diet of a Neapolitan cab-horse, it is unlikely that one would even get a superior cab-horse; rather an ill-tempered, illadapted misfit in the shafts. The nature of the soil means more than the quality of food: it affects the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the quality of the sunshine. Ill-used soil can mean bad water and unhealthy air. Science might alleviate, but could not cure these fundamental effects.

The soil constitutes our environment in the truest sense; it courses through our blood, moulds our muscle and builds our bones. It even influences our thought and characterizes our actions. I believe that we should have the humility to acknowledge that character of the soil, rather than our own convenient predilections, should determine the nature of our customs and institutions. Therefore, it should determine even the size of the population which it carries. It is an error to consider that if we could guarantee the permanent security of imports and food for all from overseas, it would bring us either health or spiritual fulfilment.

God who ordered Nature must have clearly intended that the food we eat should be as fresh as possible; just as it was intended that the wastes from that food should go back to the soil whence it comes. These are the two most obvious biological reasons why the nature of the soil should determine our institutions. There are, however, spiritual reasons as well. When men cannot see cause and effect, they forget the relationship between the two. Reverence for the soil of far countries can never be the same as reverence for the particular plot which a man may cultivate himself. Therefore, men will not care until it is too late, if the soil is abused, when they eat imported foodstuffs. This is also a most cogent argument against great cities, since the metropolitan townsman forgets that the countryside is the source of life, rather than his playground.

The soil itself is the source of responsibility in craftsmanship. It is easier to escape the consequences of bad material and scamped workmanship in mass production than in dealing with Nature. Crop and animal alike will give the lie to the scrimshanker or the second-rate, but fine workmanship and generous care receive their accolade from life. Nor can the husbandman tolerate faulty tools, however simple they may be, and so he spreads the craftsman’s instinct far wider than himself. The craftsman’s instinct is the foundation of culture, since it satisfies needs which must otherwise explode in barbarism. Head-hunter and gangster are substitutes for true culture. To deny the creative instinct is to enlarge the restless forces of destruction.

While the soil provides our environment, internal as well as external, it forces us to use and not abuse the instinct which makes life continue. The soil decrees the unit of the family; since, except for the infant, each member fits into his or her place for livelihood. Even the children find work which is at the same time play and school for future responsibility in the household and the field. Later, as eyes grow dim, or muscles slacken, a niche of usefulness remains. If the family is the natural unit for the organization of the husbandman, his work should teach him the importance of his function as a procreator. It is hardly an accident that with tremendous urban growth the denial of breeding values is always present.

Those reared only on bread and circuses may claim the more unreal responsibility of a vote, but they can and do lose the tradition of trusteeship and the instinct of sound perpetuation. The instinct to choose a lifelong partner and home-maker with health and stamina, both physical and spiritual, is warped into attraction which mistakes a spurious sex appeal for true vitality, and the mutual capacity to enjoy tinsel amusements with the character to share life. They become the mob rushing to destruction. Only half-conscious that they have lost the status of life, they clamour against the truth which whispers that “the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Uncertain of themselves they both deny and hate inherent superiority.

The farmer knows full well the importance of environment, and he does not belittle it. But he knows that without sound stock and type he will not flourish. He will not willingly or wittingly sow bad seed or use bad sires. When people are in true harmony with Nature there is least often unsound mating among human beings. Men and women learn instinctively to choose a good type for each other. This is of supreme importance among ourselves in Great Britain where the Industrial Revolution has gone far to smother such sound instinct, and where the scientist and priest have been too prone to gratify the delusions of the mob with half-truths.

The results of our false values in suicidal economics has meant that the sound in every walk of life have had an increasing burden thrust upon them to support the wreckage of the system. The State has dealt meanly with its servants in Army, Navy, or Imperial Civil Services. The devoted men who brought order and justice to, and fought famine and disease in India and elsewhere have not been able to perpetuate their kind. They had to choose between serving a great purpose or bringing up a family large enough to carry on their blood. We have forgotten that taxation for social services, or repayment of the usurer must ultimately fall upon the shoulders of the primary producer. Taxation has fallen more hardly upon the responsible individual than the exploiter and speculator. Social maintenance has supported in far too many cases the incompetent at the expense of the better workman who tries to succour his family with his efforts, unaided by the State. The unwholesome and the feckless have been helped to flourish. This does not mean that we should leave the hindmost to the devil, but that our social efforts should have been based on values which should first aim at the survival of the best in mind and body.

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