Flee to the Fields |
The Founding Papers of the Catholic Land Movement
Original Preface by Hilaire Belloc
A Book Review by
(Dr. Chojnowski is a veteran Catholic writer on social and political topics.)
"“So long as the legislative machine is controlled by and composed of the
monopolists, all effort at restoring healthy economic life will fail.”"
The sobering quote above is from Hilaire Belloc’s preface to Flee to the Fields:
The Founding Papers of the Catholic Land Movement, a collection of 10 thought-provoking essays by the leading lights of the movement, first
published during the Great Depression and now re-issued by IHS Press. The
new edition features an introduction by Dr. Tobias Lanz, and is thoroughly
footnoted and richly enhanced with classic photos and illustrations.
The primary goal of the Catholic Land Movement was to provide skills,education, and, in the best conditions, financial aid to those families who were committed to an integrally Catholic life and who would produce food and
primary goods ú within a community grounded in faith ú for their own sustenance. And it is with words of warning that Belloc prefaces this
introduction to the Movement ú an enthusiastic and unequivocal Agrarian
manifesto. He offers a realistic assessment of the entire “Back to the Land”
movement, and speaks to the paradoxes and unresolved tensions that pervade
this compilation of essays. Belloc also points out that a reinvigoration of
society ú the logical fruit of any return to the most common form of life
and occupation ú can only be realized if the power of the State is dedicated
to the common good, rather than the private good (read “bottom line”) of
those who finance the rulers of the State.
Here Belloc draws attention to a point that evades most contemporary, even
“conservative,” political thinkers. The problem with our own times, and with
the countries most of us live in, is that the State has been handed over to
private interests. It is, therefore, counter-intuitive to believe that those
who have access to the halls of political power will ever countenance a
situation in which their monopoly on the resources of the nation is
jeopardized. Belloc’s words echo those of Arthur Penty, who stated that for
a family to embrace farm life without price regulation and control on the
part of the government would be tantamount to economic suicide.
In his introduction, Lanz compares the Catholic Land Movement to the
American Southern Agrarians of the first half of the 20th century. Whereas
Fr. John McQuillan - in his essay on the origins of the movement - points
out that it began with the full support (moral, if not financial) of the
British Catholic hierarchy in Glasgow, Scotland in 1929. The Scottish
Catholic Land Association, soon complimented by similar associations in the
Mid-lands and the North and South of England, opened a training center in
1931 for young men who wished to learn farming and to ultimately settle on
the land. Fr. McQuillan became the parish priest of the surrounding
By 1934, the year Flee to the Fields was first issued, significant
numbers of young men, adopted by the respective Catholic Land Associations,
were fully trained in every branch of farming. Some obtained their own
family farms, while others became managers of farms.
In addition to detailed descriptions of the British Catholic Land Movement
and the support it received from popes, cardinals, and intellectuals, Flee
to the Fields presents a theoretical defense of the “Back to the Land”
movement that, in addition to Belloc, had such prestigious backers as G. K
Chesterton and Fr.Vincent McNabb.
In his essay, “The Rise and Fall of
Industrialism,” Commander Herbert Shove grounds the ideology of British
Agrarianism in a systematic analysis of British history, beginning with the
Medieval feudal system and ending with the emergence of a fully industrial
and monopolistic system in the 19th century. By the time of the publication
of Flee to the Fields, some 80% of the population of Great Britain was
crowded into town and city, while some 95% of the Catholic population was so
And just as many American churchman in the 19th century had feared the
assimilation of the Catholic population into Protestant groups on account of
overwhelming social and economic pressure, so too did the British Catholic
elite fear that the conditions of urban life would further a “contraceptive
mentality” among Catholics. Here we find one of the main motivations behind
the “Back to the Land” movement of the pre-World War II years.
It was the real desire to see a reorientation of the Catholic soul toward
life on the land that produced both the land movement in Britain and Flee to
the Fields - the manifesto of its intent. Essayist Fr. Vincent McNabb, among
others, was convinced that without that movement, Catholic family life would
be eroded and finally dislodged, due to the unnatural environment of the
cities and the fact that in urban life a man’s work is in one place and his
home and family in another. Hence, it was to the not-impossible dream of a
free man on his own land, with family at hand, that Flee to the Fields was
The Book (160 pages) is now available for $12.95 from
Collection of Catholic Land Movement Essays reprinted. Flee to the Fields was originally published in 1934 by Heath Cranton, Ltd., of London. IHS Press is pleased to make available once again this engaging collection of essays written by the pioneers of the English Catholic Land Movement, which was formed by Catholic clergy and laity in England to encourage Catholic families to pursue life on the land, as a practical application of Fr. McNabb's (and the teaching of Holy Mother Church. As an example,see Pope Pius XII's 1946 address to Italian farmers) teaching that a life most conducive to religious and moral civilization is led close to nature, and not in opposition to her.
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This collection of essays by the leaders of the English Catholic Land Movement explaining the whys and wherefores of life on the land. Spearheaded by men such as Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., Commander Herbert Shove, D.S.O., R.N., Harold Robbins, and others, the Movement was a practical embodiment of the salutary truth that economic life must be rooted in the basics of agriculture, property ownership, and freedom. As a practical realization of all of those truths and more, the Catholic Land Movement stands as a model for the modern man who wishes to be radical in his re-assessment of the modern economic system, and in his efforts to get to the root of the problem. The agrarian vision is one that has stood and will stand the test of time as a pillar of civilization. This book expresses that vision in the words of some of England's greatest essayists on the subject.
IHS Press is pleased to present the original Preface by Hilaire Belloc and a new Foreword to this edition by Dr. Tobias Lanz, who teaches Politics at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.
We at The Daily Catholic heartily endorse this book and all books published by IHS Press who are dedicated to the true Social Doctrine of the Church as always taught from Saint Peter through Pius XII.