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As Christians we know that our true home awaits us, beyond our exile in this vale of tears, and our expectation of this place, our true native land where all are eternally at home, is more than enough to give us hope in a world darkened with its self-annihilating sin. Why fear the darkness when the light is clearly visible?

Editor’s Note: Joseph Pearce responds to questions from members of the American Solidarity Party regarding his book Small is Still Beautiful.

American Solidarity Party: What concrete policy steps can we begin to take to start moving a large and slow moving ship—our country—in the right direction? It seems that our current agricultural policies would need to be changed drastically. Given the various lobbies—sugar, citrus, GMO, etc.—what realistic steps can be taken to begin changing the conversation?

Joseph Pearce: It goes without saying that we should seek conventional political action from our elected officials to move the country in the direction of solidarity and subsidiarity. I feel, however, that the most efficient and effective way of getting the ship moving in the right direction is to begin to practice what we preach. We need to put our economic principles into practice at a local, grassroots level. We should support our local economies by buying from local producers. We should actually become local producers ourselves, if possible, thereby serving as agents of practical change in our daily lives, as both consumers and producers. I can’t stress powerfully enough that the most powerful vote that we have is the vote that we cast with every dollar we spend. Every dollar spent makes our country either a healthier place or an unhealthier place. We are either part of the solution or part of the problem. We can vote for change every single day of our lives with the dollars we spend. Indeed, it is more powerful than a vote at elections because we are not electing someone to do something on our behalf, delegating responsibility, but doing it ourselves. And we are not doing it once every four years at election time but every day and every time we open our wallets. We need to be conscious that we can change society with our every action.

ASP: If you were to rewrite Small is Still Beautiful today, is there some topic or chapter that you would have discussed differently? If so, which and why?

JP: Small is Still Beautiful was originally written in the UK with British readers in mind. Concern for the environmental impact of globalism and consumerism is much higher in the UK and Europe than it is in the United States. I share these concerns and feel that Americans often dismiss such concerns too lightly, even crassly. Nonetheless, in terms of pure rhetoric, it would have been better to tone down or at least nuance the environmental or so-called “green” aspects of my rhetorical approach to avoid the danger of alienating the readership on this side of the Pond. It’s not that I would change any of the principles advocated in the book, merely that I would nuance the manner in which those principles are expressed. It’s more a question of tone, rather than content.

The other problem with a book of this kind is that it relies on statistics to prove and buttress the case it is making, and the problem with data of this sort is that it becomes dated. It’s not that the principles change but the facts with which the principles are elucidated will invariably change. This was my original reason for writing Small is Still Beautiful. It was an attempt to take a look at the principles of E.F. Schumacher’s original book, Small is Beautiful, by looking at them in the light of the way that things had changed since the time that Schumacher’s cautionary arguments were originally made. Although I updated some of the statistics for the U.S. edition, these are also becoming dated. What will be needed at some point is a new book, arguing the same timeless principles of solidarity and subsidiarity with the use of the latest data.

ASP: What do you think of the Benedict Option as illustrating “small” in a Catholic way?

JP: It seems that there are so many different ways of interpreting the Benedict Option that one hardly knows where to start or finish when discussing it. The essential aspect of it is that we should not be doing what we shouldn’t. If contemporary culture has a corrupting influence upon us and upon our families, we need to disengage from it, as far as possible. It was Schumacher, or perhaps it was John Seymour, England’s equivalent to Wendell Berry, who said, alluding to the hippy generation of the 1960s, that we shouldn’t become “drop-outs” from society but that we should become “drop-ins” to an alternative and better way of life. And this way of life does not mean shutting ourselves away from all society. It means choosing the society in which we live. We need to form networks, i.e. micro-societies, of like-minded people, building an alternative and better society in microcosm. Such micro-societies will seem increasingly attractive as the macro-society continues to decay its way towards collapse. Like the saints throughout the ages, those living a better and healthier way of life will serve as candles in the darkness, attracting people to a life of sanity amidst the madness of modernity.

ASP: In many ways things now are worse, or so many of us see it. Why are you hopeful?

JP: I am hopeful, first and foremost, because there is a God in Heaven who has given us a glorious Creation, resplendent with all that is good, true, and beautiful. I only need to see a sunrise to know that a light shines in the world which transcends and supersedes all the darkness. I would only need to see one sunrise, ever, to see this and know this. And yet God gives us all a glorious new sunrise every morning of our lives. This is good and glorious news in itself but the even better news is that even this glorious place is not our true home. Thomas Aquinas reminds us in his wonderful hymn of praise, O salutaris Hostia, of the hope and great desire of all Christians:

Qui vitam sine termino 
Donet nobis in patria.
(O grant us endless length of days
In our true native land with Thee.)

As Christians we know that our true home awaits us, beyond our exile in this vale of tears and this veil of tears, and our expectation of this place, our true native land where all are eternally at home, is more than enough to give us hope in a world darkened with its self-annihilating sin. Why fear the darkness when the light is clearly visible?

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1 reply to this post
  1. Thanks for this post. I probably became interested in the economy of “smallness” through your work, and today I do research on small businesses in the global value chain. I agree with you that the first step is to change our own shopping habits and use our power as consumers to change market practices, but I wonder to what extent this is enough, or has been enough, if the broader context doesn’t change. I know that everything that comes from the EU is suspected of socialism in the US, but the question of small businesses in agriculture has been extensively discussed over the last years here. To the extent that SMEs represent 99% of businesses in the EU, there is an interest in fighting the negative effects that power imbalances in global supply chains have on local economies, especially after the crisis hit us hard and the disengagement between the EU and European citizens would seem to become bigger by the day. In the food sector, many European countries have incorporated legislation to protect small farmers vis-à-vis the buyer power of increasingly consolidated retailers, also the UK (even if in a more limited way than France or Italy or other countries), and the European Commission has made a proposal to harmonize basic rules on unfair trading practices in the food supply chain to the benefit of SMEs, which they are struggling to make enforceable all along the chain. Whether this kind of policy changes are distributist is of course debatable, but I think it’s nevertheless interesting to have a look at what the EU (but also other international organizations like the WTO, FAO or the OCDE) is doing in relation to small businesses, not only in food markets, because they have become an increasingly popular concept in policy making.

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