Saturday 10 March 2012

News from Nowhere

William Morris

News from Nowhere by William Morris (1890) is one of my 'on the go' books that I dip in and out of. The combination of the first signs of early Spring and hearing yet another politician banging on about austerity for the umpteenth time leads me back to one of its central tenants: a shift from a system based on capitalism and spurious ideas of trickle down wealth creation to an egalitarian pastoral society of common ownership.

Yes, its written from a late nineteenth century perspective when idealistic socialism could still be seen as fresh and progressive; yes, its unashamedly and unfashionably Utopian; and, yes, it has jarring elements that make it very much 'of its time' (patronising attitude to women still very much in place) .

However, it strikes a chord with my outlook on life and the potentiality of a future to hope for; and chimes with some of the points I was making in my post of 5th March. In the words of Morris:

'The change ... was most strangely rapid. People flocked into the country villages and, so to say, flung themselves upon the freed land like a wild beast on its prey; and in a very little time the villages of England were more populous than they had been since the fourteenth century, and were still growing fast. Of course, this invasion of the country was awkward to deal with, and would have created such misery, if the folk had still been under the bondage of class monopoly. The town invaded the country, but the invaders, like the warlike invaders of early days, yielded to the influence of their surroundings, and became country people; and in their turn, as they became more numerous than the townsmen, influenced them also; so that the difference between town and country grew less and less; and it was indeed this world of the country vivified by the thoughts and briskness of town-bred folk which has produced that happy and leisurely but eager life of which you have had a first taste ...

This is how we stand. England was once a country of clearings amongst the woods and wastes, with a few towns interspersed, which were fortresses for the feudal army, markets for the folk, gathering places for the craftsmen. It then became a country of huge and foul workshops and fouler gambling-dens, surrounded by an ill-kept, poverty-stricken farm, pillaged by the masters of the workshops. It is now a garden, where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt, with the necessary dwellings, sheds, and workshops scattered up and down the country, all trim and neat and pretty. For, indeed, we should be too much ashamed of ourselves if we allowed the making of goods, even on the large scale, to carry with it the appearance, even, of desolation and misery.'

Stirring stuff.

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