I have mostly been playing farmville rather than blogging recently. The image, by the way, is of Jacques Prevert, to whom I was once compared by a long legged, drunken and temporarily smitten woman in a tartan miniskirt round the back of the New College cloisters.
My grandfather was a Donegal man. In such places, Marxism got no grip until the young got rich enough to do no work. It was, originally, full of men and women like him who walked miles to their own wedding; who, in fact walked miles every Sunday to go to a hard wooden bench or the floor in chapel, and who then walked back to an unforgiving farm. If they were lucky, they'd see pigs making other pigs on the way, which would mean food. It was hardly the road to Emmaus. Instead, that beautiful place produced the sort of people who were too smart and too strong to follow any stupid intellectual idea, apart from Catholicism, which is not stupid anyway. Those with things to work out of themselves would go to the likes of London or Birmingham and sort themselves out, in the far past.
I was thinking of this pattern today, which in its way was replicated everywhere in L'Europe profonde except Britain's dark and often sinister isle, when reflecting on the bumper harvest in Eastern Europe. We're two years into an economic crisis now, in which exchange rates and oil prices have fluctuated rapidly. Africa has become a sort of entrepot for Asia, and South America is decisively reorienting too. There are tremendous pressures on resources brewing, and we are three years past the first set of oil-inspired global food riots.
At the height of the boom, we were encouraged to abandon our farmers and to trust to the utopian economics of the market. A sort of narcissitic fetish was laid over the claim that we ought to have cheaper food from Africa, in that crocodile tears were wept at the way our food surpluses 'kept them from developing industries that would feed themselves'. I suppose the Avatars of capitalism thought that the abandoned countryside could then be mortgaged as a sort of metropolitan playground. Europe ignored them. Those in Africa who could help themselves, did.
Even a broken clock gets more than one thing right. Europe has a secure supply of food now, and farmers who made it through and who kept their communities alive. Somewhere, Europe's useless managerial elite managed (probably more out of fear and history than reason) to understand something that English speaking countries tend to forget, which is that states are machines for providing food. They also exist to provide shelter, human dignity, and a chance of happiness under freedom. These things are the practical expressions of justice. Take them away and the state is nothing but a band of thieves which subjects are entitled to cheat, blow up, or burn down. This understanding lies at the heart of the confrontation of truth with power which drove Christ against the moneychangers and the Pope into his latest disquisition on economics.
Thinking of those farmers from long ago, and the ones desperately getting some sleep right now, I for one am glad Europe looked after its farms. I wish Britain's ruling class had the same feeling for their own as the rest of Europe; but they are now irrelevant to the real rulers of the country, so at least I need not be worked up about it. There will always be an England, near those beautiful fields some thief created long ago, whatever government it has. The present one, I suspect, is to be found in Berlin, with a timeshare in Brussels and DC.
I suppose the state's contempt for its own began with the reformation, worked through the enclosures, and was celebrated after the corn law repeal, none of which were disasters enough or at all that made the British middle classes anything other than happy.
Regardless--and it will give some of my readers a fit to write it--I am glad Europe had the sense through the environmental and economic good times to look after most of the farming people. We are going to need them in the years to come.