Without any "easing-in," Look to the Land begins with several pages describing soil. And then erosion. After 6 pages I was tempted to lay it aside in the "I'll have to get back to it when I'm in the right frame of mind" pile. I'm glad I didn't. There's so much all-encompasing philosophy of life in this short book, it would have been a shame to have delayed it. There's so much in fact, that I'm going to have go back and read through it again with a pencil, and maybe two or three more times after that.
Written in 1939, just half a century or so after the advent of mechanized agriculture, there's very little that's outdated. Lord Northbourne approaches almost all societal problems with an eye trained by a perrenial traditionalism (the common acquired and revealed wisdom common to the great societies and religions in relation to their creator) and even the most Christ-centered Catholic distributist would find no fault in his reasoning. He looks always towards the land and advocates solutions, radical as it may seem, based on love. In describing the disaster that is befalling mankind in both "farming" and "civilization," it seems as if it could have been written this year. Man is on the edge and is rapidly running out of time, if there is indeed time left. The bold proposal, the "theme" of the book, is that man must quickly get back to what is "normal." What people today call normal is nothing of the kind; it may be the "average" but it is anything but normal in the sense of how man and the earth (the soil) are supposed to relate to each other. There are very few people in the world who live within a semblance of normal anymore.
Lord Northbourne tackles every symptom of the illness of our modern impersonal society, from banking to government to business to history to anthropology to genetics to families, etc. with an eye towards real solutions but, again, having grasped only a fraction of the genius of the work, it's probably more useful now to simply paste some of Lord Northbourne's closing words here:
"...For we must farm or die. In undertaking farming we undertake a responsibility covering the whole life cycle. We can break it or keep it whole. We have broken it, but there is yet time to mend it; perhaps only just time.
"...'Give and you shall receive' is not sentimental idealism, it is a simple, practical rule. That which we can and must give to the land is work, and if that work is given in love it will not be drudgery.
"...If we are to succeed in the great task before us we must adopt a humbler attitude towards the elementary things of life than that which is implied in our frequent boasting about our so-called 'Conquest of Nature.' We have put ourselves on a pinnacle in the pride of an imagined conquest. But we cannot separate ourselves from nature if we would... There can be no quarrel between ourselves and nature any more than there can be a quarrel between a man's head and his feet. If such a quarrel is invented, it is the man who suffers, including both his head and his feet... We have come to regard nature as something primitive, terrible, and squalid. If she is so, it is we who have made her so.
"Nature is only terrible or squalid to those who do not understand her, and when misunderstanding has upset her balance. She is imbued above all with the power of love; by love she can after all be conquered, but in no other way. That has not been our way. We have attempted a less excellent way, and have upset the 'balance of nature,' so that she no longer appears to us in pleasant guise but in a guise in which the appearance of an opposition of forces - a 'struggle for existence' - predominates over the appearance of a balance of forces. So we have come to believe in a struggle for existence as the only possibility, and we infer that any such struggle is necessarily painful. It is painful now, and not only to ourselves. But it was not always so and need not always be so. We are the head and have the responsibility. We have tried to conquer nature by force and by intellect. It now remains for us to try the way of love"