Much distributist literature is about securing freedom and independence for Catholic families, and rightly so. Rural living is promoted because it is believed to offer a greater degree of economic independence compared to city life. Distributist writers have noted that during periods of strife and economic hardship, the rural populations, being closer to the land and its resources, have generally been better off than urban dwellers. Food, shelter, and clothing are man’s most basic material needs, and these can only be supplied from the farms and forests of the countryside.
However, the modern distributist-minded homesteader has a bit of a problem. Unlike earlier times, rural dwellers today are as dependent upon the city as city dwellers are dependent upon the country. For better or worse, our “advanced” economy has created a civilization of complex and inescapable interdependence. For the rural dweller, the only way out of his dependence upon the city is to drop out of civilization altogether.
This is intuitively obvious and should go without saying, but there are a few die-hard agrarian romantics who might benefit from seeing it spelled out for them.
So, you have moved to the country and want to create a life that does not depend upon the city. Very well. Are you fond of electric lights and indoor plumbing? This technology requires large-scale manufacturing and population centers. Same goes for toilet paper, toothpaste, refrigerators, coffee cups, and the electric pump for your domestic well. Same goes for your pickup truck and the wire for your chicken coop. Not to mention the distributist books on your bookshelf. I suppose, if you had to, you could manufacture your own home furniture and farm implements, but the fact is that you probably don’t have the time, resources, or talent to do so, and you depend upon city-based manufacturing for these things as well. By now, I hope, you get the idea.
What I mean is this: no matter what degree of “independence” your rural homestead has attained, it will still be radically dependent upon the city and all that goes on in the city. The country may provide a good and wholesome life for your children and some degree of insularity from city problems, and that is a very good thing – but it does not really protect anyone from a national or worldwide economic collapse. If the lights went out in America for a year, there would be famine and disaster and ruin everywhere. Country dwellers, too, would feel the pain as their supply of everything from diesel fuel to flashlight batteries to toliet paper ran out and they were forced to find primitive alternatives like everyone else.
The rural American Catholic, then, must be a defender of cities because he is a defender of civilization. He can flee the cities, but he can’t forsake them. He must work for their welfare and pray for their redemption. This radical interdependence is with us whether we like it or not, and so even in the absence of charity (Heaven forbid it), raw self-interest requires the rural dweller to take a special interest in the spiritual and temporal health of our cities.