THE VOICE OF THE TRUE WEST
ON THE RELEVANCE OF WILLIAM BARNES (1801-1886)
FOREWORD TO THE REPRINT OF HIS BOOK
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
'A poet? Nineteenth-century? Wrote in West Country dialect? William Barnes, you say? What possible relevance could he have today?' 'Well, I suppose people who like Dorset might be interested, or some local historian or Wessex regionalist, but as for me '.
So goes the reasoning of many. It is false reasoning, for William Barnes was an extraordinary man, he was not just a brilliant poet, but also a linguist, a teacher, an inventor, a priest, a scientist, an artist, a musician, a historian and an economist. He is someone of whom not only Wessex should be proud, but all England, and indeed one whose vision is today of global importance.
The present book is, quite rightly, focused on William Barnes as a political economist. His 1859 work entitled, 'Views of Labour and Gold' and reprinted here, is of profound relevance. After all, the whole of the nineteenth century was about the economic and therefore social and political developments resulting from the new technology of the Industrial Revolution. As for the twentieth century, its First World War was about the economic and territorial rivalries of different Imperialisms; its Second World War was between the ideologies of Nazism and Communism and that of the liberal democracies. And the end of that century was marked by the fearful Cold War between rival economic and political systems, which came close to destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust.
True, with the collapse of Communism, some spoke of the end of ideological battles. The 'West' was triumphant, they said, the free market and its unimpeded globalism had won. Oneworldism, the merging and even disappearance of all local identities, was triumphant. In fact, however, globalism was only the new word for economic imperialism. You can change names, but the realities and truths are still there. In any case, globalism is not triumphant and this is being proved, as I write these lines, by the War that is now tearing apart Iraq and has divided the whole world. Ever since 9/11, the globalist MacWorld has been facing Jihad. The twenty-first century was born under the sign of opposition to the illusions of triumphant economic globalism.
William Barnes offers us neither the thesis of MacWorld, nor its antithesis of Jihad. He offers us an alternative, a radical and prophetic vision of economic justice, in which work and money are both useful and fulfilling. Barnes' voice is that of David versus the Goliaths of modern injustice, the starving Third World versus the multi-billionaires of the transnationals and their political manipulations. Well over a hundred years before Schumacher, Barnes said that Small is Beautiful and that Local is Good.
Barnes expressed the soul of England, the True West, speaking prophetically against the powerbrokers in London, and beyond, in Brussels and Washington. He knew about 'Saxon Economics' and the true place of both labour and gold: both work and money are our servants, not our masters. Like all the old Bible, he spoke of the deception of capitalist Babylon and how its 'merchants were the great men of the earth; for by its sorceries were all nations deceived' (Revelation 18,23). Barnes had no illusions, as he wrote in his poem on Sickness, 'Zickness':
It is our belief that the time is coming when Barnes' voice will be vindicated. From the roots and depths of English history and national consciousness, William Barnes' voice cries out to the spiritual and moral wilderness of contemporary economic globalism and proclaims that 'mercy and justice can meet together; righteousness and peace can kiss each other' (Psalm 84,11). William Barnes shows us that economic justice is possible - if only we are prepared to make the sacrifices to implement it.
12/25 March 2003
The Reprint of William Barnes' 'Views of Labour and Gold' is to appear later this year. The publishers are:
For those interested in an overview of William Barnes, they may consult 'The Rebirth of England and English: The Vision of William Barnes' by Fr Andrew Phillips, price £9.95 published by Anglo-Saxon books at: