Could you first tell us how many books you have written over the years, and the range of subjects which they cover?
I have published 36 books. (see listing below)
Your travel works are not just on far away places but also about parts of England. On your travels what have you found people have in common, and what differences between cultures have struck you?
People the world over seem to have been born with a natural desire to live in small interdependent communities, and to fend as much as they can for themselves. However big international business has tried hard in the last few decades – and largely succeeded – to supplant this natural desire with a craving for material goods, a reluctance to do any real work, and a reluctance to live anywhere except in large cities. The result of this is the present perilous state of affairs in which billions of people the world over are utterly dependant on complex and very vulnerable systems to keep them alive at all.
In Bring Me My Bow you wrote :
There were, and are, and I hope always will be, great Englishmen. I am proud to be an Englishman as well as an East Anglian, although I have left both East Anglia and England to live in Wales. I am proud of the enormous contribution that English people have made to learning, to literature, to invention and all the rest of it. I am not a pacifist and I am proud of the dogged courage the ordinary working class Englishman, and the upper class ones too, showed for four years in the entrenched hell of the First World War — the same sort of courage that I saw myself in the jungles of Burma during the second.
What does England mean for you?
England means to me the country of a talented and courageous and determined people, alas conquered in 1066 and since then never able to gain their independence again, and led by the militaristic and imperialistic philosophy of their conquerors into countless colonial and other stupid wars and conquests of people who had been far better left alone. The English seem at last to have outgrown this, and I only pray that they may relinquish the last of their colonies — Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — as they have the land of the Zulus. They will then perhaps set an example to the World, of true culture and civilisation. Maybe then they would then turn to reconquering their own country, so that every Englishman, if he wants it, can claim his own fair share of the land of England.
What for you would be the ideal population size of England?
Five million people would be very nice. Most of them country people, and none of them on the dole. For an overcrowded country like England to now allow floods of immigrants in, is madness.
You advocate the break-up of the UK and feel that “the World of men divides naturally into dialects and ethnic boundaries”. How would you answer those who argue that a global culture is emerging, and that we are moving to larger political units based on trading areas?
If a global culture is really emerging I want no part of it, and I hope it does not succeed. A world in which such a culture prevailed would be for me quite intolerable.
Can we learn from other cultures? What have you learned?
Yes, of course we can learn from other cultures. I learned this year from Austrians how to sharpen a scythe with a hammer on an anvil — a really useful piece of knowledge. I also taught Austrian farmers how to wring the neck of a chicken instead of cutting its head off with an axe and getting blood all over their trousers and boots. So they learnt something from my culture too.
In Bring Me My Bow you define self-sufficiency as :
an arrangement of society which allows every one of us to have more control over the things which affect us, which enables more of us to see the beginning, the middle, and the end, of more of the things which we do, and which enables more of us to know personally, the people, with whom we deal in trade, for whom we have to do things and who have to do things for us.
How do you see this principle relating to Distributism as you understand it? How did you first become interested in Distributism?
I never knew that there were other Distributists in the world until I had been a Distributist for several decades. I became one when I came back from the war in Burma, after thirteen years in tropical countries, to find that it was degrading to me to be dependant on other people for everything I needed or consumed. I had become use to fending for myself and wanted to continue doing so. I still, at the age of 81, milk my own cow twice a day, make my own butter and cheese, produce my own meat, bread and beer, and believe I am the better for it. I am perfectly happy to trade with other people (but preferably ones near me) — I couldn’t make a car, or this typewriter, or an outboard engine, and yet I have these things. I am therefore partially dependant on the rest of the world and see nothing wrong with that. I want to keep this dependence to a minimum though, and I do.
So do you consider dependence on things outside our control as psychologically harmful?
Complete dependence on things outside our control is not only “psychologically harmful”, it is also quite shameful. And in the final resort it can be extremely dangerous…
One of the themes of your work is that we should consider not just an economic standard of living, but quality of life. Elsewhere you give the example of “a girl packing chocolate” and accept that by losing herself in muzak and dreams of pop stars she may achieve contentment. What is the difference between this and “real” happiness?
I would love to see the time when people everywhere will simply refuse to do work that is boring or repugnant to them. “Goods” produced by such work are never any real good anyway. Work should be the most satisfying activity that we engage in, and people forced to do work that is not satisfying to them are simply being cheated out of their lives altogether.
Consumerist values have become deeply ingrained within our society, yet you argue for individual action such as boycotts of some goods… How would you raise the consciousness of the people to a level where they desired to make such positive choices?
I cannot affect the actions of other people except by argument, writing books and articles, and replying to questions such as this. I can only do what one can do, but what one can do I will do.
Your ideas on government are straightforward :
We should mistrust all government, all the time. The less of it the better. Until we have administrative units of a sufficiently human size for us to exercise proper control over the servants we pay to run them, then we must reserve for ourselves the right of non-co-operation.
How do you see taxation in this light? What should we do (or not do)?
We should work for decentralism all the time. We should decline to cooperate with huge remote governments. People can achieve an awful lot by peaceful non-cooperation. I am not a member of the E.U. — Eurononsense — and if that organisation tried to tax me I would go to gaol rather than pay them a penny!
You state in Bring Me My Bow that :
If we want a civilized, organic, decentralised, human-scale, satisfying, less boring and less dangerous society nearly everyone must start working for it, quietly, slowly, patiently, and knowing what he is doing.
Are there many individuals and/or groups which fit this description? What are the best groups you have worked with?
I am not a member of many groups, and I do not know of many. The Third Way seems to me to be on the right lines; John Papworth’s Fourth World Review is very worthwhile (it can be bought from 24 Abercorn Place, London NW8 9XP) and the “Bioregionalist Movement” in the United States has good ideas in spite of its silly name. Alas, too many “movements” which could be useful and important get corrupted by superstition and silly cults that are supposed to have been hatched-up in Eastern countries. If we stuck to, and re-examined, our own European faith (that came from “the East” – at least, as far East as Palestine) and served us well for two millennia, we would be proof against all these other silly “-isms” and the “Alternative Movement” would be taken far more seriously by intelligent people, and would be far more effective.
BOOKS BY JOHN SEYMOUR
The Hard Way to India (1953) Round About India (1955) One Man’s Africa (1956) Sailing through England (1956) The Fat of the Land (1961) On My Own Terms (1963) Voyage Into England (1966) Willy-nilly to the Baltic (1968) Self Sufficiency (1973) US edition : Farming for Self Sufficiency The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency (1976) US edition : The Book of Self Sufficiency Bring Me My Bow (1977) The Self Sufficient Gardener Collins’ Companion Guides to :
East Anglia (1970) The Coast of N.E. England (1974)
The Coast of S.W. England (1975)
The Countryside Explained (1977) The Gardener’s Delight (1977) Getting it Together (1980) The Lore of the Land (1982) Die Lerchen Singen so Schon (1982) The Woodlanders (1983) The Shepherd (1983) The Smallholder (1983) Und Dachten sie Warren die Herren Deutch Tachenbuchs (1984) The Forgotten Arts (1984) Far From Paradise (1986) Blueprint for a Green Planet (1987) The Forgotten Household Arts (1987) England Revisited (1988) The Ultimate Heresy (1989) Changing Lifestyles (1991)
Country Picture Book (1991)