I’ve had several comments from people who read C&T while it was in print (see comment by Abigail on the intro post below) and who feel a regret bordering on guilt that they were not willing or able to live the kind of life that C&T tended to hold up as an ideal. That was a vision that could probably best be summed up as Catholic hippie: move to the country, raise children, animals, and gardens. Although it should go without saying, let me state explicitly that I am not including the drugs, sexual immorality, etc. that went along with the hippie thing. Some years ago I referred to a lay Catholic community in these terms ("Catholic hippie" or something to that effect) and they raised cain about it, feeling like I had slandered them, which was the last thing I had meant to do.
As a matter of fact there was not then, and has not been since, a single one of the original group that conceived and produced C&T who lived that kind of life. For my part I always felt slightly hypocritical on that score, because even at the time we began the magazine in 1990, my wife and I were pretty much past any possibility of actually doing such a thing. I was a middle-aged software developer with a bad back, for goodness sake. My wife actually might have made a pretty good farm wife, being more down-to-earth and practical than I, but I would have been a terrible farmer.
We did have one writer, Eric Brende, who spent some time trying to farm among the Amish, with, at least as far as his story was related in the magazine, a striking lack of success, although he was able to parlay the experience into a book, of which you can read an excerpt here. And there was the Fahey family, who were doing it seriously and successfully, but they weren’t that interested in writing about it (or were too busy). And I think Daniel (Nichols, the editor) had some friends who at least semi-farmed. But in general the sad fact is that most of the people who had anything to do with the magazine were bookish folk who were more interested in (and more suited for) discussing agrarianism as a philosophical and theological ideal than in actually taking up the plow.
To what extent should agrarian life even be held up as an ideal today? I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I still think there is a lot to be said for such a life, but the obstacles to it just seem to get bigger all the time, so that even families who have been in it for generations find it hard to keep on, and only heroic souls are going to take it up fresh. And heroic virtue doesn’t guarantee that they will be able to feed their families. And every time I think of this I think of my co-worker who actually grew up on a small family farm in Indiana and who tells me emphatically of how as a teenager she couldn’t wait to get away from the drudgery and the constant anxiety and uncertainty. (Actually my family lived on a farm when I was growing up, but it was a rather large one, and my father worked in town as an engineer, while one of his brothers ran the farm.)
Anyway, no one should feel guilty about not living up to some C&T ideal. Most of us have no choice but to lead a more or less typical American life, trying hard and with mixed success to cope with the spiritual dangers of all sorts that it puts in our way and which seem to get worse every year. But that leaves me with a question: what place is there for the specific thing that distinguished the outlook of C&T, which was a conviction that the separation from nature in modern life has grown to a point where it is unhealthy, fosters a hubristic illusion, and makes Christian virtue seem quaint and anachronistic? I confess I don’t have a good answer for that.